A few months ago, I had lunch with a colleague who was curious about how I got started with my company, MommaStrong, in hopes that it would help him launch his own venture. As I sat down to eat, I noticed that he had a notepad out and an organized set of colored pens at the ready. I knew immediately I was in for a serious brain picking.
This guy wanted to know a formula. How much capital did you raise? How did you develop your content? How much research did you do on e-commerce platforms? When did you know it was time to launch? What sales strategy did you apply?
The questions poured out of him, but my answers were as chopped as my salad. The more I talked, the more I felt a tug on every word and so I quickly interrupted myself and said, “Look, you will never start if you are spending all your energy trying to get ready.” Needless to say, he left that lunch with a blank notepad.[thb_image full_width="true" alignment="center" image="9774" img_size="full"]
The reality is that my work in the world didn’t happen because I had some sort of grand plan or because I had spent time developing business acumen. Some nights - well, most nights - I wish I had more of both of those, but the truth is my company happened because I was desperate about solving a problem.
After having my second child and finding myself in the fog of the postpartum experience, I realized that there was something terribly wrong with my situation. I was in excruciating physical pain every minute of every day. I was isolated in my house with tiny children and a bunch of plastic toys and the churn of social media as my most frequent company. I was stressed about finances. I was in an abusive marriage. I was suffering from postpartum depression. And I lacked all energy and motivation to do anything about any of it.
But, the thing that sustains MommaStrong to this day is the same thing that made me get up, rather than give up: It was a decision to live inside the solution, rather than submit to the problem.
And, so, I focused myself on the most basic, least emotional obstacle I was experiencing: My physical pain. As a certified Pilates teacher with years of experience, the fact that I was in so much discomfort didn’t make sense. Nothing I had been taught about pelvic rehabilitation and core strength was helping me, no matter how hard I tried to do it “right.” And that’s when the golden curiosity hit me: Maybe it’s not that I am doing this wrong, maybe there is something wrong about the modality. Maybe we’re not strengthening and healing the female body the right way.
From there, I started to break down the supposed authority of all my years of training and began to see some incongruencies with the anatomy of the modern female body. For example, methods like Pilates wherein we are encouraged to strengthen the abdominals through crunching (flexion) movements were created before the Industrial Revolution, when people were far less sedentary. This means that their spines were naturally more extended just by doing daily manual labor and, so, crunches were vastly more effective and certainly not damaging. Today, with the fact that most of us have desk jobs and are driving more than walking, our spines spend way too much time in forward flexion. Crunching, therefore, not only becomes ineffective, it also proves harmful. This realization prompted me to dive head first into research and hands-on experimentation with my own body. I soon discovered that my hunch was right: The female body needed core work in extension, along with pelvic floor work that taught elasticity, rather than just static kegel powers.
Photo Courtesy of Edutopia
This detective work lit me up. It gave me breath. It gave me vitality. And it also started to give me access to solutions that would heal my life in every way imaginable. By starting with my pelvic floor and recovering my body from years of pain, I released my nervous system from unnecessary stress. That release allowed me to behave more powerfully on a very primal level. That powerful behavior helped me make drastic changes to my life, including divorce. And from that freedom, my company came to be. I wanted to share what I learned, in an accessible way, to women who were in my situation and perhaps were beginning to believe that their bodies were broken. My mission was crystal clear: Revolutionize strength protocols for women and reduce their physical pain, so that they can show up in the world as they choose.
Today, five years after that tender time, MommaStrong serves thousands of online customers from around the world. Via streaming videos, these customers are able to access effective and efficient strength programs that address their pain and buoy their lives. In just 15 minutes a day and for just $2 a month, we are helping members to lead stronger lives, strengthen their core, and to have access to the playful part of them that makes them a better mother. Along with that, my customers and I have developed an outreach program that serves women-in need (i.e., incarcerated women and victims of sex trafficking) by providing them the same physical rehabilitation tools so that they too can heal their lives. I call this Share to Show up.
My business works - and not just because of the numbers, but because my initial curiosity is still the strong thread that weaves a solution to a widespread problem.
Now, while all of this is inspiring, there’s an important postscript in my story, one that I think encompasses the entirety of entrepreneurship. In the five years of building this venture, I have made every rookie mistake in the book. It has been harrowing, exhausting, and ridiculously humbling. And I’ve found myself back to the drawing board oodles of times, in a full-on depression and ready to quit.
