“We often don’t dream big enough.” with Erica Marcano

We often don’t dream big enough. Sometimes fear of failure keeps us dreaming small. While I believe in setting measurable and achievable goals, I think that often we sell ourselves short when it comes to goal-setting. Now when I contemplate my goals, I ask the universe for what I want, and always add, “…or something better.” […]

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We often don’t dream big enough. Sometimes fear of failure keeps us dreaming small. While I believe in setting measurable and achievable goals, I think that often we sell ourselves short when it comes to goal-setting. Now when I contemplate my goals, I ask the universe for what I want, and always add, “…or something better.” As Cady said in Mean Girls, the limit does not exist!

Asa part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Marcano, MS ATC, CSCS.

Erica, otherwise known as The Notorious ATC, launched her Holistic Fitness business during the COVID-19 quarantine in New York City. After 15+ years of working in the traditional health and fitness sector as an athletic trainer and strength & conditioning specialist, she now seamlessly combines the latest evidence-based trends in rehab and fitness with the ancient traditions of Reiki, breathwork, and meditation to empower her clients’ minds, bodies, and souls. While she is based in Brooklyn, where she was born and raised, she now serves virtual clients nationwide in addition to providing in-person sessions locally.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Sure! I got into the field of sports medicine in the same way as many of my colleagues, which is through my own injury as a competitive athlete. During my rehab, I decided to switch majors to become an Athletic Trainer, and after completing my master’s degree, the first five years of my career were spent working in Division 1 collegiate athletics. This meant that I was assigned to teams, attended all their games and practices, traveled with them, and provided their medical care, including injury prevention, treatment of acute injuries, and post-surgical rehab. I also taught at the college as an adjunct professor. I then moved on to work for a physical therapy company, where I designed therapeutic exercise programs for patients. During this time, I became a strength and conditioning specialist, and I also had the opportunity to work on some non-clinical projects and get a birds-eye view of the business. From there I moved on to a high-end, boutique physical therapy studio, where in three years I went from being the newest staff member to being the Clinical Strategic Manager. Still, I was feeling unfulfilled. I began training in Reiki, breathwork, and meditation, while also searching for my next career move. When the pandemic began, I had the gut feeling that this was a now-or-never opportunity to work on creating my own brand, where I could deliver a service that would allow me to blend my specific skill sets and align with my true purpose, rather than trying to fit into the box of another company. The last several months have been exciting, scary, and fulfilling all at once, and I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

This is such a small thing, but a mentor who over the years has been my professor, boss, and colleague, once said to me that he was surprised that I stuck with Athletic Training as a career. When I asked why, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know, you’re interested in so many things.” It was a one minute conversation, but it always stuck with me. I suppose it fit neatly into this belief I’ve always had that somehow, I could or should be doing better/more than I am. Throughout my career, at three consecutive jobs, I’ve been a perfect example of the person who climbs the ladder to the top only to realize it’s been leaned against the wrong building. With this new business launch, for the first time I don’t have that sense of needing to do or be more — it’s because I’ve finally thrown away the ladder and started creating my “dream building” from scratch! I’ve come to realize that my mentor wasn’t judging my career choice, he was seeing something in me that I hadn’t been ready to acknowledge — that I had more to share with the world than what I was able to give within the boundaries those jobs placed on me. I really am grateful to him for that small comment, as it’s been the voice in the back of my head for years now, urging me to get out of my comfort zone. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever been told something similar, I would urge you to reframe it from someone criticizing you to someone acknowledging your full potential!

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There’s a common theme in both the healthcare and the fitness professions, which is that we wear our busy-ness as a badge of pride. (“How have you been?” “Good! Busy!” is the most common conversation opener I had for years). The biggest mistake I made was not acknowledging that to serve others, I needed to take care of myself first. It’s like the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others, or the Eleanor Brown quote, “You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” I now make it a clear goal to prioritize the things in my life that allow me to show up in my fullest potential for my clients. These include: getting enough sleep each night, getting outside for walks daily, and making my own fitness routine non-negotiable. I can’t stress enough how much this has helped my mental health and my ability to be present in my work. I wish I had learned this sooner, and even more than that, I wish this was something more professionals in my industry placed value on.

