Take action today. Successful athletes and people know that ‘someday’ doesn’t exist on the calendar. To be successful in athletics and at work it’s important to take the small action you can do today to move you closer to your goal. Small, consistent actions over time are what create the greatest transformation.
As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Levesque.
Anna Levesque is the author of Yoga for Paddling, and an internationally celebrated whitewater kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and Ayurveda health coach. She creates empowering experiences that help women build courage and confidence through mind, body and adventure. Anna has been featured in mainstream publications such as Outside Magazine, Time, Shape, Self, and was named one of the most inspirational paddlers alive by Canoe and Kayak Magazine. She lives in Asheville, NC with her husband Andrew and adventure schnoodle, Ceiba. Learn more about Anna at mindbodypaddle.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a small, bilingual speaking (French/English) town on the shores of the Ottawa River in Ontario Canada. Although I grew up close to the river, my parents were not outdoorsy and the only camping experience I had as a child was one girl scout trip. Luckily my Dad loved athletics and he took me road biking, cross country skiing and alpine skiing as a child. I fell in love with alpine ski racing and that become my sport as a teenager. There began my love of being outdoors and being active.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?
While guiding rafts and safety kayaking in Ecuador one winter I briefly worked with an accomplished kayak instructor who told me I was good enough to compete. I remember feeling surprised and excited when he said it, almost offhandedly, as we were paddling down a beautiful jungle river. His comment gave me confidence to try out for the Canadian National Freestyle Kayak Team that year, and I made it. I’ll always be grateful to him for sharing positive feedback with me. It changed my life and helps me remember that what we say to others can have a big impact.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My road to courage and confidence has been slow and steady. I can’t say that there has been one person, but many. I’ve had to work on growing my confidence and developing a more powerful context for life. I’m grateful to have read many books, and I’ve always been drawn to self-inquiry. The teachers in my yoga teacher and Ayurveda Health Coach trainings have had a positive effect on me in learning about myself and who I really am. One of the most powerful and impactful personal development programs I’ve participanted in has been the Landmark Forum. More than any person or resource, that program has given me freedom to powerfully express myself and live aligned with what’s important to me.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
A full moon run in a tight gorge in New Zealand ended up being a no moon run. Clouds overtook the full moon right after we put on the river leaving us with very little light. We knew there was a 25 ft waterfall downstream as we had run the river in the daylight. Hoping that there would be just enough light for us to see the lip, we carried on. Green glow worms lit up the steep canyon walls giving it a surreal effect. I could just make out the wave at the lip that signaled the launch point on the waterfall. I focused, paddled off the lip and soared through the air in the dark. I had such a good line that when I landed I didn’t even get my head wet! I told my peers that maybe I should start paddling with my eyes closed because the lack of light actually gave me a greater sense for feeling the water. Ever since then I practice paddling with my eyes closed from time to time and I have all of my clients practice certain moves with their eyes closed to increase their awareness and trust in their skill
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
My strategies for optimizing my mind for peak performance in high stress situations like running a hard rapid are:
- Breathe deeply and through the nose. This helps calm and clear the mind.
- I ask: ‘Anna, do you trust yourself?’ Usually the answer is yes. Enough said.
- I focus my vision on where I want to go — especially important in whitewater kayaking. Another way to say this is I keep my focus on who I want to be in this situation and what outcome I’m committed to. That way I don’t let distractions throw off my focus.
Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
My transition from professional athlete to entrepreneur was born out of wanting to make a difference for women in the sport that I love.
After watching a lot of training videos with my fellow female athletes, I realized that we were all making the same or very similar mistakes and struggling with similar mindset strategies. The problem was we were only speaking about these struggles amongst our small group. I wanted to give voice to the female point of view in whitewater kayaking because I felt it was lacking as a conversation in the wider industry. Especially the conversation around fear, self-worth, confidence and empowerment.
So I called up a videographer and producer that I knew in the industry and proposed the first whitewater kayaking instructional DVD for women (back when DVDs were cool). He agreed and that launched my first business, Girls at Play (GAP). The business grew organically because women were thrilled that someone was finally addressing strategies to empower them within a male dominated industry.
My sponsors were onboard and I traveled the country offering classes and giving talks. I produced several DVDs for women in kayaking.
Whitewater kayaking is the best venue for learning to face fear, cultivate courage and build resilience. Along with kayaking, I had been practicing yoga for years and have a strong belief in the mind body connection (which science is now affirming). That lead me to become a certified yoga teacher and Ayurveda health coach.
I shifted my business to Mind Body Paddle to offer women a holistic approach to courage and confidence through mind, body and adventure coaching, retreats and classes.
