Love Lessons of an Entrepreneur: each month I’ll post a new chapter from my spirited ventures!
Love lesson 26
It may seem as though various people or opportunities that we come upon hold great potential to be special addition to our lives. The initial excitement fills you with butterflies and endless optimism. While we exude passion and determination, not every connection will come to fruition. Many misses and even near misses are just not meant to be.
When I moved to Aspen in January of 2015, I had the ultimate dream of hosting Pilates retreats in what I (and many others) deem: paradise. Upon arriving, I immediately began researching properties that could be appropriate places to host various active endeavors.
The first listing that caught my eye was a wooded, 1/3 acre parcel about 20 miles from Aspen. It went under contract before I had the chance to pursue it. Also 20 miles away, there was a work / live community that could have offered a duplex for Pilates and home life, but I already had a home in Aspen. A newly developed commercial building in that same town offered small spaces for sale with a beautiful view of the river. However, it would have involved a lot of commuting in order to accommodate various clients workout schedule preferences.
Next I found a penthouse level commercial space only 4 miles from Aspen. It was spacious and had breathtaking views, but it needed too much renovation for the designated price. Then I came across a small commercial studio space right in downtown Aspen, but the lease was month-to-month because the building was slated to be torn down. Another space in a perfect downtown location was completely underground with no windows. I couldn’t imagine working in this beautiful mountain town without any view during long days of teaching.
It was seeming as though starting another Pilates business may be more challenging than I had anticipated. I decided to consider working as an independent contractor at an established business, but the three local Pilates studios, as well as the 3 local gyms plus a physical therapy business all insisted on my signing a non-compete that wouldn’t allow me to teach anywhere else in Aspen. That felt very restrictive to my entrepreneurial spirit. Plus, it contradicted my previous standards of never having committed my former Pilates instructors to non-compete contracts. I always believed that if I was good to my contractors, they would in turn be loyal to me.
I pitched my idea of a Pilates retreat center to a hotel in Aspen as well as a bed and breakfast further down valley. Both were apprehensive about committing to an expensive business plan without an existing proof of concept.
I considered Pilates classes outside in the parks, inside a custom built truck, through a non-profit organization, at a business incubator, within an art gallery, at a bike shop, and in collaboration with a yoga or spinning studio. None of these ideas ultimately captured my enthusiasm, nor that of the people whom I was consulting with.
I then brought my search full circle and returned to seeking property options through real estate websites. I visited a few possible properties within a 45 mile radius but ultimately couldn’t envision what would be necessary to erect a successful Pilates retreat center at any of the locations.
Ultimately, I opted for having no overhead expenses and a favorable commute. I made business cards and updated my website to inform potential clients that I could train them in Pilates at their home or in mine. I compiled various small Pilates and fitness props to keep workouts interesting and challenging and created a mobile practice.
Love lesson: remaining patient through trials and tribulations is frustrating. Staying true to your vision will usually lead you to that which compliments your life best. With an open mind and perseverance a light will shine through in time, illuminating that which is meant to be.
Love lesson 25
Relationship proposals mark an event through which one person requests the engagement of another person in a committed union. The agreed upon status is typically authenticated through a verbal agreement as well as an engagement ring. Proposals are also common within the business world to engage in collaborations of intellectual property. In this case, a handshake and/or a written contract may be used to protect the union. Regardless, there are numerous ways to strengthen and further develop upon individual qualities and capabilities through joining with another.
It was shortly after I sold my Pilates business that I had an epiphany. What if there was a way to offer private sessions on Pilates equipment as well as group fitness classes all within the same small studio space? Furthermore, what if there was a way to continuously convert the small space of a studio in order to accommodate the ever-changing trends within the fitness industry?
I no longer had a business to run, the sale of my books had hit a consistent stride, and I had only a dozen client packages to complete at my former studio, so I welcomed a new project. I embarked on designing a multi-use piece of Pilates equipment that could be easily stowed against a wall while offering other classes. I spent the next month researching all fitness and Pilates equipment currently on the market as well as the patents of comparable machines.
I began with a sketchbook and within a couple of tries, I was looking at a wall cabinet that unfolded like a Murphy Bed to reveal a Pilates apparatus. It seemed so obvious to me but it didn’t exist yet and I wanted to better visualize what it would look like. I purchased a Barbie doll and made multiple trips to hardware and craft stores for supplies. I would build a model of the apparatus to suit Barbie’s size (which is approximately 1/8 the actual human size).
My paternal grandmother loved doll houses and miniatures and my grandfather used to carve the furniture from wood for each room. As I struggled to teach myself basic woodworking, I took comfort in the memories of him once enjoying the craftsmanship of it all. Trial and error eventually presented itself as a reasonable depiction of the piece I had envisioned. From there I added some decorative features and updated my sketches to reflect the changes.
Next I showed the model to my parents, to a few Pilates colleagues, and to some Pilates clients. The most common reaction was “Ooooh, that’s so cute!” Being petite myself, I am no stranger to the frustration of small things automatically falling within the “cute” category! I wasn’t yet planning to build a full size model of this design so I had to incorporate features that would garner reactions more along the lines of “impressive and innovative.”
It surpassed fortuitous that one of the clients that had been with my Pilates studio for almost ten years also happened to be a retired patent attorney. When I demonstrated the model for him, he took great interest in the proprietary aspects of the design. He encouraged me to consider every detail that would be necessary for the functionality of the apparatus and implement it into the display. After reviewing each component that made this design uniquely mine, we decided to start working on a patent application to legally protect it.
This attorney/client advised me that the most economical and effective approach would be to first file a provisional patent application, which would protect my idea for one year. This comprehensive document would offer both written and drawn descriptors of the invention, detailed to the point that anyone reviewing it should be able to construct the apparatus based on the information provided. By the end of the protected year, I would need to choose between finding a company who would license/purchase the idea and file the non-provisional patent on its behalf, or I would have to assume the costly process of filing the non-provisional patent myself, or I would have to drop the idea.
We set forth to compile all of the information necessary to draft the provisional patent application. I forwarded along the research I had done of other comparable patents to my attorney/client so that he could begin the background and summary sections of the application. Next I sketched 28 figure drawings to show in detail the various views and multiple functions of the apparatus. From those drawings, my attorney/client was able to complete the sections including the detailed description of the preferred embodiments, operation, alternatives, claims, and list of reference numbers. I added an appendix including photographs depicting multiple views of the actual model and the 44-page document was complete.
The process of compiling information for the patent application was tedious and exhausting, but my attorney/client and I agreed that my involvement throughout every step was important in my understanding of the process. I am by no means interested in a law career, but learning for the sake of learning is always a welcomed growth experience. As it turned out, one of the more challenging parts was something I had to do on my own. Since my attorney/clients retirement, the US Patent and Trademark Office had switched to an online format for patent submissions. We were equally unfamiliar with the process so I took on the challenge of researching and consulting with the designated helpline (for many hours) in order to finally achieve an official “Patent Pending” designation.
Now that my idea was adequately protected for one year, I was determined to find a good home for it. Being that the apparatus was essentially Pilates equipment built into a cabinet, I deduced that the best manufacturing options would be either a Pilates equipment manufacturing company, or a cabinet manufacturing company. Sticking close to my roots, I researched the top three Pilates manufacturing companies. One such company was undeniably the most successful, having the largest market share as well as the most patents on file. The company is based in California, but I noticed that they were offering a Pilates conference near Chicago the following month. I contacted the owner of the company and, much to my delight, he agreed to meet with me during his visit.
I celebrated this small victory briefly, and then set out to compose a presentation that would sell both me and my design. I was both flattered and overwhelmed by the task of giving a presentation to a pillar in the Pilates industry. For 35 years he has helped set the standards for equipment design, product development, and education. Although I rehearsed non-stop for the week before the presentation, nothing could have prepared me for how nervous I would be meeting the owner, in addition to the Director of Business Development.
While setting up my presentation, I was visibly shaking and struggling to speak. Fortunately, the owner addressed it by jokingly inquiring as to whether I was a bit nervous. This somehow released a portion of my jitters and allowed me to proceed like a professional. The presentation I had prepared was approximately thirty minutes and they graciously allowed me to complete it without interruption. I could tell that I had their undivided attention, but their reactions were undecipherable. It wasn’t until the owner stated that it was the best presentation he had been pitched in his 35 years with the business that I finally felt my normal breath pattern return!
The conversation continued for an additional 90 minutes. During that time, the owner revealed that he had conceptualized a similar apparatus (and even showed me a mock-up on his tablet) but that my design was more intricate. He was also impressed that my presentation included studio designs with the new apparatus’ as well as programming projections. It evolved into a stimulating brain-storming session of the possibilities this invention could present.
The Director of Business Development seemed to appreciate what I was envisioning, but his focus was on the manufacturing costs versus income projections. It would be an expensive piece of equipment to build, and it needed to be determined whether the market could support it. Towards the end of the meeting, I was informed that they already had a full docket in their production calendar for the following year, but that they would consider whether it would be worth bumping something out in order to add in this project.
Among the most flattering compliments that the owner gave me during the meeting was that he was very excited by both my idea and by the way I sold it. He disclosed that he hasn’t always found inventors to be very personable and he felt that both my apparatus and the enthusiasm of my sales approach could benefit their company. He inquired as to whether I was willing to travel and where I would like my home base to be. I was over the moon with the possibility of having found a wonderful home for my invention, as well as an opportunity to be part of an incredible team.
It took hours after the completion of the meeting for the butterflies in my stomach to subside. I’m not sure that I knew exactly how passionate and excited I was about this project until I had the opportunity to formally present it. In my day-to-day life, I have to be cheerful and motivational with clients whether i’m feeling as such or not. The way that I presented myself that day was as truly genuine as I have ever felt.
Love lesson: the right path should feel natural. When you are pursuing a true passion it will radiate from you in such a way that others will feed off of your energy.
Love lesson 24
The 7-year itch
There is a psychological phenomena suggesting that happiness in a relationship declines around its seventh year. The phrase is known to reference various cycles of dissatisfaction, experienced through interpersonal relationships as well as job satisfaction and living accommodations. Since it is not an exact science, the timing can vary and may even be suppressed for periods of time until the only suitable option is to make a change.
It was close to the seventh anniversary of owning my Pilates business when I felt such career complacence that I decided to additionally open the children’s gymnastics and fitness center. I had considered selling the Pilates business at the same time, but there wasn’t a suitable buyer and I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted to release that important part of my life. It was also in the back of my mind that the Pilates mentor who certified me owned her business for ten years before selling it and what a nice goal that was.
Therefore, I persevered through the seven-year itch and used the distraction of a new business to suppress my feelings towards the Pilates business. It was during the various ebbs and flows of the children’s gym operations that I found myself falling back in love with the safety and simplicity of my original business. When it came time to close the children’s gym, I found great comfort in the security and stability of the tried and true relationship foundation which I had with my Pilates business.
That first year of owning just one business again was like a second honeymoon. I was basking in the undeniable chemistry I experienced with both my clients and my staff. The business had always run smoothly and I once again had the time to appreciate the freedom which that allowed.
Upon approaching the businesses tenth anniversary, I noted that I had reached the goal of operating a successful business for the same length of time as my Pilates mentor. I wasn’t necessarily anxious to move on at that point, but I started getting my business affairs in order so that a valuation could be completed in order to determine its worth.
Around the same time, I started to observe a shift in the Pilates culture. Studios were opening that primarily offered group training on as many as ten Pilates reformers at a time, and studios exclusively offering private training were closing. It could have been a reflection of Pilates’ steady rise in popularity and the need to accommodate more clients at once, or simply just the result of the demand for a more affordable option. Either way, my business wasn’t designed to accommodate this shift in trends and I saw that my window for getting a top-dollar bid may be closing.
I also began to develop an interest in learning about other forms of mind-body fitness and wellness. I sought out various studios offering Yoga, Tai-Chi, Napropathy and massage to experience what I considered to be a more passive approach to health. I dedicated a fair amount of time to each through researching their history and learning from designated practitioners. While I appreciated the distinct differences from my foundational approach, and applied some of what I learned to my personal practice as well as to that of some clients, I found myself fully committed to Pilates. It offers me the most well-rounded mind-body practice, and I feel that makes it the most appropriate skill set for me to share with others.
It was around my eleventh anniversary that I became aggressive in finding a buyer for my Pilates business. Two of the three instructors currently working there expressed an interest in purchasing it and signed a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for the right to see all of my past financial statements. One of the instructors had been teaching at my business for much longer and was my preferred choice in taking over. Unfortunately, he did not have the personal finances to make the purchase, nor did the investor he approached feel it was the right decision.
The other instructor who was interested was more financially stable and had a strong desire to purchase the business. Although she had been working at my studio for four years, I never really felt a connection with her and became conflicted over whether I could pass the business on to someone whose capabilities I was unsure of. After much contemplation, I resolved that it was the right business decision, and that my emotions shouldn’t play a role.
After an elaborate negotiation which began with the two of us and continued through out attorneys, I ended up selling the business for two-thirds the valuation amount. I was advised by various professionals that a business is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and this was my only interested party. That being said, I still received over double the amount that I would have earned in a liquidation sale. Therefore, selling the business was significantly more profitable than closing the business, and allowed me the freedom to choose my next career path.
Throughout this process, I never questioned whether I would continue seeking out ways to develop my Pilates career. My growing social network and brand recognition proved that I had found my niche. Plus, I still really enjoyed the creation and sharing of my skills. The aspect that left me unsettled was in my decision to be based in Chicago. My family had purchased a small condo in Aspen, Colorado and I was finding that my visits there were beginning to feel more like home. In Aspen I was among a more saturated group of fitness enthusiasts who more readily embraced my passion for Pilates. It presented not only a place with more potential for clients, but also somewhere that could inspire more career growth for me.
I may have moved to Aspen immediately after selling my Pilates business, if it weren’t for the fact that the lagging real estate market was stalling the sale of my Chicago condo. Most of my savings were tied up in my condo equity and I couldn’t justify selling without coming close to breaking even. An added complication was that my condo association had put a cap on renter capacity in the building so I did not have the option to lease out the unit.
I felt trapped under a large monthly mortgage payment and had negotiated with the new owner of my business that I could continue to teach at the studio indefinitely at a set pay rate while I awaited the sale of my condo. This was all part of our 27-page purchase agreement, but five months after the sale of the business she decided that the pay rate we agreed upon was too high and negatively affected the bottom line of the business. She expressed that she hadn’t anticipated my involvement for this long after the purchase and presented me with two options: I could take a significant hourly pay cut, or I would no longer be welcome to work there. Our purchase agreement didn’t restrict her from terminating my involvement with the studio, so she stood within legal boundaries. However, she was still choosing to dishonor a contract which had various moving parts that affected both the sale price and the transition of the business.
My initial reaction was purely emotional. I was appalled that she was essentially pushing me out of the business that I had created. Once my mind shifted back into business mode, I asked for clarification as to the client options for those who had been working with me for years. She offered only that the clients could continue their packages with a different instructor at the studio. Since the clients would not be offered a refund, and I knew that many of them had no interest in continuing Pilates with a different instructor, I decided that the only ethical choice was to finish all of the packages at the new lower pay rate.
It wasn’t pleasant. I observed silently as the new owner made various costly aesthetic changes to the studio that weren’t income producing. It seemed frivolous on the heels of giving me a pay cut. I wasn’t the only one to notice the changes and the clients began expressing concerns that she was making unilateral decisions without surveying what really influenced client loyalty over the years.
Additionally, I had a lush plant collection in the windows of the studio which provided comfort and privacy during workouts. One day they were all gone without so much as an offer to return them to the clients who had bought them for the studio over the years. Shortly after the plants were removed a bird flew into one of the windows and perished. Without the plants, it must have appeared to be a clear opening in the wall. It felt like a bad omen.
I kept reminding myself that the ongoing success of the Pilates business was no longer my concern. I would keep my head down until the packages of my regular clients were complete and then I would figure out a way to move on. There was no question in my mind that the compilation of business experiences thus far were important learning tools and that applying the lessons learned to future ventures would ensure a more satisfactory result. I very much looked forward to my next Pilates adventure.
Love lesson: we seem to have an internal clock that suggests when it is time to move on from various forms of relationships. Feeling the need for change is often obvious, however, choosing to acknowledge it and implement changes can be a complex process. Reviewing the past and setting goals for the future can help with the transition, but of utmost importance is to be true to yourself and to those whom you care about.
Love lesson 23
Returning to a former love
Many have contemplated the concept that the grass is greener elsewhere. This may be both deceptive and fleeting. What is imperative is to carefully discern one’s options and choose the most promising path, in spite of past adverse implications.
Following the closing of my kids’ gym in May of 2011, I awarded myself the summer to decompress and enjoy having free time once again. In addition to working with a minimal number of Pilates clients each week, I began stand up paddle boarding at North Avenue Beach, I took sculling lessons at the Lincoln Park Boat Club, and I attended trapeze classes at Belmont Harbor. I also rode my bike, rollerbladed, enjoyed Chicago’s great street festivals, plus took a family trip to Aspen. I even managed to start dating again!
With the approaching Fall season I found a renewed passion and dedication to Pilates. I reinvested myself in running the business efficiently, as well as providing interesting workouts for my clients. When I first began my Pilates career, I created a repertoire of exercises that consisted of six completely different routines to present to my clients. Each routine incorporated exercises to comprise an hour workout. In addition, I was able to customize each workout by choosing the exercises that best accommodated each client’s needs and goals. Over time, I designed hundreds of additional exercises and variations, plus I had acquired many additional ones through attending other studios and workshops. Having these additional exercises, I could now create four fresh new routines resulting in ten different workouts. This meant that a client purchasing a package of ten Pilates sessions would experience completely unique routines during every session of their package. Of course some clients have their preferences and special needs which I would consider, but overall my clients were exited to have so many new variations in their ongoing training.
By the following year, although I continued to average the sale of one set of Pilates manuals per month, I was beginning to feel that the books appeared dated. Also, I was now profoundly aware of the manual’s absence of hundreds of new exercises which I had collected since they were printed. I decided it was time to publish a second edition. I hired a photographer and built a clean white backdrop for the photo shoot. With the intentions of producing this updated book in full color, we re-shot all of the former exercises, in addition to all of the new variations. I compiled 916 exercises with 1,783 photos into my new equipment book titled Pilates Expanded Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair & Barrels Photo Encyclopedia. A second book with 532 exercises plus 1,032 photos was titled Pilates Expanded Matwork & Props Photo Encyclopedia. After extensive formatting and editing, I submitted the works to the self-publishing platform associated with Amazon. Through a royalty-sharing process, Amazon would take book orders, print, and then ship them. This released me from some very time-consuming responsibilities which I experienced with my initial publishing. I found that I enjoyed the process so much, I later went on to develop, photograph and format an additional book titled Pilates Expanded Stand Up Paddle Board. This aptly reflected my newfound interest in stand up paddle boarding as well as my ongoing mission of finding challenging new ways to grow the Pilates industry.
I used my mass email list to begin marketing the updated books and also found that social media outlets were a great tool for networking. I focused primarily on building my overall brand through Facebook. I regularly posted video “spoilers” of exercises represented in the books with a corresponding link to their sale page on Amazon. Through correspondences on Facebook, I received another review in the premier Pilates magazine, as well as numerous blog and online newsletter references.
Book sales were exceeding my expectations and I was finding that the supplemental income more than covered the expenses and time that I had put into the project. But possibly the most rewarding aspect of this particular venture was being invited to, and compensated for traveling to Austin Texas to present a workshop for a group of Pilates instructors. I spent numerous weeks preparing an eight-hour presentation that would familiarize instructors with the 1000+ inventory of Pilates-inspired exercises that I had collected. The workshop I presented included a “round table” during which other instructors shared some unique exercises that they had developed. I realized that there were endless possibilities for growing this encyclopedia of workout combinations and set out to collect even more variations. I took various Pilates classes at new studios in Chicago, and trained at a few studios while visiting Aspen. This resulted in an additional publishing of Pilates Expanded Supplemental Exercises to the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair & Barrels Photo Encyclopedia which was to be sold alongside the original manual. I wanted to design a format that would allow me to introduce additional volumes of exercises without forcing readers to re-purchase the material that they already owned.
As I contemplated my accomplishments of starting and operating a Pilates business, developing a brand, and self-publishing my work, it occurred to me that what I had learned could prove helpful to others pursuing a similar journey. With that in mind, I wrote my first book without pictures! This was a lofty task, as the thoughts in my head do not always translate into a grammatical masterpiece. Fortunately, my patient mother tirelessly endured multiple rounds of editing, and I was able to publish Pilates Expanded Business Resource: from certification to successful career within six months of its inception. In total, I released five books through Amazon within the timeframe of one year.
The following year I released two more books which were both special projects for me. Having had many of my clients for close to a decade, I felt there was a need to better track and record their ongoing health needs and progress throughout their Pilates regimen. For this, I designed Pilates Expanded presents the Client Log Book, which organizes the elaborate profiles of fifteen clients. In addition, I engaged my passion for journaling with an appreciation for motivational quotes and released Pilates Expanded presents the Personal Retreat Journal. It is designed for instructors and clients who wish to dedicate time towards their own reflection and growth.
While it may seem that producing these books would be all consuming, I relied on the enthusiasm of my clients for inspiration. As the economy shifted in a more positive direction, I found my class openings beginning to fill. I was in a great position to keep my long-standing clients happy with new and innovative workouts, while dazzling new clients with all of the challenging possibilities for reaching their goals. My Pilates career was once again stimulating and rewarding.
Love lesson: in life, it feels best to take consistent steps forward. At times, however, we move on to something else before fully optimizing the potential of what we already have. There is no shame in revisiting a past love in order to discern as to if it was a valid choice after all.
Love lesson 22
Lawfully, divorce involves the separation of a formally recognized union. Emotionally, divorce includes feelings of irreparable damage and the need for separation. There may be warning signs along the way, or perhaps a specific breaking point. But the end result is usually the same: lawyers, division of assets, and walking away wounded but free.
It began like many relationships. My business partner and I were opening our kids gym and the infatuation with this new business venture had us in a consistent state of elation. We agreed on most of the initial decisions and found the early rounds of compromise to go quite easily. She relinquished much of the business design and problem solving to me, which is what I enjoy most about start-up companies. I reasoned that she was equally as excited about business ownership, but currently distracted by the tasks involved with her upcoming wedding. The first red flag was thrown when I realized that she planned for a two-week honeymoon, just two months after our business opened. I reflected back to when I opened my Pilates studio and the three years that I worked non-stop before taking more than a long weekend off.
It was havoc running the new business those two weeks with only one employee to assist me. We were still receiving equipment shipments, recruiting staff, and struggling to deliver our business mission to the neighborhood. I worked non-stop to ensure that she would return to a smoothly running business. Fortunately, she returned rested and ready to work hard. We sought out every opportunity to build membership and to discover ways to market the facility. I treated our business relationship like any growing relationship by trying to be a good listener and communicator. Initially I thought I was contributing a disproportionate amount of compromise. When she told me she needed every weekend off to spend time with her husband, I agreed to teach the weekend classes and birthday parties. This turned out to be a sizable concession that shocked many of those people close to me.
