Career 08 April 2020
Burning Man. Coachella. Lightning in a Bottle.
My love for the shared sense of community, freedom of thought, and the general nonexistence of judgment at these festivals runs as deep as the ocean in me.
So, how does a festival-loving mermaid end up entangled in the red tape of a government institution? And what takeaways from that path ultimately led to running a multi-million dollar business without crushing the party girl in me?
Well, despite my lifelong reluctance to conform to the status quo, upon setting out after college to find employment, I fell directly into society's sticky net by taking a position in waste management at Los Alamos National Labs. Higher degree, check. Gainful employment, check. Total lack of freedom to express my personal creativity, double-check.
Instead of spending my days by the ocean de-trashing the beaches and bettering the environment, I found myself up to my eyeballs in something (in many ways) equally as off-putting: government-issued "trash." I was completely adrift. To put it bluntly, it sucked. But thankfully I was able to tread water and endure it long enough to gain some perspective that would ultimately help shape my personal and professional belief system to this day.
The lab was systematic and rigid. Everyone implicitly understood that they existed to fill a slot in the deep-seated and "time-honored" hierarchy, and no one dared step out of line. But constrained daily to crossing the i's and dotting the obligatory t's, ensuring that signatures were strictly executed in the proper order of seniority, I began to feel horribly claustrophobic. It became clear to me that I needed a change, and fast. Enter the festival world.
Burning Man could not have been more starkly contrasted to the lab if it tried. It was an experience grounded in the authentic expression of self through the creation of art, music, food, and dance. The magic of the community coming together to immerse itself in this environment allowed all of the walls that we fortify ourselves with to fall away. It was actually shocking to me at first to see how incredibly talented we are as humans; and at Burning Man, the full extent of this human capability was exposed for all to see. For me, that was it. I promptly quit the lab, packed my skis, and headed to Whistler, intent on utilizing the crisp air and fresh powder to clear my head and allow me to consider my next step.
View this post on Instagram⚡️ The power of choice ⚡️ I spent much of my time at #burningman reflecting on the power of choice. Our decisions are the most powerful thing we own. And what we choose, every second of every minute, is the sum total of how we show up in the world. When we are in a relationship, every day we wake up and choose to be with that person. I see this as active choices, rather than just submitting to the daily inertia of our decisions. Every minute, we can either recommit to that choice, or choose a different path. And it only takes a small choice to put your life on a completely different path. A 1 degree change in direction may not seem like a big difference, but as time continues on, that 1 degree change ends in a very different result. Burning Man is an amazing place to test new theories because it is a magnified representation of the world. Everything on the playa happens to an extreme, there is no middle ground. If there is any internal struggle you are dealing with, you better bet your ass it will surface in a big way. So it was in this land of hyperbolic existence I asked myself, “Am I actively choosing my decisions or just letting previous programming (pre-existing neuronal connections) make them for me?"
A post shared by Emma Rose Cohen (@emmasirena) on Sep 8, 2019 at 7:16pm PDT
But best-laid plans often have a way of going sideways, which is precisely what happened upon my arrival to my mountainous escape. I found myself immediately entrenched in the development and launch of a new company — FinalStraw, the world's first reusable, collapsible, "totally badass" straw. I was completely unprepared for its instant success. And in April of 2018, when the product's campaign went viral, my life changed forever. I was the CEO and Founder of what would become a virtual juggernaut. And this was just the start.
The purpose of the product was clear. The mantra and mission statement behind it, a no-brainer. It was everything I had always been about.
But establishing and running the business side of things quickly brought back the memories of a lab and its inherent tedium. And that was not a trap I wished to entangle myself in again. So with the festival-inspired perspective fresh in my mind, and the cold, Canadian air filling my lungs, I endeavored to discover a way to infuse my deep-seated belief system into both the creation of the company as well as the development of its culture and team.
As for the core principles of operation, I began closely contemplating what I'd learned at the lab and comparing it with the philosophy from "the burn." In a sense, it was a virtual synthesis of opposing theories.
In the desert, there was a heavy emphasis on freedom of expression, a need for self-reliance, and a tremendous amount of mutual respect for one another. Whereas the lab — as dry and bureaucratic as it was — relied on a system of coordinated functions and a hierarchy that reliably worked in concert with each member of the team. As "lifeless" as it was, it produced results, and undeniably predictable ones at that.
And so it began: a systematic establishment of the business model and a scientific approach to inner workings and infrastructure. While at the same time, and in direct contrast to the lab, a company culture that emphasized creativity, radical inclusion, autonomy, mutual respect, self-care, and civic responsibility — all mantras that had become deeply ingrained into my daily life and work. And all of this, of course, approached with a modern-day mentality that would support the free-spirited, globetrotting girl in me.
