My 8 biggest lessons after 8 years in business
I was 19 years old, had just returned from travelling Europe for several months with my best friend and it was my first time ever leaving Toronto. To say I was experiencing culture shock is an understatement. I was so in love with everything Europe showed me, the food, beaches, architecture, language, and vast diversity just a few hour drive away from each town I visited.
When I returned from Europe, I was underwhelmed with the small town I lived in that boasted strip malls, movie theatres and big chain restaurants that were the ‘hot spots’ for teenagers around those parts. I longed for something more, though I had no idea what that was or how I was going to get there.
It seemed all of the travellers I met while in Europe had gotten there, and paid for their trips by bartending and waitressing either in their home towns or in the towns they were visiting. It was a no-brainer, get a job downtown Toronto slinging drinks, make loads of cash and go back to Europe. Well, that was the original plan.
Although I had been passionate, and clear in my goals to be a personal trainer, kinesiologist or doctor (those were my goals while intermittently attending high school – yes, I was a troubled teen) I placed those goals on a glass shelf and began applying for jobs at high volume nightclubs.
My nights as a ‘beer tub girl’ morphed into being in the weeds as a bartender and then lead to running the busiest bar at the hottest nightclub in Toronto, and eventually co-managing my own 13 000 sq. ft. event venue.
Although those years were laden with heavy nights of drinking, drug use and bedtimes that often reached as far as 9am, I was learning lifelong lessons that were developing my emotional intelligence along the way. I’m lucky to be someone who is introspective and looks for the learning in my mis-takes. This is the only reason I have grown, and learned amongst some major challenges such as depression, debilitating social anxiety, addiction and PTSD.
I was 27, and had spent 4 years attempting to ‘make it big’ as a fitness competitor, with limited success. Looking back, it was definitely my attempt to prove that I was more than the party girl I had been expressing for several years. I decided to take my Can Fit Pro certification and become a personal trainer. My desire to coach others was palpable and I was determined to be a big success in the career that I had wanted to tackle just 10 years prior, before traveling to Europe. I never ended up moving to Europe and being a professional nomad as I once desired to be, though, the road I chose was perfect in it’s imperfection…This is what I’ve learned along the way…
1. Without passion, I would have quit after 8 months
I had bought a house up north near Thornhill, although, my heart belonged in the city. I wasn’t happy living near even more strip malls, Tim Horton’s coffee shops and suburban neighbourhoods, those things just weren’t my jam. Nonetheless, I acquired my first job as a personal trainer and worked with a team of welcoming, passionate and educated trainers and the owner’s business model was stellar. After about 6 or 7 months, I got the itch to open my own studio or train out of my home gym, as I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I gave my 2 weeks notice to my boss, Mark, he replied with complete understanding and said “You aren’t meant for a facility. You do you, we wish you the best”. My heart swelled with excitement and I felt I was ready to take the fitness world by storm. Cassandra Hope Fitness and Wellness, was officially born.
During that time, I ended a 6 year relationship with my then fiancee, and packed up my 4 bedroom home in Thornhill, left my 2 dogs, and moved in to a small 1 bedroom condo in the then up-and-coming, Leslieville. I was anxious, scared, sad, and yet excited beyond measures. I couldn’t sleep, barely ate and suffered from legit the most intense anxiety I’ve ever had. I lost almost 20 lbs on an already lean frame. I was emaciated, and some said I looked like a bobble head!
I fell in lust with a past flame from my early 20’s who I thought I knew, though was about to learn some pretty earth shattering things about the man I moved in with too soon, and opened a live/work personal training and yoga studio with. At this point my already sensitive stomach became unmanageable. Severe bloating, heart burn, constipation, cystic acne and blood in my stool were now the norm. The stress of leaving my life partner, home, and dogs, starting a new business and partnering up with an emotionally unavailable person, brought me over the tipping point. This all happened within 2 months (2 MONTHS!) and although I could have, and probably should have shut down and pushed the ‘pause button’, I didn’t..
My passion was so strong, there was no shutting down my plans to take the fitness world by storm.