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?

I’m really grateful to my clients — current and past — for showing me the path I am supposed to be on. (I know that’s more than one particular person, but it’s really important to me to acknowledge them as a group). Almost every move I’ve made in my career has been preceded by one or two clients who prompted me to a realization that I needed to make a change. I often share the story about choosing to leave the college setting, which I absolutely loved, a few months after the athletes that I met as freshmen in my first year on the job graduated. It suddenly hit me that while we all had committed ourselves to college athletics (which quite literally takes over your life), their commitment was for four years, and then they moved forward with their lives, careers, and relationships — whereas I was committed indefinitely, and was struggling to move forward with my own personal life due to my commitment to the job.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

On the surface, I’m doing exactly what my credentials speak to — helping people improve their strength and conditioning. However, my mission is to go much deeper than that. My goal is to empower my clients beyond just the physical — whether they are elite athletes, weekend warriors, or former athletes still dealing with the aftermath of an injury. My approach acknowledges the grief and loss we experience with injury, the fear and anxiety we have around potential re-injury or chronic pain, and the mind and soul elements that are often left out of traditional rehab or strength programs. This goes beyond the “mental toughness” you often hear athletes and coaches talk about, and includes deep compassion for the self, as well as observation of the way our physical abilities contribute to our sense of self. I believe that we all have an internal, intuitive intelligence that helps us to heal and to grow, and so I serve as a coach who guides my clients to find this untapped reserve within themselves and excel beyond “recovery” to their full potential. Through our work together, my clients experience a much deeper connection between mind, body, and soul, and use this connection to reclaim their personal power and a piece of their identity that they thought was lost.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. Watch the way you speak to and about yourself! If I could put everyone on a Self-Talk Sadhana (daily spiritual self-study practice) — it would change the world! I did this for myself while working with a mentor and it was incredibly revealing. Knowing that I had a bad habit of speaking negatively to myself in my head, I committed to 21 days of recording what I said in the notes app on my phone. The things I said to myself in regards to my smallest mistakes were absolutely ridiculous and out of proportion — and they were things I would never say to anyone else in my life had they made the same mistake! By observing this for 21 days, I was able to change my internal dialogue. In my line of work, this negative self-talk often appears as clients saying things like, “I can’’t do {insert specific physical activity here} anymore” or referring to a specific part of their body with an injury history as “my bad knee” or “my bum shoulder.” This language is incredibly disempowering and yet as we know, thoughts become things. Changing the way we speak to ourselves is an incredibly important yet often ignored part of injury recovery and the subsequent strength and conditioning process.
  2. Your phone is a tool. If you’ve watched “The Social Dilemma” or anything similar, you know that the goal of most products on our phone is to keep us engaged. Think of any other tool you use in life or in work, and the premise becomes laughable. Imagine a refrigerator that was designed to keep us door open, head in all day! Or a screwdriver that you ran home for when you realized you left it on your table, “just in case!” It’s important to remember to bring ourselves back to a position of power when it comes to our phones — we use them, not the other way around. Bottom line — scrolling actually doesn’t make us feel good — it simultaneously wastes our time AND makes us feel “less than” a lot of what we see! It also wastes our mental energy and puts physical strain on our bodies. Many of my clients notice a decrease in neck pain, mid-back pain, headaches, stress, and anxiety when they become more mindful about their phone time.
  3. Posture breaks! If you work at a desk, something that could make a huge difference for you would be to set an alarm to remind you to take a posture break once an hour. On my YouTube channel, I have 1 minute videos of stretches people can do right in their office (or WFH setup) to improve their posture and decrease neck, hip, and low back pain. PS — these posture breaks are also a great time to fill up your water bottle, most of us don’t drink enough H2O in a typical day!
  4. Practice gratitude. Yes, it’s said a lot in the wellness space, and at the same time, it can’t be said enough. This is a beautiful way to start and end each day. On the days you struggle with gratitude, just envision something or someone easy to love — a child in your life, a pet — or something easy to feel grateful for — seeing the check and realizing the bartender comp’d your drinks, getting a sweet text from a good friend, finding a $20 bill in your coat pocket, a stranger holding the door for you when your hands are full — and allow that feeling to stay in your body for a moment. In fact, close your eyes right now while you’re reading this and try it. Guaranteed you just raised your vibration. Energy isn’t a “woo-woo” concept, it’s physiological, and your body just proved it. Now imagine living in that feeling for more and more minutes each day. That’s what a gratitude practice will do for you.
  5. Borrow confidence to do the thing you think you can’t. I love the idea of borrowed confidence when it comes to obstacles we face. Each time you do something physically challenging for you, whether it’s hitting 10,000 steps on your tracker or completing a one hour bootcamp, take a moment to acknowledge that accomplishment — yes, this involves gratitude again — and thank your body for the ability to do that thing. This not only raises your vibration in the moment, it banks confidence in your body and your mind. The next time you’re faced with a challenge — physical, mental, or emotional — pull up that memory as if you’re scrolling through photos on your phone. Remember what it felt like in your mind and in your body — that brief moment of feeling like if you could do that, you were unstoppable. Now “borrow” that confidence to meet this new challenge. Struggling to envision how this works? If you ever emulated your favorite athlete when you were a kid — I’m thinking of a generation of young basketball players shooting the ball with their tongues out like Jordan — chances are you didn’t just borrow their technique, you borrowed their swag. Ever felt calmer when someone you knew believed in you was physically present for your big game, big speech, or big occasion? You borrowed their confidence in you. Try using this as an intentional technique, and you’ll be surprised by the change you can create.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would start a campaign called, “Our Bodies Were Made To Move!” (It’s currently one of my favorite hashtags to use on my Instagram posts.)

