Chantal: Ryan, welcome along. Thank you so much for joining us on the show.
Ryan: It’s a pleasure.
Chantal: I recently read your book, The Obstacle is the Way, and throughout the book, you refer to stoicism and you reference case studies from ancient philosophers. Can you explain stoicism in simple terms?
Ryan: I can. When people hear ancient philosophy, they think it’s going to be very impractical. It’s going to be very theoretical. What’s so wonderful about stoicism is that it is the opposite of all those things. It’s very practical, and it’s very simple. The definition that I give, obviously I don’t want to sort of sell the philosophy short, but my definition of stoicism is basically, the stoic beliefs that they don’t control the world around them, but they always control how they respond. This is really a super power, if you think about it. It gets us to focus on self-discipline, on making sure we’re not jerked around by destructive emotion. It makes us focus on where we can have influence, or where we can make a difference. It makes sure that we’re not throwing ourselves at things that are beyond us. It’s this sort of philosophy that I think lends itself very well to entrepreneurship. It lends itself very well to athletics, to business. It’s sort of an operating system for to live in, in a world that’s chaotic and challenging, and a world that we’re trying to make a place for ourselves in.
Chantal: Ryan, the case studies that you share in the book though, reference how we can actually turn adversity into opportunity for growth. Can you share one of those examples with us?
Ryan: The stoics believe that although things might go wrong, like we set out to do one thing and it doesn’t work out, or some obstacle comes between us and that object. The stoics would say, well this is just an opportunity for us to do something else that’s equally beneficial, that’s also an opportunity for excellence. So again, it’s this sort of redirection of our emotions. It’s not trying to make whatever we wanted to happen, happen at all costs. It’s saying, well what is possible here? What can I do, and let me focus my energy there? I focus on all these stories from history and from philosophy because what you tend to see is that is how successful people have always operated, and do always operate.
Ryan: I talk about Marcus Aurelius in the book. He’s one of the most famous stoics, and also happens to be the Emperor of Rome, but he never wanted to be the Emperor of Rome. In fact, he wanted to be a philosopher. That’s what he was trained for. That’s what he thought his calling was. He somehow finds himself, basically, the leader of the world. He has some resistance to this, and then he realizes, oh actually, this is the grandest possible stage for me to practice this philosophy. This is … I will have far more influence here, far more opportunities here to do these things that I say that I believe in. I can have far more impact than I ever thought.
Ryan: It’s again, it’s sort of about putting aside our resistance, and embracing the opportunities that are inherent in everything that comes our way.
Chantal: I think it’s fair to say that in business, and in life, we’re faced with challenges, and for many of us, our initial reaction is to feel stressed, or feel angry or upset. So, when those obstacles arise, how can we best handle the situation?
Ryan: The stoic wants you to focus on seeing it as objectively as possible. Epictetus is one of the stoic philosophers, it’s not things that upset us, but it’s our judgements about them. Something happens, something objective event, it happens. Then we decide to label it unfair or a setback, or unexpected, or frustrating, or hopeless. These are labels that we put on it. They don’t change the event, but they do change how we feel about it. So the stoic says, the first thing we want to do is sort of make sure we’re not making a bad situation worse by labelling it a bad situation. I think most of us, when we face adversity, make that adversity harder by throwing ourselves a pity party, or reacting emotionally to it. All of this is taking away energy that we could be directing at solving that problem.
Chantal: You are the keynote for the 2018 Athletic Business Show. Tell us briefly what attendees can expect to see from your keynote presentation.
Ryan: We’re going to walk through this philosophy that has been the secret to the success of Emperors, and gold medal athletes, and brilliant entrepreneurs, and artists. It’s helped people for thousands of years, overcome some of the hardest problems that the world has ever created. We’re going to do it in a really practical, accessible way. It’s going to leave everyone with real lessons and real strategies for being better at what they do.
PART 2 – MARKETING
Chantal: Now, we are going to take a completely different change of pace, now.
Chantal: When I shared your bio with everyone earlier, I mentioned, of course, your marketing background. You were the Director of Marketing for American Apparel for six years, and you’re the founding partner for Brass Check Marketing, so there is no way I could have you on this show without actually tapping into that marketing expertise.
