Stop taking yourself so seriously. Most entrepreneurs are perfectionists. We put so much on ourselves to perform and often live up to others’ (perceived) expectations. Generally speaking, life is not that serious.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kortney Olson. CEO of GRRRL Clothing.
Kortney is an accredited Olympic lifting, kettlebell, and Crossfit coach, a laughter yoga and Psych-K facilitator, as well as CEO of clothing company GRRRL. For further street cred,, she’s the OG Australian Women’s arm-wrestling champion, a Queensland State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion, 3-time international bodybuilding competitor, author, and TV personality.
If you think Kortney looks familiar, you’ve probably seen her crushing watermelons with her thighs on the Internet or TV or being described as the “woman with the world’s deadliest thighs” by Stan Lee, creator of Marvel Comics; a title she holds with pride.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
My back story is one giant list of what most people would deem not to do, but as you’ll soon discover, I was exactly where I was meant to be, every step of the way.
I grew up wanting to be the first female president of the United States, but quickly found myself wrapped up with methamphetamines and permanently derailed from that ambitious path. Aside from my professional goal of POTUS, I had one personal goal in my youth — have legs as thin as Kate Moss’. Being a white, middle-class girl with privilege couldn’t keep me from saying “yes” when I knew I should have “just said no”. After nearly a decade of flirting with getting clean and sober but never committing, I finally found bodybuilding as a pathway to figuring out what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
After a wildly fascinating series of events leading me to the muscle fetish industry (where I would get paid hundreds of dollars to arm wrestle and wrestle men, featuring my strength), I wound up in Australia. Four months after meeting my now-husband, we got married, and a new chapter began. Although it paid incredibly well and taught me some priceless facts about life, I knew over-powering strangers in hotel rooms was not what I was supposed to be doing long term.
After marrying, my husband took a job as the CEO of a national rugby team, and I came onboard as a volunteer strength and conditioning coach for the under 20’s team. This, of course put us both in the media spotlight. Long story short, a journalist found some of my old wrestling videos on the internet and decided to do what journalists do best — sell headlines! “CEO hires ex-fetish porn star wife to train the U20’s”
The day before this “story” broke, I had applied with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Whilst I knew it was amazing to be working in a male-dominated industry, I still had a void in my soul and knew I was called to serve. Unfortunately, after I spent the month in the headlines, BBBS turned me down as a mentor. After sobbing and feeling sorry for myself, I had what I like to call a “God shot”. I valiantly decided right then and there that I would create my own program, designed by people who have been there and done that, not just talked the talk, but walked the walk. Nine months later, my teenage wellness program, Kamp Konfidence was born! IN the program we focused on the five habits, lessons, and principles that lead to the development of self-love.
After nearly two years of running the program with sixty-two graduates successfully completing the weekend series, one of my partners fell pregnant. In the downtime, I decided to take the same vision and mission from the program and rolled it into a global clothing line empowering woman, which is now known around the world as GRRRL Clothing.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The most interesting story of my career was how we launched. Two weeks before Holly Holm was due to fight Rhonda Rousey in Melbourne, Australia for UFC193, we secured a sponsorship. Using our entire marketing budget for the year, we were left with $.53 in the bank. The odds of Holly winning were staggeringly slim, but my intuition told me to forge ahead. And lo and behold, Holly ended up knocking Rhonda out in the second round. The last post-Holly had on her social media accounts was wearing our ‘fight like a grrrl’ shirt. We launched the following day and sold in 24hrs what we had projected to do in six months.