In general, I functioned as business administrator while my partner focused on her strengths as class instructor and physical therapist. I did all of the errands for the business and always considered if there was anything she was in need of while I was out. I also noted all of the little things she requested from week to week such as gum, sewing supplies, hair necessities, etc. and assembled a workplace “emergency kit” for her upcoming birthday. At first she expressed appreciation for all of my efforts. As we were approaching our second year, I sensed her attitude to be shifting. I felt I was contributing extensively and continually making concessions for her, but found her appreciation to be dwindling. She no longer asked me to help with tasks but instead left me notes demanding certain chores be handled. She began to not only publicly disagree over issues, but actually at times would choose to argue in front of our staff and members. Since I found this to be completely unacceptable and unprofessional, I attempted to find ways to shift the conversation to a more private location. I had tried to keep a regular schedule of business dinners together to discuss work issues, but she allocated less and less time for these outings.
As year three approached, we took our staff out for an anniversary celebration. It turned into the day that I now consider to be the beginning of the end. We were all sitting at an outdoor restaurant when a few young guys came over to chat. They inquired as to what we were celebrating and I responded that it was the third anniversary of a neighborhood kids gym business that we operated. At that instant, my business partner turned to me and snapped “I hate that you do that: you always downplay the business.” She then turned to the young men and insistently explained that we actually own a children’s business that specializes in gymnastics, sports, teen fitness and physical therapy. The guys showed some interest, although I’m sure they were just trying to figure out which of our young staff were single. I sat there shocked that I was just reprimanded so publicly by my business partner and I was acutely aware of the discomfort of our staff (it was almost as if they had just witnessed a fight between their parents).
It seemed clear to me that our relationship had greatly shifted and I was now forced to walk on eggshells in order to keep the peace at work. I no longer felt that this was a relationship that I was inclined to nurture and continue to make great efforts for. I continued my commitment to the business operation and overlooked her condemnation of situations beyond my control. That aside, I’m not a quitter and I was determined to put our relationship aside and to make the success of the business my top priority. I had a new angle for the possible growth of the business that I thought had the potential to take us to a whole new level. Perhaps a dose of success might also turn our relationship around as well.
The Presidents wife had designated her personal campaign as the fight against childhood obesity by getting kids moving. It was an ambitious goal during a recession when many schools were eliminating regular gym activities due to budget cuts. However, I saw it as an opportunity to possibly outsource our staff and programs. My theory was that although schools could not afford a full time gym teacher, perhaps they could justify the modest expense of independent contractors, such as ourselves, to deliver the needed physical activities. The local Alderman supported our initiatives and gave us the contact information for all of the nearby school Principals. I put together an information packet defining our ability to bring fitness and sport to their daily curriculum as well as their after school programs and proceeded to deliver it to each school. I then waited patiently for a response from the schools. Not one came. With each day, I felt more disheartened that my “saving grace” program was not going to put us back on track. It was time to reevaluate.
I found myself no longer comfortable being in a relationship that lacked the friendship and appreciation that it once had. I also felt limited in what I could personally do to dramatically improve the financial state of the business. About six months prior to our lease ending, I asked my partner to meet me for lunch to discuss the future of our business. I explained to her quite specifically that I was no longer interested in continuing on with the business when our lease ended. I then presented her with 3 possibilities: we could try to find an external buyer, we could liquidate and close, or she could buy me out of the partnership and continue on by herself or with a new partner. She was immediately taken by the idea of continuing on independent of me.
With great relief I contacted my lawyer and had her draw up an agreement that would remove me from the business responsibilities and allow my partner to continue on as sole owner. It was necessary to be as detailed as our original partnership agreement, which caused our lawyers to begin lengthy negotiations. I needed to be released from any future liability of the business beyond my ownership, she did not agree. I requested to be paid the amount of my initial investment into the business over a one-year period, she did not agree to the amount or the timeframe. We unsuccessfully invested several months trying to find an agreeable middle ground when she and her lawyer chose a desperate final maneuver. Her lawyer informed my lawyer that they had drawn up a final agreement, which offered no room for negotiation as her client, my business partner, suggested that I was “misappropriating funds from our shared business to support my other business.” This was the final straw for me. I am someone who takes great pride in the ethical practices of my businesses, plus I would not be bullied by false accusations.
My conclusive response was that the negotiation was over and I would be moving forward with the necessary steps to liquidate and dissolve the business. Although I had investigated the possibility of finding a buyer for the business, there was no longer sufficient time for this prior to the lease expiration. This was shocking to my business partner, who at that time must have realized she had made the wrong strategic move, and from that point forward we no longer spoke. I worked relentlessly over the remaining weeks to find buyers for our equipment and furnishings (mostly larger gymnastics clubs from the suburbs), and to file all of the necessary paperwork to dissolve the business in the eyes of the city of Chicago as well as the federal government. I had a three-page checklist that I worked through methodically, and logged my hours accordingly, so that I would be paid as per our original partnership contract.
By the completion of our lease, I had successfully obtained fair value for all gym contents and negotiated a full refund of our security deposit from the landlord. Six months later when all outstanding bills were received and paid, I compensated myself for the post-close work I had completed and divided the remaining money equally between us. I braced myself for an argument over my salary after the business had closed, but received no reaction from her. I was relieved to find that the conflict might be over.
I will never know if things might have been different or who/what was primarily to blame for the failure of our business relationship. Perhaps it was the consistent uphill battle against a struggling economy. Or maybe I was additional collateral damage to my partners’ already strained home life (her husband filed for divorce 6 months after we closed). What I do know is that I made the right decision for myself given the information I had at the time. The economy took years to show a noticeable recovery, plus I would have been greatly challenged to support the business and my partner through the dissolution of her personal life. In looking back, I take comfort in having succeeded in creating and facilitating a business that performed well over the four years that it was open. The programs design gave great happiness to hundreds of children who will have fond memories of classes, plus great photos of their birthday celebrations. I followed through with my dream of creating a non-competitive children’s gymnastics facility and I was able to walk away with overall fond remembrances.
Love lesson: divorce is an exhausting process and produces inevitable scarring. When you create something together, be it a family or a business, reversing it can be as lengthy and complicated as its original development. I have the utmost respect for those who fight to save a relationship, but I am also willing to recognize that at times it is healthier to let go.
Love lesson 21
Oops, I forgot to get married!
One doesn’t exactly forget to get married. There are reminders from the media, nudges from family members and friends, and displays of happy couples all around us. However, it may not be prioritized because unlike food and shelter, it isn’t a necessity. It is easy to throw oneself into a career as it is somewhat controllable. Finding the love of your life and soulmate isn’t exactly within your control. Love and marriage are wonderful complements to an otherwise full life, but can often be set aside until a future time.
If you’re like my mom, you’re probably wondering when I made time for dating! Actually, it’s a topic I thought about quite often. People define success differently and, in many cases, marriage can indicate your success in life as much as your career can. The problem is that although I am a multi-tasker, I prefer to have one main project which I see through completely before beginning another. In addition, I’m a planner and it is much easier to plan situations that are relatively within my control. I can plan for a new business or other major projects, but I couldn’t devise a plan around the serendipitous entry of a soulmate into my life. I wasn’t even absolute about the qualities that would constitute my soulmate. Perhaps the best match for me would be a successful businessman who would embrace and encourage my driven career path. Or maybe it would be the balance of a laid back, free spirited man who would help complement my drive by his different journey. Overall I am drawn to strong individuals who ‘walk the walk’ and I like that people appreciate my opinions and the creative direction of my mind. However, being with someone who is just like me could be exhausting! I had plenty of people to do things with. I wanted to find someone to do nothing with.
I wouldn’t consider myself to be lacking in dating experience. I started dating when I was a junior in high school and didn’t really take a break for ten years. There was the youthful, fun classmate that I dated for two years including the end of high school and the beginning of college. Then there was the intriguing artist I dated for a year in college. That was followed by the older, rebellious, working-class guy that I dated the last two years of college who my parents weren’t crazy about. I dated the cutie that helped influence my move to Aspen for about three months and then dated an athletic coworker at Maxfield’s for over a year, until I left Colorado. I was only man-less for a few months of grad school before entering into my longest and most significant dating relationship. He was attractive, smart, successful, and I adored his parents. He was supportive through my struggle with career exploration and stood by me with great enthusiasm when I opened my Pilates studio. After two years I began questioning his desire for a future commitment and after months of contemplation we went our separate ways.
That resolution left me a little wounded and I threw myself into the stability of my career. After a reasonable healing period, my mom proposed that if I put as much effort into my dating life as I put into my career, I might be married by now. I was intrigued and decided to test out her theory. A client recommended a dating service she had read about where you interviewed to join a database of single women. There was no fee for women to join. Then, matchmakers would consult the database to find appropriate matches for male clients who paid $10,000 to join the service. It had a solid, positive reputation for bringing people together who were simply too busy to find love themselves. I was set up with 3 different men in a period of two months. They assumed I would hit it off with the first guy because he was a body builder and I was in the fitness industry. We didn’t click. The next guy spent the entire date bragging about all of his possessions. I was unimpressed. The third guy had just been laid off and complained the entire date. After I rejected three of their clients, the matchmakers didn’t contact me again.
I didn’t give up after that. Next, I signed up for an internet dating service where I completed a test to determine multiple levels of compatibility criteria that they then used to match me with others. I went on approximately one date per month for six months. None of the experiences were enjoyable enough to warrant more then two or three dates. In general, I didn’t like waiting around for people in cyberspace to determine who would be the next compatible guy. I kept losing momentum in between dates and decided to switch to an internet service with more options.
This next experience involved the saturated market of a very popular dating website. It was essentially online shopping for men. I would type in a variety of preferences including nationality, religion, political view, income range, height, hair color, as well as where they live, and the search would result in pages of available men. It was possible to correspond in a secure manner in order to then choose whom I wanted to meet. I went out with about ten guys in six months and when I didn’t report one of them as ‘special’ I received an additional six months free, during which I dated approximately ten more guys. Overall experience: good. Overall success: not good. I got to the point where I knew within the first twenty minutes of a date if I wanted to have a second date. Twenty minutes was sufficient time to determine if their online photo was representative, if their profile was accurate (for the most part), and if they had a favorable personality. As anyone who has ever done online dating could probably attest, looks and profiles can be deceiving. Many guys admitted to posting pictures that were up to ten years old and I found that often their profiles were actually written and posted by their sisters, who wore rose-colored glasses while describing a sibling. It was a good experience that enabled me to identify the more important qualities I was looking for, but it was like a part-time job that came with no benefits.
Following that extensive experiment in internet dating, I decided to return to the organic approach of meeting people. I focused on the activities that I enjoyed and hoped that I would meet someone who also enjoyed them. I would bring magazines up to the roof deck of my condo building and hang out amongst my neighbors. I dated three great guys with this natural approach, but it seemed best that we just be friends. Then I joined a summer tennis program and fell for my tennis pro (so cliche)! He epitomized cool and laid back and we dated on and off for about a year, during which we enjoyed all of the same sports activities and spent a lot of time outdoors. He had a tight budget so we kept things simple. Over time, he started to resent my desire to plan things and I resented his inability to plan anything. But he inspired me to keep my priorities in check (there is a time for work and a time for play).
Having hit a comfortable stride with my businesses offered me more free time, which I relished. I worked very hard to create a balance between my work, social, and personal time. If there is one characteristic of being an only child that defines me, it’s my comfort with solitude. Without the creative contributions of siblings, I was often forced to entertain myself. I love both a low-key or an activity planned evening out with friends, but I am also perfectly content at home, by myself, watching a dvd with a perfectly shaken dirty martini. I have come to know when to slow down and pace myself and when I’m in need of a fun night out. Spending time alone has enabled me to find inner happiness, which I hope is apparent in my day-to-day activities. I would love the alliance of a partner in crime with the blend of the comfort of a lifelong companion, but I will patiently wait for his arrival.
Career life and love life aren’t so very different. In both, you should take carefully calculated risks, as great risk can result in great rewards. Both career and love life should bring out your strengths and best qualities. They should each fortify passion, happiness and success. My friends with children don’t always appreciate my comparisons of business development with that of raising children, but I have learned a great deal through the nurturing of my companies. In the beginning, the risk was the highest and they each demanded my undivided attention. With time and support they each became more independent and self-sufficient. Through it all, there was the concern as to whether you did everything you could to ensure a positive and prosperous existence. You might choose to give all of your attention to one child/business, or you may have multiple so that you can enjoy the different challenges and rewards they each offer. Mistakes are made and solutions are discovered. Hopefully, both are important contributions to society. With hard work, love and a little luck you can be successful.
Love lesson: there is a time and a place for everything in life. Thus far, I have primarily focused on my career. However, it is not due to a lack of interest, or even a lack of effort, that I am not married. It simply hasn’t come to fruition the way my career life has. In time, I believe I will be presented with a relationship that I can embrace. Until then, I will continue to focus on what’s good in my life and not worry about what’s missing. After all, I don’t have an issue with commitment. I committed to my businesses in sickness and in health, through good times and bad, until a death of my ownership or retirement did us part!
Love lesson 20
Making time for yourself
With each year of life, it seems as though responsibilities are added while very few are removed. It becomes increasingly challenging to make time for the small pleasures and hobbies that you wish to ascertain. At times you need to carefully evaluate which daily components are required for your livelihood and which can be eliminated to make room for personal time. Taking time for your self is a crucial necessity that should hold as much significance as any other priority in your daily life.
Running multiple businesses in Chicago was a challenge, but I managed to make time for extracurricular activities once my work was complete. Among the many things I like to schedule, even though it’s also involved in my work, is fitness. In addition to doing Pilates and flipping around on the 25-foot long trampoline at my kids’ gym, I spent a great deal of time on the Chicago lake path. I took my dog for long walks on the path and in the winter, when the beaches are closed, she could run free along the frozen lake waves. I also had a leisure bike with a milk crate that I installed over the back tire so that my dog could ride along with me. I sewed cushions to make the crate comfortable and attached a strap across the top with carabiners to secure through her harness (this was a little invention I chose to keep just for myself)! When I needed time just for me, I rollerbladed along the path. It truly cleared my mind and felt like the summer equivalent of snow skiing as I weaved through the many runners and bikers. Then, of course, there’s the actual snow skiing, which I tried to continue to do once a year. Skiing fulfills my dare-devilish need for speed, risk and adventure.
During my fitness outings, I love to pair the right music with each activity and with my mood. Perhaps playing the violin initiated my love of music and the appreciation for incorporating music into my life. Over the years, this passion has developed into a multi-genre, elaborate collaboration of soundtracks for my life. When I need to get energized, I can tune in Bleachers. When I’m feeling happy and carefree, I’m hearing The BoDeans. To get inspired, I rely on Blues Traveler. To release aggression, I can count on Linking Park. Then, to unwind, I turn to Damien Rice. With thousands of songs on my iPod, I can literally augment my mood at any given time. It provides an escape from some of life’s situations and helps to enhance others. Taking the opportunity to enjoy my favorite bands perform live further enhances my love for the energy and passion that music emanates. Whether it is an acoustic set at a small lounge, a cover band at a bar, a popular band at an arena, or a collaboration of independent bands in Chicago’s Grant Park, I can relate to life through their familiar sound and the message that they send out.
I also enjoy taking the time to get to know as much as possible about where I live. Chicago is a wonderfully diverse city with a fascinating history, which includes the Great Fire in 1871 and the famous World Fair of 1893. Chicago is home to great sports teams including the Blackhawks, the Cubs, the White Sox, the Bulls, the Fire and da Bears (listed in order of importance to me!). Chicago has an incredible theater district where I could attend many of my favorite live performances, especially Broadway musicals. Chicago also attracts great musicians who perform at the United Center, Wrigley Field, Northerly Island, and countless bars and clubs throughout the city. Chicago is ‘The Second City’ and receives a nod for discovering many famous comedians. Chicago is the home of permanent displays of such architectural marvels as the Willis (formerly known as Sears) Tower, the Hancock building and many beautiful structures deemed historical landmarks. Touring the city involves multiple modes of transportation including boat tours, bus tours, bike tours, Segway tours, and walking tours. Traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood exposes you to a variety of cultural diversity. In any given day, one could lunch in China Town, Greek Town or Little Italy before shopping for local art in River North, Bucktown or Wicker Park.
I liked to explore the different neighborhoods and made a point to drive to various destinations for the long afternoon walks with my dog. One hobby I’ve pursued is photography, which has been a pleasant way to document my adventures. I try to find a unique angle to take a photo in order to give the impression that you are seeing my personal viewpoint. It’s often the simplest pictures that express the most significance to me. I have some favorite photos displayed in my condo, and if people make mention of them I will then reveal that I’m the photographer. I’ve given a few prints to my parents, but other than that, it’s my private collection.
I also enjoyed discovering various forms of art media. During the summer, Chicago hosts multiple art fairs in the form of street festivals. What is unique about art is that there could be hundreds of booths displaying thousands of pieces of varying art, yet I can inevitably find one piece that calls out to me. And it seems that it is never the same piece that my friends might pick. It is completely subjective. One of my former Pilates instructors is an artist and has a unique style by which he applies layers of cement to canvas, and then paints expressive designs of color onto it. I had admired his work, however most of his completed pieces were quite large and bold in color. I described a currently undecorated area in my condo and he agreed to design a piece for me based on his artistic style. Thus I was able to acquire a unique custom piece while still allowing the artist to be true to his craft.
In Chicago, the streets are filled with what I like to call summer entrepreneurs. During a walk down the famous magnificent mile of Michigan Avenue, you are likely to be entertained by a variety of street musicians (my favorite being the ones who play upside down paint buckets like bongos), sketch artists, acrobats and break-dancers. I’m not sure what they do when the seasons change, but I hope that my modest contributions help them to continue doing what they love. The street festivals found in different neighborhoods also display many summer capitalists. There are kiosks selling hippy styles of clothing, jewelry, knock off handbags and sunglasses, and food that you would normally find only at a carnival. Finally, near and dear to my heart are the farmer’s markets held in multiple locations throughout the city. Farmers drive from areas four to five hours away to bring city folk the freshest in seasonal produce. The farmers in my family don’t participate in fresh produce farming, but somehow I feel that through my purchases, I am supporting the farm community as a whole.
One of my favorite aspects about my former condo was that it had a balcony. It’s rare to own any sort of outdoor property in a large city so I loved my twenty square feet of fresh air. In addition to my two comfortable chairs and ottoman, I had just enough room for a little garden. My mom grew up on a farm and has a natural green thumb, but for me it takes dedicated practice. Each summer I selected eight vegetables to care for and nurture from small plants into a garden of edibles. I find having fresh ingredients inspires me to be creative with my meals. Hopefully one day I will have a real yard with a designated garden area.
One of the most inspiring aspects of Chicago is its variety of buildings. I think if I were ever to begin a completely different career, I would study architecture. I enjoy looking for the creative differences in all of the older restored homes in Chicago, as well as how the current designs of the towering giants have evolved. What I personally enjoy most is interior architecture. I love the challenge of defining specific rooms and spaces. Hopefully eventually I will have the opportunity to design my own house, even if it’s not built into a mountainside!
I’ve dabbled in sewing. I learned how to sew the dog leash that I designed so that I could understand the prototype, plus to be able to re-create one should someone request to purchase a leash. In general, sewing requires a lot of precision and concentration. It’s a great project to engage in when I need to take my mind off of something else. It also makes sense for me financially, as being 5’1” most of the pants I buy must be shortened! I also designed and sewed a fashionable rain poncho and matching rain hat when I was unable to find what I was looking for in stores and online. Anyone who has ever tried to keep an umbrella in tact during a windy rainstorm in Chicago knows that your best bet is to just cover yourself in waterproof material and run!
I have also found enjoyment in writing. In 2012 I wrote the very abbreviated version of this book. I was home for five days with laryngitis, and since I couldn’t express myself vocally, I wrote an eight-page novela. I titled it ‘I’m an entrepreneur, I can’t help it.’ It briefly reviewed my family history, some childhood endeavors, my two businesses plus a few extracurriculars. It gave me an outlet while I was homebound without overly exerting myself (an entrepreneur can never be idle). Writing this memoir became the extended and more detailed version of that initial piece. There was something soothing about documenting my past and the self-discovery that accompanied each life event. Unlike some of my other business ventures, there was no hurry to complete this project. No one was going to beat me to the punch with my story. I was able to take my time and enjoy the process. It now serves as a journal, of sorts, where I can refer back to and review the development of my career. It is the written legacy or ‘cliff’s notes’ to my life. Upon tabling this book, I took a more light-hearted approach to writing and created a children’s book with photos I took of my dog wearing different outfits. I titled it ‘Why Do I Have To Dress Up?’ It was an enjoyable way to combine my love of photography with my newfound passion for writing. As a gift to the children of my friends, it has received many giggles!
Finally, in order to nourish my entrepreneurial spirit, I began following small business magazines, as well as television programs and films that document the work and lives of inventors and entrepreneurs. One mini tradition that my dad and I took part in was to share Sunday’s by seeing an independent film and having a late lunch. Typically we chose a documentary with topics that were thought provoking, involving aspects or circumstances of life as opposed to a movie that offered an escape from life. During our lunch conversation, we would explore how each of us interpreted the film. Inevitably our conversations turned to business ventures, which kept us connected and inspired. My dream would be to expand on this someday and create my own documentary about small business owners. It would be a behind-the-scenes look at the personality type, creative process and journey of each entrepreneur. I would love to pack up six months of necessities, a video camera, my computer, my dog- of course, and set out for a road trip aimed at interviewing business owners throughout the U.S. It would be enlightening to study the similarities and differences in the factors that contributed to the success of each business, and then produce a documentary of dreams, goals, nurture, and persistence in the individual climb towards career bliss.
Love lesson: it is critical to make time for yourself. Although you may love your chosen career, there needs to be time for expanded interests in order to maintain a balance in your life. With the right combination of work/play elements, every day can feel like a new and interesting adventure.
Love lesson 19
Love isn’t always easy. It can present a variety of situations to test our devotion. At times love prevails. At other times it may challenge or disappoint. With each love relationship, we discern the careful balance between the love we need to receive and the love we are capable of giving. In order to keep our commitment to love, we must occasionally stand firm, be uncompromising, and exercise tough love.
I have always been a neat and orderly person. My mom rarely had to tell me to clean my room. And as an adult, I have always lived in small quarters that only looked roomy by having a minimalistic and tidy appearance. Likewise, I also feel that to have a neat and tidy life one must make a variety of attempts to de-clutter. It can be time-consuming to eliminate clutter, but the end product is ultimately stress-reducing and, in some cases, good for the environment. The first challenge I undertook was to cancel every catalog that I somehow acquired through my mailing address. This was prior to there being a universal site where one could withdraw from mailings, so I spent approximately three months calling and canceling each catalog as they arrived in my mailbox. I also took similar actions with mass email lists that I was receiving. I would click ‘unsubscribe’ one by one until I was almost exclusively receiving emails that I actually wanted to read.
