Know that resilience doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I look at it as a two way street. When you are riding high and life is going well, be sure to look around you for those that may need your help. And when you are in the dips of life, have the courage to ask for help.
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 Petra Kolber.
Petra Kolber is an author, speaker, podcast host, DJ and a wellness leader who is known throughout the industry as a crusader for change and a beacon of authentic happiness. In August 2018 Petra released her first book, The Perfection Detox: Tame Your Inner Critic, Live Bravely and Unleash Your Joy, which made its debut at no.1 in new releases on Amazon and was recently released in French and Spanish.
As a two-time cancer survivor, she is passionate about waking people up to the precious gift of time. Her mission is to inspire people to move more and fear less, so that they can stretch their dreams, strengthen their courage muscle and build an inspired life, full of joy and gratitude.
Thank you so much for joining us Petra! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Mybackstory began in a small town in England, just outside of Liverpool. I was a dancer and at the young age of 17 I left home to pursue my career. I did well, but never achieved the success I was hoping for. Through a series of various dancing jobs, I ended up in America.
I had hopes and dreams of making it on Broadway, but after my first audition I knew I didn’t have what it would take to make it, and I also didn’t have the time to catch up to the high talent that was found in NYC.
When I first moved to America I lived in Miami and with no aspirations of ever moving into fitness I decided on a whim to get trained to teach aerobics. I also became certified and was an early adopter to a new modality that was launched in the early nineties called “step aerobics.”
Long story short, on moving to NYC and realizing I was never going to make it as a dancer on Broadway, I threw my hat (or sneakers) into the fitness world and began to audition at the top rated boutique studios. A side note, all of these small studios were shut down by big box clubs in the early nineties. And now over fifteen years later the era of the boutique studio is back and stronger than ever.
I think it was a mixture of my dance background, English accent (which was much stronger back then) and the fact that I was one of the few instructors that knew how to teach step aerobics, that helped fast track my career, and in a relatively short time I was pegged to be one of the new fitness faces of fitness for Reebok.
They say you have a job, career or a calling. Working with Reebok moved my love of fitness from being a job of running around the streets of NYC, teaching on average 5 classes a day, to a fully-fledged fitness career.
I became a contracted fitness athlete with Reebok and over the next decade I worked nonstop. I was starring in VHS workouts, I was on TV, I was on the back of a Special K box and I was traveling around the world teaching to packed convention rooms of a thousand plus workout fans — it was an amazing time in my life.
My time with Reebok eventually ended and I continued my fitness career for another decade under my own name. I worked with high profile brands and was able to make a fantastic living for myself as a fitness entrepreneur, although I didn’t realize that is what I was at the time.
I eventually began to see a pain point within the fitness industry, and it was the gap between who people actually were and who they thought they were (especially women.) I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but what I was seeing over and over again, was women who were rocking their workouts and had everything that we presume would make them happy, yet when they looked in the mirror all they could see was what they though was wrong with their appearance and their life.
I began to realize that how we feel has very little to do with what we do, and realized that it wasn’t the body we needed to strengthen but rather it was our mindset.
I went back to school to study positive psychology and it was at that point my career moved into a calling, and this is the work I do now. Through speaking, writing and my podcast, my calling is to help women strengthen their belief system and elevate their self-worth so that they can ask for what they are worth in both life and love.
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?
I have so many storiesfrom my travels but the one that always stays with me and I think has served me well, is a story from my very first day with Reebok.
I hadn’t signed my contract yet, and was at their headquarters about to audition to be the lead on one of their workout tapes.
As I was going upstairs, I passed the only other fitness athlete that they had under contract at that time in the hallway. She was lovely, and we are now the greatest of friends. As she passed me she simply said, “Welcome, and one small piece of advice, don’t ever lose your name for the name of the company.” What she meant by that was that even though I was about to be signed by a fantastic company, I would need to do extra work to keep my own name out in the world. To be able to stand alone I addition to my work with Reebok and to not be absorbed by a big brand.
I took her advice and did just that. When Reebok sponsored me to appear at a convention, I would also present a few sessions under my own name, even if I wasn’t paid for them, and so when Reebok and I parted I was able to continue a very successful career for another decade under my own name.
When working with companies, small or large our “job description” will always be replaceable, but no-one can replace “you” — your unique voice, talents and energy that you bring to the world.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Well I am a company of one plus a rock star VA, but this is both a blessing and a curse. I work alongside other companies and teams when they bring me in as a speaker but at the end of the day, I am responsible for getting up, showing up and doing the work. I don’t know if this make me stand out, I hope it doesn’t, but the one thing I believe in deeply is that integrity is not negotiable. If I cannot show up and feel 100% comfortable with what I am doing or saying, then I won’t do it.
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?
I have so many people who have helped me become the person I am today, and for that I am so lucky. But more recently I can think of three people and I think this story represents what we all need, especially when we are pushing our courage muscle and stretching our resilience.