A lot of fitness programs focus on aesthetics, accomplishing particular tasks, or singular goals like flexibility. However, I think the most important thing that could help the majority of people immediately would simply be to get people to move their bodies in the way that feels best for them. We know from years of research that it’s much harder to get people to stick to something they don’t enjoy, so fitness guidelines like 10,000 steps, or 30 minutes of weight training may hold truth, but they don’t necessarily inspire consistency, We know from anthropology that we were hunter-gatherers, and so for the majority of human existence, mobility, speed, and strength were essential to our survival. We also know that indigenous peoples experience significant declines in their health when transitioned to westernized, sedentary lifestyles. Moving our bodies daily, whether through walking, dancing, yoga, strength training, or anything else you enjoy, improves physical and mental well-being. Rather than exercise being a box to check on a to-do list because “we know we should,” or “it’s good for us,” we need to shift our thinking to the understanding that this is what our bodies were made for — movement is as essential to our human nature as the need for sleep, food, and community! I recently wrote a blog post on how to find the workout you’ll actually enjoy, because that’s the workout you’ll stick to, which includes some actionable steps for people to begin exploring the way in which their own individual body loves to move.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. That my business could look like whatever I want it to. So many people — friends, colleagues, clients, and even my therapist! — had been encouraging me to start my own business for years. I had a long list of reasons in my head of why I couldn’t — I didn’t want the pressure of overhead for space and a staff, I couldn’t accept insurance, I didn’t have a financial backer, and on and on. Only recently did I come to the realization that just because those things were part of the companies I had worked for, it didn’t mean they were right for me. Once I opened my mind to that thought, entrepreneurship was a whole new world, and seemed much more accessible.
  2. Investing — time and money — in yourself is a priority, not a luxury. This is something that’s true for my clients when it comes to their health, and it’s also true for me as a professional. At the end of 2019, I made a commitment to myself to allow this to become a priority. I invested time and money into self-development (beyond the continuing education requirements of my profession). I also moved sleep, nutrition, meditation, and fitness from the nice-to-have into the non-negotiable category. I can say with absolute certainty that this has been a complete game-changer in 2020, and my mental health, physical health, and my ability to start a business serving others would have been massively impacted had I not made this commitment to myself.
  3. Being multi-passionate isn’t a conflict of interest. Before starting my business, I was conflicted about how to use my different skills and interests in a practical sense. I had this idea that I would work in a management role at my day job, train strength & conditioning clients at night, and see Reiki clients on the weekend. This idea of swapping out hats, personas, and skill sets seemed exhausting. It felt like playing dress-up, jumping from role to role, presenting one piece of myself to each population. I felt I needed to do this because I had noticed that as I moved into my management role, and as I started talking about the energy work I was doing, more traditional colleagues were less willing to refer strength and conditioning clients to me, which was quite disappointing. Now, in complete contrast, my brand is based on blending all of these things, so that I can show up as my authentic self. I had to come to the realization that the blending of all these things doesn’t make me “less-than,” it makes what I have to offer unique.
  4. Challenge your Imposter Syndrome. When contemplating starting my own business, I had so many thoughts that would fall under the definition of imposter syndrome, from “I’m too old to start something new now,” to “Why would people want to work with me as opposed to someone else,” to “There’s too much competition,” to “It’s not the right timing,” to “Maybe if I had this additional training/certification.” Once I understood that these thoughts were just my brain trying to protect me from failure, rather than actual truth, my perspective completely changed and I was able to move forward in launching my business with confidence.
  5. We often don’t dream big enough. Sometimes fear of failure keeps us dreaming small. While I believe in setting measurable and achievable goals, I think that often we sell ourselves short when it comes to goal-setting. Now when I contemplate my goals, I ask the universe for what I want, and always add, “…or something better.” As Cady said in Mean Girls, the limit does not exist!

