#SWAAYthenarrative

What Starting Gymnastics at 47 Taught Me About Business

4min read
Business

I started taking gymnastics at the age of 47. My then 21-year-old daughter had been begging me for six months to take a class with her — Mom! It's awesome… you jump up and down and do flips and handstands! Doesn't that sound fun? It sounded as un-fun to me as it gets, I thought, gymnastics is not something a person my age does. Besides, flipping upside down--why in the world would I want to do that?


I'm a Taurus, an Earth sign. I've always gone through life with two feet firmly planted. My center of gravity is rooted down. That's my balanced place. So the idea of gymnastics was terrifying to me; disrupting my center of gravity and literally not having my feet on the ground sounded as foreign to me as I could get. It wasn't just that it didn't just sound unappealing — it was in stark contrast to everything I'd ever known about myself and where I draw my strength.

But my daughter persisted — she'd been going for several months and had formed a friendship with her instructor, Randy, whom she recruited to convince me I should give gymnastics a try. Given my reluctance, Randy offered to do a private coaching session with me once before joining a class. And so I finally relented, if only to put the topic to bed, once and for all.

Chelsea Piers is a massive sports and entertainment complex that takes up about 6 city blocks overlooking the Hudson River in New York. The day of my coaching session, as I walked down the long corridor with the bustling basketball courts and indoor soccer fields on the right, and the massive state-of-the-art gym visible through the glass windows on the left, the very space began planting little seeds of inspiration. When I went to the locker room and changed into my gym clothes, I actually started to feel a little more like an athlete.

Stepping out onto the spongy gym floor, the mixed smell of rubber and sweat hit my nose; the sounds of running, jumping, squeaky springs, and, somewhere further off, a basketball being dribbled flooded my ears. As I looked for my instructor, my nerves came flooding back.

I couldn't shake the feeling. What was I doing here? Why would I want to do this? And aren't I too old to do this?

Thankfully, Randy and I had the entire warm-up area to ourselves. I took a deep breath, don't worry, this will all be over in 60 minutes and you'll never have to do this again.

But Randy was full of energy and, as soon became apparent, true skill. He began walking me through a few stretches and had me running and jumping to get warmed up. Then he gave me a series of exercises to get me moving. He had me do crab walks and bear walks, requiring my body to move in ways that were new and different, but possible and achievable. With each new and unusual move he introduced, and I found I could do, I gained confidence. Before I knew it, I'd lost track of the minutes I'd been counting down in my head before I arrived.

About three-quarters of the way through our lesson, there was a shift in me. Even Randy noted the courage and joy that I had begun to exude. So, in those final 15 minutes, instilled with confidence in myself, Randy graduated me to more advanced moves. He had me do a cartwheel which, much to my surprise, was really pretty good. It was the first time I'd done a cartwheel in nearly 40 years! And with a few minor adjustments, I was cartwheeling down a straight line as if I was on a beam.

"Now let's do a handstand!" he said, "I'll spot you by holding your legs and making sure you don't fall." Oh no, I thought, I can't do that. Though he'd already shown me I was capable of more than I'd anticipated and I had agreed to be a willing student, the thought of going upside down didn't interest me at all. My center of gravity is rooted down, towards the Earth. Who would I be with my feet toward the sky?

I knew, deep down, that Randy wouldn't let any true harm come to me. So I fought through every cell in my body telling me, "this is wrong. We can't do this." I leaned forward, hands connecting with mat, kicked my legs to the ceiling, and straightened out my body from my core. And there I was, upside down, viewing the world from an entirely different angle. I'd actually done it. I'd shifted my center of gravity and come out the other end unscathed. It was exhilarating.

Within the span of a single one-hour lesson, my extremely gifted gymnastics instructor completely shifted my self -perception. I went from being convinced I had no business doing flips to a true believer. Wow, I can do this! I thought as I bounded out of the gym.

What's more, I couldn't believe how excited I was to come back. Every week Randy would give me something new to do, always something that would make my body move in ways that it never had before. One time it was a front handspring over a foam barrel, another time it was frontflips and backflips on the trampoline.

And then came the one-armed cartwheel. It was the one thing I was convinced I couldn't do. You want me not to put my other hand down!? I was sure I was going to smash my face right into the mat. But Randy reassured, "You don't need it," he said, "You have a great two-armed cartwheel and a strong core. You have to kick faster and believe."

So, finally, I put one arm behind my back, ensuring I'd resist the natural, carnal instinct to brace my fall, and I went for it. That was the day that I started calling my gymnastics lessons my "center of gravity lessons."

What I discovered is gymnastics is much a mental exercise as a physical one— maybe even more. I had to constantly work against my preconceptions about what is possible, and what I am capable of.

Doing a back roll into a handstand, for example, requires that you shift your center of gravity. This takes intense concentration, and yes, some courage. And I was always amazed when I was able to do it.

For me, gymnastics became an unexpected source of courage in business. At the time, I'd been in business for 17 years, and I was on the brink of a major transformation. Having had great success in the consumer space for almost two decades, we had just expanded into the corporate training world, taking our individual strategies and sharing them within teams and companies. There were so many new things to learn: designing courses, selling into companies with complex structures which made decisions by committee, sales cycles that took 3-6 months as opposed to 3 days and expanding our internal team.

During the business transformation, when daunted by a task or responsibility that I was encountering for the first time, I became less inclined at first to believe it's not doable. I would stop and think to myself, "If I can do a one-armed cartwheel, why can't I do this?" Fast forward 10+ years, and my business is thriving, with a brand new book out in the consumer space called TIME TO PARENT, and a thriving corporate training and coaching business that serves Fortune 500 companies around the globe.