The lesson I took from this was scared money doesn’t make money. I think far too many entrepreneurs are afraid to take calculated risks. Furthermore, because I have developed a strong sense of self-awareness through 12-step recovery, I’m able to tune in to my intuition on a deeper level which generally leads me down the right path.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My brand stands out above the rest because we started with a ‘why’. We started to solve a public health crisis instead of just “selling leggings”. Rather than using a standard size chart, which is full of stigmas for women, we created our own based off athletes body types and measurements. Instead of being something like a size 3XL, someone would be a size Heidi, who is Canada’s national arm-wrestling champion. We believe that everyone should be able to shop in the same place, and not feel segregated into a section that is seen as “not normal”, like petite or plus size. Everything we do is based off of something called ‘The Pledge’ which was actually written for Kamp Konfidence. It serves as our mission and vision now with GRRRL, and is on every single one of our clothing hang tags. Women know straight away that when they put our clothing on, they are joining a sisterhood where we simply do not see each other as competition.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Without hesitation, my husband. I’m actually about to release my memoir “Crushing It” which tells the story of how we met, and I believe, why we met. I don’t want to ruin the story, so I’ll simply say read the book! It’s out on Amazon on January 11th, 2021.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is the ability to keep showing up no matter what obstacles are thrown in your way. Much like the stories in “Think & Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, I believe resilient people have a white-hot burning desire to achieve a goal and are open to being driven by a power in which they cannot see.
A lot of the time, resilient people have tunnel vision and, in my experience, have slight traits of obsessive-compulsive disorder or addiction patterns. We can’t stop until we get what we want, no matter what or who tries to knock us off or down.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think of myself, which I’d like to point out is absolutely OK! A lot of women were raised to be overly humble. Historically, when someone gave us a compliment, it would be seen as stuck-up and snooty to accept it.
As a result, we often don’t look to ourselves as inspiration! By the age of 21, I had experienced rape, was a full-blown drug addict and alcoholic, and was diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder. So, when I think of resilience, I think of myself. Beating the odds of addiction and alcoholism are slim. It took me another 8 years to finally get clean and sober. But I never gave up and will continue to work hard to maintain this path. Because let’s face it, if I don’t, I won’t have anything!
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Before launching my brand, every single mentor I spoke to said I’d need a million dollars in the bank. Because I was so hell-bent on continuing my vision and mission of empowering women and girls, I knew I’d find a way. Each month for four years was a literal game of debit card Russian roulette.
Going into a market without any knowledge or background of the industry would be considered foolish by most professionals. However, had I known then what I know now, I probably would have avoided started and listened to the nay-sayers, so I’m thankful I pushed forward despite the odds.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Getting turned down for Shark Tank after being approved for season 9 was devastating. It was May 20th, 2017. We had been in business for a year and a half and had just wrapped up our first live event in Las Vegas, which set us back a bit financially. The day after the event, I flew to the audition and absolutely nailed my 60-second pitch. After three months of winning ongoing rounds, we had made it from 40,000 some-odd applications down to 44. I thought for sure this was ‘God’s will’ and thus how we were going to continue scaling the business.
To practice going on Shark Tank, I entered a pitch competition in South East Asia. I ended up winning second place which came with an opportunity to pitch to the Beijing government for a massive grant. The day after getting back from the competition, I was due to book my flights from Singapore to Los Angeles for filming, but instead got the devastating news that they had run out of filming spots. Similar to my experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters calling and turning me down, I sat and sobbed for 10 minutes before realizing that The Universe had a different plan- to be big in China!
This mindset is what I’ve come to coin as, “Goals Not Controls”. As entrepreneurs it is so easy for us to get hyper-focused on the detail of what we think our plan is supposed to look like (the controls), instead of focusing on the overarching main goal (the goals). There was a period right after my partner from Kamp Konfidence fell pregnant when I thought I had failed because President Obama hadn’t called me down in Australia and asked that I roll this program out throughout high schools back home in the U.S.
Instead of desperately holding onto what I thought the goal was supposed to look like (running wellness programs for teenage girls, with a logo that was a stylized script font and cyan in color), I remained open to allowing God to guide me, and now, the goal looks very different (the GRRRL logo is black with Montserrat font and instead of programs, it’s clothing). So, although the details (controls) look different, the outcome (goals) are the same — empowering women and girls to love themselves and create a united sisterhood.