Upon moving into my larger condo, I was eagerly anticipating the organization of the master bedroom closet which had a full wall of built in shelves, various hanging areas, and stacks of drawers. Ideally I would be able to store all of my clothes, shoes and handbags in one place and hopefully have room to add more. Or so I thought. As I started to unpack it soon became clear that the closet would be filled to capacity. I became appalled at the amount of clothing I had, most of which hadn’t been worn in years. Just because I was the same size as when I was in high school didn’t necessitate that I retain those clothes. I started to apply three rules: if I hadn’t worn it in over a year- it had to go, and if I had a garment in multiple colors- the one I liked least had to go. In addition, I couldn’t buy a new item until I disposed of something. One item out, one item in. I chose a local clothing resale shop to donate the exiting items, and made four large donations over that initial year. They also accepted my extra linens, pillows, and other home goods. Additionally, I donated the books I no longer needed to a local branch of the library.
Modern technology enabled my desire for neatness and order to be taken to a whole new level. As I mentioned before, I’m a Mac girl, and the invention of the iPhone allowed me to completely synchronize my home computer with my phone, thus making it even easier to work on the go. A clip attached the phone to the waistband of my dog leash which offered me the opportunity to listen to my music playlists while navigating through the interruptions of phone calls, text messages, and e-mails which occurred during our afternoon walks. I was also quite pleased with the institution of online banking which allows me to view each of my business accounts, my business credit cards, and my personal checking and savings all on the same page. Then, with a few simple steps, I could electronically pay all of the monthly bills for my businesses and home.
Finally, the most complicated step towards a simpler existence is eliminating the unnecessary sources of drama in one’s life. In some cases there is so much history with a person that you can’t just eliminate them from your life. But at times, there are people who have a tendency towards negativity, whom you can gradually weed out of your social circle. When friends become unacceptably needy or overly consumed with self-pity, it can become too emotionally draining to remain a supportive friend and the time comes to step away. You can only reiterate the story of a past boyfriend or a bad work experience so many times before the subject becomes redundant and inappropriately time consuming.
The same goes for family drama. I would move mountains for my parents and grandparents. If they’re talking, I’m listening. But when the conversation shifts to a situation regarding extended family and the complications of their lives, I attempt to maintain my distance. I don’t like contributing to situations that I can’t control nor enhance, and I try not to invite negativity into a conversation. However, I will contribute positively when appropriate. Life is short and I am committed to being a happy person. In general, I have found that if you surround yourself with people who are complaining all of the time, you may find yourself taking on a negative attitude as well. I choose to spend my valuable time with happy, content, positive-oriented people. I choose to spend my time with driven people who have goals that inspire me. I choose to spend my time with people who share a love for those little moments that bring a smile to your face. Finally, I choose to spend my time with friends who enjoy me for who I am and not for a hidden agenda or for other social advances. My wingman days are over!
Love lesson: when love becomes too complicated, it is healthy to reevaluate. By eliminating exhausting relationships or drama within the relationships, you are essentially making room for healthier relationships to occur. Using tough love to release physical and emotional baggage from your life allows for a clear path through which to guide your entrepreneurial spirit.
Love lesson 18
What I did for love
There are responsibilities in life that you need to do. There are pleasures in life that you wish to do. Then there are opportunities presented by life, which call you to participate in the greater good.
The street on which both of my businesses were located was a very popular through way, and as a result street parking could be challenging. Most of the children who were attending the kids’ gym classes needed to be brought inside by their parents. Upon opening the business, I approached the Alderman to ask if it would be possible to have a 15-minute drop-off zone installed in front of the gym. It was primarily a safety issue. With a drop-off zone directly in front of the facility, moms could pull over and watch as their child safely entered the gym, or legally leave their car while accompanying their young child inside. The Alderman agreed that it would be justified and had the paperwork filed. She advised me that it might take four to six months before the city gave clearance for installation. This was fine with me, as I was focused long term. The fifteen minute drop off zone signs were installed around the time of our one-year anniversary. Although it seemed like a long wait, we received a three-car length drop off area, which was greatly appreciated by the parents of our members.
It was during that visit to the Alderman that she suggested that I might consider serving as a special services area commissioner for my neighborhood. Since she had been gracious in arranging for the drop off zone, I agreed to submit my application to join the nine other business and homeowners who served our area. It wasn’t the best timing for me to be taking on another project, and an unpaid one in particular, but I did have some business neighbors on the committee and felt that it might provide an opportunity for networking. The meetings were held every other month and lasted approximately three hours. Our main purpose was to determine how tax money that was designated to our neighborhood would be spent. This included street cleaning, snow removal, trash removal, summer entertainment events, and other special projects.
Being nominated necessitated that I fill out various paperwork ensuring that I was a law-abiding citizen, plus a full background check needed to be conducted before I was able to attend meetings. Quite a ‘right of passage’ for a voluntary position with the city! The term was for two years. I was surprised to discover that upon being formally welcomed on to the commission one year later, this marked when my two-year term would begin. I had already been attending meetings and contributing for nearly a year!
The initial meeting that I attended was conducted by the local chamber of commerce and it was then that I realized that the two committees were affiliated. I initially wasn’t thrilled about the union because I had been holding onto a bit of a grudge against the chamber. When I first opened my Pilates studio, I paid the annual fee to be a chamber member. Membership entitled you to attend various networking events for an additional fee, plus you could host mixers on the chamber’s behalf. I had hoped that the networking aspect might expand my business. At these events, I found myself continually explaining Pilates to people who clearly had no interest. This wasn’t the chamber’s fault, but I soon decided that those events were a poor investment of my time and money. What was particularly disappointing to me was that I submitted multiple requests over the course of the year to host one of the monthly coffee connection morning mixers at my studio. The host provides coffee and pastries and the chamber sends out invites to the members. This would have provided me an appropriate opportunity to introduce people to the concept of Pilates, and to visit my studio.
Unfortunately, the chamber never granted me the opportunity to host a function for the members. Instead, I noted that several other businesses in the neighborhood, which opened after my studio, hosted the functions. When my year membership ended someone called and asked if I would like to renew my membership. I explained why I had lost interest and they made no further attempts to encourage me to stay on.
Regardless, I was now inadvertently positioned to spend two plus years attending meetings with officers of the chamber as well as my neighboring business associates. First, it needs to be said that the meetings were painfully long. I find it difficult at times to sit through an enjoyable three-hour movie so I certainly found it challenging to attend a three-hour meeting about budgets and planning. Work was my usual legitimate mandate causing me to leave early, however most times I was able to be present for at least two of the hours. The chamber had a procedure of decision-making, which I found to be somewhat frustrating. A topic was brought up, it was reviewed, and then it was determined whether it would be covered at that time or in a future meeting. This is not my business style preference. When I have a checklist of tasks, I like to go through each item and complete it, not decide which items will be postponed and moved to a new checklist. To me, this seemed inefficient.
In addition, they rarely allowed us to discuss a topic sufficiently for it to be resolved. There were incidences where we seemed to be making progress on developing a direction for resolution when someone from the chamber would conclude that an additional committee should be formed to further address and complete the plan. I strive to be a team player, but I do not wish to spend hours at a meeting only to then be asked to attend a separate meeting to further discuss a previous meeting’s topic. Projects lost momentum because discussions were cut short. As a result, we discussed a large range of topics with minimal resolution.
One day while walking my dog, I noticed that a new business offering dance classes was about to open. I was so excited at the prospect of a new business neighbor that I promptly emailed the owner to welcome her to the neighborhood. The owner was elated that someone had expressed an interest and eagerly agreed to meet me for lunch later that week. We became instant friends, plus I enjoyed offering her guidance towards opening her first business. This gave me the idea to develop a website with business profiles of local owners. It would serve as a ‘big brother business program’ where new businesses could choose to have a mentor to assist them during the initiation of their new venture. The commissioners loved the idea and the chamber agreed to allocate funds towards developing the website. I submitted my business profiles to act as a model for other owners that were interested in mentoring. I put a good deal of thought and time into the design and content for the site and then left it in the hands of the chamber (the people who get paid to facilitate our ideas). To the disappointment of myself and others, the chamber did not follow through, as the project was not developed beyond my submittal.
Another project that I attempted to promote involved the displaying of art in the front windows of the vacant buildings throughout our neighborhood. Our particular jurisdiction had a five percent vacancy rate in commercial properties. I felt it would help to beautify the appearance of the vacant buildings plus offer the opportunity for local artists to display their work alongside the ‘for lease’ signs. The contact information for the artist and art price would be listed below each piece of work. Unfortunately, the landlords felt that this idea presented a risk for liability in the event that a storefront or a piece of art were to be vandalized.
We all agreed however that it would be favorable to have more art in the neighborhood so we shifted our focus to the possibility of functional art to be placed outdoors. Other areas had beautifully painted park benches and buildings, which brought out the character of their streets. We decided to budget for new bike racks along the streets and to contract local artists to design unique graphic masterpieces on each rack. I was especially excited about the project because I was hoping that said bike racks would be placed in front of my businesses. I have clients and instructors who ride their bikes to my Pilates studio plus moms could lock up their bulky strollers in front of the kids’ gym. Unfortunately, it was later determined that purchasing pre-fabricated bike racks would require less maintenance over time, and so plain bike racks were placed sparingly along the sidewalks instead.
On a positive note, I enjoyed getting to know my fellow commissioners and our camaraderie caused us to form a strong alliance. In a parallel universe, we might have combined our forces to bring every idea to fruition. We did our best and hoped that eventually our contributions would make at least a small difference for our community. One definite perk was that I was invited to meet the mayor! He requested a fifteen-minute meeting with each commissioner and my appointment was scheduled first. I was very excited. He was a legend. His father was also a legend. Together they built the city of Chicago into a beautiful and corporately fiscal powerhouse. I spent two days assessing my wardrobe in anticipation of the prearranged photo opportunity.
Even though it was only scheduled to be a fifteen-minute meeting, I was very nervous about how I might conduct myself. I have a tendency to make jokes when I’m nervous, but I wanted to present myself as a professional. I prepared my opening statement: “It’s an honor to meet you” and then sat quietly and respectfully waited for him to initiate the conversation. That didn’t happen. After what seemed like the most brutally long twenty seconds of uncomfortable silence I took it upon myself to introduce my businesses and their locations. I didn’t expect him to show great enthusiasm for the particulars, plus I suspected that his mind might be on more important matters. No offense taken whatsoever, as my contributions to the city paled in comparison to what was his current mission of hoping to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago!
We ended up discussing some relevant neighborhood topics such as the new parking meters and effective garbage pick-up and, before I knew it, my time was up. I complimented him on the lovely and abundant photographs he had of his family on the desk (secretly hoping that he might bring his grandchildren to my kids’ gym), told him how much I was looking forward to the prospect of hosting the Olympics (mixed feelings), and posed with him as a professional photographer snapped two quick pictures. All things considered, it was definitely worth the $25 in round-trip cab fair and the new dress from jCrew. It was truly an honor to meet the mayor and to see the office where some of our city’s most important political decisions are made. I proudly displayed our joint photo at my Pilates studio.
My service as a commissioner came to an end around the three-year mark when I applied for a grant through the Façade Reimbursement Committee. I wanted to have a new awning installed at my kids’ gym and this program would pay 50% towards improvements made to the exteriors of prominent buildings. It amounted to a significant savings for my business. Unfortunately, this particular program was sponsored by the commission and it was determined to be a conflict of interest for my business to receive funds from a committee that I was involved with. I had no interest in joining the ranks of the politically corrupt in Chicago, so I gracefully withdrew my position on that board. Although no great feats had been accomplished during my term, I had put forth my entrepreneurial best and I would continue to find other ways to contribute to my neighborhood.
Love lesson: it can be quite rewarding to incorporate extra activities into your life that benefit others more so than yourself. Although this community service was not mandated or obligatory, I attempted to serve purposefully. It was an honor to be nominated and a privilege to contribute. Hopefully, with time, my past efforts will be reflected in the future of the neighborhood.
Love lesson 17
The term cheating might be associated with a variety of concepts: taking a test, paying your taxes, participating in a game, or being faithful to a relationship. In any case, one party or component is being deprived of the appropriate or of what is determined to be rightfully theirs.
My identity as a gymnast was long in my past, however, continued to hold a very special place in my heart. I appreciated the fundamentals that gymnastics had instilled in me as a child: strength, balance, flexibility, and confidence. These qualities would enhance any of life’s active endeavors. One aspect of gymnastics that could have been eliminated was the high-pressure environment of competition. I knew that under the right circumstances, a child could receive all of the benefits of gymnastics training without the harsh atmosphere of competition. For years, I had contemplated the different options of incorporating gymnastics back into my life again. At one point I interviewed at a children’s gymnastics facility to see if coaching might fill the void. I was immediately distracted by the facility’s low ceilings, poor lighting, and mediocre atmosphere. This was not the place for me. The gymnastics void would remain.
Five years into owning my Pilates studio, I reconnected with a high school classmate who had also been a gymnast. She was aware of the many benefits of Pilates and decided to start taking private sessions with me. Socially, we were not particularly close in high school as she was two years younger, but as adults we found that we had a great deal in common and seemed to connect immediately. She had earned a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and was currently working at a physical therapy clinic specializing in the rehabilitation of young athletes.
After several weeks of Pilates sessions, I decided to share with her my dream of opening a non-competitive children’s gymnastics center. I had envisioned that the facility might also offer activities in addition to gymnastics such as multi-sport introduction, circuit weight training, pre-teen Pilates, cheerleading, summer camps, and birthday parties. With her expertise added, the program could also offer physical therapy. The more we discussed the concept possibilities, the more enthused we both became. We each shared the business proposal with our parents and she discussed the concept with her fiance. Everyone seemed very enthusiastic and supportive of the business venture possibilities. I began formulating a business perspective to discern potential expenses and earnings. I knew that I was not interested in investing in any currently existing kids gym franchises. We wanted to be able to develop our own program concepts and not be limited by their uniformity, or in their extensive start-up fees. I had acquired experience in starting and operating a business. I also felt that we could design and implement a very unique children’s program.
Coincidentally, space became available directly across the street from my condo building. The current landlord for my Pilates studio had two storefront locations available for rent right next to each other. Together, the spaces could be a perfect size for the business so I began to negotiate the possibility of leasing both spaces. Locations on the street level were quite expensive, but this was outweighed by the advantage of visibility and safety for the children. We co-signed the lease and began a two-month build-out project to combine the two units. This involved an internal archway opening between the two spaces, raising the ceiling back to its original height, constructing a back wall to form a separate party room, installing two-inch foam padded carpeting throughout, and painting with decorative, youth-oriented designs.
My business partner was planning her upcoming wedding, so I knew that I would have to clear time in my existing schedule to do the business planning. Fortunately, I had recently been approached by a Pilates instructor who had moved to Chicago from California and was interested in teaching at my studio. I decided to hire him to instruct the majority of my current client list. He came with impressive references, a similar teaching philosophy as mine, along with great enthusiasm regarding the long-term benefits of Pilates. The change in instructors was disappointing to some of my long-standing Pilates clients, but they stayed loyal to my studio and were very supportive of my new venture. There was also a sense of separation for me as I had spent years developing my Pilates business and the relationships with my clients. However, I knew that if I was going to give my new venture the time and attention that it would need, it would mean temporarily parting with some client relationships and placing my trust in this new instructor.
Having a business partner was a new experience for me. On one hand, it was so refreshing to have someone with which to collaborate ideas, and to share in the excitement. There was also a great advantage in being able to divide the business expenses. On the other hand, there was someone that I had to contemplate pleasing at the end of the day. Our organizational objectives quickly became clear. I would focus on the business development and administration. She would concentrate on the program design and coaching; separate strengths and responsibilities. There were definitely some hiccups as we attempted to merge our styles, but in general, as long as we each focused on our goals, we proceeded harmoniously. We signed an elaborate partnership agreement and purchased a life insurance policy for each other in the event that one of us had to continue the business alone.
My parents have always been supportive of my business ventures. I respect the entrepreneurial journeys that they have traveled and appreciate the benefits of their wisdom. I have always invited them to contribute their ideas and suggestions to my business attempts. My business partner also had wonderfully supportive parents, however, they had not played an active role in her career. It was her future husband who was expressing an interest in getting involved. He offered financial suggestions about protecting the business and was a great sounding board for our early ideas. Also, with their marriage having happened two months into our new business, he became the partner to my partner. Consequently, many of our bigger business decisions involved her seeking his approval. This added an extra dimension to the partnership.
Opening a business that primarily involved children necessitated many additional components. The business license required us to have a background check and to get finger printed. The liability insurance was four times more expensive than my coverage at the Pilates studio. We had to take great care in hiring a staff that would be enthusiastic yet patient with the kids, while mature enough to accommodate the parents. Every aspect of the construction and decorating had to be child friendly. We had to leave a section in the entry available for stroller parking and we installed a diaper changing station (I had no idea what a diaper genie was up until that point and, unfortunately, it doesn’t just make the diapers disappear)! We installed antibacterial hand gel stations throughout the facility and posted signs with safety guidelines throughout.
Eventually there came the fun part: shopping. I was able to furnish the spaces with every apparatus and accessory that I could have ever wished for as a young athlete. I ordered organizational racks for balls of all sizes and filled a storage room with child size equipment to accommodate every sport. Then came the really exciting gymnastics equipment: a 25 foot long trampoline that would end at a huge crash mat, a swing bar, rings, vault with mini trampoline, balance beams, parallel bars, an assortment of other mats plus a ball pit and child size climbing wall. I also ordered small chairs and tables, along with a TV and DVD player, for the party room. Next I furnished the physical therapy room for my business partner. Finally, we needed our office area to be near the entrance in order to greet and register families. I found shoe cabinets that would double as storage and an entry counter, a locking cabinet that would open up to reveal the computer station, and file cabinets to store the release forms and first aid supplies. A few other finishing touches were added and we were able to open for business exactly on schedule.
Neither my business partner nor I had children, so we solicited friends with children who were generous enough to lend us some wisdom in designing our class schedules. Somehow the afternoon nap concept was overlooked, so when we released our first schedule it had classes throughout the entire day. We soon realized that young children have certain windows of naptime during which they are not available for activities. We quickly began confiding in the parents of our new members to help us design a schedule that was more naptime friendly. Another oversight was our thinking that since we had a brilliant location of being directly across the street from a private K-12 school, we would have an immediate clientele. While the school assisted in saturating the neighborhood with families, this particular school offered such extensive extracurricular activities that many of the families weren’t interested in outside programs.
Regardless, our location was phenomenal. In addition to the school, we had foot traffic visibility from the nearby zoo, and we were located on one of the neighborhoods’ most active streets. We assumed the theory ‘If you build it, they will come. If you offer a good service, they will stay.’ We printed flyers and distributed them outside all of the local schools. We also made displays with brochures to put up at local businesses in exchange for displaying their marketing materials. During these delivery trips, I would drive from business to business while my business partner accompanied me to hold onto the displays. I would pull over at each prospective business, jump out of the car with the materials, give a brief introduction and return to the car. The system was working smoothly until at one visit I became distracted and left the car without first shifting into park. As I quickly ran into the business, I was oblivious to the fact that my car was slowly rolling towards the parked car ahead of us. My business partner couldn’t shift the car into park without pushing the foot break so she dove head first under the steering column in order to press the break with her hand. She succeeded in slowing the car but it did bump the parked car ahead of us. During this process, the gentleman in the parked car ahead of us came over to assess the situation. He found her in a most precarious position with her butt up in the air, attempting to press the break with her left hand while shifting the gear with her right hand. Fortunately, the driver was very good-natured, no damage was done to either car, and we were all able to laugh it off. However, my negligence was the topic of conversation on countless occasions!
We made other marketing attempts to introduce our unique new business. We participated in a flipbook mailer that went out to the entire neighborhood. We placed small advertisements in a local family magazine. We hired a PR person who arranged for a very small mention in a popular email blast plus a spot in a local guide for children’s activities. It was difficult to evaluate exactly how people discovered us as no individual advertising mode was prevailing.
At the end of our first year we had a string of good luck. A magazine for fitness club owners cited our facility as a place fighting the obesity epidemic by teaching children to keep fit. Next, a local paper included us in a Father’s Day article about activities dads could do with their children. Following, an online Pilates publication mentioned us in regards to programs which offer youth Pilates. Then the epitome of the marketing industry was granted: we were featured on the evening news as a fitness program for children designed to minimize obesity. All this validated our mission to be more than just a gym where kids were dropped off to play. We had a structured program developed to incorporate health and fitness into each stage of the developing child.
Approximately two months into our new business, our country experienced an economic disaster. In spite of this challenge, the business grew slowly but steadily throughout the first two years. However, we will never really know how much our growth may have been hindered by the state of the economy. People cut back during a recession, but often not in areas that tend to pertain to their children. Studies have shown that if a business can survive a recession, it should thrive in a normal economy. I was grateful for the families who continue to recognize the value of our program for their children, and who remained loyal to our program in spite of a shifting economy.
As in any partnership, financial struggles can put a strain on the relationship. And as in any relationship, communication is a critical element. We experienced months when we barely had sufficient income to pay rent. We also had months with enough registration income to cover the next two months of rent plus expenses. I attempted to predict the financial patterns and budget accordingly. We also guarded against making emotional decisions. We quickly realized that very little would be accomplished in the presence of a meltdown.
Overall, the experience of having a business partner was conducive to my growth as a business woman. Due to our shared vision, goals, and objectives, we were able to celebrate our victories and minimize our defeats. When times arose that I did not have an answer to a particular question I could default by saying: “let me check with my business partner and get back to you.” When I did have an answer but knew that it might not be well received, I could say: “my business partner and I decided against that,” thus somewhat minimizing the bad guy image. In general, consistency was one of our strengths. We might have differed slightly on the specifics of certain entities, but not to the extent that we were unable to compromise.
Around the two-year mark, we began to feel as if we were a stable business. We had designed a schedule that seemed to accommodate all of the different age groups. We acquired a wonderful staff of coaches who sought out our program as they respected our mission and wished to be a part of it. We gained the support of our students’ parents by offering them the option to create their own classes, thus attempting to accommodate all needs. We also designed and added an exciting summer camp program. Our week-long camps consisted of our indoor gymnastics program, as well as outdoor sports at a nearby park and trips to the local zoo. When parents spoke, we listened. Our focus was to gain their trust and respect. In the end, we provided a safe, happy, and educational environment where their children could grow and appreciate the many benefits of sports and fitness.
Love lesson: opening a second business caused me to feel as if I was cheating on my first business. It divided my time and emotional energy and was a constant distraction. I was forced to contemplate my role in each business and define a way to meet the needs of each. Although I was able to sustain both businesses, I couldn’t ignore the reality that the relationship with my first business would never be the same.
