Interview: Dawn Sim on the importance of self-care

Image credits: Dawn Sim

In Mumpreneur Series, we speak to mum entrepreneurs to find out the trials and tribulations of juggling family while running a business.

Self-care is important. That’s the message Trium Fitness founder Dawn Sim wants mums to know. With her husband away on an overseas work posting, Dawn has her hands full running a gym and raising her four daughters, so knowing when to say no and prioritising the important stuff helps her maintain her sanity. When she’s not busy teaching yoga, the hands-on mum spends most of her waking time with her children, from picking them up from school to setting aside family time on weekends. As we discovered over a chat at her gym in Kallang, she keeps busy building a community for people to come together, and in turn inspires her children to achieve bigger and better things through her work.

What inspired you to start Trium Fitness?
I would say community. A lot of the things that I want to do as an instructor, to be able to give back to the community, is difficult for me as a freelancer and one person by myself. I wanted to have a place of my own for the longest time but being overseas most of the time with my husband, because of his posting, put my plans on hold for several years.

The opportunity arose when some of my students wanted to come together to help me set up this place; that’s when my dream started to come true. We’ve created many charity fundraisers together, we’ve created many outdoor community building events together. Over the one year [and counting] we’ve been here, a lot of what I wanted to achieve, I would say that we’ve done it and we’re going to continue to try and build that culture with our members, as well as anybody who wants to join our activities. It’s more than just a place where we teach people yoga, mindful living, pilates, learning to live healthier and create fitter versions of themselves. It’s bringing together people with a common interest and doing activities together.

What is a typical day at work like?
I wake up very early around 5 or 6am. If I’m not teaching early that day, [rising early] gives me an opportunity to fit in my workout so I have less distractions, less hiccups that would derail my routine. Getting my workout out of the way helps keep me energised for the rest of the day. Then I start my classes which can be as early as 7am. I don’t just teach classes, I conduct private one-to-one sessions with clients as well.

By the time I’m done with my lunch classes, I’ll find my kids and go back to my mum’s place. My two younger kids go to preschool and my two older kids go to the same primary school which is just across the road from my mum’s house. In the daytime I’ll spend some time with them. In the evening I’ll either teach a class or head back home with the kids and call it a day. I don’t teach at all on the weekends – that’s family time with the children. And especially with my husband not being around, I have to spend even more time with them because I have to play the role of both mum and dad.

What have you learned since becoming a businesswoman?
I definitely have learned to be more assertive. Delegating people to come in and be a part of the big picture instead of trying to take on a lot of things by myself, which I usually would do because I don’t want to trouble people. And also learning how to say no; no to things I would in the past have easily said yes to, because I just want to make everybody happy. But now, it’s got to do with prioritising not just my time, but my resources as well. Having that time aside for myself to just chill and recharge is important. I can’t take on as much as I want to anymore. Now it’s knowing what’s important and spending my time and resources on those things.

As a mother of four young children, how do you juggle work and family?
It’s a lot of time management. I oftentimes have to make sure that the important things are settled first before I think about other things that come along the way. That’s why having to say no is something I’ve learned so much these past couple of years. Prioritising my time and writing everything down because though I think my memory isn’t too bad, I do still forget stuff especially with four kids’ schedules to take care of, and managing my teachers and managing my own time.

It’s a lot to take on so I do have to be fairly organised. Things do pop up along the way but I don’t want to come from a state where I’m just reacting. I have to put certain things aside and say “I’m sorry, this is what’s going on right now. This is what’s going to have to happen now.” Those are the kinds of conversations I find myself taking on a lot because I don’t have the bandwidth to look at everything and say yes to a lot of things, otherwise I don’t have any time to myself. Keeping my sanity is one of my top priorities.

Dawn and her family

You mentioned you conduct classes for expecting mums. Could you share more about these pre-natal yoga classes?
I only took on training as a pre-natal, post-natal and active birthing teacher years ago after I had my second child. I had complications with my first two children and ended up having C-sections. I’ve always wanted to have a natural birth so I felt there had to be a better way. Maybe there was something I was missing that made it challenging for me to have a natural birth, that’s why I did the courses. It was challenging because it was nine days of learning, but it paid off so much because I was able to help fellow mums by sharing my experiences with them.

Despite that, I still ended up with two more C-sections because of other complications. It definitely helps people who have never experienced pregnancy and delivery before to know my side of the story, and also what they can do to help make their pregnancies more comfortable and to prevent back pain. To help themselves recover a lot faster after delivery. Just learning about pre-natal is not enough, they have to learn about what comes after pregnancy as well. The recovery is another portion that I strongly recommend people to empower themselves with.

When I teach pre-natal, it is more than just getting people to come in and continue exercising during pregnancy. A group of mothers who are delivering around the same time will be able to understand each other’s situation. If you tell your husband, chances are he’ll just tell you, “Oh, you’ll get over it.” You feel like the other person doesn’t really understand. When you have a group of mothers who are going through the same thing, there’s more empathy and that leads to forming a support group. The friendship they develop goes beyond them having children. They continue to support one another after they’ve delivered their kids. I really like that because they’re also encouraging one another to come for class.