As humans, we think we know what’s best for ourselves. But in reality, God (The Universe, Mother Nature- whatever you want to call a power greater than yourself) has a different plan to help us achieve our goal, so as long as we get out of our own way and keep showing up.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I believe growing up with an alcoholic parent has helped me build resilience from a young age. In adolescence, we aren’t fully conscious and lack the ability to process situations through a grey lens. Everything is either in black or white. Being raised in a turbulent environment was certainly uneasy and not ideal, however, it taught me how to quickly get over my fears and adapt to what was in front of me.
Although this happened in my early thirties, being drug through the dirt on national media for a month would cause a lot of people to hit rock bottom. Prior to this ‘media frenzy’ exploding, I had just watched, “Killing Us Softly” by Jean Kilbourne. This woman has been having the same talk since the mid 1970’s, when she first started clipping out ads in newspapers and magazines that reflected women being portrayed poorly. Having this new-found level of awareness, I was able to not take it personally when the media was portraying me in a poor light.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1.) Resilient people give themselves a specified amount of time to feel sorry for themselves- Whether that be 24, 48, or 72 hours, they have a set amount of time to feel their woes, then it’s straight into action.
I remember reading the email from Shark Tank that regretfully had told run me they were out of filming spots. I sat down on the bottom stair of my flat in Singapore and allowed myself to feel utterly full of self-pity. After several minutes, I prayed to The Universe for guidance and reassurance, and before I knew it, my perspective had completely shifted into focusing my energy back onto the possibility that I was meant to be doing something in China instead. For me personally, my window of time needed to get over something debilitating has gotten rather small. This is all due to my ability to let go and let God (whoever that may be!).
2.) Stop taking yourself so seriously. Most entrepreneurs are perfectionists. We put so much on ourselves to perform and often live up to others’ (perceived) expectations. Generally speaking, life is not that serious.
I remember going to a network marketing conference that was designed as a train the trainer type weekend. I was absolutely livid that we were spending so much time on things other than learning the business. One activity that had me overtly upset was laughter yoga. When the session started and the facilitator had us all jumping on one foot and simulating laughter, I recall my ego being so pissed off. My thoughts were incessantly running with negativity. Then, before I knew it, I started laughing. Between child-like behavior and eye contact with others, the tears just started streaming down my face and I could not stop laughing. The very next week I paid to become a certified laughter yoga facilitator.
3.) Make the conscious decision to continue your own education. Choose a discipline like effective communication and make it a priority — this will empower us is to own our choices.
I remember watching the show “are you smarter than a 5th grader” and thinking how I was in the same boat as most contestants. Most of the things I’d learned in school were purely for regurgitation purposes. Memorizing who the 30th POTUS was in order to pass an exam did nothing but teach me that repetition is the mother of all skills. When I had my first experience with a subconscious psychology professional where I tapped into memories from childhood that had a major adverse impact in my life, I realized how much knowledge was sitting at my fingertips.
4.) Take your personal inventory more often then just setting a new year’s resolution.
So many of us never stop and take a regular inventory of our lives. We just think things happen to us, instead of us having an impact on how things happen in our lives. When we’re able to put our inventory down on paper, it allows us to gauge where we need improving, but also where we are excelling. It’s much too easy to mentally blame others for our issues, when in reality, we usually play a direct part in the outcome. Becoming acutely aware of our inner workings allows us the ability to gain confidence, improve parts of our lives, make amends when needed, stop making the same mistakes, as well as praise ourselves for our strengths.
5.) Remember the phrase “Goals Not Controls”.
This one simple phrase has helped me immediately switch my mindset from one of a victim to that of a victor. There is a God, and I am not it- I do not have to have all of the answers. I simply need to remain open-minded, willing, and honest. As long as I keep showing up, and simply do the next right thing, The Universe will always guide me down the right path.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have already started a movement, and for that, I am satisfied. If I died tomorrow, I truly believe the wheels are already in motion to see this thing through!
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I would love to sit down with RuPaul! Someone with that level of resilience to keep moving forward despite the opposition is inspiring. Ru has created a new paradigm!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am most active on Instagram @kortney_olson and my website which is kortneyolson.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!