Love lesson 16
The importance of a pre-nup
Many couples draft a pre-nuptual agreement before joining together in case the relationship fails and assets need to be distributed. A pre-nup might diminish some of the romance, but it adds a layer of protection if plans don’t go as hoped. In matters of the heart, you can take risks that may only yield emotional consequences. In business transactions, you should always protect yourself in the event that the relationship doesn’t end well. The consequences will likely stretch far beyond the duress of a collapse in a verbal agreement.
Having designed the two beautiful and spacious condos for the vacant building left me feeling cramped in my small condo. My income had reached a comfortable level and I calculated that I could afford a larger unit. I listed my 1 bedroom condo for sale and started searching for something more spacious. It was convenient to live so close to work, but I decided to explore other neighborhoods to expand my options. I had ample time to look, as I wasn’t getting any offers on my current condo. However, I didn’t want to risk having to pay two mortgages. I found several places in nearby areas that I liked but didn’t love. They were either affordable but needed work, or they were move-in ready but overpriced.
After a few months of searching I received a phone call from the owner of the two-bedroom condo next door to my unit. She was intending to sell the unit housing her daughter and friends, and wondered if I knew of anyone who might be interested. The three college girls currently living in that unit were among my reasons for wanting to move. They frequently had loud and late parties on weekday evenings, which prevented me from getting a good night’s sleep before my next 6AM workday. I immediately entertained the idea of purchasing the unit. Not only would I no longer have inconsiderate neighbors, I would only have to move my furniture forty feet. In addition, I might secure a more reasonable price on the unit since we would not need to pay realtor fees for the transaction. Around the same time, I received an acceptable offer for my current unit. I would just break even on the sale of my unit, but I could save money on the purchase of the new unit.
I planned for a three-month overlap during which time I would own both units. This would allow me to remain in my current condo while doing renovations on the new condo. This particular building unit had been my unit of choice when I initially moved into the building but it was not within my budget at the time. What specifically drew me to this floorplan was that there were three large, floor-to-ceiling windows in the curved living room plus a balcony off the second bedroom. This purchase now offered me the opportunity to utilize my recent design experience to improve upon the floor plan. In short, I planned to remove walls in the entry to expand the kitchen, relocate the entrances to both bedrooms, install new flooring in the kitchen, both bedrooms and balcony, and completely renovate the master bathroom. It would be a messy job, thus preventing me from living there while construction was being completed. I hired a general contractor who had recently done a beautiful job renovating my parents’ home. I obtained the necessary construction permits and purchased the majority of the materials. I clearly explained the expected time frame as I had a committed closing date for the sale of my unit. The charming Romanian contractor didn’t specify costs up front, he simply said: “Don’t worry- you’ll be very happy.” Since my parents were very happy with their overall experience, I proceeded.
There were complications from the very beginning. The contractor wasn’t showing up as he proposed and the start date kept getting pushed back. Once remodeling began, he would assign workers who were not as thorough as those who had assisted with the construction on my parents’ home. My mom noted the inferior craftsmanship and began spending most of her days babysitting the workers in order to make sure the jobs were done in a satisfactory manner. She would make daily trips to the hardware store so that the workers could stay on task. She would arrive early each morning to clean the dust and debris from the day before and would lend an extra set of hands when necessary. Approximately half way into the project, the contractor asked for what he explained was the first half of the construction payment. It was a reasonable amount for half of the anticipated job, so I wrote the check, which he deposited immediately.
The work continued slowly with the deadline looming. Eventually, the new owner needed to take possession of my old unit and I was forced to live in the construction site for three weeks while the job was being finished. This also forced me to send my dog to my parents’ home. The majority of the work was acceptable, but in the rush to finish there were areas of poor workmanship: a crooked wall in the entry, poor patchwork on the ceiling of the kitchen, a new whirlpool tub that was cemented into the floor crooked and a shower head that was dramatically off center, to mention a few. My mother also had to repaint the master bathroom. I just wanted the job finished, the workers out, and my life back. The job was scheduled to be completed on a Monday, however, the contractor asked for payment on the preceding Friday as his taxes were due. The amount he requested on Friday was in keeping with the first half payment amount. I asked for an itemized bill to account for the expenses and he agreed to have one for me on Monday when he came to finish. I had concerns that if I paid him he might not return to finish as promised but obliged regardless.
I wrote a check for the same amount as the first check and marked it “Final Construction Payment” which he readily accepted. When he returned on Monday to complete the remaining projects, he presented me with what he considered to be an itemized bill (merely an estimate of total hours that he and his workers had been there). This bill accompanied a request for an additional payment, an amount equal to half of the total amount I had already paid. My mother and I were furious. I explained to him that my previous check was marked ‘final payment,’ he deposited it, and I would pay no more. The next day he called my mom to argue the need for more compensation. Her response was that in spite of our multiple requests for material and labor costs, he had never presented a figure to us. Considering his missed deadline, the multiple areas of poor craftsmanship, and the endless hours that my mother had spent in attempt to bring this project to fruition, he had no justification for requesting more money.
About three weeks later, I received notice in the mail from his attorney that a lien had been placed on my condo for the remainder of the amount he claimed I hadn’t paid. I immediately contacted an attorney and had a letter sent describing his lackluster performance, as well as the inconveniences he had caused my mom and me. We also demanded a bill with a breakdown of all of the expenses (which had never been presented during the construction), and we asked for proof of his Chicago contractors’ license, as my attorney could not find it in any listings.
Upon receiving this letter, the attorney that had helped the contractor file the lien informed my attorney that he would no longer be representing in this case. My lawyer repeatedly tried to contact the contractor via certified mail, which he refused to accept. There is a statute of limitations on lien placement cases, which mandates that legal action by the contractor must take place within two years of the original filing or the lien becomes invalid. I decided to wait it out. Two years later, when the lien period expired, I went to city hall to see if it had been removed. I was informed that unfortunately only the contractor could have the lien removed. Even though it was invalid, it would remain attached to my property. I didn’t want this to cause confusion in the event that one day I would choose to sell the condo, so I went to the office of the Attorney General and filed a formal complaint about the service I had received. I also filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Both organizations contacted the contractor requesting that he remove the lien from my records.
Several months later I received a phone call from the office of the Attorney General informing me that a new attorney representing the contractor had informed them that the lien would be removed. I was relieved that his new attorney was not going to try to somehow re-open the case, and that after two plus years of waiting it ended in my favor. I will certainly take with me the valuable lesson that written contracts are imperative for validating an agreement.
Love lesson: love can be blind. We often disregard the appropriate in exchange for the fleeting desire. If deception arises, it can be emotionally debilitating and financially devastating. It is important to protect yourself and not rely merely on the honesty and good intentions of others. I should have requested a pre-contractional agreement specifying the time frame, projected costs, and a statement of satisfaction regarding the proposed construction alterations. It’s wiser to slightly offend someone by requesting their word in writing, then to have a disagreement occur with no documentation of the commitment.
Love lesson 15
The one that got away
Life can be filled with numerous near misses. Some you may be aware of, like the fly ball that was almost a home run but just fell short. Others you may be completely oblivious to, such as missing the smile of an attractive guy while looking down to check a text message. When considering matters of a desirable nature that you had hoped would come to fruition but did not, they forever become ‘the one that got away.’
Within the two blocks between my Pilates studio and my condo building was this quaint, mom and pop style antique store. It was in an old four flat building that had been destroyed by a fire. It was a prime, mixed-use piece of real estate on a busy street. It had been empty for a few years while authorities ruled out arson. It now sat abandoned as it was overpriced and the remaining structure looked dreadful. Each day on my way to work I passed this property and eventually began to envision what might replace the decaying structure. I decided to call the real estate broker to inquire about the asking price.
The owners of the property had recently dropped the price to a half million dollars. Believe it or not, this was actually a very competitive price for the location. I asked if there had been a study done regarding the sustainability of the remaining structure and it turned out that only the North and the South main walls could be salvaged for future use. This was good news and bad. It meant that two major support walls were already in place for future construction. It also meant that the rest of the building had to be removed. I called a wrecking company who quoted the demolition and removal of debris to cost approximately $50,000. This was an intimidating number, however the end result would then present a blank canvas to work with. This intrigued me.
I was quite satisfied with the rental space that housed my Pilates studio but I had always hoped that I could eventually move my business into a building that I owned. Commercial property was a solid investment and could be used as an income property in the future. I bought a sketchpad and started designing a building layout for the 20×100-foot plot of land. I settled on a standard four-flat design that I knew would meet building code for the area. The base floor was designed to be half underground, half above which would be for use by a future business tenant. The main floor, which would be reached by going up a few stairs, would be my Pilates studio. The top two floors would be condos. I also designed an outdoor garden in the back between the building and where there would be a two-car garage (one space for each condo). In addition, there would be a beautiful terrace above the garage for the lower condo as well as one on the roof of the building for the higher condo.
I let my imagination stretch further by designing the indoor layout as well, approximating all of the measurements as best I could. The lowest floor could be a children’s gym or a doggie day care, both of which had yet to exist in the nearby area. Next I designed the layout for my Pilates studio on the main floor, which would almost double the size of my current space. Finally, I drew layouts for the two, two-bedroom two-bathroom condos. The floor plans flowed nicely, plus I added some touches that I thought were unique.
The broker for the property was able to refer me to an architectural firm that could advise me on the possibilities of the project, as well as the costs involved. I scheduled a meeting and arrived designs in hand. First of all, I’m not going to be modest here, the architect was impressed with my designs and the mathematical appropriateness of the dimensions. I managed to accurately account for the size of stairwells and other critical structural considerations. I did slightly underestimate the requirements for the thickness of support walls, but other than that it was a viable design. My previous attempts at designing my dream house within a mountain as a child had clearly paid off!
Since there are a variety of code restrictions for a mixed-use building, we had to look closely at the ability to accommodate handicapped entrances and exits. The front of the building wouldn’t be a problem, as we could have an elevator installed to service all 4 floors. It was the design of the back exits that presented a problem. In case of a fire or other emergency, two exits have to be available at all times. I had designed exits in the front and the back but failed to realize that the garage would trap guests of the commercial properties and prevent them from reaching the alley. Unfortunately, the twenty-foot wide property width did not allow for a two-car garage plus a separate walkway. In this neighborhood, parking was a premium and I couldn’t imagine selling a residential property without available parking.
Once our meeting adjourned I called my parents and we went over all of the information including the estimated costs and timeframe to construct the building. On one hand, it would have been an efficient way to consolidate where I lived, where I had my Pilates studio, and where I could have started a future business. I could have also gotten additional income by renting or selling the second condo. I just couldn’t move beyond the fact that the project wouldn’t be perfect without the design of the garage, the ample parking and the garden terrace. Between the demolition and the projected costs of construction it would end up being a huge investment for results short of my expectations. In the end I walked away from my dream project. It was a valuable experience that I hope to someday apply to a future project.
Love lesson: life presents a variety of possibilities. Some are meant for success while others become a learning experience. It is important to recognize that even if something doesn’t quite work out the way you envisioned, it does not mark it as a failure. It is simply preparing you for greater success in the future when a similar situation presents itself. Sometimes you have to let one get away in order to find the one that’s meant to be.
Love lesson 14
When an offspring is created that wasn’t necessarily planned, but is a blessing nonetheless, the result is a love child. Without warning, you are mandated into a different set of life responsibilities. Regret and previous freedom set aside, you make the necessary adjustments to nurture and develop this new gift.
For most fitness certifications, you need to complete a certain number of continuing education credits to maintain your status. Pilates is no exception. Although there are home courses you can audit, every year there are Pilates conferences that can fulfill all requirements in one long weekend. An exciting bonus is that you are likely to take a class with an instructor who actually was instructed by Joseph Pilates himself. You could also experience the wide variety of interpretations of his work. Most importantly, you’re amongst hundreds of people who all share the exact same passion for Pilates. After a long day of workshops you could shop your way through the expo hall filled with Pilates clothing and equipment before attending a wine and cheese tasting and hitting the hot tub. It’s the perfect vacation for a Pilates enthusiast.
Following these conferences, I would come away with a vast number of exciting new Pilates exercises which could be varied to create new individual workouts for myself and for my clients. In spite of taking extensive notes at each presentation, I would omit some aspects, thus not fully utilizing the newly presented skills. When I returned home, I would make a presentation of the innovative ideas to the other instructors at my studio. After attending the second conference, I came back to my studio with a mission in mind. I would assemble the entire encyclopedia of exercises that was within my memory. I started with a stack of note cards and wrote one Pilates exercise, with its description, on each card. Next I persuaded my mom to come in and photograph me doing each exercise. Finally, I placed the photo with its appropriate description onto bound cards.
This turned out to be a grueling process. From the very basic to my more challenging exercises, I documented over 500 variations, which included 1200 photos. The memory card on my camera only held 100 photos so we had to stop periodically to upload the photos onto my computer, thus clearing the camera for the next round of photos. We took all of the photos within two days. I reviewed the quality of each photo during the week, and I had my mother come back for several retakes the following weekend. In Pilates, your muscles rarely become sore, unless of course you hold the poses while someone takes 1200 pictures! I spent the next few months between my home office and the Apple store determining the most appropriate way to format what was to become a series of instructor manuals (brief plug here for the Apple Genius Bar which houses brilliant computer enthusiasts who offer free guidance to anyone who shares their passion for creating awesome projects using a Mac. Couldn’t have done it without their patient direction and guidance).
I settled on a flip card style of manuals to display the exercises on pages that were 4.25×5.5 inch sheets of paper. I divided the content into five categories and printed them on thick stock paper for durability. I then used a double hole punch and bound each set with two binder rings. The benefit to this design was that the binder rings could be opened to add or remove cards, as well as reorganize them to one’s liking. I knew how I would want mine organized, but I thought that other instructors might wish for a different order of exercises based on their teaching preferences. I printed out and constructed a set for myself plus a set for each of the other instructors at my studio. But, of course, this could not be the end of this entrepreneurial journey.
There were many Pilates manuals on the market at this time, but most were geared to students, not for instructors. None that I found came close to displaying the large number of exercises or photos that mine included. How dare I deny the Pilates community of my love child! In addition, I was sure that other instructors had ideas for exercises that were not among those that I had compiled. I felt that this ‘contribute to’ concept would distinguish my manuals from all others as it would be a work in progress. Following the purchase of the manuals, if an instructor had additional exercises they wished to be included they could e-mail me the description and photos of the exercise being performed, and I would then post updates on my website featuring their contribution. With a password, everyone who owned my manuals could go onto my website, download the new exercises and add them to their manuals. I hoped it would turn into a community project based on the foundation that I had built.
Next I had a website designed to accommodate the photos of the manuals, the sample pages, a description of my mission, and a log-in section for ‘members.’ I decided against online sales, as I wanted the personal touch of talking with everyone who was interested in purchasing the product. Accordingly, the phone number for my Pilates studio was listed for placing orders. I found a printer who would relieve me of the printing, cutting, hole punching, binding, and laminating of the front and back cover pages. I had to place a minimum order of 150 sets in order to receive a bulk discount, necessitating me to committing to a large amount of money up front.
Now I had to decide how to contact the prospective buyers. I researched and created an extensive email list of Pilates instructors. My website designer then composed a colorful and descriptive mass e-mail and I awaited the results. I was so excited as the phone calls began coming in and I was even more pleased with my decision to speak personally with each buyer. When you’re in a narrow niche market like Pilates, it is exhilarating to swap stories with someone who really gets it. I heard the same response in almost every conversation: “I always thought of doing something like this but never got around to it. Thank you for taking the time to compile all of these exercises.”
I knew my database of emails was representative of the Pilates community but I was unaware of the specific recipients. I was fortunate that one such recipient was a writer for the premier Pilates magazine publication. This woman contacted me to discuss the concept of my manuals. I shipped her a set of the manuals and she included a flattering review of them in the next issue of the magazine. One person who read that review then called me for a recorded interview to be streamed through her online Pilates podcast. Both of these references proved to be great sources of marketing for my project.
During manual production I became inspired to create a line of exercise clothing to complement the manuals. I had a modest selection of tank tops, t-shirts, hoodies, and stretch pants of various colors embroidered with the logo of the manuals, which I displayed at my studio. It was comfortable, cotton clothing at a reasonable price. The sales to my clients were profitable, but not so much as to warrant restocking the merchandise. The nature of my studio sessions were by appointment only, thus eliminating any foot traffic that may have increased sales. Yet another entrepreneurial adventure that did not fail, but merely did not work out as I had envisioned.
I was pleased with the finished production of the manuals and was proud to be able to make a viable contribution to the Pilates industry that had opened so many doors for me. I decided that it would feel as if I had come full circle if I were to rent a booth at the next Pilates conference expo. Hopefully I could justify the costs of traveling by the sales of my manuals. Shipping to the conference was expensive, so I decided that I would bring ten sets in my suitcase to have on display. My plan was to take orders, which would then be shipped upon my return to Chicago. I ordered an additional 100 sets of manuals to prepare for what I hoped to be a positive response. This is where I got a reality check.
I arrived at the conference and went directly to the expo hall to set up my booth. For budget reasons my location was away from the most visible areas, but I was prepared and enthusiastic. I displayed the manuals on the table, hung a huge banner, and strategically placed the remainder of my Pilates clothing sale items with the hope of drawing extra attention. I was eagerly anticipating all of the Pilates enthusiasts I would be able to speak with once the expo opened. Finally people started funneling in. Instructors approached my booth periodically, but the majority of people glanced over and kept walking. I was completely embarrassed by my lack of marketing maneuvers to grasp people’s attention. Up to this point, the manuals had been selling themselves and I was unprepared in this marketing arena. At the convention end, I sold only a quarter of what I had anticipated and came home with my tail between my legs.
The following few weeks restored my confidence. I began to receive orders from people who had seen me at the expo but chose to wait until they returned home to research my product online. At the same time, I also started receiving second-generation orders from people who were referred to me by others who had previously bought my manuals. Nothing is more flattering than a referral, as it means that someone was speaking positively about my product. A few instructors also contributed their own ideas and I was able to begin building that area of the website. Then there was another unexpected and flattering development. I received several calls from instructors who were impressed by my manuals to the extent that they requested a private Pilates session with me while visiting Chicago. They wanted to experience the innovations first hand thus I was able to meet my fans!
Love lesson: this was the surprise offspring that came from my relationship with Pilates. Although I loved the instructor life that Pilates had provided me, I had not planned to expand on it. But when this opportunity presented itself, and I was able to nurture an extension of my passion, I felt compelled to see it through. It was rewarding to contribute my experiences plus my desire for innovative movement to the Pilates community.
Love lesson 13
The risk of turning friendship into romance
In high school, friendship between boys and girls seemed natural and common. Mixed groups of friends could attend weekend outings and school dances together without the hidden agenda of romance. But in the following years, it becomes more challenging to maintain friendships without the possibility of a romantic direction. You know each other so well, you enjoy spending time together, and it seems that everyone else around you is coupling up. Sometimes this is a brilliant union, which leads to years of happiness. At other times you soon become aware of why you were just friends in the first place. It is at these times that you realize perhaps you should leave well enough alone.
My puppy was the cutest little six-pound fur ball. She was full of vigor and I enjoyed her playful companionship. Fortunately she progressed smoothly through the many stages of puppyhood. She seemed to have boundless energy and as long as there was an outlet for that energy, she was an angel. However, if I was away for an extended period of time, or I skimped on our long outdoor walks, she would demonstrate what I came to refer to as ‘the crazy’s.’ This would involve any combination of activities such as running wildly from room to room, using the furniture as hurdles, shaking a toy in her mouth as if she were trying to end the life of her most recent catch, or barking dramatically directly into my face. This behavior could only be minimized by taking her for a 60-90 minute walk every day.
I loved these long walks, and I felt that we both benefited from the fresh air and exercise. I would always bring my cell phone with me. The calls from the Pilates studio were forwarded to my phone so, in essence, I could bring the office along. In general it worked, but at times it became a juggling act. I would answer the phone while holding the leash with my other hand, and then attempt to jot a note. Consequently, I needed a third hand. I knew there had to be a solution. Surely I wasn’t the only person interested in multi-tasking while walking my dog.
I went to the local dog boutiques as well as the large corporate pet stores to see if there was a leash that might go around my waist as to free up my hands. Better yet, what if this leash had pockets to carry my essentials so I wouldn’t have to bring a purse. Plus, suppose the leash could be adjusted for times when I wanted the dog close to me versus when I wanted her to have more freedom in distance. As I added to the criteria of my dream leash, the actual possibility of finding such options went from slim to none. The entrepreneur in me suggested that if I couldn’t find what I needed, I should create it myself!
I started by sketching out a design that was minimalistic, but functional. The leash strap would be two-ply for two reasons. When the two pieces were sewn together, there could be unsewn spaces, which would act as loops for adjusting the size of the waistline. Secondly, a double thick leash would be stronger and more difficult for a dog to chew through. Towards the front of the belt-like portion wrapping around the waist there would be three 2”x4” storage compartments. One would have a velcro closure for id’s and money, the middle one would have a tissue box style opening for treats and waste baggies, and the third would have an elastic cinch with toggle closure for keys or a cell phone. A carabiner would secure the waist area, allowing the leash to drop down my right side, so that the dog would be away from oncoming walkers (crucial for our walks on the busy lake path). From there, the leash could be adjusted to lengthen between three to six feet from the waist by using a second carabiner to lock in the length and a third carabiner would attach the leash to the dogs harness or collar. It would be a perfect hands-free leash.
I drew a thorough sketch to dictate the dimensions. Next I went to a fabric store for the materials. I chose a sturdy woven leash material along with awning material for the pouches so that they would be weather proof. Then all that was left was matching thread, velcro, elastic, toggles and carabiners. I didn’t have experience with sewing machines at the time so I bartered with a Pilates client, who was a professional seamstress, to assemble the parts. It was perfect on the first try. My dream leash was complete, so my dog and I set out to test it in real situations.
It performed wonderfully and did exactly what I had hoped it would: it freed up my hands and stored my necessities. The best part was that since it consistently guided my dog to the right of me, over time she grew accustomed to walking perfectly alongside of me. By being three feet away from my hip, she was able to sense when I was changing directions and stayed where she belonged. Some dogs may enjoy the extended freedom of a retractable leash, but I think my dog liked being close to me and consistently by my side where she could best protect me.
Overall, the leash was an asset and it truly helped me to enjoy our walks. It wasn’t long before other dog owners in the neighborhood became intrigued by my innovation. They would question as to where I purchased it, to which I would respond that I had made it. Then they’d ask if I had any more or if I would make one for them. Really? I should have just said: “no- it’s mine, all mine.” But that wouldn’t be in keeping with entrepreneurialism. I proceeded to purchase large quantities of all of the materials and hired a student from a local fashion school to assemble them in her spare time. From there I created a name, a mission, brochures and a website with order and payment options. I used the leash at 5k walks that benefited animal issues plus sold the leashes out of my backpack. I even submitted an advertisement in a local pet publication.
