What I Know Now is an interview series in conversation with leaders about the failures and successes of their careers.
It’s hard to find Sangita Patel without a smile. The host of HGTV’s Home to Win and on-air personality with Entertainment Tonight Canada has charmed Canadians with her infectious energy for more than 10 years. Patel, 40, became the Canadian spokesperson for CoverGirl this past fall, which she calls “a dream come true,” and an opportunity to celebrate women of all kinds.
In an industry that can be tough on beauty, she has remained true to herself from the start of her career: “I didn’t know how to be anyone else,” she tells YouInc. Patel, a mother of two girls, has embraced her genuineness on social media to build a brand around fitness, motherhood, and femininity. It’s a platform where she chooses to share personal moments around health, family, and travel, as a way to build a real connection with her fans.
In our recent conversation, Patel opened up about major learnings in her life: she still finds it difficult to celebrate success, being ambitious even when people try to slow her down, and why kindness is always top of mind:
YouInc: Congratulations on becoming a spokesperson for CoverGirl. Let’s talk about your new role.
Sangita Patel: It’s surreal how it happened. I didn’t think anything would come from it. I got an email through my website and passed it onto my agent. I thought it was a hoax on Instagram. They were looking for a Canadian spokesperson for their Simply Ageless line. We had a photo shoot in September and I wasn’t allowed to talk about being the spokesperson until my birthday; they wanted to launch then because I was turning 40.
They don’t do this often: to have a South Asian woman at 40-years-old become a spokesperson for covergirl is crazy...I still can’t believe it. It’s amazing. It’s a moment, definitely a moment.
YI: Why did they ask you to be the Canadian spokesperson?
SP: That’s a great question. I don’t know [laughs]. It was interesting because in January they had a launch party. We had this platform to talk about ourselves and what makes us; "I Am What I Make Up" is their new slogan. That was a moment too, because we’re talking to these incredible women and then we heard Maye Musk and the CMO of Coty talk about how CoverGirl is celebrating women of all kinds.
I live in a world where I get to dress up and do makeup and talk to celebrities, but there’s a real side of me and that’s being a mom and a real woman.
The reason the slogan changed from "Easy, Breezy, Beautiful" was they say you put on makeup based on what you’re about to do. If it’s for an interview, you put on a certain type of makeup. If you’re going out for the night, you put on a certain type of makeup, when you’re a mother, you put on a certain type of makeup. When they bring people on to be part of their products, they look to who these people are, and that meant a great deal to me. What you see on social media is really who I am and that’s all I know how to do.
THE REAL DEAL
YI: You’ve built a brand for yourself on social media, and you’re real with what and how you share. But, there can be pressure to only show the good stuff, especially when you’re in the public eye.
SP: Last year was a big year for me with social media and how I perceive it and use it. I sat back for a bit and thought: what am I doing? Why is it part of my life? What do I want to do with it?
I live in a world where I get to dress up, do my makeup, and talk to celebrities, but there’s a real side of me and that’s being a mom and a real woman.
One of the things I started five years ago was the hashtag #FitnessTuesday. I was in love with fitness because it changed my mentality and my thoughts after having my second kid. I wasn’t in the best place with who I was and I wanted to share that experience with other people. One of my mentors said, “why don’t you put fitness videos up and let’s see what happens?” I didn’t know there was a message box on Instagram; I got a slew of messages of women being inspired.
There was a particular story of a woman who lost 25 pounds within eight months. I didn’t know who she was, but I followed her and kept her in a positive boat for losing the weight. That’s why I was doing Fitness Tuesday.
I get nervous when I put stuff out that is raw and real, like when I put myself out there about having my MRI and talking about my daughter’s allergies and putting pictures up of my kids. Last year was a moment for me to realize that’s how I want to use the platform.
YI: Are you willing to talk about the time in your life where you weren’t in a good place? Why did you pursue fitness?
SP: I used to do fitness quite a bit, but it wasn’t until my second child was born that I was at a point where I was mentally lost with who I was. I had lost Sangita. I was trying to define myself as a mother and who I was as a person.
I drove by a CrossFit gym and I walked in and [the woman at the desk] said, “why don’t you give it a try?” I felt this surge of energy. I felt that happiness again and that’s why fitness became a part of my life. My husband does it. My kids do it. Now it’s part of our schedule.
