Rolling with the Punches

Carolyn Wiliams owns and runs The Bar Method fitness studio in Vancouver. Navigating the COVID years provided her with a number of lessons in "rolling with the punches." She shares how she kept her head above water and found the strength to keep moving forward in the face of multiple "character-building opportunities."

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Transcript 

Jalen 

So let's talk about you rolling with the punches. You have a fitness studio. And of course, lots of things were affected back in COVID. But particularly that things that involve getting a bunch of people together and being in contact or sweating or whatever around each other. So paint paint me a quick picture of what was going on early on. 

Carolyn 

Yeah, I mean I. It's funny how there is. Events in your life that you can go back and remember exactly where you were at a given time. I have to admit Princess Diana's death. I remember where I was and what we the news we were watching and who we were with and I think. I think the moment we realized the world was being shut down because of COVID I think is a very similar situation and. Thinking back, the the days leading up to it and what we were starting to process and think about. You know I I remember. At least probably a week or two before everything was shut down we started. Filming some classes and posting them on Instagram because. There was a sense that things were going to change and we wanted to be. In front of them, as much as we could be. And so we started filming these classes, posting them to on to Instagram because there were people saying they didn't feel comfortable coming in. We kept moving forward. I remember the days up until that Sunday night we were still open. We were spraying lots of Lysol. We were. Cleaning everything. We were making our classes shorter so that we could have more time to clean in between. People were coming in and saying they were so thankful that we were staying open, but we were definitely seeing a a drop in our class numbers. We were starting to see a bit of a drop in our revenue and then that Sunday. One of my managers. Uh, it was. It was around midnight and he lives in Halifax so I don't even know what time it was. Umm 4:00 AM and my 2 managers here and it was midnight and it was this anticipation that Trudeau was going to say everything is shut down and. You know, and and the moment that happened. For everybody was surreal, right? What does this mean? Do we just stay in our homes? Do we? Are we not able to walk? Anywhere you know, I think that was just such a such a moment of filling in the blanks because you didn't actually know what the blanks were. And so I remember. Then we sent out an e-mail, but I remember getting up at the crack of dawn and going down to the studio to wait in case anybody showed up and. And so we were there in case anybody came for class and we just had to say we're really sorry. We're shut down, we sent out an e-mail, you know at that point it had been announced, so we were going to be closed for two weeks. So we said we're going to have classes online, but it was. It was such an unknown that all you kind of knew how to do was just kind of keep moving forward, right? It was if you if you stopped. To reflect, you didn't know how you were going to restart, so you just kept going and. I remember I for those you know, first few days I kept coming to the studio and we would film a class for Instagram or we would go on Instagram and post do a class for everybody at home and then we started just evolving it of how do we stay connected with our clients? Talk about rolling with the punches. We started doing to. I mean, so much of what we do is is not just the exercise part, but it's the community of of where people come together and they see each other and they feel like they're a part of something where people care about who they are and so we then started doing something called Tedtalks. So we would get on. At 9:00 AM on Instagram, me and one of my managers and we would interview one of our staff or we would find different people to interview in our community that whether it was nutritionist. For a, I think we did a RMT we it was a whole scope of people but it was truly this idea of rolling with the punches right? It was if we looked and saw what what was it that we provided? We provided absolutely exercise and we could continue to do that. But we also provided more than just exercise and we needed to figure out a way to continue to provide that. And so. I think one of our tea talks had about 500 views. I mean, it was actually kind of decent given given the fact that this was just a me at home sitting there thinking. How do we keep our community connected and people could come on and post questions and it would be tuned in to tea talks at 9:00 AM? And we would have our tea cups full of our tea and and I think you know it was. It was a time that everybody was just looking for connect looking for the connections and and and any attempt that made them feel less isolated. And I think you know, throughout the entire last three years, it's always been. How do we? How do we keep people connected? And how do we keep keep people from feeling like they're not alone in this? That we care whether they're there or not? We care whether they show up and and even. You know the various. You know COVID is is presented all sorts of interesting challenges and I think I remember, you know I got really into listening to podcasts during COVID because I think any sort of. We all needed some sort of motivation. We all needed words of inspiration and I remember listening to one and it was this idea of embracing challenges right and and instead of looking dreading this of, you know a fight or a problem that you had to tackle. Being excited about how you were going to come up with a solution. And I would. I would not say I did that all the time, but I that was always the the mindset that I tried to flip to was. How could I switch this into an interesting problem, or a or an exciting challenge to tackle because you know it all of this was making us use a different part of our brain. I think it's like we have. We've gotten so used to like here's the problem. Here's how we figured it out right. It's how we learned math. Here's how we do our multiplication. We do this line and then we do this line and then all of a sudden it was. You're not allowed. You can't use that. Part of your brain anymore, because that part. Isn't necessary for the problems that we now have to figure out and, and I think that was. I mean, I think you know, I think COVID It was such a it was. It was scary because it was unknown and we couldn't control it right? I think that was the thing that yeah, totally. 