I knew I wanted to learn how to DJ and eventually weave more music into my stories in my keynotes. In 2018, at my book launch for The Perfection Detox, I casually mentioned this during a Q and A. Right after three people came up to me, all asking how serious I was about this DJ dream.
The first were the two owners of Yes Fitness Music, a company who I had been the spokesperson for when they first launched. I said I was very serious and the next day Michael Pipitone and Mike Babbitt sent me the entire DJ system that I would need to be able to do any live event in the future. I also then mentored with Mike Babbitt for the next year and had him alongside me for all of the ups and downs of learning the technology and skills that are a part of this process.
At the same time Maureen Hagen, who is the Vice President of Program Fitness Development for GoodLife Fitness in Canada, asked the same question and without batting an eyelid she booked me to be the DJ for her V.I.P party for 500 people that was going to happen at their next convention.
Without these people in my life I would have given up on my dream of DJ’ing long before the dream gave up on me, but with a mentor by my side and a public date in the calendar 10 months out, I persevered and now can add DJ into my skillset.
Side note: we rocked that party and the dancefloor was jamming well past midnight
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 move through the ups and downs of life. We can strengthen our resilience in the good and as well as the challenging times. A resilient mind is one where when things are going well, you enjoy them without waiting for the shoe to drop.
And when things are not going well you can say to yourself “this too shall pass.”
A resilient person will have a growth mindset and see challenges as opportunities to grow They know their boundaries and realize they don’t have all the answers and so are able to ask for help. They also cultivate self-awareness and self — acceptance.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My mother. She is no longer with us, but she continued to show up, and get up time and time again throughout her entire life. My father drank a lot, and so my mother was there to pick him up when he was too drunk to drive, get a job when he lost another job to drink, while at the same time bringing up two girls while keeping a roof over our head, even when our father had gambled away the mortgage money.
My mother Gwenda was also very sick in the last few months of her life. She had a very aggressive form of cancer that was not responding to any of the traditional drugs. I remember the day when my sister Jennie and I were with our mother as the doctors told her that the cancer was not responding to the chemotherapy and that she only had a few month left to live. On hearing this news, she turned to him and said, “While I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, what this has shown me is priceless. I always knew my daughters loved me, but until this happened I never knew how much.” Now that is resilience.
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?
Unfortunately in my younger years, while I never had role models who used those exact words, I did have teachers that said I would never make it.Not to make a sweeping statement but growing up in England you are not encouraged to think big, dream big and set lofty goals. Without realizing it I was surrounded by people with a fixed mindset. I remember the first time I met dancers from America, I thought they were strange and mythical human beings. It was the first time I met people with what we now know as a growth mindset, and I got to experience that in the impossible it is our choice to move into the I’m possible.
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?
I am a two time cancer survivor. I am 20 years cancer free and so sometimes it feels like a different life but I would say that facing your mortality head on was one of my greatest setbacks and greatest gateways to learning. No-one prepares you to hear the words, “you have cancer.” Through chemotherapy, radiation and losing my hair, I gained an understanding of just how strong and resilient I was.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Having a father who had a drinking problem, forced me to become resilient at a very young age. While I didn’t realize this is what I was working on when I would bounce back from the challenges and uncertainty that came with have an alcoholic father, it enabled me to face and rise through many other challenging times in my future.
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. Know that resilience doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I look at it as a two way street. When you are riding high and life is going well, be sure to look around you for those that may need your help. And when you are in the dips of life, have the courage to ask for help.
2. I love the idea of resilience being a three pronged approach. This is work by Edith Grotberg, Ph.D.
I Have — I have people around me who can support me
I Am — I am able to be responsible for myself
I Can — I can find help when I need it
3. Resilience is something that we can cultivate and strengthen and unfortunately the only way we can do this is by going through the hard times. The hardships allow us to grow and although never easy, if you can remember that “this shall pass” and with each challenge I am building my resilience muscle it may lighten the burden a little.
4. When we are challenged we move into flight or fight mode and this amplifies our anxiety, stress and emotions linked to our survival. When we move into this state we are never at our best. Although not easy, if you can sit with the negative emotions, and be with all that you are feeling, including the more painful thoughts, your body will be able to express and process the healing faster, and in turn you will be able to come back to your ready state more quickly.
5. Self-compassion is the greatest gift you can give yourself during times where you feel uncertain and doubt if you will be able to pull through. There is a lot of research about the positive effects that come with hugging someone, and you can also elicit the same “feel good” emotions for yourself by giving yourself a 20 second hug as it will increase oxytocin (the love hormone) and reduce blood pressure and cortisol (the stress hormone)
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. 🙂
My movement would be for every women to really be able to look in the mirror and love themselves, see their value and strengthen their self-worth. To be able to share the message that you, your work and your message do not need to be perfect to create incredible impact. Then with this super power, they will be able to shine their light even more brightly on those around them, and begin the ripple effect of being the change they wish to see in the world.
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 🙂
Sara Blakely from Spanx. I love her work, her authenticity, her sense of humor and her clothing. Her Faux leather leggings are my go to wardrobe when speaking and DJ’ing.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!