YI: How have you stayed connected to you?
SP: When I started at Citytv ten years ago, I was doing weather. On my second day, there was an anchor named Gord Martineau. He called me into his office, “Patel, come here.” I thought, “Oh, I’ve messed up, what did I do wrong? I don’t know what I did wrong.” He said, “Patel, you don’t give a f–k how you look like on TV—keep it that way.” It’s probably the best advice I’ve gotten because I didn’t know how to be anyone else. I was on TV without makeup frequently because I was doing weather. It never occured to me how I looked. I was pregnant on camera, on a green screen standing sideways showing me growing.
I had that experience of being vulnerable on television. Then I came to ET Canada where it’s about glamour at its best. I had to adjust. One of the things is that you feel a lot of pressure in this industry to look perfect. People tell me that I should get botox, do a filler, and this and that. Maybe I’ll do it one day. I’ve learned ways to stay away from that and age naturally.
ON AMBITION AND CONFIDENCE
YI: What does confidence mean to you?
SP: It’s a difficult question because we’re all vulnerable. We say a lot of negative things in our heads and we’re the only ones who listen and put ourselves down.
I don’t understand how women can bring other women down.
My confidence comes from the ability to stay real and hopefully people answer to that. My confidence comes from my kids. When I see my kids do well and they’re happy, then I feel like I’m being a good mom and I feel like I’m making a difference. Confidence comes when I feel like I’ve worked hard to get to that point.
YI: Think back to when you started your career 11 years ago with Citytv. How has your idea of confidence evolved since then?
SP: One of the things I was told recently is that I’m too ambitious. And I thought, “what the f–k, why would you say that?” A man would never say that to another man. Why is that being said to me?
Since I was a kid, I’ve always been someone to have ambition and every few years I want to try something new. The worst thing that can happen is that you’re going to get a “no.” I always want to try new things. I’m trying to do a YouTube page and I’m trying to do a podcast. I noticed over time, I’ve been on a good incline in my career. I’ve come to a point now when someone says something like that to me, where I reassess the situation and ask, “Am I being too ambitious? Maybe I am doing too much.”
I don’t understand how women can bring other women down. It’s an interesting time right now in my life. CoverGirl was such a dream come true. Now, what does this all mean to me? I’m thinking about the importance of that role and why someone would hold me back. I’ve learned I have to stay real to myself and continue to grow and at that same time wonder why this achievement isn’t being celebrated by women I look up to. I still believe in moving forward, staying positive, and never giving up.
YI: What about failure? Is there something that’s happened in the past year that you want to talk about?
SP: I’m a little naive and oblivious to what it’s like out there. I believe that people support each other, and I’m learning that’s not the case. The way social media is handled, people think you’re friends. I’m like, “no, you have to see each other in person to be friends.” It’s a platform for sharing. I feel I have a lot to learn about that.
Sometimes I feel I’m a failure when I’m not at my kids’ events. I travel a lot and there’s that guilt of not being there and missing out on their moments.
YI: How do you bring that balance into your life with your daughters?
SP: I try to take two days a week off and have the opportunity to drop them off at school in the morning or [pick them up] after school. When I travel, we try to call each other and FaceTime. There are different ways to connect, but I have an incredible husband who takes care of a lot of things; he’s such an amazing dad that it works well for us. When I get home, I try to be present.
YI: Do you think women can have it all?
SP: There’s a time and place for everything. You know in your gut when you need to go full force and when you need to step back. One of the things I noticed is that my kids are getting older and they understand when I travel that it’s not a big deal. They say, “okay mom, see you on Monday.” That’s a good feeling because they know I’m working and it’s not like I’m on vacation. One of my daughters came on a trip with me and experienced my life. That was a great moment for me to know that she knew what I was doing.
The only thing you can do is be kind. That takes you so much further than not taking the time to realize that everyone has a different story.
But having it all [sighs], that’s a tough one. I hate using the word balance, but you have to figure out what you can do and what you can’t do. Some people can do it all and not stress about it. I’m reading a book right now called Girl, Wash Your Face. The book analyzes the amount of work we put into our careers and being a mom. Then we forget who we are, and that’s one of the things I don’t want to happen: to forget to live in the moment. That can happen. I learned that when we were in Saint Lucia. I put my phone away for four days. That’s unbelievable for me, right? To be able to do that made me reassess what’s important—my family.