Then one day while riding in my building elevator, I noted that one of my condo neighbors was carrying a huge academic book that was entitled Patent Law. We started talking. By coincidence, he had to find a product to submit for a patent application for his final project in law school. He would be guided by a lawyer at the firm where he was interning. I explained to him my leash concept, and he felt it would make a perfect patent project. He also explained that there would be no cost to me for participating. I was really excited for the opportunity and gladly changed out of my exercise (work) attire into a nice suit to wear downtown to meet with ‘my lawyers!’ We completed all of the appropriate applications, the lawyers had professional sketches done, and my product was submitted for the consideration of the patent authorities. It would take approximately one year for conclusive results as to whether my leash was patentable. I then shifted my focus to determining my future goals for the product.
I decided that since I was a fitness professional, and not a pet supplies manufacturer, my best bet would be to sell the concept in exchange for royalties of the future sales. I sent letters to every company in the leash supply industry with the hopes that someone would express interest and wish to discuss it further. The only response that I received was from a small pet supply store in Colorado. They loved the leash idea but couldn’t move forward until the patent was approved. This was not the enthusiasm I was hoping for, so I reconsidered the option of producing it myself. I investigated having it mass-produced in China, but I found that it would not be cost effective considering the limited inventory I would initially need. Additionally, I was not willing to compromise the quality and durability of the leash in order to keep the costs down. If my twenty-pound dog could chew through the average leash, I could only imagine what a larger dog might do with inferior materials.
In the end, the decision was made for me. The patent application was turned down and even our resubmission was denied. There was already a product registered in a foreign country that shared too many similarities with my design. I could have pursued it further but at that time I would have had to assume the legal fees and it was likely to end the same. I was eventually left with a $4,000 leash that I love and a tough lesson learned, as well as Christmas gifts for all of my dog-owning friends. It seemed like a sign that I should stick with what I do best. Sometimes a great idea for me is just that: a great idea for me.
Love lesson: trying to turn a great friendship (or clever idea) into a romantic relationship (or successful business venture) doesn’t always come to fruition. We cannot control whether something is meant for greatness. But if we can find satisfaction in the relationship journey and the wisdom gained, there is no failure.
Love lesson 12
Poor communication skills
Transferring information from one person to another can present obstacles. The person sending the message may not supply sufficient or accurate information. The person receiving the message may not understand correctly or interpret appropriately. Further complications arise when a message has to be passed through multiple individuals to get to the desired receiver. Each person’s ability to clarify the message and its intent can dramatically affect the outcome.
Two years after I opened my Pilates studio, I decided that buying my first home would be an appropriate way to invest my earnings. I wanted to live close to my studio, as my morning classes began very early and I did not have a car at the time. I was planning to get a dog in the near future so a major consideration would be a pet-friendly building. I set out looking for condos in the neighborhood that were within my price range. I loved the charm of the vintage neighborhood buildings but found that they were either very expensive or in need of extensive renovation. I appreciated a great view, but became nervous of units in very tall buildings. I wasn’t the easiest home seeker to accommodate. Then I noted signs on a building two blocks from my studio which stated that the building was being converted from rental apartments to condos. It was perfect.
The building was constructed in 1991. It had two floors of commercial properties plus five upper floors, which housed the sixty residential properties. Although the building was relatively new, the conversion would include upgrades throughout the units. I toured the models for the one and two bedroom units and decided to begin modestly with a 600 square foot, one bedroom condo having a great view of downtown. Although it was definitely on the tiny side, it was comparable in size to everywhere else I had recently lived. I secured a loan, signed the contracts, and moved in when the conversion was completed six months later.
I had some remaining money to buy new furnishings for the condo. I made careful decisions to maximize the space use without causing it to look cluttered. Since the building was pet friendly, I then acquired a puppy. Over the course of the next year, I spent time on the building’s roof deck getting to know my new neighbors. I found that the building attracted many young professionals, which made for a compatible home life.
Within one year all of the units were sold and it was time for the unit owners to set up a board of directors to manage important building decisions. Fortunately there was the guidance of a management company that had been with the building since its construction. I decided to run for the board as it seemed like a great way to get involved, to meet other residents, and to monitor that the building would remain pet-friendly so as to secure this home for my dog.
Only five people attended the first board meeting. We needed a minimum of five people to solidify any vote, so the meeting proceeded. According to the management company, this was a normal turnout! The first thing on the agenda was to appoint positions for the board. I had previous experience with the management company as they also managed the building that housed my Pilates studio. Therefore, I was appointed President, with the duty of being the primary liaison between the unit owners and the management company. The next step was to select the policies that would constitute the general building code. The management company provided us with examples of what similar buildings had chosen. Over the next several months, we tailored what would become our building policies. Overall, it was strict but fair. It would be a solid guide for living in a multi-unit building.
We specifically inserted that the building would have an open pet policy. There would be no weight restriction on dogs. My dog would top off at twenty pounds, a common building weight maximum, but I didn’t want the building to be exclusive to ankle-biters. In addition, pets would be allowed to use the main elevators, as the freight elevator required an extensive trek through a basement hallway of dumpsters (and an occasional rat). The only restrictions we added were that there was a limit of two pets per household (we were hoping to avoid having someone move in with eighteen cats), and that dogs must be on leash while within the buildings common areas.
The initial board meetings offered many challenges about how a building should be run. Just as I was concerned about the pet policies, others came forward with their own personal agendas. A major decision was in the determination of how assessment income would be allocated. Tenants who purchased the higher end units wanted to upgrade the lobby and appoint a 24-hour doorman. People who had smaller units wanted an upgraded roof deck providing an escape from their four walls. My secondary agenda was to find a way for owners to be able to install washers and dryers in our individual units. The building had a community laundry room but there is an extended value in the ability to do laundry within your home.
I made it my mission to investigate how to meet code for such a construction project. I took the building blueprints to city hall and talked to the person who was responsible for approving construction permits. In examining our building blueprints, it was determined that we could not install a conventional washer because the pipes were not wide enough to manage the detergent suds overload. Also, we couldn’t have vented dryers because the unit layouts didn’t allow for an accessible vent line to the outside. The entrepreneur in me knew there had to be a solution to this problem. I shifted my focus to researching washers that only used suds-free detergents and to ventless dryers. Fortunately, there was a European brand that made exactly that. I printed out the materials and went back to city hall to propose the use of these specific machines. Unfortunately, the code was over ten years old and didn’t leave room for exceptions, so the answer was still no.
That answer would have been acceptable if the code was sophisticated enough to recognize advancements in the industry. However, it was outdated and therefore, insufficient. My next step of persistence was to visit my local Alderman’s office. Upon meeting with her, I explained that being able to install washers and dryers would improve the resale of our units, this would improve the overall value of the building, which on a grander scale would improve the neighborhood. It was an ambitious statement, but in combination with my research of available options she made a call to city hall to have a permit granted. I was the first in the building to have the construction done. My contractors removed a linen closet in my bathroom, made the necessary adjustments to the plumbing, installed an exhaust fan, and hooked up the machines. It wasn’t the easiest of conquests but I was thrilled with the result and I had paved the way for all other unit owners to be able to do the same.
In addition to discussions being challenging among the members of the board, there was also the added complicated dynamics between the board and the management company. The management company was paid monthly through a portion of our reserves to maintain the building, pay our bills, manage our taxes, and deal with tenant issues that went beyond our abilities. They managed a variety of buildings in that neighborhood and, in general, were able to guide us through any issues that arose. When a problem surfaced it got reported to someone on the board, then the information got forwarded to the management company. At times it seemed like the management company didn’t respond quickly enough and people naturally took the delay in outcome out on the first line of defense: the board.
I attempted to keep accurate notes regarding conflicts that arose in the building, I strove to keep all lines of communication open, and I persisted in making sure that the management company always followed through. But it was rough being the middle-man. When something goes wrong, people naturally look to hold someone accountable. I was visible in the building and around the neighborhood, plus it was easier to corner me then to go downtown where the management office was located. I seemed to be the girl with the bat phone who could reach the people who needed to be reached the quickest. My responsibilities should have ended there, but sometimes the messenger gets shot!
Love lesson: a complicated relationship with compromised communication skills can lead to distress and, at times, resentment towards innocent parties. Bringing together different individuals with varying needs and unique goals makes it necessary to have effective verbal exchanges in order to accomplish objectives. While it is important to participate in projects that need attending to, one must discern how much responsibility actually belongs to the individual messenger and to set clear parameters regarding role responsibilities.
Love lesson 11
For better or for worse
The beginning of any type of relationship is always very exhilarating. We experience the rush of excitement, the anxiety of nervous anticipation, and the hopefulness of a new adventure. Hovering alongside, however, is the fear of possible disappointment or failure. During the ups and downs, there is the knowledge that a commitment has been made which calls for perseverance and dedication throughout the good times and bad, for better or for worse.
It took a bit of research to determine the perfect location for my first business venture. First I located other Chicago Pilates studios and made visits to compare them with the studio where I had taken lessons. It was a challenge to locate many of the studios as they were not in obvious storefront or strip-mall-type locations. Most were housed in older buildings and were often located above the first floor. Since the class structure of Pilates studios is typically by appointment only, I was invited to visit only four of the seven Chicagoland studios. However, this did give me a baseline from which to begin. I determined that I would need approximately 1000 square feet of space for the equipment plus a small office area. It was also necessary to have extra high ceilings in order to accommodate the equipment and its uses and a restroom where clients could change and freshen up.
Next I had to consider the cost/income factor. At the time, private Pilates sessions were costing approximately $60/hour. I calculated that if I averaged twenty clients per week, I could afford a $1,200 monthly lease and ideally also cover my additional overhead and salary. With this in mind I began my search. Renting a street level space was double the monthly rent as one below or above street level. Immediately my search shifted to spaces that were not street level, but could allow for some signage that could be visible from the street. I knew I wanted to be in the Lincoln Park neighborhood as my research had shown that currently there were no studios in that area. I also lived in the area. In addition, I thought this neighborhood would likely embrace the philosophy of a healthy lifestyle, and had people with an income enabling them to support a Pilates program.
Following a month of daily walks on various desirable Lincoln Park streets, I discovered a location that had possibilities. It was on the garden level (half below ground/half above) within a four-flat building. It was the appropriate size, it had a changing room with a shower, and it would be easy to display visible signage. The downside was that it had only one window, in the front, facing the street and it did not have central air. However, it was the right price, so I told the broker that I wanted to move forward, needing to review the terms of the lease and to agree to a two-year commitment. Two days following I received a phone call from the broker saying that there was another potential tenant interested in the same space who had a very similar business concept and who was willing to pay more for the monthly rent.
The space wasn’t perfect and I had no interest in a bidding war. To be honest, when I backed out I thought I was calling the broker’s bluff. What was the chance that someone with a similar idea was attempting to outbid me for this space? I walked away and continued my search. This time I turned to an online search engine where I found a space just two blocks from the original. I called for an appointment and was immediately drawn to the space. It was on the second floor above a charming Italian restaurant. But more importantly, it was a corner location with two outside walls of unobstructed windows (ten total!). It was bright, yet offered the privacy of being on the second floor. It had central air, high ceilings, 1000 square feet of space, a bathroom, plus a private buzzer entrance. Additionally, there were parking spaces available for rent behind the business, which would prove to be a great amenity for driving clients. The price was competitive and the terms of the lease were manageable.
I did not want to risk losing this location. I solicited my parent’s opinion to see if they liked it as much as I did and during their visit we discovered something quite interesting. Just across the tree-lined street from the studio was the first apartment where my parents had lived as a newly married couple! It seemed poetic, and upon reviewing the 27-page lease I, along with my parents, co-signed for the space. This perfect little tree-house studio was to be mine for the next two years. I quickly devised a plan to open the business in two weeks, allowing time for a rent-free build-out. I ordered the minimum amount of Pilates machines which would constitute a fully equipped studio, had the space painted a soothing light green, ordered large mirrors to cover one wall, and brought in some tasteful hand-me-down office furniture from my parents.
The next step was something that every new business owner discovers: the dreaded trip to city hall. Before you can arrange for utilities and open for business, you need to apply for a business license through the city. Normally this daunting task takes one to two hours. I cleared a whole day for my downtown city hall adventure and traveled by bus, lease in hand. Much to my dismay, there was a major problem. The address documented on my lease did not exist in any city hall records. Because my landlord had previously used the space for his personal office, it had never been designated as a commercial property, thus not registered with the city. Buildings in Chicago are zoned for residential, commercial, or mixed use. Fortunately, since the restaurant below was zoned commercial, I was granted a license for the above space.
Some three hours later I was back on track and was allowed to register for my utilities. I then proceeded on to open a business bank account. Speaking of bank account, you may be wondering how I funded this business venture. I had always had a good credit rating and credit card companies continually sent me applications for new credit cards. I saved the ones that had an initial offer of ‘no financing for the first year’ and proceeded to open five cards in order to charge most of my business expenses. It may not be the traditional approach to financing a business but it allowed me to operate under the time deadlines. Applying for a small business bank loan may have taken months to get approved and I did not have a formal business plan to support my cash requirements. I had done my homework and chose to follow my instincts. Plus we entrepreneurs have no fear of risk.
The remainder of the two weeks before opening was organized chaos. I designed and printed business flyers to market my grand opening and then walked from door to door sliding the flyers into the doorframes of every house within four, square blocks. I also put flyers under car windshield wipers and posted them on community bulletin boards in neighboring businesses. Just as I was about to open my doors and celebrate my grand opening, I happened to walk past the space I had previously turned down and nearly fell to the ground in devastation. There, just two blocks from my new Pilates studio was a man delivering a prominent piece of Pilates equipment into that garden level space. The broker wasn’t bluffing. Suddenly I was faced with the realization that in a neighborhood where I thought I had a Pilates monopoly, there was about to be another studio in very close proximity. That studio opened one week after mine.
I was fortunate to have five past fitness clients who chose to follow me to my new business. This translated to seven sessions per week. As soon as my signs went up in the windows, I began to receive phone calls. The business grew quickly and steadily and, after two months, I was able to discontinue teaching at the two clubs where I had been previously instructing. By the fourth month I was teaching fifty hours of clients per week and by the sixth month I was able to pay off all five credit cards, cover my monthly overhead, plus order additional equipment. I was exhilarated by the rush of a successful business model but exhausted from the time requirements. One night I actually slept at the studio as I was there well after 10PM and I felt it would be too exhausting to go home and be back in time for my 6AM client!
I was enjoying working independently with my clients and hadn’t yet considered the possibility of hiring additional instructors. The studio was 100% my dream and my vision and I feared that having other people working with me might somehow negatively affect my mission. Additionally, the thought of being a boss made me slightly nervous. Having had negative employer experiences in the past caused me to question whether the relationship might be challenging regardless of which side I was on. Besides, hiring staff was a skill with which I had no previous experience. However, I began contemplating qualities that I would be seeking in an instructor: a current certification, a fitness background, sufficient training and teaching experience, and a charismatic personality. I was unsure as to where to begin the search.
Then, as if all I had to do was alert the universe that I was considering hiring, I received a timely phone call. The person on the line had been recently certified through the same studio where I had trained. She informed me that she had been attending my matwork classes at one of the clubs where I had previously taught and that after I left she took over instructing my classes. She explained that she had enjoyed my classes and admired my teaching style. In addition, she wanted to know if I would ever be seeking additional instructors. Flooded with optimism, I met with her the next day. She seemed very sweet and sufficiently qualified. I envisioned how she might be a complement to my business and decided to take the employer plunge.
I began by sharing my business philosophy and policies. Once I validated her technique, I assigned to her some of my novice clients plus a few matwork classes to teach. I also forwarded to her all newly interested clients. My schedule eased up a bit and soon our shifts were overlapping. We easily developed a system for coexisting within the studio. Pilates was becoming the training of choice for many celebrities and some prominent sports figures. This translated into an increase in my business and soon I hired additional part-time instructors.
I found that being the boss wasn’t as challenging as I had feared. I was, however, very particular about whom I hired and in some cases I trained the instructors myself (as an entrepreneur, I knew I could also improve on training techniques). I kept our relationships professional and tried not to micromanage. As long as the client was happy, I was happy. I also felt the instructors were happy. Since the studio seemed to be functioning quite smoothly I was shocked when my first hire decided to leave. She called me one day and asked if we could talk. Anyone in any kind of relationship knows that this is the kiss of death.
This instructor’s boyfriend had bought a condo in a Chicago suburb some 45 minutes away and she had decided to join him there. She had already made the arrangements to open her own Pilates studio beginning in two weeks. I was devastated. I probably should have been flattered that I had provided a business model that she felt could be successfully duplicated, but I felt betrayed as she had not confided in me while making her decision. Fortunately, there was not a client conflict of interest, as I knew I would not lose any city clients to her suburban studio. I was, however, left with her clients at my studio who would need to be assigned to myself and my other instructors in a timely manner. I wished her well and proceeded to find ways to juggle her remaining clients.
Shortly thereafter I replaced that first hire with an extremely driven and quite ambitious instructor. Her schedule filled quickly and soon she was teaching more client hours than I taught. This is where the employer/employee balance can become tricky, as there can be resentment if the employees feel that they’re working harder than the employer. They often do not take into consideration the time invested into maintaining the business, not to mention covering all of the overhead expenses. They just note that they are there more hours than you are and resentment can start to build. This is what transpired with this particular instructor. She started dodging my friendly greetings and efforts for communication. Eventually she even seemed to avoid eye contact. I was a little concerned but defaulted to my motto that if the client is happy, I’m happy.
Soon I began to observe that she was becoming somewhat curt with her clients and seemed increasingly frustrated when they did not quickly understand her instructions. I was about to confront her with my concern when one day she snapped at a very nice client who left the studio crying. This confirmed my worries. I spent the next day recording the names and phone numbers of her assigned clients and at the end of her evening shift I informed her that she could no longer teach at my studio. Since she was an independent contractor, advanced notice was not required. I simply told her that I would give her a grace period of 48 hours to notify her clients of her departure before I would call them and offer to train them myself.
Immediately I evaluated all of her client’s packages of Pilates sessions to determine what I would owe them either as a refund or as remaining sessions. As I began to do the math, I realized that in many instances she was adjusting the payroll recordings to be in her and her clients’ favor. On multiple occasions, she had change a clients’ package from 8 of 10 sessions to 8 of 20 sessions. A minor alteration that was easy for me to overlook. This way the client would receive free sessions, which was a nice incentive to continue with that instructor. Meanwhile, I was paying for her to teach sessions although the studio was not receiving the income for those sessions. In the end, I calculated an approximate loss of $4,000 that I could not recover, as I could not assume the level of client involvement. Many of her clients chose to leave, but approximately half of her clients were uninvolved and stayed with my studio. I tightened my bookkeeping system in hopes that this situation would never be repeated. It was a devastating loss- both financially and to my level of employee trust. Once again, I chose to make peace with my past. No one was in charge of my happiness but me.
The client relationships have been the most rewarding part of this business. When you offer an exclusive service, you are essentially evaluated on a day-to-day basis. If your performance is of value, they will continue to come. If not, they will defer to a different studio or method of fitness. Perhaps the studio that opened two blocks away was a blessing in disguise. It inspired me to constantly evaluate the quality of the service that I was providing. I took great pride in our instruction style, which was individually customized to the health needs of our clients. In addition, each client was trained by the same instructor for continuity, as well as to ensure that there were no deterrents in their progress. We also strived for a healthy balance between keeping a professional yet friendly relationship with the clients. After all, often times we saw our clients more than we saw many of our friends!
Providing this stable and friendly environment attracted a variety of clients with individual goals. There was always the standard fitness guru who tried all the latest ‘trends,’ the brides to be who wanted to lose a size and tone up before the big day (and honeymoon), and the pregnant women who wanted a safe way to exercise while their bodies changed. But occasionally someone truly unique presented a new set of challenges in assisting with their fitness needs. This is when you truly feel as if you have had an impact on someone’s life. One such special client was hit by a car in his 20’s and was severely injured. After years of physical therapy and a fused spine he still lacked the range of motion necessary to function comfortably. During his three years of training with me, through his patience, persistence, and periodic pain, he was able to resume some activities that he had never thought possible. Although his training has ended, we remain good friends.
I also had the opportunity to train a little person, which was an exciting challenge. I implemented every possible manner in which to create variations to the exercises and the machine configurations in order to accommodate her average sized torso yet short limbs. Because of her dedication, I was able to help her achieve her goals of being toned, trim and beautiful in her wedding dress! Another client had lost one leg to cancer as a teenager. Her prosthetic leg was very functional for walking but was not sophisticated enough for the creative Pilates movements. She was such a good sport as we navigated the challenges together to give her a very effective workout program that would increase her overall physical fitness. Most recently, a stroke victim came to me with the hopes of improving his mind/body connection in an attempt to improve his golf game. His patience and determination assisted in reestablishing a fluid communication between his mind and his muscles and resulted in progress for his golf game as well as day-to-day activities.
There were also exciting times when someone recognizable began training at the studio. I had to resist the urge to ask for an autograph and proceed as if they were just another client. Thanks to a well designed website and fortunate placement on the internet search engines, I received a call from an interested professional hockey player. This was quite exciting for me considering my past history with my college hockey team. Our professional relationship cemented quickly as I designed a program that would increase his flexibility and range of motion in order to improve the stride length of his skating. Unfortunately his training program was cut short when he was traded to another team, but it was a thrill to both assist with his training and to attend several of his hockey games. I also had the pleasure of training an actress preparing for a television show during which the network was actually paying me to get her fit for the upcoming program. Her improved physique landed her on the pages of US Weekly and my studio got a nod for contributing to her fitness success. There went the phone lines again!
Out of respect, I strive to keep my client relationships professional. On rare but special occasions, my clients become good friends both in and out of the studio. I always remain mindful that the foundation of our relationship is professional and the need for integrity throughout our social endeavors. With any friendship, the foundation is usually built upon a common interest. The enjoyment of Pilates can serve as the basis of such relationships and may then grow from there.
One such special relationship was with one of the first women to call for an appointment after I had opened my studio. She was a 77-year old real estate broker who had been very lean and fit her entire life. Her goal was to increase her strength in order to protect her aging joints. She came to see me two times per week at 6AM. Over the two years I worked with her, she became like a third Grandmother to me. She gave me guidance and allowed me to benefit from her years of wisdom and experience. She told me about her long, fruitful life and I grew to look forward to our sessions together. Eventually, I began to notice that her health was declining and, in spite of her workouts, she was becoming quite frail. One day she called me to cancel our upcoming week’s appointments as she had some doctor’s appointments to attend to. She assured me that everything was fine and that she’d be back soon. The following week she called to inform me that she had cancer and would not be in for a while. I asked if I could come to see her but she thought that would be silly since she’d be back soon. Two weeks later, her daughter left a message on the studio voicemail saying she had passed away. I cried the whole walk home.