Jalen 

And disorienting. 

Carolyn 

I mean, I think that was the thing that I came back to so often was there were so many things that I felt out of control with, right? I I didn't get to control what choices the government made. I didn't get to control what choices? Our clients made or our staff made. So how do you find? How do you find some sort of orientation in a totally disoriented environment? 

Jalen 

Well, you talk about using a different part of your brain to try to, you know, roll the deal with things. How did you find this other part of your brain? And what is there? Anything that you? Brought you to it. 

Carolyn 

Yeah, I mean I I am. You know, it's I. I had a moment where. Probably in like May of 2020. All I wanted to do was go back to university. I have my undergrads in psychology and all I wanted to do was go back and get a masters in resilience, right? I wanted to figure out what was making some people resilient and some people not. I was I wanted to know how. We in this new environment how different people were coping and why they were coping the way they were, so so it was. It was much more. The world no longer became A to do list right of like taking things off and getting things done because in many ways there wasn't anything to get done right. I think that was the like crazy thing of I'm not driving my kids to swimming. I'm not driving them to school. I'm not driving them to gymnastics, I and you know, they're going to kind of figure out this online. Home school learning. I'm not necessarily going to the grocery store. You know there are all these things. All these to DOS were taken away from our life and stuff. 

Jalen 

Yeah, with others to do lists like. What do you do? 

Carolyn 

Yeah, exactly exactly and I think we you know we're so governed by. Like schedules were so governed by by these to do lists, so it was. It was flipping. You know, it's I'm not a. I wouldn't say I'm a hugely creative person, but I feel like it was flipping me to a place that I had to be creative, right? I had to not rely on status quo. I had to not rely on everything I had done. You know, I've I've had my company now for I'm in my 13th year. And so for 10 years I I had been learning and getting better. And you know, perfecting what I did and then all of a sudden you have a brand new course and you don't know how to. You don't know, you don't know this new course and so how do you figure it out? But but I think. I think the brilliant thing is is. You you know we have, it's something that I've definitely told myself a lot over the last three years. Is history has shown me that I will figure it out and I kept having to rely on that, right? I'm I'm have my health. I have my family. I have my house. I have these things. History has shown me that. Even when I'm faced with tough problems. I have the ability to figure out the figure out a path that has led me on to my next thing and no matter how difficult the place that I'm currently in, no, no matter how uncomfortable the place that I'm currently in. My history has shown me that I will figure out a path to. The next place. 

Jalen 

So you found yourself looking to looking back to your successes, looking back to your, you know, being able to make it through challenging times. And that's what's like your doorway into considering other options. 

Carolyn 

Absolutely yeah. Yeah, no, I mean I, I think. You know there's there. Life has has throughout our, you know, throughout everybody's life, right? We've all had challenges and and so often too. It's that that memory of if I'm OK where I am today. Then I can't have regrets or want a different path, because if I had a different path, I wouldn't be where I am today. And so just this this. You know that that history has shown me that it it takes me to a path that I'm OK with, right? If that makes sense. 