YI: How do you stay present at home?
SP: I don’t have my phone near me after 8 p.m. My phone is also not in my room. When my kids come home from school, instead of asking, “how was your day?” we ask, “what did you learn at school today?” That leads us to a different conversation. I noticed my older daughter is trying to figure out who she is, and she needs a bit more time with mom, so we sit down and talk. On the weekends and after school it’s about being present, and that means staying away from work as much as I can.
LEANING INTO LIFE
YI: What do you know for sure at this point in your life?
SP: To be kind. That’s my mantra. You don’t know what people are going through. You don’t know their story. You can’t analyze situations. The only thing you can do is be kind. That takes you so much further than not taking the time to realize that everyone has a different story. That’s one of the things that’s important to me. I use the hashtag #smile in every social media post, because I believe that if you smile at people you could change their day. The one thing I know for sure is to be kind.
I need to understand that sometimes you should celebrate your success and that’s something that’s difficult for me.
It could be as small as calling someone or texting them and saying, “how are you?” It could be picking up a coffee for someone I’m working with: Brian, who is my hairstylist, has to work early in the morning and a coffee makes his day. It can be sitting with someone and being present.
I was at an ET Canada party, and I could tell there was something wrong with someone. I pulled her aside and we sat down, and she poured her heart out; she was going through a lot. It’s that little bit of kindness. I tend to touch people on the arm and make contact. It makes people feel good.
YI: What about the things in your life you’re unsure about?
SP: I’m unaware of how hard I am on myself. I’m unaware of success. I’m unaware of what I’ve done in my career or what I’ve done as a mom. I always look at how it’s impacting other people and the negativity. I need to understand that sometimes you should celebrate your success and that’s something that’s difficult for me.
When I was growing up one of the things my mom used to say is that if other people are happy, you’re happy. If you can make other people happy, chances are you’re going to be happy. One of the things I’m learning as I get older is that if I’m happy, then other people are happy. That’s what I struggle with because I’ve never learned how to celebrate success. It’s something I’m trying to figure out.
YI: Because not celebrating success is influenced by your heritage?
SP: Yeah. Even now, we don’t speak of any success that my husband and I have. He’s successful in his career, and he doesn’t really talk about it. Even with our kids, we celebrate, but we don’t celebrate, if something good happens. We say, “we’re proud of you, good job.” That’ll be the end of it. I guess it’s finding the balance of being humble and celebrating your success.
When something gets hard we tend to find excuses to not make things happen. You can’t give it up. You’re giving yourself permission to fail.
YI: At the end of your day, how do you decide, “I’ve done enough, and I can walk away from Instagram" or my phone or whatever it might be?
SP: Well, I have to go watch Ozark and sit down with my husband before he starts watching it. I put myself on a schedule. After my trip to Saint Lucia I told myself, “check your Instagram at 7:30 in the morning and check your Instagram at 5:30 in the evening.” Those are the times I post. I’ll try to post once a day and that’s it. I respond to comments at both times. I fell into this little thing, after the whole comment about being too ambitious, and I went to my old way of checking Instagram. Now I have a timer that shows me how much time I’ve spent on my phone.
YI: What’s your advice for someone who’s building a brand or business?
SP: Don’t give up. When something gets hard we tend to find excuses to not make things happen. You can’t give it up. You’re giving yourself permission to fail. There are times when things don’t go your way and you’re like ,”I’m done with it,” and you’ve got to push through it. Your dream is your dream and no one else’s dream. You’re the only one who can make it happen. You can talk to people about it. You can talk to your husband about your passion, but that passion really lies within you. If I want this podcast to happen, I have to push and make it happen. When it comes time to putting down the phone to make time for the kids, I have to make that happen.
YI: What’s next for you?
SP: Oh, that’s a really good question [laughs]. I want to go back to being completely happy. That’s the big goal for me. I’ve felt a bit lost and a bit naive and oblivious to this world and social media. I think it’s about going back to myself and being happy. Career wise, let’s see where I go next. My ultimate dream is to do a show and talk to people about their real life stories. I think that’s my strength, to be able to share people’s stories and hopefully it’s one thing that will happen in the future.
People always find some kind of positive in every experience. When I get comments about being too ambitious or that maybe I’m not ready for something, I always find the positive twist; that’s what makes me a better person.