It’s never easy to lose someone you care about and this was no exception. I take comfort in the wonderful relationship that we shared. She was the real estate broker for my first condo and I will always associate her with that important event. I attended her wake service and it was a comfort to meet her daughter whom she had so often spoken of. Several days later I received the following note from her daughter, which I keep in the drawer of my night stand:
Your Pilates classes had become one of the staples of my mom’s life. She looked forward to seeing you every week, working with you, and gossiping about your lives. She was so proud when you bought your condo. During her illness, the doctors and nurses would always comment about how strong my mom was, and she would proudly launch into a discussion about her Pilates classes! I am so glad that you were able to become a part of her life. Your relationship enriched her spirit.
One aspect of owning the Pilates studio that was reminiscent of my days in Aspen was the village style of bartering which I was able to engage in with some of my clients. I had many successful women who trained with me and they brought with them a variety of appealing products and services. It was one such client who exchanged classes for her legal assistance when I filed to be an LLC. I also had a client who gave me medical assistance in exchange for her Pilates sessions. I traded services with a chiropractor, an esthetician, a dance instructor, a hair stylist, and a custom seamstress. I also bartered Pilates sessions for jewelry, handbags, oriental rugs and theater tickets. I’m honored to be able to offer a service that warrants such exquisite and necessary returns.
Love lesson: as with any relationship, you find yourself hurdling ups and downs in search of a comfortably rewarding existence. I began my studio full of hope and it has provided me with great pride. At times I was disheartened and questioned my direction, but through it all I never lost faith. I trusted that beyond the challenging bad times there would be successful good times, and that my business would continue for better, not for worse. I knew that there was a purpose for which I had been joined with Pilates.
Love lesson 10
On rare and unique occasions, someone or something presents itself to which you are instantly drawn. It might be related to ‘chemistry,’ a scent, a mood, an aura, or simply an unexplainable attraction. Regardless of the channel, a feeling prevails that your life might never be the same from that moment on. There is an immediate desire and willingness to invest as much time as possible in order to experience and define that initial euphoria.
One day I was discussing my chronic back issues with a friend when she suggested I try the up-and-coming technique called Pilates. It was a form of fitness that had been around since the 1920’s but was just now entering the mainstream. Upon checking the phone book, I found there to be only a few Pilates studios in Chicago, one of which was relatively near to where I lived. The regimen consisted of one-on-one training with an instructor using a full line of specific Pilates equipment. It came with a stiff price tag, so I decided that I would start with just one session per week.
The studio I had chosen was in a mid-rise loft building just North of the loop. It had no signage so the business was dependent on marketing through the phone book as well as by word of mouth. One woman owned the 2,000 square foot business. She was assisted by five instructors who taught under the category of independent contractors. Her business model intrigued me, so during my Pilates sessions I asked as many questions about the administration as I did regarding the fitness training concepts.
Pilates was ideal for my continually recovering back. It’s not as physically demanding as lifting weights. Plus with the assistance of custom machines, which utilize springs as resistance, one could perform over 500 different exercises to stimulate muscle development and strength. It was after only a few sessions that I started to feel like my compressed and injured spine was being lengthened and strengthened. I quickly grew to appreciate this technique and the results it provided. I have always had good body awareness, which was one of the reasons that I was such a successful gymnast. I was now discovering that Pilates called upon smaller and less prominent muscle groups that are critical in protecting the joints. Pilates took my knowledge of the human body to a heightened level. Once I became more experienced in the mind body connection used with Pilates’ exercises, I was able to isolate specific muscle groups to best strengthen the areas around my injuries.
An additional noteworthy aspect of Pilates is that it is not only safe and easy for the client, it’s also less physically demanding on the instructor than assisting with traditional weight training programs. As my personal training clients became stronger and stronger, I was required to assist and spot them with increasingly heavier weights. A Pilates instructor would simply adjust the springs based on the resistance needs of the client, which puts very little strain on the instructor’s body. It was the best of both worlds in that it would help me as a client while minimizing my physical duties as an instructor. I took private lessons for a year before committing to a Pilates certification course, which was being offered through the studio in which I was attending. The first step was a weekend warrior workshop for becoming certified to teach the Pilates matwork classes. I convinced my mom to join me in completing the workshop, as she was interested in knowing more about this fitness practice that I was engrossed in. She also had been impressed and grateful for the improvement in my physical condition. Following that certification, I began the ten-week intensive program to become certified to teach using the Pilates equipment.
Both of the certification courses were instructed by the studio owner, who was clearly passionate about this practice. She had been the first person to introduce Pilates to Chicago approximately nine years earlier and she was one of the only area instructors qualified to provide teacher-training programs. She was strict and thorough, but maintained the proper ambiance for this mind/body technique. I developed great respect for her, so much so that when I completed both certifications and she offered me a teaching position at her studio, I almost accepted. Working for her would have been a practical way to gain experience and continue to learn about Pilates from a business standpoint. However, she required that her independent teacher contractors sign a non-compete clause consisting of a ten-mile radius area of her studio (which covered all of the areas of Chicago). She also insisted upon a one-year commitment. I did not want to risk the possibility of another unpleasant employer/employee experience nor did I want to have a contract forbidding me to work within a reasonable distance.
I gracefully declined her job offer and chose to improve upon my new skills while teaching Pilates matwork at the fitness clubs where I was currently employed. My entrepreneurial spirit just needed a little time to determine how to best utilize my newly acquired skills. My first attempt at implementation was a proposal of renovating an unused racquetball court at one of the gyms into a fully equipped Pilates studio, which I would in turn run. The negotiations went well overall, but in the end there were complicated contracts that again I was not comfortable signing. Pilates had become so imperative to my personal physical health that at this point I was determined to find a way to implement it into my career. I needed a way to justify personally buying the necessary equipment. And then the answer came to me. Of course- this was it. This was my niche. I would open my own Pilates studio.
Love lesson: instant attraction not only catches your eye, but it demands action as if fate is whispering: “when you know, you know.” Once you’ve experienced an instant attraction followed by having good fortune unfold unforced, you need not audit this aspect of life. You need merely to trust in the belief that good fortune is to follow.
Love lesson 9
Looks can be deceiving
At a first glance things can appear perfect. The guy can seem flawless, the sought after home may look ideal, and the job can be the opportunity of a lifetime. Regardless of the object of your affection, what you first see and what may actually be reality can prove to be two very different things. Upon getting to know the guy, you may find he has a chip on his shoulder, the house may not be as structurally sound as it appears, and the job may involve more tedious tasks then originally reported. It is not always possible to look thoroughly before you leap, but a careful evaluation as early as possible can save you years of anguish.
While I was attending grad school, an up-and-coming field of corporate fitness was developing in Chicago and other big cities. It involved launching fitness facilities within large corporate buildings enabling people to exercise at the same location where they would spend their workdays. What made the program exciting was that not only were corporations now acknowledging the increased work abilities of a healthy employee, they were also subsidizing the membership fees and offering incentives for healthy attendance. This offered a perfect platform for my background in health and fitness. I focused on corporate wellness during the remainder of grad school and wrote my thesis defining both program development and benefits.
In the process of completing my thesis I interviewed the manager of the most prominent corporate fitness program in Chicago. He was very charming and seemed enthusiastic about what I might bring to their program. I found myself ready to give having a boss one more chance. With the hopes that this experience would prove different than those in the past, I accepted the position of assistant manager at three small corporate fitness centers within their company. Only a manager plus myself would be at those three facilities on a day-to-day basis. I saw this as an opportunity to possibly add my personal experience to the way in which the clubs were run. An added bonus was that I would always be in charge of whichever individual club I was at, so it would virtually be like my being the boss when the manager was not present.
Each facility was about 1000 square feet and had basic cardiovascular and weight training machines, along with a men’s and women’s locker room plus a desk/reception area for me. Members used a swipe card to enter the secured facility and could come and go with minimal staff attention needed. Because each club was small, whoever was managing would be responsible for everything that needed to be taken care of. I anticipated the obvious tasks: enroll clients, maintain financial statements, market and administrate wellness programs, and assist the members with their fitness programs. The one task that I had not considered was being responsible for laundering all of the member towels that were used during workouts and showering. The building contracted a cleaning staff to maintain the locker rooms, however they were not available to do the laundry.
The laundry room was down a hallway from the gym area. There was a large rolling bin to transport the wet and dirty towels, and each facility would average four loads of towels daily. This menial task assignment immediately weakened my assistant manager ego. I was shocked that six years of higher education would amount to me doing more laundry than actual program development. Unfortunately, this chore also began to affect my body. My upper back was still sensitive from my college injury and I found that my lower back was experiencing strain from the repetitive actions of bending and lifting the wet towels from the washer into the dryer.
I shared my plight with upper management hoping to be reassigned to a position in their corporate office, which also might actually allow me to better utilize my education. Their position was that doing the laundry was part of my job description. I suggested that they might consider hiring someone to attend to each of their clubs solely to do the laundry, but they said that that was not an option. I was told that if I couldn’t physically do the laundry that I would be let go. I had been with this company for nearly a year and had yet to participate in program development as I had anticipated. That along with earning a minimal salary, and compromising the health of my back, contributed to my decision to leave.
Unfortunately, this brought me back to square one in regards to my future career path. Not having a direction, but wanting to be employed while I explored my options, I returned to personal training. Yes, that’s the sound of the record skipping! I found a position with another Chicago-based company that owned two fitness centers. I taught group fitness classes, and began to develop a personal training clientele. Running between the clubs multiple times per day was manageable, but not ideal. More importantly, I knew that my career enhancement was being hindered. I just needed to get my body and my mind healthy again.
Love lesson: looks are often deceiving. I thought that I had found my optimal career path. Upon choosing corporate fitness, I entered into a position with a low salary and virtually no opportunity for personal or career growth. The job position was not stimulating and markedly underutilized my education. Unfortunately, the infatuation I had with the concept of corporate fitness never evolved into love.
Love lesson 8
Love yourself first
Life involves a variety of journeys but perhaps the most challenging is to fully get to know your self. During the developmental years, parent expectations, peer pressure, personal relationships, plus other external factors tend to define you. It takes great strength to look within yourself to determine your individual uniqueness. Beyond that, it takes confidence and courage to put your self on display for the world to judge. Through trial and error you can determine which path to take and whom you choose to be with along that path. It is only in finding yourself, and loving yourself, that you will be able to embrace your life and the people you spend it with.
The following fall, I began attending graduate school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Having lived in Colorado for almost two years, I now qualified for in-state tuition, and I wanted to have continued access to the mountains I had grown to love. I was truly enjoying the Colorado lifestyle and saw Boulder as a good transition back into the real world. I immediately fell in love with the town. It is surrounded by the beautiful flatiron hillsides, which offer wonderful hiking and trekking opportunities. There is also the ever-so-darling Pearl Street, where an old-fashioned style brick street frames a variety of boutiques and restaurants. No cars are allowed! I rented a tiny but comfortable apartment that was walking distance from the university, and reentered the education arena.
After having such a positive experience mentoring the gymnasts as well as the high school ski and snowboard teams in Aspen, I decided to study Sport Psychology. My undergrad degree was in Kinesiology and I thought the two would complement each other. I was unsure of what career I would pursue with this major, but nevertheless I was excited to be moving forward. My class enrollments were all very small and it soon became obvious that the program was at risk due to a lack of interest. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the program would be discontinued at the end of the semester. We were given some limited options as to the fields we could transfer into. These options did not appeal to me so I decided to move back to Illinois, close to my family, to continue my education.
I looked to The University of Illinois at Chicago and found that their Exercise Physiology department had a very respectable masters program. I submitted transfer documentation from my semester at CU and, to my surprise, was awarded a teachers assistant scholarship. Even with the additional responsibilities of helping the professors compile and grade exams, I moved with great ease through my studies. My junior and senior years of college had heightened my confidence in my academic abilities, and I found that when studying a subject that I connected with the interest alone contributes to success.
In addition to taking classes, I returned to my comfort zone of personal training. I found a position at a nearby large and prestigious Chicago-based health club and once again returned to the bottom of the ladder. I began by giving free fitness consultations to members and eventually built up a paying personal training clientele. The more I spoke with my clients, the more I realized that this particular club would benefit from a wellness program similar to the prototype that I had studied during my undergraduate internship. The club athletic director granted me a small budget to launch the program and to market it to the members. Both my wellness and personal training sessions were commission-based, but I was no stranger to incentive or to hard work. Nevertheless, my primary focus was to bring the wellness program to fruition as I had envisioned it.
Slowly but surely the wellness program grew, but I was not receiving the support from the athletic director which was necessary in order to expand the program. It became a constant struggle for backing, and the pressure of dealing with this conflict of interests mirrored the resentment I had felt towards my college coach. I wasn’t willing to regress. I had found my personal spiritual center in Aspen, I was closing in on a masters’ degree, and I was clear about who I was and what I felt was necessary for me to succeed. I realize that it is not necessarily a positive trait that I seem to resist dealing with authority. However I don’t believe that my resentment was in relationship to my not being able to be ‘the boss.’ Perhaps I did not recognize this as being my entrepreneurial spirit at work. What I do know is that it is important to recognize one’s strengths and weaknesses and to pursue a life career accordingly.
Love lesson: learning to love myself and the decisions that I was making along my chosen path instilled in me the confidence to take strong steps forward into the world. All aspects in my life to date felt like stepping stones that helped to form my path. As I moved from one experience to the next, I grew and learned from my trials and successes. With my newly acquired degree along with my masters’ in life skills, I felt confident and prepared to move onto the next phase of my adult life.
Love lesson 7
The term closure suggests a sense of certainty or finality in a given situation. Even though an event in someone’s life may end, it is not until they reach a level of psychological awareness and acceptance that they can freely move forward. It might involve finding greater meaning in life as a result, or perhaps simply releasing the situation from your cares. Closure may encompass a multitude of emotions, while the likelihood of regressions can make recovery a lengthy process. In general, it is best to find closure before entering into similar scenarios, further deepening the emotional wound.
I didn’t quite finish all of my college courses in four years and as a result, I graduated in December of 1997. As a graduation present, my dad planned to take me on a ski trip to Aspen. But not just any ski trip, the exclusive ‘boys’ trip, which had taken place every second week of January for twenty-five years. It was a group consisting of approximately ten men who were friends or business acquaintances of my dad. One rule applied over all those years: no wives! The obvious loophole was that while I wasn’t one of the guys, I also wasn’t one of the wives. It was scheduled!
Although I did not mention it earlier, skiing has been a staple in our family my entire life. Actually, longer. My first experience on the slopes was in utero, as not even a pregnancy would keep my parents from an annual ski trip. My next ski trip was when I was three years old. I got my first pair of skis for Christmas that year and was enrolled in ski school. I don’t have many memories of this, but the pictures are pretty cute! Our tradition was to take at least one family ski trip per year. The only years I missed were those during college as my coach forbade me to do any extracurricular’s that might cause an injury. Hmmm….
We always drove to that year’s ski destination. Since the best skiing is out West, our road trips averaged fifteen to twenty hours each way. One distinct memory I have is spending a whole trip in the backseat of the car with a notebook and pencil designing the house of my dreams. I was only nine or ten at the time so my imagination dictated that it would be built into a mountain and contain all of the necessities: an indoor pool with water slides and varying levels of diving boards, a deluxe play room with jungle gyms, a trampoline, etc. The outside was surrounded by a moat and you rode a skier style chair lift to the top where the entrance was. For better or worse, my parents didn’t recognize my design talent as that of a potential architect so I was free to continue enjoying my imaginative pastime.
Sometimes we stopped at American landmarks along the way, which gave me a healthy dose of culture and history. Other times we might drive hours out of the way just because my dad wanted to show off one of his alma maters, Penn State. The best part of these trips, hands down, was that it was the one time during the year that I was allowed to select and consume a box of sugar cereal. Every year brought about the ultimate dilemma of Fruit Loops versus Lucky Charms. It was groundbreaking for me when brands started packaging small boxes of a variety of sugar cereals together. Regardless, I skied really great after my sugar-packed breakfast!
My mom, dad and I are all expert skiers. In addition, I have a reckless desire for speed and a good challenge. Risk isn’t something that an entrepreneur fears. I was really looking forward to the challenge of outskiing my dad and all of his friends on the annual boys ski trip. My dad and I drove to Aspen and upon arrival we started our search for somewhere that I could stay (crashing at ‘the boys’ luxury condo would be pushing things a little too far). We settled on an older hotel right at the base of the mountain. It was small and dated but when you’re somewhere as beautiful as Aspen you don’t spend much time in your hotel room.
I met the boys each day for some expert skiing, joined them for apres ski, and then left them to do whatever it is that grown men do when they hang out together- presumably solve the world’s problems and sleep. After all, they had to get a good night’s rest for fresh tracks in the morning. I had just finished college and, at my age, I knew that sleep was overrated. Since the night was young, I would head back to my hotel where there was a bar called Maxfield’s. It was a good-sized bar that had plenty of seating, pool tables and dartboards. It mainly attracted local workers, which made for a very friendly atmosphere.
Each evening I would sit at the bar and chat with the bartenders and random locals within my vicinity. Mid-week I mentioned that I had been a bartender in college and I was invited behind the bar to assist with mixing drinks. I quickly got to know the regulars and enjoyed their laid-back ‘work to play’ attitude. It was a welcome change from the strenuous college experience I had just completed. Plus, it has to be said that I am particularly attracted to guys who are athletic and the skier/snowboarders living in Aspen were easy on the eyes. One guy in particular caught my attention and he became my personal social guide for the remainder of the trip.
Towards the end of my trip, while sitting at the bar at Maxfield’s, I noted that the bar manager/head bartender was having an argument with his girlfriend who was one of the cocktail waitress. I couldn’t tell the details of the disagreement, but she announced she was quitting and stormed out. At that moment the bar manager turned to me and said: “you want a job?” My initial response was to turn him down. Firstly, I didn’t live there, and secondly, I had just completed a college degree so that I wouldn’t have to work in a bar. There was also the college boyfriend that I had left behind at school. How could I just up and relocate my life to Aspen, Colorado?
I mentioned the offer to my dad the next day in a non chalant storytelling fashion. Little did I know that he would think it was a terrific idea! And by that, I mean a fantastic opportunity for him to live vicariously through me. Frankly, he was shocked that I was hesitant about the offer. The drive home from Aspen was rough because he seemed insistent that I embark on this adventure. He was correct in that I had just forfeited four years of skiing due to my gymnastics scholarship and this could be a life payback opportunity.
My parents had offered to help me purchase a car as a graduation gift. When they agreed to assist in buying a Jeep appropriate for the Colorado adventure, I realized that I was on my way with their approval. I ended the college boyfriend relationship, called Maxfield’s to make sure the job offer still stood, and called the cute skier to let him know I’d be back in a week. We bought the Jeep, packed up various essentials including my two ferrets (yes, I loved the squirrel-like qualities of these adorable weasels), and I was back on the road. As mentioned earlier, I could function on very little sleep, so I drove the eighteen-hour trip straight through. It was time for a new adventure with no rules, I was going to work to play, and play hard.
One thing that’s interesting about ski towns is the camaraderie amongst the locals. All that fresh air just makes you want to help each other. Upon my re-arrival, I was granted housing in a small room of the hotel where I had previously stayed. Many of the hotels in the area have accommodations allocated for ‘the help.’ As long as I maintained a pre-set number of work hours at the hotel, I could utilize the housing at a reasonable rate. My two responsibilities were to cocktail waitress at Maxfield’s three nights per week and to serve the continental breakfast three mornings per week.
My new friends encouraged me to take up snowboarding. Fortunately, the cute skier worked at a ski shop and was able to permanently ‘lend’ me a snowboard. One of my co-workers agreed that she would teach me how to snowboard. Since she discovered that I had a weakness for Samoas Girl Scout Cookies, her training method was to offer me a cookie each time I successfully made a turn. This may have seemed like a foolproof plan, but three days later I was still spending more time on my butt then on my feet and the cookie box was barely touched. Fortunately, the following day out, she invited a friend who was an on-mountain snowboard instructor. He was able to have me cruising after a few important tips, and I was on my way to being a multi-sport mountain athlete.
Aspen is unique in that everyone you meet possesses a valuable skill that can be bartered for another valuable skill. My skill at the time was providing drinks. I was allowed to give away six percent of my sales in free drinks each night at my discretion. I usually reserved this for the people who had helped me out by getting me equipment or by teaching me how to use it. Occasionally I saved my giveaways for when the Tippler boys came over. The Tippler was the bar across the street from Maxfield’s and was the best place to dance after a long day of skiing. On break during our evening cocktailing shifts, we would cross the street to dance and have a drink with the bartenders (the Tippler boys) or they would stop in to shoot a game of pool with us. We were unofficially affiliated and between the two bars, one could have a great night out.
There are many famous people who hang their hat in Aspen. These are not the locals that I was referring to. Of the two class distinctions (wealthy and working class) in a town like Aspen, I was amongst the working class. If I were to run into ‘the wealthy,’ it was usually while picking up an extra shift to help cater a private party at a swank mountain lodge. But I was okay with my life as I had everything I needed: a modest roof over my head, a microwave/mini-fridge combo appliance for makeshift meals, and a Jeep suitable for off-road mountain adventures. I didn’t think it could get any better. Then one fateful evening while I was cocktail waitressing, a local girl walked in wearing a sweatshirt that read ‘Aspen Gymnastics.’ I immediately offered her a free drink and proceeded to drill her about whether there was a local gymnastics team. As it turned out, it was less than a mile from where I was standing. It just goes to show that when you stop searching for something, it just might find you.
The next day I stopped by the local gymnastics club and introduced myself to the head coach. He was very friendly and had that whole fresh air, laid-back, Aspen mentality going on. In short, he was quite possibly the dream coach! He was impressed with my gymnastics credentials and offered me an assistant coaching position on the spot (it turned out that the current female assistant coach was actually too laid back and wasn’t showing up to the competitions). This could be my opportunity to be the coach that I had always wished I had. I started the next afternoon and was coaching every class level. The girls trained from 4-7PM on the weekdays and traveled to Denver for the competitions on the weekends. In addition, I was assigned the position of assisting with sport-specific conditioning for the Aspen High School ski and snowboard teams. They came to the gym in order to train for their skill acquisition on our forty-foot tumbling trampoline. This particular position awarded me a full-season, four-mountain ski pass for the area, otherwise known as the ultimate ski town possession.
Coaching the girls at the gymnastics club was everything I could have hoped for. I found a healthy balance between bringing out their talent and being a positive role model. On the days my back wasn’t hurting me, I would actually demonstrate the skills for them, which awarded me their respect. I also made sure that they understood that gymnastics was a wonderful sport for developing a foundation of universal skills and fundamentals, and not something that had to rule their world. I kept the pressure low and made sure they had fun while advancing their skill levels. Also, it helped me to reconnect with the sport I had loved so, and I found peace through my contribution to this younger generation of gymnasts.
