Several years ago I attended a workshop on Transformational Leadership. It came at a time when I was really floundering in terms of having a clear sense of what direction I wanted to go in with my career. Actually, I did not know that I was floundering but it quickly became apparent once I started on the journey inspired by the workshop.
I was asked by a friend to participate in the program and, while I was happy to attend, did not have it high on my radar as a “need-to” type of event. I actually felt like I was doing her a favor as she wanted me to experience the workshop to help showcase some of the great programs her company offered to women. At the time, I was working at Working Mother Media and lots of people cared about influencing me because I was responsible for managing one of the most sought-after recognitions for Fortune 500 companies – the Working Mother 100 Best Companies. I am sure that my friend (who was less of a friend at that time and more of a close professional acquaintance) believed that participating in this program would help me to understand the value of their work and be better informed to evaluate her company. And, because she is now a good friend who I know is truly kind and generous, I suspect she also knew how much I would derive as a participant of the workshop (even if I did not understand that to be true for myself).
As the date approached for this program (back in December 2008), I remember feeling really annoyed about the inconvenient commute out to rural Connecticut (I had to take Amtrak and not even the Acela – the Regional!). I was trying to make the most of it by squeezing in a visit with my nephew who was teaching in the area. He and I enjoyed dinner the first night I arrived and I assumed that would be the highlight of the trip. Back in those days, I hated being put into situations where I would not know anyone and I avoided small talk and mingling with strangers whenever possible. Yes, of course with that background it makes complete sense that I would later decide to start my own business where I would have to constantly network and meet new people in order to cultivate business.
There were about 20 women who participated in the workshop alongside me and all of them were employees of the same company where my friend worked. She would be the lead facilitator for the workshop so I was happy to be in the room with her for two days. I figured I would be more of an observer and less of a participant. Plus, I was a subject-matter expert so I would likely be more like an assistant to her than an actual participant and learner. Even as I write these words I have to laugh a little bit when I think about how arrogant and clueless I was. My goodness.
It only took about ten minutes for me to realize I was in for the ride of my life. Despite my assurances to myself that there was nothing here for me to learn (after all, I had been in therapy for many years and was very in touch with my feelings and thinking about all things), I was immediately stumped when we were presented with an exercise to write down two words that describes our personal brand.
I’m funny, I thought. I’m smart. Does that count? No, it certainly did not. Those were not defining characteristics. And, what began right there was two days of unlocking doors that I did not even know existed within me. I was ripping off scabs on wounds I did not know I had. I was on a journey of transformation. It was the catalyst for everything that came next in my life because when I left that hotel in rural Connecticut, I was not the same person I was when I walked through the door.
A similar experience happened to me last year in a very different forum. Up to that point, my journey of transformation was focused primarily on my professional life with some poking around with my personal endeavors. I had not yet tackled something that had eluded me my whole life – taking control of my body. Back in December 2011, I talked about food addiction and how it had me in its grips for many years. I never thought of myself as an addict but, clearly, food was providing an outlet for me to avoid my feelings and go numb. Over the years, I had lost and gained lots of weight and had gotten hooked on one type of exercise after another. Most recently, in 2007, I became hooked on Oprah’s trainer and followed a strict regimen of workouts 6 days a week to lose 25 lbs and lots of inches. The day I decided I wanted to sleep in rather than get up for my normal 5:30am workout was the beginning of the end for me. Nothing has ever held my attention, nothing has helped me to look at my body in a different way.
Last year at a fundraiser for my children’s school, I was introduced to a local merchant who ran a Karate studio in town. Several of my friends had started taking kickboxing classes with him and I was intrigued although I was also certain that there was no way I would ever participate because I was no kickboxer. I have never played a sport in my life, have little to no coordination and certainly do not have the body of someone who might excel at martial arts. Plus, I was pretty overweight at the time and did not think my body could endure even one attempt at a class. However, as has often happened to me in my life, I agreed, after having way too many glasses of wine, to attend a class the Monday after the event. It was, essentially, a drunken dare and I will almost never turn down a dare.
I showed up at the class terrified and knowing nothing. I did no research, I did not ask what I was to wear or bring. I treated it like any other exercise class. I showed up in a pink t-shirt with sweat pants, my sneakers and a water bottle. I was so clueless. The first thing I learned was that kickboxers don’t wear pink. (And so began my abundant collection of black t-shirts). The next thing I learned – and this was a critical lesson – was to never underestimate myself. During that first class I was lucky to get my leg to kick to someone’s calf. I did not know how to do a roundhouse and could not imagine that I could punch anything for more than about 10 seconds because my arms were so weak. That was then, exactly one year ago today.
In the past year, I have kickboxed on average 3-4 times per week and some weeks have managed to pull off 5-6 classes. I get up early, stay up late and do whatever I need to do to make my classes and maintain my routine. I now have a mean roundhouse and can punch the crap out of a 250 lb. bag. In fact, I can even kick over the 250 lb. bag with a nasty front kick. I have added some karate to my routine, which is kind of awesome because that was never in my wheelhouse and I am really, really strong. This past Saturday we went back to that school fundraiser and I was nearly 50 lbs lighter, 3 sizes down and standing taller than I ever have in my life. I have begun a transformation of both my body and mind. Frankly, this change is a little scary because I need to adjust to a new normal. I have had to discard almost my entire closet of clothing and feel confident that I will never need them again. As I walked through the event the other night, nearly every single person I talked to commented on how different I looked. It made me think if I had changed only on the outside or if my inside matched up. I didn’t have to think too hard because I know, on that snowy December day in rural Connecticut, I began the internal transformation and on that cold February night this past weekend, my outside finally began to match.
Today I celebrated my one year anniversary of my drunken dare by attending a kickboxing class where I did several 3-minute rounds of jabs and elbow punches which was preceded by jogging, 30 pushups, 100 crunches and an assortment of other goodies. I followed that class up with a karate class where we did 80 jumping jacks, another 100 crunches, 80 pushups and a whole lot of kicking. That may not seem like much to someone who is in shape and active but, for me, I never dreamed that this would be my life.
I cannot write this without giving much gratitude to my team of supporters. You all know who you are, especially Louis, Tami and Joe. And, of course, my amazing husband who has cheered me on all the way. My journey is still very much ongoing and I have a long way to go but I could not miss the opportunity to acknowledge that transformation is possible and is really extraordinary.
By the way, in case you were wondering what my personal brand was after I left the workshop in 2008, it was “I am a courageous and inspiring leader.” The piece of paper on which I wrote that still hangs right in front of me on my desk so I can look at it every day. I have been given the gift of being led by some courageous and inspiring leaders and it is always my goal to pay it forward.