Women Of The C-Suite: “Be open to share” With Emily McCavanagh and Akemi Sue Fisher

I began sharing with others about my challenges in school and my most recent discovery of having Dyslexia. In sharing this others have opened up to me about their own struggles or those of their kids...

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Be open to share: My daughter was recently diagnosed with Dyslexia. I had struggled my whole life in school. I was told I had a learning disability but not Dyslexia. The struggle was real and at times made me feel less than. In college I decided to have a neuropsych exam to see if I was able to get out of taking a language. I recently took out the exam and compared it to my daughters. We were almost identical. I began sharing with others about my challenges in school and my most recent discovery of having Dyslexia. In sharing this others have opened up to me about their own struggles or those of their kids. In giving people a safe place to share it has afforded them the opportunity to lose some the excess baggage we all carry around.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily McCavanagh, a fitness dynamo, who is taking her message/concept of FIND YOUR FIT to the masses. She believes that every person has a unique and personal connection to fitness because of their personality traits. Once discovered, a true and meaningful connection to lifelong health and wellness can begin.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

 I was a gymnast for many years. Like so many gymnasts, I loved learning and discovering how the body worked, types of exercises to help make me feel stronger, more efficient. I had an ability to pick up tricks very quickly and retain anything that had to do with fitness. While I was busy training, one of my best friends was struggling with her weight. At 9 years old I decided to help her make a change. I created a simple routine for her that included less snacks and more walking. I committed to walking with her around our block everyday. In one year she had made significant changes. Beyond just weight, she felt better about herself and more engaged. She continued to walk, and ended up being voted best looking in our high school. Her changes were not just physical, they were emotional. She was positive and supportive to everyone. I loved being a part of that change, I loved witnessing someone set, reach, and crush a goal. I remained connected to fitness throughout my life, but did not realize it was my true calling until I had explored a variety of other opportunities. Something about this goal driven world, filled with the chance to engage my empathetic side while really helping people, kept calling me back. Finally in 2009, I left the world of communications and started my own fitness company called F.I.T.- Fitness Inspired Training.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? 

I love the idea of galvanizing a community. In 2009, I left the world of communications, which I had been dedicated to for close to 15 years. As soon as I decided to start living my dream, opportunities kept finding me. While in the park one day, a woman, who was a local police officer in the town of Charlestown, stopped me and asked if I would train her and some friends. I had no idea what I was jumping into. The following week I was down at the track and she showed up with 7 women of all different shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds. Many were hard core smokers and drinkers and were not happy to be there, but committed to help support their friend. I started them off with a jog around the track and you would have thought I just asked them to run the Boston Marathon. They called me every name in the book and I simply reminded them they asked for this not me. These women ended up becoming some of my closest friends. They trained hard with me, listened and really dedicated themselves to changing their behavior. Word got out in the town that I was really helping people and before I knew it my bootcamp of 7 townies had grown to the most eclectic group of 20. This cast of characters were not likely to ever cross paths in town, yet on this track, 3 times a week, they came together to support each other. It did not matter what the color of their skin was, or how much, or how little they had. They were bonded by something bigger, and together we all made a huge difference in our community.

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

I love tchotkes. As a former event planner I could not wait to order items that had my logo on them. One of the first things I ordered were warm caps that could be worn during our outdoor bootcamp sessions. I received the box and excitedly grabbed one from the box. I could not even fit the cap on my head. Turns out I had ordered 100 beanie caps for kids. I spent the next few months donating them to various nursery schools throughout the town. This silly mistake did teach me to slow down. I was so used to coming from the world of PR where everything had to be done yesterday that I was forgetting about why I started this business. It made me realize I had to really begin planning better not only for future tchotkes but for the future of the business.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I create a very empathetic environment. The world of fitness can sometimes only be seens as sexy, fast, strong. As great as these qualities are they are sometimes intimidating to the average person. Whether I am teaching outside or at my studio I want people to feel they are being heard. I intentionally keep my classes small so people can feel like each experience is personal and customized to support their specific needs.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I recently developed a program called FIND YOUR F.I.T. Similar to how the Myers Briggs test helps people understand their personality and become more adept at navigating their environment and life, FIND YOUR FIT is a personality test that helps people understand their fitness persona so they can navigate the world of wellness and become connected to living their best life. Too often in the world of fitness everyone is getting caught up with the latest craze. They see it work for someone else, deliver results and they automatically assume it will work for them. FIND YOUR FIT helps people really focus on themselves. Discover their likes, dislikes and become connected to a plan that is aligned with who they are, their lifestyle. This type of program will help people achieve more long term success as it relates to their health & wellness goals.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

LISTEN. Ask meaningful questions, and really listen to the answers. If you want to help people you have to first understand who they are, what is important to them, where are they vulnerable and how can you help. Regardless of the business you are in, to be effective means you must be an effective listener and communicator. They work together.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Give everyone a voice. People don’t want to be micromanaged. They want to be part of something and feel like they are contributing. The best way to lead is to help others discover their voice, and uncover their potential.