I had hoped to incorporate some of my education into this extended vacation and fortunately acquired a part-time job at the prestigious Aspen Club. It was country club in style with amenities including extensive fitness programming, an exclusive tennis club, and a luxury spa. I had to start at the bottom of the ladder as a front desk staff person but it presented a great opportunity to get to know the club and its members. Eventually I began working on the fitness floor providing personal training for some of the wealthy locals. It was a valuable lesson in the importance of customer service. With this level of clientele, the customer was always right, plus they had high expectations of superior service.
In case your not keeping track, at this time I was waking up at 5AM three days per week to serve the continental breakfast at the hotel for four hours; opening the fitness club at 6AM for a four hour shift, three other days per week; coaching gymnastics from 4-7PM, five days per week; and cocktail waitressing three nights per week for five hours. Although it was a full work schedule, it allowed for a very important window of open time. I was always free between 10AM-4PM, also known to be prime ski/snowboard hours. And, as mentioned previously, I had a free ski pass so if I chose to hit the mountain for only a couple hours, it wasn’t like I was wasting money. I skied on the days my skier friends were free and I snowboarded on the days my snowboarder friends were free. It was the ultimate schedule. Also, I am proud to say that thanks to the local bartering system, I even managed to save a respectable amount of money.
I quickly learned the lay of the land and felt right at home within weeks of being there. The relationship with the cute skier didn’t amount to much but I am grateful that he provided me the much-needed incentive to move to Aspen in the first place. I learned that a six-pack of beer will get you a great tune-up for your skis or snowboard, and that networking can open a variety of doors both socially and for your career. I also learned that the ‘Aspen fifteen’ meant that every social appointment would begin fifteen minutes late, so one may as well take their time and enjoy the fresh mountain air.
In Aspen there is a saying, “Come for the winters, stay for the summers.” Essentially this is what I did. I moved there at the beginning of the ski season with the intention of spending one season there as a ‘ski bum’. Then the weather starts to shift and the beautiful gifts of nature began to appear up and down the previously snow-covered mountainside. Within a month, the entire valley transforms into a beautiful garden. In addition, my spiritual journey did not yet seem complete so I decided to stay on a little longer. I hiked all of the beautiful trails, enjoyed white water rafting, and drove my jeep off-roading discovering never ending mountain trails of boulders and water falls.
I became particularly enamored with the endless choices of beautiful hiking trails. One in particular is called Ute Trail, which began across the street from where I worked at the Aspen Club. It’s a short but steep hike that winds itself up to a collection of immense boulders sitting atop the mid level of Ajax Mountain. With the steepness of the hike and the narrowness of the trail, it requires your undivided attention to safely navigate the climb. Upon reaching the top, your calves may be burning from pushing off of your toes the entire way up but your head is clear. And the reward is a restful sitting perch on the flat of a boulder with the entire view of down valley in front of you. You can see all of Aspen as well as the many other mountain ranges in the distance. I completed this hike often as it gave me a deep sense of peace. There was something comforting in feeling so small amongst this beautiful world of towering mountains. There was also a quiet sense of serenity in that by being so high up, you could not hear any sounds from the town below.
After a summer filled with sunny eighty-degree days, I began to think that I might need to stay in Aspen forever. It truly was paradise for me, and for my active lifestyle. I was making great progress with the gymnasts that I was coaching and I felt the need to coach them through another season. At this point I think my parents became a little nervous. The four-month adventure they had so enthusiastically encouraged me to embark upon was looking like it might become more permanent. They were concerned that I might be limited in developing my career in what seemed to be a vacation location. They began to stress the importance of furthering my education and specifically hoped that I would attend grad school. Everything they said was valid but I wasn’t quite ready to part with this dream life.
I continued on my same work and play path throughout a second winter season while researching graduate programs. Then I just sat back and waited for a sign. I knew that just as Aspen had pulled me in with its effortless opportunities, it would also let me know when to move on. At the end of that winter, as the gymnastics season completed, our highest-level gymnast received a partial athletic college scholarship. She and I extensively discussed how this was the correct choice for her. Helping her to reach her full athletic potential was one of my main reasons for continuing to stay in Aspen and I felt that my journey with her was complete. It was also announced that Maxfield’s and the Tippler were going to be torn down in the near future to make way for new condo developments. I was saddened by this news, as each had been a great comfort zone for me. Finally, some of my favorite mid-range boutique stores were being eliminated, as high-end commercial boutiques were moving in. This confirmed the rumors that the town was shifting direction to catering primarily to the wealthy. I knew I would never be able to reach that financial level while staying in Aspen. That being said, one more beautiful summer in Aspen couldn’t hurt!
Love lesson: becoming a gymnastics coach and experiencing the instructor side of the relationship in such a positive way enabled me to bring closure to my mixed feelings about my gymnastics past. It was consoling for me to be a part of a gymnastics program that individualized the athletes and their needs. I found that friendship could be incorporated within a teacher/student relationship and that being a positive role model was the greatest lesson that I could offer these young girls. I was able to be the coach that I had always wished I could have had and it was very rewarding to know that my efforts enhanced the success of the program.
Love lesson 6
A break-up beyond my control
Break-ups are never easy. Some say it’s toughest to have control of the break-up because of the guilt and over-thinking that accompanies it. Others feel it is worse to be without control in a break up because it often comes as a shock, leaving no way to prepare for it or against it. Either side of the coin leaves a sense of loss that takes time to recover from. There will always be feelings of regret and questions about how things might have been done differently. Fortunately, time heals all wounds.
The summer before entering college was the best ever. I was free of high school commitments, plus I had secured my future education. I spent every free minute with my friends, gymnasts and non-gymnasts, and simply relished in the last few months of what I considered my youth. I maintained a bare minimum of gymnastics practices as not to humiliate myself in front of my future teammates, but overall I slacked off for the first time in my life.
Freshman orientation was as I had anticipated. I received my dorm assignment and my class schedule. My parents accompanied me, and a selection of my treasured belongings to my mid-rise dormitory, where I found my way to the last room in a long hallway. It was tiny for a double but I had pre-ordered a loft bed so that I could have a futon down below for added space and seating. The next step was to meet my new roommate. In case it isn’t already apparent by the lack of mention of siblings thus far, I am an only child (pause for reaction of preconceived notions). Think what you will, but I was only spoiled by my parents time and dedication. They were both at every recital, every gymnastics meet, and every teacher conference. The reason I bring this up now is because this would be my first experience sharing a room for a time period longer then a sleepover.
The point being that this was an important transition in my life and I was hoping for a really great roommate. However, the situation was not what I was hoping for. My roommate was a senior in college and was majoring in music; her instrument, the oboe. It wasn’t long before I realized why our room was at the very end of the hallway. The oboe is not the type of instrument that sounds pleasing without other accompanying instruments and it doesn’t exactly have a volume adjustment. We had very little in common due to the age gap alone, plus I certainly couldn’t be there studying when she was practicing. Once again I threw myself into my gymnastics life.
My first impression of my new collegiate gymnastics team was positive. There were only two seniors at the time so they were the team co-captains. There were ten total sophomores and juniors and five of us newbies. The upperclassmen were a little intimidating, but I bonded immediately with the other freshmen. A gymnast from Cleveland, also a fellow freshman, became my favorite new friend. She too was disappointed with her initial roommate so we decided to file for a new dorm room assignment together. This came through by second semester and we moved into a high-rise co-ed dormitory. It was a very social dorm and we quickly made friends with people on surrounding floors, which offered some balance between our athletic and general social experience.
The interesting thing about athletics at a university is that it is similar in many ways to the Greek system. While we didn’t have a sorority house, per se, we were expected to follow certain governing rules and attend a variety of functions with the other members of the team. At times it felt obligatory, but overall it was a positive way to feel connected. The college I attended had approximately 15,000 students and the campus was surrounded entirely by Midwest farmland. It was quite important to be happy with campus life because going off campus got you nowhere.
A definite plus to our ‘athletic sorority’ was that we had a ‘brotherhood fraternity’ in the college hockey team. I’m not sure exactly how this alliance began, but I think it had something to do with a certain cute junior on our gymnastics team and her personal popularity with one of the hockey players. Regardless, they attended our parties, we attended theirs, and we all hung out at the same ‘jock’ campus bars (versus the ‘Greek’ bars). My best party trick was that I would do a standing back flip in exchange for free admission into the campus bars. It was probably only a two-dollar cover charge to get in but it seemed silly to pay when I had spent years perfecting my back flip!
Overall, we had a friendly and comfortable union with the hockey team. Then, out of nowhere, the athletic department decided that since the hockey team pulled in a great deal of revenue for the university (90% of the team was from nearby Canada- where you were born wearing hockey skates) and since the gymnastics team brought in next to nothing in revenue, the gymnasts would be required to work concessions at the hockey games. Mind you, many of us attended these games regularly already to support our friends, but walking up and down aisles yelling: “get your coke here” was not the kind of support we were enthusiastic about. It didn’t hinder our relationship with the team but it did take a shot (pun intended) to our egos.
The reason the gymnastics program was low on revenue was because we weren’t a very successful team. Unfortunately, the talent of the new freshman athletes could not raise our standings. It was familiar territory for me as I flashed back to my first two years of high school. The difference was that when I was young, my coaches seemed to trust my judgment. Once I was old enough to understand the rules associated with the judging system, I preferred to train my way. Coaches either decided to let me do things independently or we moved on to the next club. It’s not that my way was superior to theirs, but I felt I understood the best training method for my body.
In gymnastics, coaches usually have a pattern for repetition of skills, dance, and complete routines that they feel will equate to the most consistent performances and highest scores in competition situations. I didn’t need to train as hard as some others to compete consistently. As a matter of fact, I performed poorly if I over-trained and would go into the competition tired and physically depleted. Some of my earlier coaches recognized this, especially my most recent coaches at Gym #5 where I practiced my junior and senior years. As long as I was continuing to score high and to help lead my high school team to state championships,’ the coaches allowed me to practice as I felt best. I think some of my teammates may have resented it slightly, but it was tough to argue with the results. My independence also gave the coaches more time to attend to the training needs of other gymnasts.
After such a positive experience, it never occurred to me to be concerned about the upcoming relationship I would have with my new college coach. I was on a hot streak and I chose to remain positive about my future. My new coach had other plans for me. According to his coaching style, I was part of a team and this team had a program that I was expected to comply with. Why? Because I was being paid $60,000 over four years to do things his way. Essentially I had been bought, and as long as his program was paying my way, I would comply. In a way it made sense. Until this point, my parents had been paying the coaches to train me. If they didn’t coach the way we preferred, we would just stop paying and move on. This was a completely opposite scenario and I suddenly found myself in a challenging situation.
The coach felt strongly about the importance of cross-training. This was not a familiar concept to me. My whole gymnastics career consisted of sport-specific training and conditioning. Suddenly I was expected to join the team for early morning runs to the football stadium followed by multiple rounds of climbing the stadium stairs. Then we would proceed to the athletic department’s weight room for activities like bench pressing and free weights. In the past, if I wanted to improve my uneven bar routine I would spend extra time working on the skills that made up that routine. I couldn’t understand how these additional non-gymnastics activities would translate into me being a better gymnast. The entrepreneur in me resented the idea that I had to do something just because it was what others might need.
Not only was this very time-consuming and in addition to our daily three-hour practices, but my petite body was starting to reject the new demands. With the exception of breaking my hand when I was young, I had never sustained a legitimate injury in my entire gymnastics career. But now, my back was starting to hurt and I felt physically exhausted. After all, what was the point of running for a half hour when the longest gymnastics performance was ninety seconds? I could find no justifiable reason for these additional demands. Unfortunately neither the coach nor the team captains appreciated my point of view. Having been naturally fit from my active youth, I never had to think about weight maintenance or the need for weight management training. However, a few of my college teammates had higher percentages of body fat and the coach didn’t seem to want to single them out. The overriding thought was that we should all train the same, regardless of personal body types or current fitness levels. So I did what I do best. I started to gradually resist because in the past that brought positive results. However, now the tables were turned and I couldn’t call the shots.
Once I accepted that I couldn’t change the situation, I found ways to defy authority without getting into trouble. If the coach designated a curfew I would hang out with friends outside of the team who would never rat me out. If the coach said my weekly weigh-in amount was too high for me, I would starve myself for a week and lose double the weight he requested, just to see his frustration when he then had to tell me to gain weight. When I played that game consistently for a month he threatened to bench me for the next meet, but we both knew that would punish the team more than it would punish me. I was already familiar with the concept of the empty threat. In addition, collegiate rules stated that I couldn’t have additional income while on a full scholarship, so I accepted a job to DJ that would pay me under the table at an 80’s music dance club.
Even though I had found small ways to ‘dig my heels in’, I was miserable with the overall situation. Our team consistently performed poorly and I was progressively performing worse as the coach placed more and more demands on my physical training. I talked to my parents often and at times begged them to let me quit, but it meant I would be forfeiting my scholarship. Plus they wanted me to learn the valuable lesson relative to fulfilling my commitment. Next, I turned to the school sports psychologist for a consultation session, hoping for some direction. But there were too many “how does that make you feel” comments and not enough “here’s how to deal with your coach” suggestions. It was at this time that fate, once again, stepped in.
Towards the end of my sophomore year my coach was encouraging me to do a new vault. I would run forward, jump on the springboard, place my hands on the vault, flip forward one and a half times and ideally land on my feet. Up until this point I had always done vaults that involved flipping backwards, but this new vault awarded a much higher value and, after all, this was what he expected in exchange for the ‘big money’ he was paying for my education. At our facility, we didn’t have a foam pit to land in while practicing our skills, so my trials and errors were guided by the spotting of my coach as I landed on an eight-inch mat. This made precise spotting critical. Consequently, if the coach’s timing was off, I would land on my butt instead of my feet. And since his system involved far more repetitions per practice than I found necessary, I was on my butt a lot. Then came the vault that would be my last vault. It wasn’t unlike the previous fifteen vaults but my back finally said: “that’s it.” I landed short and a piercing pain shot from my mid back throughout my ribcage.
A lower back injury can be a common ailment for a gymnast. A mid back injury is not. For a unique area of discs such as those in the mid-thoracic region to become herniated (which was the official diagnosis), it would necessitate repetitive trauma. Even though it was unusual, it was my situation. The pain was substantial and my mobility was greatly diminished. The university doctors concluded that my gymnastics career would have to end if I was to heal properly. The two options were either to have surgery or to stay as sedentary as possible while the injury healed. I chose to be moderately sedentary for approximately one year due to the concerns presented regarding the risks of having surgical intervention high in the spinal cord area. I was placed on medical leave (red-shirted), which allowed me to keep my scholarship although I could not continue with gymnastics.
The coach decided that since I was continuing to receive my scholarship I should come to every practice and competition, even though I could not participate. In theory, it was a reasonable request. I could sit along the sidelines and help give feedback to my teammates. What he didn’t take into consideration was how this would affect me psychologically and emotionally. Even though it barely resembled the sport I once loved, it was still very special to me. Having to spend every day watching my teammates participate in a sport that had had such an impact on my life was very painful for me. In addition, I was a very active person and the stipulation of having to sit still was in itself pure torture.
I eventually found a compromise by bringing my schoolwork to practices. I escaped into the world of academics and found myself surprisingly enthusiastic about it. Academics had always taken a back seat to my athletic pursuits and for the first time it prevailed. Suddenly I was getting straight A’s. It was exhilarating and I was thrilled to have something new to throw my passion into. Perhaps all this time I could have been getting excellent grades if I would have just applied myself in that direction as well.
I declared my major as Kinesiology, the study of human movement, and landed a coveted internship at the medical college in a nearby city. This opportunity utilized my knowledge of health and fitness while introducing me to the field of corporate wellness. It was a new, up and coming field that was being developed in response to the physical and emotional stressors that were on the rise in the American workplace. I was intrigued by this concept and felt confident that I was choosing my future path. As my back started to improve, I took a position (still under the radar) at a local fitness center as a personal trainer. There I assisted clients with their conditioning programs and fitness goals. I was also still DJ’ing at the 80’s bar and once I turned 21, I bartended there as well. Together these activities seemed to fill the void of gymnastics being lost from my life. My back may have healed more quickly had I truly rested as the doctors recommended but truthfully, that was never really an option for my lifestyle. As a result, it was approximately ten years before I felt the last of that gymnastics injury.
Love lesson: losing gymnastics was my first devastation regarding a break-up that I couldn’t control. Like many break-ups with a significant other, I had a premonition that things were not proceeding as I had envisioned and that the relationship might be at risk. But when you invest years of your time, energy and dedication into something, it is very hard to let go. Worse yet was the fact that I was in need of both emotional and physical healing with this particular break-up. While I was able to identify what went wrong, I struggled with my lack of control over the situation.
Love lesson 5
Dividing time between the things you love
To properly divide your time, life requires organization, compromise, and at times sacrifice. With every year, we collect activities that mandate altering the priorities in our schedule. It is important to carefully discern and balance what needs to be done with what you would prefer to do. Emphasizing just areas of needs can leave you unfulfilled at the end of the day. Emphasizing only your wants can leave you destitute. A careful evaluation of short and long-term goals is helpful in prioritizing your time and activities as you travel forward.
The first high school I attended was a public institution one town over from where I grew up. At this point, most of my friends were gymnasts of which none of them would be going to the school I was about to attend. It was up to me to make new friends and try to fit in. Joining a team sport seemed like a great way to accomplish both. However, I soon discovered that the girls on this high school gymnastics team had far less experience than I, and the divide between our abilities was obvious. In addition, the gymnastics equipment at this high school was sub par, allowing for the possibility of injury. The coach agreed to allow me to continue practicing at my private club, where the equipment was more suitable to perfect my more difficult elements. I would also continue to train several days after school with my high school teammates and be allowed to compete at the high school meets.
Soon I was becoming recognized as one of the most talented young gymnasts to enter the current high school gymnastics scene. My high school coach was fairly new to coaching gymnastics and since I was performing high-level routines and receiving favorable scores, she allowed me to virtually self-train. This scenario was exactly what my entrepreneurial spirit had been waiting for. I was free to choreograph all of my competitive routines and experienced immediate success not only in each individual event, but in the all-around competition as well. I was in entrepreneurial bliss!
I may not have made a huge impression on my new classmates with academics, but they soon found out who I was athletically. Each school morning following any athletic competition the winning resident athletes were announced over the loud speaker. The whole school was made aware of whether I had won just a few of the events or the entire competition. Even more exciting was the local coverage in the newspaper. Not only were the stats of each meet recorded, but I was occasionally photographed and interviewed. It felt great to be a big fish in a small pond at school, however, I still didn’t fit in socially because I had little time to ‘hang out’ with friends.
I arrived at the state gymnastics competition my sophomore year and, for the second year, I was the only representative who qualified from my school. It was a lonely place to be without teammates. However, an interesting thing happened towards the end of the meet. Several gymnasts from a North suburb private Catholic school began talking with me and complimenting my performance. To be honest, it was the nicest any peers had been to me in a school situation for some time. They described their school and their gymnastics program. I was immediately infatuated with their team spirit and camaraderie, not to mention their huge student body attendance at the meet. I told my parents about the encounter and they were pleased that the girls had befriended me, but nothing more became of it. The school was over an hour away from our home, which would make for a challenging commute situation.
Fate stepped in a couple months later. Based on some alleged gang activity at my high school, rumors circulated that there would be metal detectors installed for the following school year in order to ensure the safety of the students. With the possibility of my safety in question, it was time to explore my options. We looked at every private high school that offered gymnastics within 60 miles. One I eliminated immediately because it was an all-girls’ school. My life was socially awkward enough! I had my fingers crossed when we went to tour the private school of the girls I met at the state meet. It was a beautiful campus on wooded grounds and everyone was so welcoming. They explained which courses I would need to add to my curriculum (such as religion) and which ones we could eliminate (such as gym class). But the best news was that their gymnastics team had placed second in state the past two years in a row- they were really good!
The one remaining obstacle was geographical. It was over an hour drive away from our home and I didn’t have my driver’s license yet. My mom was still the school nurse nearby our current home and my dad mainly worked from home. We decided the best thing would be to list the house for sale and try to move half way between my mom’s work and my new school. In spite of the fact that I think my childhood home was the coolest design ever (the great space rapped around an indoor atrium for plants and our fabulous Christmas tree) no one made us an offer. This was an unexpected obstacle. Eventually a family friend moved into our house and we rented a two-bedroom apartment, which was an equal distance from my new school and my mom’s work.
This series of decisions changed everything. I was going to a new school where gymnastics was considered the ‘cool’ sport. I had an instant new group of friends in the gymnastics team plus they came with additional other school friends. I was finally part of the in-crowd. I worked out with the team at Gym #5, located near the high school, and also found this gym to be a perfect fit. Everyone was so supportive. There were definitely cliques in the school, and I was very pleased with my natural fit within one. Before long we were winning every meet and the local papers were consistently covering us. There was even a rumor that I was recruited to ensure that the school would no longer hover in 2nd place at the state meet. I assure you, I was given no preferential treatment, although I was flattered by the allegations!
Great news: we won the state meet! This was especially exciting because no other athletic team in our school’s history had ever won a state title. And as if that wasn’t good enough, we came in first again my senior year! The town put up street signs at the city limits to commemorate our titles (they gave every member of our team an official street sign as well so we would not be tempted to ‘borrow’ the city signs)! I was on top of the world. This felt better than when I reached the highest club level in gymnastics because now I had a whole school of friends to share it with. The support of our classmates and faculty at the state meet had been overwhelming. Our team had celebrity status.
There was one tiny little problem. High school wasn’t just about your success in athletics. It’s also important to do well academically. I received mostly A’s at my public schools but this was a college prep school which immediately translated my A’s to a B value. It was time to start exploring colleges and GPA was a critical element. Unfortunately, academics was not the only area that had been placed on the back burner. I had little time to build a resume with extracurricular activities and community service. This was of concern as I began my college search. My only community contribution had been that I had assisted as a sports counselor for children in an after-school program.
I should also mention that I did get to experience having a job as a teenager. It wasn’t because I had time or because I was saving money for something special, it was just another attempt to feel normal. During one summer I was a lifeguard at a nearby water park. I sat at the top of a water slide and said: “go” approximately every twenty seconds. While it may not have been the most stimulating job, I will say it was stress free!
Getting back to my college quest, during my junior year I joined the masses in the search for the perfect university. My coach assisted me in making a videotape of my gymnastics skills, we compiled my grades and other stats, and began mailing packets to my schools of choice. Several schools offered paid visits to explore their program. My parents and I began weekend trips to what we determined would be the schools of choice in order to begin the elimination process. Several of my preferred choices would only offer me a partial scholarship. Other programs made positive impressions, but we had to be patient while they made their selections.