Jalen 

Well it does and you know, it seems like it's it's common for people when when faced with challenge to go to the place of of worrying about the worst thinking about the worst when when their. Is overwhelmed then they probably like switch over like flip their lead and switch over into lizard brain and just worry about survival and and that sort of thing which is is the opposite of what you've been talking about and I'm curious about like do you think you find that there? Was were there steps that you've taken were the things that have led you to this, which seems to be a habit or an orientation. To look to the successes, look to the yeah the successes. 

Carolyn 

You know, I mean, I like I for sure. Will credit my husband. He's a. Level headed logical thinker. Doesn't bring a lot of emotion into the thought process, and I think even this was something that you and I talked about before was how you separate, right? The emotion from the problem and for sure it's been something that over the three years. Been a growth for me, is trying to separate my my emotions are not going to help me on this pathway right? It's it's. It's trying to take the facts because the emotions aren't necessarily the facts. The emotions are my. Responds to my perception. So definitely I would say having open dialogue with whether it's my husband, whether it's one of my managers, both of them. Are hugely influenced influential in helping me with my thought process? I think just in general, right is is having somebody having people in your life that you can be a sounding board from where you can. You can say all your fears, right? You can say just as you said. The worst case. Here's the worst worst case and you can say it out loud to that person and whether that person is then kind of. Helping you redirect or even telling you the things that you already know. Big kind of guide you to that. Yeah, and if that's the yeah, I mean I do this with my son all the time. What is the worst worst situation that could happen? And what's your emotional response? Or what's your response to the worst that could happen? OK, well if we've established that that's the worst that can happen and you're OK with that. Then whatever else, yeah exactly. 

Jalen 

Let's back up from there, right? 

Carolyn 

Yeah, did that. I I, I feel like I went. On off an intense hopefully though. 

Jalen 

Yeah, well, I feel like I mean what I'm hearing and this is actually I'm finding to be a theme. And this is one is having having people to rely on not not. Just trying to figure it out all on your own. And then of course, then having people who are willing to. Hold the hold the. You can share your experience with. So that you can. Go make choices. That are clearer with that have more options on the table. 

Carolyn 

Well, and I think you know. I mean we we all know how our. Our brain, you know, oftentimes function functions in places of fear, right? Because I I think at the end of the day, so much of so much of. So much of our responses or. Or our mental dialogue has to do with fear right? And and when we go to a place of fear? And what is the dialogue that's attached to that fear? And then if you can, kind of. Acknowledge that that dialogue is coming from a place of fear and put it you know in a bit of a parking lot or whatever. Say like I, I get that this internal dialogue is is coming from this place that you know anybody. Listen any successful person you listen to like so many of them will say that fear is never going to guide you to the right place, right? It's probably it's fear. If anything is your distractor. And and and I think that's the great thing is, as you said, of looking to other people because they're not going to have that fear, right? They're they're. They're not that emotion is not a part of. It might be their own internal dialogue, but the conversation they're gonna have with you isn't going to be coming from a place of fear which your own dialogue will be. 

Jalen 

Yeah, because it's your baby that's. That feels like it's at risk, right? 

Carolyn

Totally, that's exactly it. Yeah, I mean you you, you feel like you have so much to lose... and so you act from a place of of loss. But the reality is, is you're not losing anything. 

Jalen 

So so the COVID nitting and pivoting. They had to do to address that wasn't the only thing. The only challenge that that came up right? 