This is the life of an entrepreneur: Burnouts. Not a single burnout. Plural burnouts. But, guess what? Are you ready for this? I am an advocate of the burnout. Why? Because, if we look at my story and the stories of countless other CEOs, all ventures start because of a burnout that leads to an idea and all ventures continue because of burnouts that lead to invaluable lessons learned.
The delicious, yet ugly truth is that there are many times that I have a trembling finger hovering over the “I Quit” button coupled with guts of steel that pull it back. And up until recently, I was so afraid and ashamed of this saga. But, what I have come to understand is that if we choose to be a dreamer that is also a do-er, than we are choosing also the saga of the burnout.
So, instead of pathologizing burnouts and speaking about how to properly organize your business life so catastrophic and humiliating events don’t occur (ahem, they will), I instead would like to offer a new take: How to Befriend Your Burnout.
Here’s my 5 step guide for how to face and make valuable a burnout:
1. Get used to saying: “This is what it looks like.” When someone (read: your mother) tells you how much she wishes you had a stable job, repeat back to her: “I appreciate your concern, but this is what it looks like to be me.” When friends start giving you grief for not having enough time for them, say: “I totally hear you and I can’t wait for that to return because it will. Until then, this is what it looks like to be me.” When your own dear, amazing monkey mind starts criticizing you for not being perfect, simply pad those thoughts with, “This is what it looks like to do the hard things.” The point here is that your hustle, your struggle, your late nights, your mistakes, your lack of money, your inability to be a good friend are part of the process. They are temporary, if you let them be. But, they are 100 percent normal and they are 100 percent surmountable in time. For now, this is exactly what it looks like to make amazing things happen.
2. Nix the tasks that you are not good at. Many times, burnouts happen because you are trying to do things that you are simply not good at. And while I know you are gifted and I know you could figure it out, I promise that it won’t be for the benefit of anyone. And, the longer you ignore this fact, the more likely it is that you will cause irreparable harm to your business and your life. Walk away from the stuff you can’t do well and focus on things you are good at! You are enough exactly as you are right now and you do not need to expand, develop, or broaden until you have the right resources to support that.
3. Surround yourself with positive role models. When I’m in a low spot, it’s easy to find lots of folks around me who will echo the need to quit. It’s not their fault, they are concerned and they are expressing care. However, you have to be discerning and choose to surround yourself with people who support you and your goals. If there isn’t anyone, cut out magazine articles of people who are doing the impossible and of warriors who have pushed through the hard parts of their journey. Write quotes on post-it notes that remind you to stay attached to your mission. Listen to podcasts like Tara Brach, Tim Ferriss, and How I Built This every time you feel a pang of darkness. Cancel out sources of negativity like it’s your job. During a burnout, you are a sponge and you will absorb what is around you. It becomes essential that you protect your vulnerable state and fill it up with inspiration only.
4. Shove off traditional notions of self-care. When I’m in a burnout, a spa day isn’t going to save me. Everyone will tell you to go on vacation and to get a massage, but I will beg you not to do that. I believe that burnouts are symptoms of you pleading for perspective and creative space, which means they require exertion outside of your normal routine. Find an adventure. Exercise every single day. Go on a hike in nature. Unplug from social media. Go take a weird dance class or head to a boxing gym. Watch your favorite classic movies all in one day while eating cheese puffs and chocolate. Get wild. Your burnout will become instantly friendly.
5. Say to yourself on repeat: I can handle this. I leave this one instruction for last because it is the most important. I know that you can handle this burnout. And I know you know you can. However, with all the stress coursing through your body, the reality is that your nervous system might start to feel like it cannot handle it. And then your mind will start sending alerts along those lines and you’ll start to have tangible evidence for why you can’t handle it. Panic attacks. Giant stress breakouts all over your beautiful face. Insomnia. Headaches. Heart palpitations. Etc. However, if you can remember that growth is designed to challenge your nervous system to become more evolved, then you can say to yourself, “I can handle this.” The moment you do that, your beautiful spine can stand up tall and get in the fight with you, instead of slinking away. And then the next burnout will just be another training session for yet another layer of success.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.