When I look at my transition from athlete to successful business person, it wasn’t really a transition, but rather a paying attention to what my passion was calling me to pursue. I followed my passion to become a professional athlete in whitewater kayaking and continued to follow my passion to empower women in the sport with greater courage, confidence and skill. When my passion shifted again toward crafting empowering holistic experiences that incorporate mind, body and adventure, I stayed true to my authentic self and how I was being called to change things up.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
Due to Covid-19 I’ve had to pivot my business to more online one-on-one and group health coaching. That has been a big silver lining for me this year. The results and transformation I’m witnessing in my clients is exceptional. I had wanted to do more in the health coaching realm, like offer guided group cleanses and seasonal health groups, but I was too busy running paddling retreats and trainings on the water. Now I’ve set a strong foundation for my health coaching practice.I also just launched a group online whitewater kayak coaching program for women that is going really well.
I do look forward to getting back to running my whitewater kayak trips in Costa Rica and my stand up paddle board retreats in Barbados in person, but for now these online offerings have been very exciting for me, my clients and my business.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?
Yes, especially when it comes to shifting gears, being adaptable and ‘failure.’ When running a rapid in a kayak I have to commit to the path without knowing the outcome. I know the line, I know what I have to do and I do my best, but I have to let go of the outcome. Because the river is dynamic it’s important to go with the flow. Sometimes the flow shifts every so slightly and I get thrown off my line. Then I have to go to plan B, C, D and so on.
The river has taught me to shift gears easily, which is why I think I’ve been able to successfully generate in my business during this pandemic. I didn’t get stuck in what I had done in the past or what I usually do, and could open myself to new possibilities for my business and my clients.
Also, sometimes in kayaking I may get a beat down, but it’s not the river out to get me. In the same vein, I can keep in mind that life isn’t out to get me either. If something doesn’t work out the way I had hoped I have the tools to reset and redirect my energy and my ideas.
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Once you commit, focus.
In whitewater kayaking once you commit to a rapid there’s no turning back. That doesn’t mean you can’t shift gears (see #2), but it does mean that you must focus and follow through. You’re going to get to the bottom of the rapid because the water is flowing downstream. The question is, how do you want to get there? It’s always more pleasant to get to the bottom skillfully and still in your kayak, rather than floundering out of your kayak because you bailed in the middle after flipping upside down because you weren’t paying attention. Once you commit to your work, stay focused on what you need to do to skillfully reach your goal.
Be willing to shift gears.
There are times when your work requires a shift in mindset and goals. It’s not helpful to stubbornly cling to an outcome that obviously isn’t working out or is causing greater harm to you, your co-workers or your brand. When the river pushes you off your line in a rapid it’s important to be able to shift gears to plan B, C etc… as mentioned in a previous answer. This is also important for work ethic. Why waste time on work that isn’t moving you in the direction of your goal, even if you thought it would a few days ago. Why keep grasping at a goal that now seems irrelevant when you could shift your focus to a goal that is better aligned? Be flexible and adaptable and willing to change the plan if that’s what’s needed.
Own your mistakes
Trying to cover up, deny or resist your mistakes is a waste of time and energy. On the river your mistakes are very obvious and there’s no covering them up to look good. When you mess up on the river and take a swim out of your kayak the only thing to do is get your gear to shore, learn from your mistake, get back in your boat and paddle on. It takes a lot less energy to own your mistakes, clean them up and move on.
Do what you say you’ll do by when you say you’ll do it.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. When training for a competition you have a deadline. You can’t ask the organizers and other athletes to move the competition date because you didn’t prepare or you don’t feel ready. You have a deadline and you must prepare to the best of your ability by that deadline. Outside of competition it continues to be important to do what you say you’ll do by when you say you’ll do it. Hold yourself accountable to your goals and to what you commit to other people in your work environment.
Take action today.
Successful athletes and people know that ‘someday’ doesn’t exist on the calendar. To be successful in athletics and at work it’s important to take the small action you can do today to move you closer to your goal. Small, consistent actions over time are what create the greatest transformation.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Follow your passion. If you have an idea or an interest that keeps coming up over time don’t ignore it. Take action to explore and discover what that thing has to offer you. It may change your life!
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When women know who they are and have the courage to stand in their power the world becomes a better place for everyone. I truly believe that. By encouraing women to know themselves, affirm their superpowers, take responsibility for their actions, and use their voices, I’m doing my part to create a better future for all of us and the generations to come.
You are a person of enormous 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 would inspire a movement for all of us to remember that we are nature. That everything is connected and that what happens to me and to you happens to all of us. When we remember that we are nature we feel connected to the planet and to each other. Let’s collaborate and work together to uplift everyone.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“There’s nothing to fear in the future because it’s more of what’s so.” I have this writen on my whiteboard in my office. It’s something a Landmark Forum leader said in a recent online workshop I was in at the beginning of the pandemic when we were all experiencing a heightened sense of fear of the unknown. I love it because it reminds me that I have the ability to deal with the NOW and in the future I will also be dealing with the NOW. There’s nothing to fear because I have the tools to be present, tune into what the present moment is asking of me and take that action. That’s powerful!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Tabitha Brown because we could enjoy a lunch of delicious vegan food and I love listening to her speak her truth and inspire others to speak theirs. She also seems exceptionally confident in her authenticity and that is powerful and somewhat rare in the realm of celebrities and influencers.