If you weren’t running a gym what would you be doing?
I would still be teaching. My background is in marketing and I’ve taken on other full-time jobs where I was teaching on the side. It’s something I’ve been doing for 19 years and I don’t see myself stopping. When I finally decided to just teach, I felt it was so natural. After graduation, I was working my first job and teaching classes and it was something I looked forward to. The hours were really long but I still made time to teach. The satisfaction I get from teaching a class and seeing how it helps make a different to someone’s quality of life – helping them to live pain-free and lead lives where they feel they can travel more, move around and do things for themselves or even help others – it makes a big difference. It’s not just teaching someone something but helping them to achieve better quality of life. That’s what makes me continue to do what I do.

Tell us about your family.
My husband has been overseas for over a year and three months, and his job requires him to stay there for two years. There’s a possibility he might be there for longer but we do make an effort to spend time together, either us flying over to be with him or him coming back to Singapore to spend time with us. Last year in June, we were there for the whole month. Every couple of months, he’ll also come back. He was back in December for a couple of weeks and just last month he was back. He’s back again at the end of next month. So that gives you an idea of how frequently we get to see one another. I depend a lot on my parents and my helper to take care of my kids, and I couldn’t be more grateful for them. They make sure my kids have their meals and go to bed on time. I don’t have to call and check, I don’t have to worry when I’m busy at events or teaching. I can be confident that they’re safe and even when they’re not feeling well, that they’re well-taken care of.

Since you run a gym, do you encourage your husband and kids to lead active lifestyles?
Definitely. Actually, my kids also make sure I keep up my routine on the weekends. It’s become a habit that we do something fun and outdoorsy. Even when I’m feeling lazy, they’ll ask “Where are we going to?” I don’t teach on Saturdays and Sundays because that time is dedicated to the kids. We head out to do something fun that’s bonding and gets them to move. They’re all involved in some form of activity in school, especially my two older ones, so they represent their school. I let them decide what to do and I support them in their pursuits. Whenever my husband has his IPPT coming up, we try to spend more time together to run and help him prepare.

What is it like raising four girls?
It’s really all fun! I am tempted to consider having a fifth child, provided it’s a girl. Now that my oldest one is the same height as me, we’re sharing clothes and shoes, and same for my second child. We go shopping together a lot. Number two is a tomboy, and I was a tomboy when I was younger as well. Seeing how my oldest one loves reading the same sort of books, seeing how my number three loves drawing like I used to do as well, I see a bit of myself in each of them. That really warms my heart. It makes me feel like I’m leaving a piece of myself in them. I can’t explain how that feels. Raising them is the most rewarding thing I’ve done.

It sounds like a lot of sisterly love. Is there any sibling rivalry at all?
Yeah! They’ll say things like “How come she can do this and I can’t? How come she has only one hour of tuition and I have two hours?” When I explain things to them, they readily accept it. We have conversations where it’s not always “You’re doing it because I say so”, but it’s me explaining to them why I need them to do things, why it has to be this way. And when they understand it, I don’t have to have that conversation again.

Dawn and her family

How has parenthood changed you?
I have to do a lot of things that I don’t want to; it’s not about myself. My decisions always depend on my kids so they are the reason for my choices, because it always boils down to how it affects them. That’s the main thing that’s changed me as a person.

Being a mum is the most important job ever. It’s also important to take care of ourselves and to be role models for our children. When my children see what I do, it’s... you might not think that they think very much about it. But hearing what I hear from my oldest daughter, it does bring tears to my eyes sometimes. Number three here calls me Wonder Woman – I don’t know whether I can live up to that. She draws pictures of me as Wonder Woman. It’s not because I can fly or fight. I don’t own a sword or a Woman Woman suit. She sees the things that I do that make a difference to other people. That inspires my children to want to be better versions of themselves. I do what I do beyond taking care of the household because it doesn’t just help me feel like I’m building a cause and bettering myself, but it’s for them too. I want them to be contributing members of society and make a difference. It’s walking the talk and leading by example.

What’s the hardest thing about being a mum?
Not getting enough sleep! I don’t think I’ve gotten enough sleep for the past 12 years. I breastfed all my children for a year each and that caused me to lose a lot of sleep. I’m a very hands-on mum. Whenever my kids are unwell, I’m down on the ground with them making sure their temperatures are under control. When discipline has to be meted out, I jump right in. I don’t let anybody bear the responsibility for my children. Even if they’re under the care of my parents or my helper, it’s still my responsibility for anything that happens to them. So the lack of sleep is something I hopefully will be able to get back once they’re past their teenage years.

What advice do you have for fellow mum entrepreneurs?
The important thing is to take care of yourself so that you can better look after not just your business, but your family also. Think of yourself as a mothership. If the mothership is down, it’s going to affect everything else at home as well as at work. So take the time to look after yourself.

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