Carolyn 

Yeah, so you know we so COVID March 2020. And then in January of 2021 I got a termination of my lease from my landlord because they were redeveloping the building and so you know that. That came at a. Really interesting time and that we were doing. You know 50% of our original revenue there was. I wasn't making any money there. You know, every every bit of money that was coming into the bank account was just to cover costs. So the idea of having to find a new location. Do a build out and all while you're still trying to build a business, back that in. You know, going back to that fear I I didn't know whether fitness was ever going to come back right? I did, I mean you you have this, you have where people truly had changed their habits and and going back into a. Excuse me, a brick and mortar exercise studio. Very uncertain, right? It it was, it was definitely the fitness industry I think across Canada and the US has definitely been one of the industries that's been hit the hardest because a lot of people found more flexibility from working out from home. Lots of equipment was bought for people's homes, so. So I think I had this. Wow I'm getting kicked out of my my location and am I ready to? Spend the time and the money. Money, of which I don't have to continue this journey and I you know I. Going back to relying on other people is definitely I called up one of my managers and I was he was the first person that I shared the news with. He's somebody that's worked with me for over 10 years and. You know, I mean, he kind of said, like, think about it for a moment are are you done because you know ten 11-12 years in? If you're done, you're done, and that's OK. And I I think I quickly responded. I'm not done because I believe so much in what we do. I believe so much in. Giving people a space that they feel a community and and also just building mental emotional physical strength. I think that when you feel strong, you feel confident and when you feel confident, the. The impact that you get to make in your world is is incredible. And and not just, you know, not just superficial confidence but like real confidence and so. I decided I wasn't done and so it was then a very quick. OK, let's get to work. And I think we we in that time decided that it was probably instead of building the location that I had downtown was over 3000 square feet. It had two studios, a big locker room and we decided maybe not doing something quite the same size, but trying to find a place downtown and then also a place. For Mount Pleasant up Main Street, so moving from one location and trying to do 2 locations. So I found a space on Main Street, but my downtown took a lot longer to find and then it was the process of of dealing with the city and getting a permit. And so it was a lot. Oh my gosh, I wrote so many emails to the mayor's office. I called the. 

Jalen 

So it's an adventure. 

Carolyn 

It I called a city planner because I found I think it was on the redevelop. Equipment application for my old location. I found a city planner's name, so I just found his phone number, and I called him every single day, and I emailed him and I I think I even sent him text messages. I mean, I'm sure he thought I was absolutely crazy, but I think it's that whole idea of when you don't feel in control of something, right? How do we behave when we don't feel in control and when we're governed by fear? And I absolutely it was. Yeah, I just I. I was just not going to give up and then at some point I think at some point I even contacted the Vancouver Sun so they did an article on me of like how to deal with, you know getting through the city cause I think you know. Also I had I had people I had staff that relied on an income. And that's been a really that's been a really important part of these last three years. Was making sure that those. People that our team felt. Like their needs were getting taken care of. And that their employment was important to me and and. So along the way, and and you know, I'm sure there is like. You know, I'm sure you could. Psychoanalyze my what my intentions were or whatever else but but I it was definitely. I want to I want to keep this team. I want to keep this group of people a part of our community and so that was a, you know, it was for sure. Keeping their jobs but also keeping our community and and I knew that if if I was closed for a certain amount of time that our clients would find a new home and I would no longer have a a viable business. And so it was a lot of emailing, calling, texting. I think I even was harassing poor Kennedy, Stewart, Stewart, Kennedy, Stewart. Yay at some point, but I was a little bit relentless and trying to get it done. In the end, we were able to get the studio room built and we were only shut for a week. But we yeah, but it it was. It was a tough process. And then even just you know, doing construction. Last year and and yeah, it it has been a journey. It's I mean so many times. I say you know I'm kind of done with character building experiences. I don't think we're ever done with character building experiences. I think they they will continue to present to themselves and and I think I've I've probably taken a new approach as to. Let's embrace all character building experiences. 

Jalen 

I don't. I don't don't blame you for. Wanting to tap. Out because I mean just going through a renovation can be challenging enough. Far less having all those other things. So aside from it sounds like you had, you know staff that you to you could talk to and you had your husband to talk to. So, beyond having these people who you trusted to talk about what was going on, were there any other strategies? Or things that you did that helped you keep your head above water and keep you moving forward. 