During any time of change or growth, personal or professional, we all need a little help to fortify our confidence that we can conquer something new, and our faith in ourselves that we have more in us than we've already demonstrated. It's one thing to try to mentally coach yourself, to tell yourself, I can do this! But it's another thing to show yourself. And what I have found is that sometimes, trying something new, that's completely unrelated to our areas of interest or focus, can provide just the turbo-charge that we need. It allows us to demonstrate to ourselves in a safer space, that doesn't carry the same weight of success or failure or the pressure to be an expert, that we are capable of more than we can ever imagine.

Needless to say, taking gymnastics lessons was a real stretch for me (pardon the pun). But by tackling something new, I'd given myself the sensation of succeeding at something I never thought possible and the determination to do so again with everything life throws at me. So if you're stuck somewhere in your life, if you don't know where to go or what to do next, do something completely different. Shift your center of gravity. Do something you've never done before and keep the stakes low. That way, you won't be too hard on yourself… you can let yourself try and fail and try and fail until it finally clicks: you can do this.

4 Min Read
Business

Today, Companies Need to Retain Veteran Employees in Order to Survive and Thrive

In 2020, as the world turned on its axis, we all held on for dear life. Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, and entrepreneurs all braced for a new normal, not sure what it would mean, what would come next, or if we should be excited or terrified.

At the same time that everything is shifting, being put on hold, or expanding, companies have to evaluate current talent needs, empower their teams to work from home, discover new ways to care for clients from a distance, and navigate new levels of uncertainty in this unfamiliar environment. Through it all, civilians are being encouraged to lean into concepts like "resilience" and "courage" and "commitment," sometimes for the first time.

Let's contrast what the business community is going through this year with the common experience of the military. During basic training, officer candidate school, multiple deployments, combat, and reintegration, veterans become well-versed in resilience, courage, and commitment to survive and thrive in completing their mission. Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

More than ever before, today's employers who employ prior military should focus on why and how to retain them and leverage their talents, experience, and character traits to help lead the company — and the employees — to the other side of uncertainty.

What makes veterans valuable employees

Informed employers recognize that someone with a military background brings certain high-value assets into the civilian sector. Notably, veterans were taught, trained, and grounded in certain principles that make them uniquely valuable to their employers, particularly given the current business environment, including:

Leadership

It's been said that the United States Armed Forces is the greatest leadership institution in the world. The practices, beliefs, values, and dedication of those who serve make them tested leaders even outside of the military. Given the opportunity to lead, a veteran will step forward and assume the role. Asked to respect and support leadership, they comply with that position as well. Leadership is in the veteran's blood and for a company that seeks employees with the confidence and commitment to lead if called upon, a veteran is the ideal choice.

Commitment

The hope is that all employees are committed to their job and give 100% each day. For someone in the military, this is non-negotiable. The success of the mission, and the lives of everyone around them, depend on their commitment to stay the course and perform their job as trained. When the veteran employee takes on a project, it will be completed. When the veteran employee says there's an unsurmountable obstacle, it is so (not an excuse). When a veteran says they're "all in" on an initiative, they will see it through.

Strategy, planning, and improv

Every mission involves strategy, planning, and then improvisation from multiple individuals. On the battlefield, no plan works perfectly, and the service member's ability to flex, pivot, and adapt makes them valuable later, in the civilian sector. Imagine living in countries where you don't speak the language, working alongside troops who come from places you can't find on a map, and having to communicate what needs to get done to ensure everyone's safety. Veterans learned how to set goals, problem-solve challenges, and successfully get results.

Service

With an all-volunteer military for decades now, every man and woman who wore our nation's uniform raised their hand to do so. They chose to serve their country, their fellow Americans, and their leaders. These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

When companies seek out leaders who will commit to a bigger mission, can think strategically and creatively, and will serve others, they look to veterans.

Best practices in retention of veteran talent

Retention starts at hiring. The experience set out in the interview stage provides insight about how it will be to work and grow within the team at the company. For employers hiring veterans, this is a critical step.

Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent.

The veteran employee may have had a few — or several — jobs since leaving the military. Or this may be their first civilian work experience. In any case, setting expectations and being clear about goals is vital. Remember, veterans are trained to complete a mission and a goal. When an employer clarifies the mission and shows how the veteran employee's role supports and fulfills that mission, the employee can more confidently and successfully complete their work.

Additionally, regular check-ins are helpful with veteran employees. These employees may not be as comfortable asking for help or revealing their weaknesses. When the employer checks in regularly, and shows genuine interest in their happiness, sense of productivity, and overall job satisfaction, the veteran employee learns to be more comfortable asking for help when needed.

The military is a values-driven culture. Service members are instilled with values of loyalty, integrity, service, duty, and honor, to name a few. When they transition out of the military, veterans still seek a commitment to values in their employers. Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent. Make it clear what your values are, how you live and act on those values, and how the veteran's job will promote and support those values. Even work that is less glamorous can be attractive to a veteran if they understand the greater purpose and mission.

Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

Finally, leveraging the strengths and goals of any employee is critical, and particularly so with veterans. If you have an employee who is passionate about service, show them ways to give back — through mentoring, community engagement, volunteerism, etc. If your veteran continues to seek leadership roles, find opportunities for them to contribute at higher levels, even informally. When your veteran employee offers to reframe the team's mission to gain better alignment across the sector, give them some runway to experiment. You have a workforce that is trained and passionate about and skilled in adapting and overcoming. Let them do what they do best.