I quit my job as a bartender after 10 years of slinging drinks, and committed to building my in-home personal training business in a 100 year old loft on the east side of Toronto. With no plan, no guidance and no support, I nailed it. Not only did I have a schedule filled with eager, committed and pleasant clients, I also booked a huge photo shoot with one of Canada’s top fitness photographers and was featured in many copies of Inside Fitness Magazine as a model. I also began booking regular segments on the Marilyn Denis Show, as a guest fitness expert. I was in the first year of business and was rocketing.
Drug addiction, heartache, mental illness and physical dis-ease wasn’t stopping me, because of 1 thing: Passion.
My job wasn’t a job, because I loved it. I loved learning, teaching, growing, and acting from a place of knowing. I was acting form a place of wanting-to, as opposed to should-be. Anyone will tell you who own their own holistic practise, that passion is what will allow you to work through the bumps in the road, and know, there will be some serious bumps in the road…These were a few of mine…
2. Comparison had me stuck for years.
I would sit in my downtown live/work yoga and personal training studio, equally in awe and frustration while investigating other leaders in the industry’s websites and FB pages (Instagram wasn’t around yet), and couldn’t get past the thought “how the f-c* are they SO SUCCESSFUL?? What am I not doing, or should I be doing more of what they’re doing in order to also be successful?
What I didn’t know then, which is totally ok because few are born with the awareness, was that I was forming my niche, specialization and expertise just by being at that time. I have always been dedicated to healing and thriving in all areas of life, the physical, spiritual, emotional, financial etc., so comparing myself to the nutritionists and trainers who were skin, booty, and peri-natal specialists was like comparing cucumbers to pickles; similar, but not the same.
What would have been a better use of my time then, would have be to give praise to those who were well on their path to success, and refocus my energy on my own learning, and curiosity. What I did instead for many, many years was look through an ever growing magnifying glass at my own shortcomings and the holes in my business, and self, then judge, judge, judge away.
Nevertheless, it’s lead me to where I am today, and I’m very happy this is where I’ve landed. I’m ok with the mis-takes I’ve made in the years I compared myself to other professionals, though if I could re-do it, I would have spent much less time ‘living there’.
3. No one was ever, or will ever, be there waiting to save me.
Since I was little I had this idea that someone was going to one day see how special I was and was going to give me my own show, brand, book deal or bank account filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars, just like in the movies. Nope, I’ve had to let go of the idea that I am not capable to doing that on my own, and that no one is going to be there to save me, or hand me my career. I had to wake up, grow up, create a plan, execute the plan and develop emotional maturity with each step. For me, the road to self-empowerment has been a journey of collecting tools via different healing therapies. Recovering from addiction, and mental illness takes an incredible amount of resources and dedication. I humbly thank each of my teachers and healers who have helped me achieve freedom from that mindset.
4. No one is going to say “no” just because of my colourful past. And if they were to, I don’t want to work with them anyway.
My shame of being an addict, and someone who may have been judged for being so vulnerable, open minded and curious, kept me frozen. Unable to take a step sabotaged a promising career in TV many years ago. It wasn’t until I fully accepted my past choices and saw the learning in all of it, as well as realized that I am a better, more rich, colourful, wise, well-rounded woman because of all that I have done and been through, that I’ve gotten to the place that I can ask for what I want confidently, and without fear or shame of rejection.
I’ve also learned that I don’t have to be perfect, have figured everything out, or be symptom-free to help others or position myself as an expert. No one does, and if we all thought that way, no one would be available to help others in need.
The fear of hearing rejection is so real for many that it can lead to anxiety, depression, feeling immobilized or have physical symptoms such as gut and jaw tension.
What if we gave our bodies and minds permission to let go, and use how others judge or don’t judge us as a built-in filtration system? What if it was as simple as taking that information and walking away without looking back, because that person, path, or ‘opportunity’ wasn’t meant for us anyway?
5. Choose carefully who to trust and who to go into business with.
I often write about my therapist Jennie Ormson MSW. She has taught me over the past several years how to use my intuition as a guide, how to calm and nurture myself in the eye of the storm, how to respect and honour situations as they are and to only take maximum 50% responsibility of dysfunctional relationships (I used to ALWAYS think it was me, no questions asked).