We still hadn’t sold our house and my dad’s ‘cupcake’ epoxy experiments hadn’t hit the mainstream yet. It was definitely of increasing importance for me to receive a scholarship. In addition, my parents had made substantial sacrifices over the years to financially support my gymnastics career and a scholarship would be a valid reward. So, when the coach of a moderate-size, Mid American Conference school called one evening to offer me a ‘full’ athletic scholarship, I was thrilled. I actually remember my legs giving out during the conversation, which I don’t think had ever happened before, nor has it happened since. When they say “full” scholarship they actually refer to complete costs. My tuition, books, meals, housing and gymnastics supplies would all be paid. The food card was the best part. I received the same account credit as every other type of athlete, so essentially there was enough money to feed a football player. When I would go through the food line with my $1,000 plus food card credit, there were often comments that I was “too little” to be an athlete! It was a relief to attend my senior year of high school with my college plans in place.
Love lesson: learning to multitask while dividing time amongst the important things in my life was critical to my development. As a pre-teen I began this process by juggling school, violin and gymnastics. High school further tested my time management skills as I began to contemplate how colleges would view my transcripts and added to my activities accordingly. As I continued to do the things I loved, I needed to focus on future activities as well. Strategically evaluating my short and long-term goals helped to keep my wants and needs in perspective.
Love lesson 4
The importance of chemistry
Chemistry involves the interaction of one personality with another. Good chemistry would imply that two people are able to coexist well together. It can be referred to as ‘clicking’ well together or being ‘in sync’ with each other. Bad chemistry indicates that there is an unfavorable clashing of dispositions. When a relationship has good chemistry, the result tends to be favorable on a multitude of levels. Experiencing a relationship with poor chemistry may cause a rippling effect that can be exhausting and debilitating.
One sunny afternoon when I was seven years old, a friend of my dad’s stopped by for a visit to discuss polymers of plastics or some similarly riveting topic. He had driven over in a shiny new pick-up truck. As the two of them were talking in our driveway, I kept myself busy by climbing into the back of the pick-up so as to not intrude. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as I had hoped, so I climbed onto the ledge that surrounds the bed of the pick-up and began walking around the narrow track of the bed ledge. Being a former gymnast, my dad’s friend quickly commented on my balance and fearlessness and suggested that they enroll me in some gymnastics classes. My dad entertained the idea because his father was also an enthusiast of acrobatics (and capable of walking up stairs on his hands). In addition to the violin, this was to be another activity my grandfather and I would come to enjoy together.
A short time thereafter, my dad and I stopped by to observe some classes at a nearby gymnastics club (Gym #1). The facility looked perfectly nice and the kids participating were doing exciting tricks. However, what I noted was that the coach seemed to be constantly yelling at the young athletes. This diminished my enthusiasm so I quickly returned to dirt biking and tree climbing. Shortly after my ninth birthday and with winter just around the corner, I re-evaluated the situation. It might be fun to try and learn some new tricks, if for no other reason than to flip around in the back yard.
Gym #1 was the closest to our home so we decided as a family that I would enroll in a beginner level gymnastics class. It didn’t take long for us, or for the coaches, to discover that in this particular activity, I was a natural. I zipped through the preliminary classes and was competing in compulsory competitions before my 10th birthday. Soon I advanced to the optional level, which allowed me to compete with my own individual routines (it was a perfect outlet for my growing entrepreneurial creativeness). I quickly outgrew the offerings of Gym #1. We then decided that I would transfer [some distance further] to a gym that had higher levels of coaching.
In switching to Gym #2, I found a completely different atmosphere. This gym offered entry-level classes but excelled in their training of elite level gymnasts. Once I realized all of the amazing tricks that could be done along with the beautiful dance that accompanied those skills, I was hooked. I was now at the gym three days a week after school and working very hard to improve my skills. Unfortunately, the coaches were primarily focused on the older advanced elite level gymnasts and my talent and potential were going unnoticed. It was time to move on again.
Although Gym #3 was an additional distance from our home, there was a greater concentration of young gymnasts at my current skill level, which presented a more supportive and challenging environment. Another advantage was that they hosted and traveled to many competitions. This offered valuable experience and helped diminish the nervousness associated with individual performances. I excelled through the optional levels and, once again, outgrew the program and coaching capabilities. Now we needed to find an elite level gym that could harness and direct my talent. Although we could have returned to Gym #2, we chose to take steps forward, not backward.
Next stop: Gym #4. This gym was big time and a perfect fit for me. It had a high level team with five girls that were approximately my same age. Within weeks I felt like I was at home with this new group of friends who just happened to share the exact same talent and dreams. I was now twelve years old and training five times per week. The hard work paid off when I qualified for the junior elite level. This was the highest level one could reach in my age bracket. I was happy, healthy, and I had a true sense of accomplishment. Our small group was the envy of the younger girls at the gym. We executed the skills that they were striving to learn, and we brought home the medals that they longed for.
To achieve all of this, I essentially ‘lived’ at the gym. My parents requested to my school principal that I be exempt from gym class as I already had an extensive amount of physical activity in my daily routine. It wasn’t an easy battle, but it was eventually determined that by placing gym as my final class period, I could be excused to leave school an hour early, thus enabling my mom to drive me 45 minutes to be on time for my gymnastics class. She would sit behind the glass windows with the other gym moms, watch for a while and then leave. My practices were three hours long so I understood why she wouldn’t remain the entire time (even though there were the ‘crazy’ moms who did stay, and then gave unsolicited feedback to the coaches). My dad would arrive early and watch for a while before it was time for us to drive home. We continued to eat dinner as a family, even when those dinners got pushed back to 8:30 PM.
At this point the pressure was on. It was clear that I had exceptional talent and we wanted to make sure to optimize it. Practices were five to six days per week and occasionally we even had sleepovers at the gym. My gym friends were my primary friends and although we went to different schools, we intertwined every other aspect of our lives. Traveling to competitions was the most fun. We stayed in hotels where we would flip from queen bed to queen bed while barely escaping the prickly stucco ceilings. Due to our practice and dedication, we usually fared well in the competitions, returning home with medals and trophies. Then we would return to the cycle of mandated training.
One of the coaches at this gym was Russian and, at the time, the Russian gymnasts were amongst the best in the world. With this coach’s assistance, an exchange program was arranged allowing a group of gymnasts from my gym to go to Moscow for two weeks to train with the Russian gymnasts and their coaches. In exchange, a group of Russian gymnasts would come back to the U.S. to train with our coaches. Fortunately, my mom was voted to be the mother joining us on the trip since she was also a nurse. It was comforting for me to have her along on my first venture across an ocean.
It wasn’t long after our plane arrived in Moscow that I realized how blessed my life in the United States was. This country was stricken with poverty and the highly rated hotel that served as our accommodations was quite basic. The rooms had beds, but no chairs or dressers. There was no distinction between the areas where you would shower and go to the bathroom. For energy conservation, the hot water was disabled at 8PM and all of the lights were shut off at 10PM. The gymnastics facility was huge, but quite sterile in comparison to the stimulating environment where we spent our days. The one area where the Russians attempted to excel was in their cuisine. Little did they know that twelve-year old girls would think caviar was disgusting! We survived due to two suitcases filled with healthy snacks that accompanied us from the U.S. Also, we took great comfort in the McDonald’s that had opened just months before we arrived (even though they put mayonnaise on the burgers instead of ketchup).
When the Russian gymnasts came to the U.S. it was a very different experience. Since they normally lived in dormitories for athletes, we decided it would be a positive experience for them to stay with volunteer families from our gym. My mom and I also helped to arrange a schedule of fun and educational activities for the girls to experience while they visited. We thought for sure that the biggest hit would be the group outing to Six Flags Great America. Sure they had fun, but not as much as we would have expected. Surprisingly, the outing that had the greatest impact on the Russian girls was simply a normal trip to the grocery store. The girls were overwhelmed with the choices, especially in the fruit department. Being limited to mostly apples, oranges and berries, they had never before seen bananas, peaches, pears, melons, etc. While in Russia, we visited a grocery store that averaged one item in each category of food that you would look for during a normal shopping trip. Their reaction to our stocked shelves, and the food experience as a whole, was both enlightening and somewhat disheartening. Additionally, the Russian coaches were very strict about the amount of food intake that the athletes were allowed to consume. Next to buying jeans, all they wanted to do was eat.
As I was finishing eighth grade, the demanding gymnastics schedule started to wear on me. High school was just around the corner, which promised more homework and greater study time. I was still taking violin lessons even though my enthusiasm had dwindled after my grandfather’s death. I remember one night after our family dinner my mom was particularly tired and asked if I would help clear the dishes. I responded with the argument that: “I go to school all day, do gymnastics all afternoon, come home to do homework and eat dinner and now she wanted me to help with dishes too?” It was not my finest moment. Everyone in my family was working hard, but I just wanted to be a kid. I went from a childhood of limitless freedom to a life of ‘ground hog day’ type repetitiveness. To avoid a full-blown meltdown we decided to put my violin lessons on hold (which subsequently put the practicing on hold). That helped.
I found myself progressively losing enthusiasm for this lifestyle. One day I lost focus during an uneven bar routine while transferring from the high bar to the low bar and injured my hand. I had never had a substantial gymnastics injury before so I showed the coach my rapidly swelling hand. Since my mom, the nurse, was in the ‘mom room’ we left for a trip to the emergency room for an x-ray. After the x-ray, the doctor entered the room and asked: “which one of you has the broken hand?” Since only my mom and I were in that room it was clear that I was to be the proud recipient of a six-week cast.
I still went to the gym and did what I could to maintain my lower body strength and stamina. Deep down, though, I knew my body had sent me a message to slow down. As a family, we took this opportunity to take a look at the big picture. I had great talent, but not Olympic level talent. At this point, striving for a college scholarship would make the most sense. And for that goal, it helped to pad your athletic resume with as many competitions as possible. Competing in club gymnastics was only exposing me to about four meets per year. On the other hand, competing in high school gymnastics would guarantee that I would compete in at least one meet per week throughout the entire gymnastics season. Also, it would give me a breather from the high-level expectations and workout regimens of club gymnastics. We also decided that it might just be time for me to be a ‘normal’ adolescent.
Love lesson: gymnastics provided my first lesson in how chemistry can make or break a relationship. Timing and coaching styles had dictated which gym was right for me during each phase of my developing athleticism. When factors such as favorable coaching style and overall gym environment were in sync with my needs, the chemistry was positive. However, when I found myself clashing with a particular coach’s technique or capability, I felt the need to move on. Once a person has experienced good chemistry in a relationship, it becomes discouraging when one must settle for less.
Love lesson 3
Better to have loved and lost
There is an age-old question: is it better to have loved and lost, or to have never loved at all? Both love and its loss represent two very strong emotional occurrences. Is it worth feeling the blissful high of love knowing that it might very likely lead to the devastating low of loss? This is a question that can only be answered by individual experience. Many people who have found love will risk everything to incorporate it into multiple aspects of their life. However, some people who experience shattering loss will choose to never risk having similar pain again. I believe it is important to explore the feelings in your life and to understand how to compartmentalize those feelings so that they will not hinder future opportunities for love.
I had a childhood filled with imagination and adventures. My first home was nestled at the end of a street, which was framed by an enchanted forest. It was the safest possible suburban scenario where children could run about, far from the threat of traffic. We moved to this perfectly located house when I was two years old, and eventually I became playmates with a neighbor girl who was one year younger. We were instant friends and spent all of our days navigating the wilderness, which was within shouting distance from my house. There were endless trails winding through the forest and there was even a magical pond across the street.
Our imaginations were in constant motion. One day we saw what was likely a turtle swimming in the pond and determined that there were prehistoric dinosaurs inhabiting the pond. We also shared with each other stories about the different areas of the forest and which families of creatures lived there. Over the years we grew into full-fledged tomboys. We each had dirt bikes to ride along the forest paths and we abandoned our bikes only to climb the trees. The climbing part was actually more enjoyable for me than for her. Getting her higher than the first branch really tested my skills of persuasion! We played together every day of summer and every day after school (even on those days when she would stay at home sick, as she miraculously felt better when I got off the bus). To this day my mom still remembers how she would ring our doorbell daily, at the break of dawn, to ask if I could come out to play.
Eventually we reached the age where our friends started to join the Girl Scouts or other such clubs. After being a guest at several scout meetings, we discussed the possibility of such memberships with our moms, but in the end my friend and I decided we would rather have our own club. The developing entrepreneur in me asked “Why join someone else’s club when you can have your own?” We convinced my parents to have a clubhouse built in my backyard. It was any young girls dream house: Dutch doors, shutters with screens on the windows, a fold-down table and benches, and two fold-down bunk beds. While we may have never spent a complete night in the clubhouse, we stayed out there in our sleeping bags until the first scary animal noise drove us back into the safety of my parent’s house.
Every variance in weather provided a different opportunity for activities. We built snow forts in the winter, we splashed through puddles in the spring rain, we placed a kiddie pool at the bottom of my slide for crash landings on hot summer days, and we frolicked through heaps of raked leaves in the fall. But when I was 11 years old, my friend’s dad took a job in California and their family moved away. I was devastated. She was my best friend and the closest thing I had to a sister, and my life felt complete. I had other school friends but it never really occurred to me to put forth effort in making additional great friends. It was now time to exchange my exciting and imaginative childhood for new adventures.
Love lesson: I learned that it is far better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. I had the freedom of an uninhibited childhood and a great friend with whom to share in all of my adventures. We spent our critical developmental years together experiencing our joy for life. It has been said “Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened.” I will always cherish those memories, for the lessons that I learned through love were far more significant than the loss that followed.
Love lesson 2
First long-term relationship
A person can experience a variety of long-term relationships in their life. The most obvious examples include family, friends, and significant others. The definition, however, does not have to be limited to relationships with people. You can have a long-term relationship with a sport, a hobby, or even a beloved pet. In my life, my first significant long-term relationship was with my violin. It involved years of dedication and sacrifice, which taught me many valuable lessons. It also came with great rewards.
I grew up in a typical mid-America neighborhood in a suburb just West of Chicago, and I was very fortunate to have both sets of grandparents living within a reasonable driving distance. I don’t have many recollections about being three years old, but it was an important year because it was when I began to play the violin. The idea stemmed from my paternal grandfather who had been playing violin and writing music as a hobby for most of his life. We decided as a family that my playing the violin would be a special endeavor for my grandfather and I to share.
I wasn’t a prodigy. My parents enrolled me in the Suzuki school of music where I progressed slowly but surely alongside a group of other mediocre musicians. It began with a hand-made box and strings violin (since three year olds tend to drop things) and a primary tune of: ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’ Then, with time, I graduated into real violins that were sized accordingly as I grew.
I hated practicing. The early songs in the first couple of Suzuki books were not particularly melodious. Their purpose was to teach certain techniques of finger placements along with the sweeping movement of the bow. Repeating these exercises over and over again was not an enjoyable use of my time. The only thing I dreaded more than practicing was my weekly Saturday morning lesson with a Suzuki instructor. No kid wants to wake up early on a Saturday morning, unless perhaps it’s to watch cartoons! My protests were never successful, plus it was difficult to fake being sick when your mom is a nurse. So we made a deal. At the end of each lesson we would stop at the Hallmark store where I could pick out a sheet of stickers. It may not seem like much, but I was really into stickers and I have quite the collection of albums to show for it!
Over time, something became apparent about my learning preference. Initially in the Suzuki method you received music books and, at that time, the accompanying cassette tapes. The idea was to listen to the song as you looked at the notes on the page. Over time, great musicians could identify the notes on a page and hear the song in their head. My grandfather was one of these talented musicians. Not only could he read the notes and then hear the music in his head, he could hear a song on the radio and turn it into notes on a page. Furthermore, he could create a song in his head and put the notes on a page to compose an entirely new song. My skills, however, fell short. I constantly struggled with reading music and I could not look at a page of music and hear the song in my head. However, I was able to hear the song and determine how to play it on my violin. Therefore, I could play along with my grandfather or my favorite band on the radio, relying just on hearing it and translating it to the strings. Leave it to a budding entrepreneur to do something in a non-traditional way!
The rewarding aspect of playing violin was creating a bond with my grandfather and performing for him and my grandmother in their apartment or at my annual Suzuki concerts. It was nerve racking to be in front of an audience, but my parents and grandparents were always extremely proud (except for maybe that time when my violin got caught in the weavings of my sweater and I had to forfeit the group performance in order for my mom to untangle me). Even though my musical endeavors wouldn’t amount to great things in my future, the violin remained a familiar constant until my grandfather’s death when I was 12 years old. I performed his favorite song at his funeral service and bid farewell to our special, shared pastime. Violin would never be the same.
Love lesson: my commitment to the violin represented my first long-term relationship. Through it I learned the importance of sharing a gift with my grandfather as well as displaying that gift for my other loved ones. I grew to understand the lessons associated with sacrifice and compromise. Like many relationships, there were periods that I enjoyed it more than others, but it has stood the test of time. It presented a strong foundation for the understanding of commitment in my life.
Love lesson 1
Destiny is defined as the predetermined, usually inevitable or irresistible, course of events. Often times, resisting one’s destiny will eventually lead to disarray. Once a person is able to recognize their destiny, it is best to embrace these life forces in a positive manner.
It was a typical night in my grade school days. My mom, dad and I had just finished a healthy, home-cooked meal and I was off to my bedroom, my favorite room in the house, to get ready for bed. Pajama clad with teeth brushed, I climbed into bed and waited for my nightly tuck in from my mom. We would read a little, count my blessings and say our good nights, but I wasn’t always sleepy. This night was no exception. We agreed I could stay awake and read a little longer before lights out. In theory this was great. In fact, just what I was hoping for. But one problem remained: it was my mom’s official responsibility to turn off the lights as she left my room so that I could smoothly slip into dreamland. So as I lay there reading until my eyes could barely hold themselves open I agonized over the task of leaving this warm and cozy bed to walk across the room to turn off the lights.
This was perhaps my first sleepless night. The wheels in my head started turning. If only there was a way to shut off the light switch without leaving my bed. Mind you, this was long before the days of ‘The Clapper’ or, better yet, interior architects brilliantly placing duplicate light switches near the bed stands. At this point, it was up to me to solve this troubling dilemma. So, I looked carefully at the path between my bed and the light switch near the door. There was a distance of about six feet from my bed to the nearest right angle wall and then approximately twelve feet from that corner to the light switch on the perpendicular wall. It was certainly a substantial challenge.
Then it came to me. All I needed was a thick piece of string and some carefully angled nails. The string would begin within reach of my headboard. From there it would rise up along the wall and over the first nail. The nail head would angle upward to keep the string from slipping off. A series of similarly positioned nails would lead the string to the corner and then along the long stretch of wall space leading to the light switch. The trick was that the string would then dip downward slightly so as to be anchored below the light switch with a downward angled nail. From there it was just a matter of tying a secure bow around the light switch so that when I tugged on the string by my bed it would seamlessly result in the light switch pulling down to the off position.
To be honest, as clearly as I remember this concept, I can’t recall whether I actually tried to implement it. But I know that I sketched it and showed it to my parents the next day. At the time I’m sure they shrugged it off with a typical parental “that’s clever, honey.” Little did they know that it was just the beginning of their years to come as my official entrepreneurial sounding board!
It wasn’t a far stretch for my mind to be working in such a fashion. A prominent childhood memory that I have of my dad includes a similar scenario. In my family, dinner was consistently a sacred time. My mom would prepare a home-cooked meal and we would sit down together as a family, without the TV on (she insisted that the TV was not a member of our family), and we would discuss our day. I’m sure the conversation was always riveting, but my dad can be easily distracted. It wasn’t uncommon for him to have a pen and notepad next to his place setting for emergency brainstorming. I remember many nights of him sketching new and improved ways to re-design caulk guns to dispense epoxies for crack injection. And for the record, when the oven wasn’t being used to prepare dinner, it was the baking place of various concoctions of urethanes and epoxies that would later become the success of his company. Often our kitchen countertops would be lined with dixie cups filled with varying cupcake-looking experiments.
You’re probably thinking “her poor mother; that must have driven her crazy!” Whether it did or not, she was also no stranger to bringing her work home. Before I was able to put full sentences together I was known to sneak out of my room, past my bed time, to sit on the stairs and mimic her Lamaze class as they practiced their “A-hee, A-hee” chanting. She would teach these classes for expectant parents in our family room once a week. I had no idea what these exercises were for at the time, but I enjoyed secretly participating!
Truth be told, I have a family filled with business entrepreneurs. My father started his own company in my namesake. A chemist by education, he develops epoxies and the tools necessary to implement them, which are backed by a dozen or so patents. He started this small business in our home and eventually developed it into a multi-million dollar company. His knowledge, coupled with his drive and determination, has never wavered in his journey for product development. His only sibling, my Godmother, established and manages a 32-year well-respected preschool out of her home in Connecticut. Her husband is a psychologist who operates a private clinical family practice from an office adjoining their home.
My mother is a nurse by education. She worked as a school nurse plus taught Lamaze classes out of our home during the greater part of my youth. She also pioneered a variety of educational programs for new parents. Her father, along with her younger brother, took a small family farm business of 180 acres to that of 1400 acres of land in Illinois by way of innovative farming techniques. Her older brother, my Godfather, developed a variety of successful businesses in their small Illinois town. Two of his four children have followed in his entrepreneurial path.
We all share some common and stereotypical entrepreneurial characteristics. Driven and highly motivated? Yes, that’s us. Innovators and risk-takers? I believe so. Strong desire for achievement and, at times, perfection? Definitely! In general, I would say that we have a strong ability to recognize and seize opportunities that could lead to the successful introduction of a new product or service. As entrepreneurs, we deduce ways in which to improve upon something that has been previously done, secure the necessary finances, and organize the elements necessary to set it into motion. It doesn’t necessarily make us harder workers than our counterparts, but we are original thinkers and groundbreakers. We can transform a vision into a reality or, as I like to say, we walk the walk!
So this begs the question as to whether these behaviors are genetically predisposed. I do believe that I inherited an ability to capitalize on my imagination. I don’t believe that you can teach someone to be imaginative or to harvest that ability into the vision that becomes a business. I also feel that I genetically acquired my fearless risk-taking. You can instruct a person as to how to start a business, but you can’t teach them how to proceed ignoring the fear of failure.
The genetic foundation was in place, but it was my upbringing that cemented entrepreneurialism into my destiny. It all comes down to the nature versus nurture argument and I believe both played a role. There is something to say for my genetic predisposition. However, had I been raised by a different family with more traditional career goals, I question whether my life would have taken the same course. It was the supportive nurturing of my corporately independent family and extended family that guided me along this path.
Love lesson: those who raise you and are the role models during your upbringing shape what it is that you naturally seek out in your life, be it your professional and/or personal path. It is both a natural and a nurtured instinct to follow what is to become your destiny. In my case, it seems that my soul was filled with an entrepreneurial spirit at birth, which was intensified by the surroundings throughout my development. It may be possible to resist these forces, but I believe the best scenario involves cultivating your strengths while finding a positive application for them in the real world.
February 3, 2015 at 6:43 pm | | No comment