Chantal: To give you a bit of background, Ryan, the fitness industry, it’s a crowded market. I’m sure you know that. There’s lots of competition. There’s new facilities opening up every single week in new locations. From your perspective, what advice would you give to a gym owner, or a manager who needs to ensure that their business stands out from the crowd?
Ryan: I believe that each and every person is completely unique. We have a unique set of DNA. We have a unique environment that we were raised in. We have unique parents. We have had unique experiences. We’re totally unique, right? Yet, when we start businesses, so much of what we do is copying other people, and then we wonder why we don’t stand out. I know this isn’t going to necessarily feel like marketing, because people think that marketing is promotion, but marketing is really how your idea gets out into the world, or your business gets heard about by people.
Ryan: What I would say is, the first thing I would do if I was a gym owner looking to expand or grow, or get my first customers, I would go with: How do I stand out in the market? If you are opening a gym, and it is exactly like all the other gyms, there isn’t anything that your customers or friends can use … The reason CrossFit exploded is because it was very different than everything else. The reason that P90X exploded is that it was different than everything else. The reason that most of the products that we use and talk to other people about, the reason we do that is that they have something special. They have an angle or something distinct about them. That’s not an accident. Before we put promotional effort into our product, we’d do well to focus on improving, and adding, and reshaping what we’re trying to sell in such a way that it is inherently marketable.
Chantal: I have this vague memory in my head that I read that you are … Are you a runner and a CrossFitter?
Ryan: I am, yes.
Chantal: All right, I did hear right!
Chantal: Tell me. I’m just going slightly off script. I’m interested to know, for an author, for someone who leads a very busy lifestyle like you do, what does exercise bring to your life?
Ryan: I mean, it’s everything to me. So much of my day is obviously sitting there thinking. It’s being inside my own head, and so to have something as part of my routine every day. I do some form of strenuous exercise. Usually I run or I swim. Sometimes I end up going to the gym, but having that thing that’s so different, allows me to put my work aside and get into a different head space. I would say that probably 30% of what I’ve written was created, or came to me, while I was working out, in one form or another. I think this idea of … Look, if I was working in a gym all day, I’d have some quiet time when I was writing or binging. That would be the opposite. I think this ability to go from sort of hot to cold, or night to day, or whatever, this opposite, I think it creates insights that are very beneficial.
Chantal: So Ryan, let’s get back onto marketing for a second. What would you say the three most important marketing rules that every fitness business owner should adhere to?
Ryan: Three rules. I would say one, be something unique and different and distinct, and this is the best marketing decision you make. I’d say two, you have to know what a customer is worth. I’m always shocked. People are spending tons of money on advertising, or promotion, or whatever, and I go, “What’s the customer worth to you?” They don’t have a number. They don’t know that an average member is worth $112 a year. The lifetime value is $700. They don’t know what a customer’s worth, and so it’s like, how can you know whether your marketing is being effective or not? Then number three would be that word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing there is. So, often what I do with clients is go, “Look, where are your customers coming from now? Who are your customers now? How can we turn those people into evangelists for what we’re doing here? How can we use the people who have already used the product as a form of advertising or a form of referrals?” Let’s not think about anything else until we get those three things crossed off.
Chantal: Ryan, going back to our original conversation, could you share with us your top three tips for handling obstacles in our workplace?
Ryan: Sure. The first would be to see things as objectively as possible. Don’t pile judgements on top of something. A pipe breaks, it’s not a bad thing. It’s a broken pipe and you’re gonna fix it. Someone is late. That’s not a life-ending event. They’re just late. I’d focus on seeing things as objectively as possible.
Ryan: Two, I would manage … Let’s manage our emotions. I think too often, particularly in athletics where we think that passion is very important, but a player’s who too passionate, is the one who gets a technical when a bad call comes in from a ref, or takes things too far, or gets caught up. Managing our emotions, this is essential.
Ryan: I think the third part is having this sort of determination and perseverance. If these things were easy, as starting their own business or succeeding in fitness was easy, everyone would do it and there wouldn’t be any money in it, right? If getting people healthy was as simple as saying, “Hey, you should get healthy, here’s why.” There wouldn’t be a need for any fitness professionals. It would all take care of itself. So, the fact that it’s hard. The fact that most people fail at it. These seem frustrating, but they’re in fact, good things. It’s what’s created the ability to make a living doing, and teaching, and providing value. Those would be three quick rules.
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