This was difficult in family, friend, and social situations, though was probably most difficult in career relationships. Without learning how to file information in a grounded and systematic way, I would continue to go into business with the wrong people. I’ve acquired freedom after learning that every opportunity may not be what I at first I think it to be, and just because they are knocking on my door doesn’t mean I have to answer. This is specifically what Jennie has taught me, and it works like a frigging charm.
Be sure to choose people who have done as much, or more work on themselves than I have done on myself, and always ask myself these 4 questions (courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert):
Do I trust this person’s taste and judgment?
Does this person understand what I’m trying to create here?
Does this person genuinely want me to succeed?
Is this person capable of delivering the truth to me in a sensitive and compassionate manner?
Often times, these questions come back with ‘no’, and that’s ok. I’ve learned to move forward without the fear of ‘what if?’ lingering with every step I take. I’ve also found these questions to aid a lot in choosing friends. It’s definitely less cluttered, but more clear these days.
It’s funny to me now, to remember the feedback that some past colleagues have given me on my own choices in business. Their judgemental, unsolicited and inappropriate feedback definitely fails when I ask the above questions, so instead of spiralling down the shame tunnel, I just hop over the puddle and keep marching, full steam ahead.
6. Creating boundaries doesn’t isolate me, it empowers both individuals
As children, we model our parents and without ever really knowing it we become a person who is made up of the experiences our family expose us to. For me, I never learned about healthy boundaries. Name-calling, violent fights, going hungry and never taking accountability left me feeling guilty, shameful and afraid of people as I grew up. Using my voice to create a boundary was unheard of for many, many years.
This created difficult and grey relationships, both personally, and in business. By learning what my values are, and how to express my needs and limitations in a calm and mature way, I have had work, and personal relationships flourish.
The person on the receiving end is clear, less confused and can make a decision. This creates situations that will either flourish and grow, or end. Both are equally ok, because life is just a collection of experiences of both growth, and death. Both are beautiful, essential and a part of being human. I continue to learn about boundaries with an open heart, and eyes. It is some of the most important and rewarding work I’ve done.
7. Finding a niche won’t alienate me, it will attract more of what I want, and who I can really help.
When I first graduated from school, I had no idea what I wanted to specialize in. I was interested in many areas of health; peri-natal was at the forefront of my focus, yet as I continued to struggle with my ever mounting gut symptoms (yes, even after graduating as an RHN I still suffered from debilitating IBS), I was becoming more and more interested, and educated on the illness. Even though there are millions of people across the country that I could have chosen to help with cardiovascular, blood sugar, reproductive, and/or kidney issues, my ability to help was falling in the category of digestive wellness. Accepting this as my niche has allowed me to co-found The IBS Academy, which specializes in helping those with chronic digestive illness and IBS, and it does so very, very well.
I’m not everything to everyone, nor do I want to be – it’s an impossible task, and I wouldn’t be able to do my clients justice if I were aiming for that.
I’ve learned that by focusing my learning I can help more people. By referring out to other practitioners in fields I’m not as educated on I am acting in integrity and helping that person more than if I took them on and potentially wasted their valuable time and resources.
By having a niche, I am growing a business faster than I could have imagined and helping more people. Period.
8. If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail
This one was a biggie for me. No amount of passion, education or results in practise is going to get you ready for the task that is being an entrepreneur.
In order to be the best version of myself so that I can be a stellar coach, business woman, partner and human being, I must be organized AF.
Meal prep, scheduling in my workouts, scheduling in my study time, writing time, coaching availability, creating targets, projections and goals are ALL essential in my ability to not only succeed, but succeed with grace.
Yes, I am an A-type person, and thrive with organization, boundaries, goals and clarity, though I believe any person, A-type or not, will thrive in their business if they, too, commit themselves to planning as regularly as they brush their teeth, or breathe air.
To be honest, I rarely think about what would have happened if I ended up moving to Europe at the age of 20. Everything has happened the way it was supposed to, I honestly believe that. Like many women at the age of 35, I have let go of the shame and confusion I once carried, and am more interested in becoming the the most refined, successful and functional business woman and human I can be. I learn so much about life, myself, and people through my business. I am so grateful to have had the past 8 years in business help me re-form who I am, and help others become better versions of themselves.
In good health + happiness,