There is no doubt that many families are connecting more deeply. My son has been home from college for five months and, while I have hated the circumstances, it has been wonderful to spend time together. During that time, he taught himself to cook, he and his sister built a business together and we’ve had hundreds of family dinners and thousands of conversations, both small and large.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joyce Shulman, founder and CEO of 99 Walks and Macaroni Kid that reaches millions of moms each month with hyper-local and national e-newsletters and websites, social media content, video and her Weekly Walk podcast. Having created a one-of-a-kind digital platform, she connects families to the wonders of their own communities and inspires women to chase their dreams and crush their goals. Her most recent endeavor, 99 Walks, is on a mission to combat loneliness and improve fitness through the simple act of encouraging moms to walk together. Her mission? Nothing short of getting a million women walking. Throughout her two decades as an entrepreneur, Joyce has guided SAHMs, teachers and even MBAs to success. Joyce shares how moms need to “take care of mama bear” and avoid the “martyr mom syndrome”. Her experience in business and leading mompreneurs makes her a coveted speaker where she shares tactics for beating burnout, fueling creativity, goal crushing, how walking can fuel productivity and performance, and more. Joyce received her Bachelors in Business Management from the University of Maryland and her Juris Doctor, Cum Laude, from St. John’s University School of Law. After law school, she spent more than a dozen years as a New York City lawyer where her practice focused on complex commercial litigation. A self-confessed idea junkie, in 1998, Joyce abandoned law firm life to liberate her entrepreneurial spirit and focus on the things that are most important to her: family, community and empowering women to chase their dreams.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Fitness, wellness and women have always been extremely important to me. My dad is a retired coach and my mom is a retired dancer so I’ve been exposed to the value and importance of movement my entire life.
Over the past decade, I’ve had the honor to work with thousands of women and help them create their own businesses and what I saw, over and over, is women suffering from two things: loneliness and a fitness and wellness crisis.
For me personally, walking has always been the way I’ve handled stress, kept my body moving and connected with my friends. One day it occurred to my husband and me that if we could find a way to bring the power of walking and community to other women, we could take the first steps to addressing both of those issues.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Truthfully, it’s not one story, it is a world of stories from women who never felt like there was a place in “fitness” for them. We hear from women every single day who tell us that they never thought they could walk a mile, or walk five miles or walk ten miles. Just today, one of our members who is being stalked by an ex accomplished her walking goal for the month and shared how that single accomplishment showed her that she is strong, powerful and a force to be reckoned with. So, truthfully, the most interesting story is not one that happened to me, it is the many, many stories that happen every day in the lives of the 99 Walks Pack Members.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are all systems to go continue to grow the 99 Walks Pack and continue to inspire thousands of women to walk their way to better. We will be hosting our first 99 Walks Live virtual event on October 24 and I’m hard at work on a companion workbook and journal to accompany my book.
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 about that?
My husband, Eric, and I have been working together for more than two decades and we have very complementary skill sets. He brings the grit and I am more likely to see the big picture.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
My kids are a bit older — my daughter is 14 and my son is 19. I remember the day they canceled school for the remainder of the week — it was March 13 — and my daughter was on the phone with a big group of her friends. They were so excited about the unexpected days off. It was a few weeks before they realized how hard and isolating this was going to be. And my son had really just settled into his freshman year at college. To have all of those opportunities and experiences taken from them has been, truly, pretty heartbreaking to see. But I’ve loved having this concentrated time together. It has been an unexpected gift and I’m trying to focus on that because I believe in my heart of hearts, that this will end one of these days.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We are trying to be sure that we spend time together having fun. We bought a croquet set for the backyard and have been doing a lot of cooking together.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
I think we all struggle with guilt, but having the kids home, and knowing that they are working through their own challenges has really heightened those feelings for me. It was much easier to put in a full day of work knowing that my kids were putting in their own full days of school and sports. Working now while I know that they are feeling lonely or bored has ratcheted up the mom guilt.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’m trying to plan some fun things with the kids, to give them things to look forward to and to make the most of this time. My daughter and I have been planning a big tie-dye party for later this week and we’ve planned and cooked some really fun themed dinners — Hawaiin night was my favorite.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
This depends so much on how old your kids are and how much help you have. Structure is key for everyone, and I think it is one of the things that the kids are missing most. Whatever you can do to add structure to your day, and theirs, will likely help.
But I think the most important thing we can do is to take a breath and know that it is going to be okay. Yup, I’m pretty sure that my daughter is not going to learn calculus this year, at least not in the way she would in a more traditional school setting. But I believe that she will learn other things, valuable things, about resilience, and family and the best way to roast pineapple. I hate when I see people talking about the “learning loss” that our kids are going to experience this year because even if the things that they will learn will likely be different, they will keep learning.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Three things help me. First, no surprise, I am all about long walks both by myself and with my family. Second, as I mentioned, structure is really important, even more so these days. Finally, we have to find ways to recreate and have fun.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I work really hard to “control the input” — meaning to control what stories and perspectives I allow in each day. I try to strike a balance between having enough information to be informed but not going down the rabbit hole. And there are pockets of hope and there are things to be optimistic about, though it is all balanced against so much loss and so much pain. That said, here are my five reasons to be hopeful:
- There is no doubt that many families are connecting more deeply. My son has been home from college for five months and, while I have hated the circumstances, it has been wonderful to spend time together. During that time, he taught himself to cook, he and his sister built a business together and we’ve had hundreds of family dinners and thousands of conversations, both small and large.
- There are far, far fewer planes overhead and, while that is devastating to the airline industry, it is really good for the environment.
- People are rediscovering the incredible power of a simple walking practice! I’ve been preaching this for so many years and, with fewer options and more time, people are realizing that simply lacing up your sneakers and walking out the door is great for your mind, your mood and your body.
- We are being forced to take stock of what’s important and what practices added to our lives and what didn’t. For me, most weeks would find me heading to New York City at least once a week — which was a two hour bus ride each way — and then I would run around, trying to cram as many meetings as possible into ten long hours. I’ve discovered that I don’t miss those days at all!
- By necessity, our creativity is being fueled. In the brilliant book InGenius, Tina Seelig wrote that creativity loves constraint and she’s absolutely right. We are being forced to find new ways to do things. My 85 year-old mother discovered Zoom, my 91 year-old dad is working on a 1,000 piece puzzle, my son has learned to cook and my daughter has redecorated her room. Our business is growing rapidly as we innovate, try new things and create new features.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We have a tendency to retreat when we feel anxious, my mother calls it “circling the wagons.” So if you are the one feeling anxious, often the most powerful thing you can do is to reach out and connect with a family member or a trusted friend. It also means that when you haven’t heard from someone, or your “gut” tells you to reach out, do it. Pick up the phone. Send a text. Make contact and open the door and say “I am here for you.” And then mean it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I often come back to something my dad taught me years ago and I think it is really important to remember now and that is this: we do not do our children any favors by making sure every experience they have is perfect. I think we know that intellectually but our instinct as a parent is always to try to smooth the way and make things as easy as possible. Right now, that’s impossible as so much is out of our control so it is important to remember that it is okay, that our kids will learn lessons of resilience that will likely serve them well throughout their lives.
How can our readers follow you online?
Everywhere! They can find the 99 Walks community at www.99walks.fit and on Facebook and Instagram @99Walks. And they can find me personally at www.joyceshulman.com and on Instagram @Joyce.R.Shulman. Finally, Walk Your Way to Better is available on Amazon.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!