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 always loved the idea of having a mentor. Early in my career many would share the value of having someone you could share ideas, who could challenge you. It was difficult for me to find this person, until I began working at a PR Agency. I was planning on leaving my job at Saucony Athletics. A job I had loved but felt as though I had outgrown. We were in the middle of a search for a PR firm and in walked this duo from a small start up. I was immediately drawn to their thinking and the ideas they had for taking the brand to the next level. I was also torn because I wanted to hire them also felt I wanted to work for them at the agency. Following their pitch I decided to call the owner on my way home. I explained to him that what I was about to say may sound crazy but asked that he just listen. I said first I want to hire you as my PR agency and second I want to come work for you. I remember the pause it seemed to go on forever but then he said, “you know what I like that you have balls, let’s keep talking”. A few months later, he called me and hired me to run their newest footwear account. He was honest with me from the beginning, he highlighted the areas where I could be successful and pushed me to focus on the areas where I might be challenged. He provided me with opportunities that helped me grow as a person while also affording me an opportunity to grow the business. As silly as this sounds being praised often for my ability to take chances is what eventually gave me the courage to leave a place that I loved very much. Feeling supported for taking chances and still be supported even when they did not pan out, provided me with the ability to follow my heart and feel good about doing so.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I like to think of myself as a builder of people. Many come to me with either a crack in their foundation, or perhaps a total rebuild. Success for me is not about fame or fortune. I measure my success on how many people I have helped feel better about themselves. I love using fitness as a tool, a way to reshape the way people feel and think about themselves. The compassion I have for others is overwhelming and my ability to hone in on people’s strengths and then teach them how to leverage them , ,affords me the opportunity to feel as though I am helping people “find the good” in themselves.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Listen: when you listen and ask questions of others you have the opportunity to help them and allow yourself to grow as a person.

Be open to share: My daughter was recently diagnosed with Dyslexia. I had struggled my whole life in school. I was told I had a learning disability but not Dyslexia. The struggle was real and at times made me feel less than. In college I decided to have a neuropsych exam to see if I was able to get out of taking a language. I recently took out the exam and compared it to my daughters. We were almost identical. I began sharing with others about my challenges in school and my most recent discovery of having Dyslexia. In sharing this others have opened up to me about their own struggles or those of their kids. In giving people a safe place to share it has afforded them the opportunity to lose some the excess baggage we all carry around.

Be open to change: When I started my business in 2009 I was living in Boston. I had so much access to people and opportunities. In 2011 we moved North of Boston to a small suburb called Manchester by the Sea. I loved what I had created in Boston and the thought of recreating it in Manchester was daunting. So I didn’t try to recreate. I talked to people, found out what the community needed/wanted, and used what I knew and learned from Charlestown to create something that was more personalized, and more connected to community.

Inspire Daily: My mantra in life is FIND THE GOOD. I get upset often and vent about it. Finding the good does not mean you can’t be real but what it reminds us is not to wallow too long in the bad. Allow yourself to share and go through the bad but don’t let it overpower you and give yourself a time limit. Once you have reached that try and find a way to take what felt negative and turn it into something good, even a difficult life lesson is a good one.

Motivate through your actions– I want others to live a healthy life. I want them to understand that balance and moderation can and does work. In fact I am living proof. I don’t like when people preach at others about how they should live. Fitness people are especially adept at this. It can feel condescending. My belief is until you really understand what someone is going through it’s not fair to just constantly be telling them how to do things. Instead, I lead my life in a way that I can feel proud. Health is a big part of that, I enjoy life and everything it has to offer, but I always make sure that whatever I am doing I am following my belief of balance and moderation.

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. 🙂

THE POWER OF BEING VULNERABLE. In sharing our vulnerabilities or our challenges we end up uniting ourselves with so many. Too often we tend to hold on to our challenges, traumas, and insecurities. We become isolated from others. Fitness has a way of connecting and bonding people. I would love to host an experiential series or retreat where we teach people how to get out the bad in an effort to FIND THE GOOD.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”- Hubbard/Carnegie

Simple and maybe a little cliche but seems to have served me well through every stage of life. I remember going to Disney, shortly after graduating from college. I thought I was such a big deal and Disney was going to offer me a big time marketing job. Instead, they handed me an orange slip of paper that listed all the jobs available lifeguard, housecleaner, character performer. I felt defeated. I called my Dad who explained to me this was a small bump in the road. I needed to get back up and keep moving forward. Thank goodness I did. I became a character performer for one year. The experience was eye opening, and gave me some great insights, plus afforded me some time to really think about what I wanted. When I moved back to MA, the job of character performer was intriguing to so many and helped open a lot of doors for me.

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 with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Ellen Degeneres. She loves what she does, she has put herself out there and been true to who she is, and she makes people feel good about themselves. If I had the opportunity to sit with her for a breakfast or lunch, I would first offer to pay, and then thank her for doing what she loves, inspiring others, and maintaining her integrity. I think those qualities are so important and it’s encouraging to know people have found success by doing the right things.

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