As one who innately seeks alternatives to the norm in everyday life, it was a natural progression for me to build a team that values imagination and independent thought, where every voice of every individual on the team is given equal consideration, and where a bit of wit, a hint of humor and sass is not only welcomed but encouraged as we address our deadly-serious mission to reverse the damage to mother Earth.
But perhaps the most important realization from my years attending festivals like Burning Man is the idea that we have to be present and appreciative of all that we have been given to the fullest. Because as cliché as it may sound, the reality is that it just may not be there one day. And that's something for all of us to consider.
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Sometimes it takes falling to rock bottom in order to be built back up again. I learned this many years ago when the life I'd carefully built for myself and my family suddenly changed. But in those times, you learn to lean on those who love you – a friend, family member or someone who can relate to what you've been through. I was lucky enough to have two incredible women help me through one of my lowest moments. They taught me to love myself and inspired me to pass on their lessons each da
If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today.
In 2010, I was a wife, a mother of three, and had filtered in and out of jobs depending on what my family needed from me. At different points in my career, I've worked in the corporate world, been a stay-at-home mom, and even started my own daycare center. Fitness has always been a part of my life, but at that point being a mom was my main priority. Then, life threw a curveball. My husband and I separated, leading to a very difficult divorce.
These were difficult times. I lost myself in the uncertainty of my future and the stress that comes with a divorce and found myself battling anorexia. Over a matter of months, I lost 40 lbs. and felt surrounded by darkness. I was no longer participating in my health and all efforts to stay active came to a halt. I didn't want to leave my home, I didn't' want to talk to people, and I really did not want to see men. Seeing my struggles, first my sister and then a friend, approached me and invited me to visit the gym.
After months of avoiding it, my sister started taking me to the gym right before closing when it wasn't too busy. We started slow, on the elliptical or the treadmill. This routine got me out of the house and slowly we worked to regain my strength and my self-esteem. When my sister moved away, my good friend and personal trainer started working out with me one-on-one early in the morning, taking time out of her busy schedule to keep me on track toward living a healthy life once again. Even when I didn't want to leave the house, she would encourage me to push myself and I knew I didn't want to let her down. She helped me every step of the way. My sister and my friend brought fitness back into my everyday routine. They saved my life.
I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again. My friend has since moved away, but, these two women made me feel loved, confident and strong with their empowerment and commitment to me. They made such an incredible impact on me; I knew I needed to pay it forward. I wanted to have the same impact on women in my community. I started by doing little things, like running with a woman who just had a baby to keep her inspired and let her know she's not alone. I made sure not to skip my regular runs, just in case there was a woman watching who needed the inspiration to keep going. These small steps of paying it forward helped me find purpose and belonging. This gave me a new mentality that put me on a path to the opportunity of a lifetime – opening a women's only kickboxing gym, 30 Minute Hit.
About four years ago, I was officially an empty nester. It was time to get myself out of the house too and find what I was truly passionate about, which is easier said than done. Sitting behind a desk, in a cubicle, simply didn't cut it. It was hard to go from an active and chaotic schedule to a very slow paced, uneventful work week. I felt sluggish. Even when I moved to another company where I got to plan events and travel, it was enjoyable, but not fulfilling. I wanted to be a source of comfort to those struggling, as my sister and dear friend had been to me. I wanted to impact others in a way that couldn't be done from behind a desk.
I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again.
When I heard about 30 Minute Hit, I was nervous to take the leap. But the more I learned about the concept, the more I knew it was the perfect fit for me. Opening my own gym where women can come to let go of their struggles, rely on one another and meet new people is the best way for me to pass on the lessons I learned during my darkest times.
Kickboxing is empowering in itself. Add to it a high energy, female-only environment, and you have yourself a powerhouse! The 30 Minute Hit concept is franchised all over North America, acting as a source of release for women who are just trying to get through their day. I see women of all ages come into my gym, kick the heck out of a punching bag and leave with a smile on their face, often times alongside a new friend. 30 Minute Hit offers a convenient schedule for all women, from busy moms to working women, to students and senior citizens. A schedule-free model allows members to come in whenever they have a free half hour to dedicate to themselves. Offering certified training in kickboxing and a safe environment to let go, 30 Minute Hit is the place for women empowerment and personal growth.
Through my journey, I have learned that everyone is going through something – everyone is on their own path. My motivating factor is knowing that I can touch people's lives everyday just by creating the space for encouragement and community. It's so easy to show people you care. That's the type of environment my team, clients and myself have worked hard to create at our 30 Minute Hit location.
Fitness saved my life. If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today. The perfect example of women empowering women – the foundation to invincibility.
This article was originally published September 12, 2019.