How One Mother Juggles Fitness & Motherhood
Updated: Aug 15, 2018
Meet Novem Chan.
Novem Chan is a fitness instructor and mother to three daughters. When it came to deciding what she wanted to do as an adult, she forewent her passion for dance and fitness and pursued a career in the STEM field.
She has lived in the United States, Singapore and Malaysia, and worked as a Systems Analyst for over a decade while teaching fitness for companies on the side. Now, she is the founder of NCDF and does fitness full time.
So, tell me a bit about yourself. My name’s Novem Chan. I work as a full-time fitness instructor and mother to three beautiful girls. I teach Zumba and bodyweight workouts, among other things. I’m the founder of NCDF - Novem Chan Dance & Fitness. We actually specialise in corporate fitness, so we work mostly with companies for their group classes and events.
Have you always been into fitness? I’ve been into fitness since I was in my early teens. When I was fourteen, I started conducting classes for aerobics and dance in my high school. I knew I loved it but it was more of a hobby to me; I honestly didn’t think I’d ever pursue it as a career or anything like that.
How did you start teaching classes professionally? After I graduated, I spent 10 years in Singapore before returning to Malaysia. And it was only in Malaysia that I was asked to teach group classes. The company I was working at wanted in-house staff, and it was just for fun.
See also: The Art of Interacting with Your Child Then it spread, and other companies soon asked me to teach group classes. The next thing I know, I’m teaching group classes for companies like Telekom Malaysia, Tenaga Nasional, DHL and such. Since then, I seldom teach at the gym. I focus on corporate fitness and I do fitness talks and briefings, exploring topics revolving around wellness and health for corporate clients.
What were you doing prior to going into the fitness industry? I worked as a System Analyst and did web application design. Due to family pressure to have a corporate job, and because of this mentality back then that you can’t make a living doing artsy or creative stuff, I decided to go into the STEM field. Eventually I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from an American university in St Louis, Missouri, after which I moved to Singapore and started working in Malaysia. Two of my daughters were in Penang and my eldest was in Singapore with my ex-husband, so there was nothing much to do when I wasn’t working. I invested time in the gym and was introduced to different aspects of fitness, like hip hop and other dance fitness classes that I never got to delve into before. During this time was when I also taught fitness classes for companies on the side. After 4 to 5 years, I took up courses by Fit Malaysia to get certified to teach fitness and group classes.
What inspired you to take up fitness full time? Even after so many years in the corporate world, I was still a fitness enthusiast at heart and had always been active in sports clubs and fitness-related events. When I moved back to Malaysia, I would travel to Penang on the weekends to visit my daughters. Back then, it took 9 hours by bus. So each Friday, I would take the night bus and sleep on the road. I did it every weekend because being there for my girls has always been my number one priority.
One day, my company approached me about this project that required a lot of travelling - to Japan, Taiwan, Thailand… it really opened up my eyes to what I wanted to do in my life. Ultimately, I decided to resign and focus on fitness. I did that to pursue my passion and to take care of my children because my time would be much more flexible. I love spending time with my daughters and cooking for them, so this career has given me the best of both worlds.
Are you motivated every day? How do you work out when you’re not in the mood? And how do you squeeze mom-time, me-time and workout time into your day? Of course I have my lazy days, but you have to set your mind to it and make it a habit. For me, cheat days don’t work and aren’t healthy. Just live life in moderation and set goals. Don’t stress yourself, don't overthink things - just do. I’m lucky that all my children are daughters, so we often do things together. Not that I couldn’t do it with sons, either. At the end of the day, I think it’s important to find shared activities to do with your children so that you get to do what you love and still have quality family bonding time.
Lastly, what would your advice be to other moms? For me, it really depends on the individual. My life is very different from yours or someone else, and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s up to the individual what they prioritise - if it’s their career, their children, themselves… Some parents want to travel the world and leave their kids with their nannies, and that’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong with that; it just means you have to sacrifice bonding time with your children. Be willing to sacrifice other things that are not your priorities. I always say this to my children: If you plant a banana tree, you will most definitely get a banana - don’t expect a mango or any other fruit. Plant whatever seed and you’ll get the fruit.