Carolyn 

I back to where I got really into podcasts and really into going for walks and listening to. You know the the thing that I became my quote is I don't need to listen to any more of my unproductive thoughts. I would far rather put all these other very intelligence. Very intelligent peoples thoughts into my brain. So yeah, I just it was. It was truly. Surrounding myself with. The voices of successful and motivating people and and that was what it was. Books I read or podcasts I listened to I. I definitely kind of gobbled up other people's views and. Journeys and words of wisdom and whatever else, because it was. I I needed if I was going to continue to be motivating and inspiring and whatever else to my staff to my clients to my kids I needed. To fill my bank up with other people. 

Jalen 

Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Yeah, can't give from an empty bucket. So in looking back. If you could go back in time and whisper something super helpful into your ear. Any thoughts on what that might be? 

Carolyn 

Yes, I think. Confidence in myself. I think having. Embracing that these difficult, difficult situations are going to make me a better person. I think one of the. You know, I looked today kind of at the at the place that I am. With my life, and oftentimes I think you know, I'm I'm 44 and I think my 20s were truly about like just making myself happy, right? Like you feel you just constantly focus on filling up your bank and then you're 30s are a continuation of that and you're kind of getting settled in your career and whatever else. And the way I'm embracing my 40s is that my 40s are. How can I make the world a better place and that it actually doesn't have to do with me? I think it is we're I'm now on this. The the last part of or whatever left. Have in my journey is is having. Positive impacts on other people, and whether that's my kids or my staff or my husband or my friends or whatever else but how? How do we continue to show up in this world that makes the world better and? So I think. If we get less focused on ourselves, sometimes too. You know I was listening to this guy, Russ Roberts. He has a podcast called ECON talks, but he has a book called Wild Problems and he said, you know, do you want to be? The only man on stage or do you want to be a part of an ensemble? And if you're a part of an ensemble, think of the great things that you can create, and I think that's like. I think it's a really refreshing view to take that we are part of a big team, right? We are part of this ensemble and I think if I had. If I had been more in that place from the beginning of like I'm not alone, I'm a part of something bigger and. And being a part of something bigger means collectively we'll get. We'll get to the other side versus I gotta figure this out by myself and all the weight is on my shoulder, right? But I think I, I think. Just yeah, maybe that whisper of like you're not alone you you've got people and you're a. Part of you're part of some a great team and you as a team will collectively move forward in this. 

Jalen 

And it also sounds like your your awareness and your awareness, openness and commitment to being of service is also a a big contributor to what motivates you and keeps you focused. 

Carolyn 

Absolutely, I think. I think that. Having a life of service and where I serve other people and whether that's in friendship or in work or my kids or whatever else. I think. You know it's it's. It's how I don't remember when where I was listening to this, but the dopamine, I think release that you get when you actually donate money is the same as if somebody were to hand you a check for the same amount of money, right? I think it's it's this acknowledgement that actually. The living a life of service and is is really gratifying. And and it it's not going to make me wealthy, but it's going to. I'm gonna feel good every day and I'm gonna really, really like what I'm doing with my life. 

Jalen 

Well, I want to thank you so much Carolyn for sharing with me today, I'm sure. Everyone who's listening will have gotten something really helpful from that. And you know, part of this is. Creating that experience of we're in this together, we can help each other. And, UM. Yeah, I really enjoyed our time today. 

Carolyn 

Well, thank you. This was such an honor to be to chat with you today. I my husband said to me earlier. He said, remember, don't go off in tangents because I like to go off in tangents.  But no, it's I, you know I, I think. We all have our. We all have a story of of our life and and it. Actually feels. Very fulfilling, right? To share that story. So thank you for chatting with me. Thank you for asking me all these questions because it's. It's a privilege to get to speak about it. 

Jalen 

You're welcome.  

Resilience

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