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

The environment has always been a concern that is close to my heart — fun fact, I was vice-president of my elementary school’s “Environmental Club,” AP Environmental Science was my favorite class in high school, and before I went into sports medicine, I wanted to be a marine biologist or an environmental science journalist. Having such strong feelings about a cause like this can feel really big and overwhelming, and, since you mentioned mental health, I think it’s worth pointing out that we need to go about our work with these causes in a way that feels authentic and empowering, or else we can quickly end up in a place where we feel helpless and burnt out. Taking small, actionable, in the moment steps is a wonderful way to make a difference — we can’t do everything, but the things we can do add up over time. Over the last few years what that has looked like personally for me includes:

  • Shopping small and locally whenever I can.
  • Eating seasonally.
  • Utilizing a reusable coffee cup, water bottle, and shopping bag.
  • Moving towards minimalism and setting up a “closet” on Poshmark to allow others to purchase what I no longer need at a discount and stay out of the fast fashion cycle. If any of your readers are interested in Poshmark, they can use my code PRELOVEXRELOVE to set up an account, and get $10 off their first purchase from any “closet” on the site. Anything that I don’t sell on Poshmark is donated to local charities.
  • Gifting experiences rather than things (2020 has kind of put a hold on this).
  • Gifting donations to causes that are relevant to the gift recipient’s interests.
  • Donating time, money, or services (depending on the circumstances) to the causes that are closest to my heart — Koala rescue and rehab programs (to save my favorite animal) and Beach Cleanups (to save my favorite place).
  • Staying informed and aware in order to hold our elected officials and big companies accountable. Making the change to a low-waste lifestyle is certainly important, however, big corporations would like nothing more than if we decided to put all this responsibility on ourselves, while they continue with business as usual. It is important for us to do what we can, when we can, and simultaneously hold people at all levels to those standards. Using my vote and my dollars to do this is really important to me.
  • Meditating when it all feels too heavy. I use a meditation practice called Tonglen to acknowledge the collective pain we are experiencing on Earth at this time whenever the enormity of the situation begins to feel overwhelming.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

I’m most active on Instagram, @notorious.atc. I also have a YouTube channel where readers can find my favorite tricks for incorporating exercise into their workday, tweaks to traditional exercise programming that can help them bridge the most common strength gaps I see in clients, and advice for connecting to their inner strength.

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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