How can you take what you love and make it your business? What do you do with the criticism and ‘haters’ that come as you start to grow an audience? Do you need a partner to help make it a reality, and if so, how do you choose one? How do you succeed in a crowded field? What’s the best way to make decisions and take in feedback? How do you create balance as well as balance competition versus collaboration?
I sat down with Jillian Michaels, health and wellness expert and author of The 6 Keys: Unlock Your Genetic Potential for Ageless Strength, Health and Beauty, to discuss all these questions and more. She opens up in our conversation about her lessons learned and best advice for others.
You may know her as the hard-nosed coach on The Biggest Loser or as your virtual trainer with enviable abs. But did you consider her as a successful businesswoman who’s helping millions to live better lives? We went behind-the-curtain to get to know Michaels and learn alongside her.
Let’s dive into the conversation:
Darrah Brustein: For anyone who wants to take his or her passion and turn it into a business, what advice do you have for them?
Jillian Michaels: First, I would encourage them that they are on the right track. The more security we seek in life by following the paths we think we should, the less we end up having. The more we pursue our passion with authenticity, intelligence, and tenacity, the more affluence and abundance we will find. Think about it. Cesar Milan is a guy who really liked dogs. Coco Chanel was an orphaned seamstress who loved fashion. Ms. Fields had one hell of a cookie recipe. Martha Stewart left Wall Street to find a career she loved and started a catering company out of her basement. I am a kid who did lunges to fit into skinny jeans. If we can make an incredible living doing what we love… why not you?
Brustein: We live in a world where it’s easier than ever to criticize, even if you’re not taking action yourself. How do you handle criticism?
Michaels: I ignore it unless it’s constructive and coming from a credible source. Most though is just coming from “haters” who are jealous you have achieved what they hope to.
Brustein: You’re providing tools to people to live a better life. What sparked you to make that your life’s work?
Michaels: Freud said that we have two main areas of our lives in which to find passion and purpose: work and love. What I am passionate about professionally has been my journey personally, whether it was going from a bullied overweight kid to a confident healthy young woman, or helping my partner have the healthiest pregnancy possible while she carried our son, or defying all the preconceived notions on aging while being in the best shape of my life in my 40’s. I know that physical strength and resilience transcends into strength and resilience in all facets of our lives. I also know that your health is the platform on which you will build your life, just as I have. For these reasons, I care deeply about empowering others in the same way that I was.
PHOTO CREDIT: BRIAN BOLTON
Brustein: Much of your work is helping people become more confident. Why is that important?
Michaels: Because ultimately I don’t care about crunches or lunges. In fact, I kinda hate them while I am doing them. That said, fitness is simply one tool to help people achieve the bigger goal of improving their self esteem and self worth as well as their belief in their abilities. And, when we have these things working for us, and we are feeling more confident, we are better able to tolerate the work, sacrifice, and risk associated with a meaningful, passion-filled life.
Brustein: As markets change and so many of us will need to iterate our careers and businesses, what have you learned about evolving to stay relevant?
Michaels: You really don’t need to “reinvent” yourself if your work remains top quality. No matter what your business, the cream will always rise. I have the longevity I have because I deliver on my promises. If I tell you I can take 10 pounds off you, give you abs, make you look 10 years younger, help you have the healthiest baby possible… I mean it. I can. I’ve evidenced that for years now. And while the information I put out does require work on the part of the end user, it delivers on its promise. For that reason, whether you love me or you hate me, you do know that I walk the walk and talk the talk. You can trust me. And if you want results, you can count on me. There really is no collab I could do with a youtuber, or hair cut/fashion-forward change I could make, that would ever replace my credibility.
Brustein: You’re an incredible example of collaboration taking precedence over competition. Or, said differently, of having an abundance mentality, rather than one of scarcity. Can you elaborate on this perspective?
Michaels: Competition is for sports, not business. Intelligent business owners stand on their own two feet without needing to worry about other people in their category. I have always found that to be based in fear is an absolute waste of time. The first thing we should be focused on is how we can make our product the best, not what our competitors are doing. By its very nature it lacks authenticity, which in my opinion is suicide for a brand. And even more importantly, looking at the other people in your space as complementary is key. In my experience, working WITH them to share audiences and elevate your product or program will yield amazing results 9 times out of 10.
Brustein: What do you suggest for those who are looking to make a name for themselves in a crowded field?
Michaels: Be unapologetically opinionated. Make a statement. Make a splash. Stay in your truth. Diplomacy is for politicians. When your business is your personality, be sure to show it off. Don’t be afraid people will hate you, because they will. And who cares? Millions of people hate me, but millions of people like me, and all you need is a core audience to build a business. So speak your truth; haters gonna hate.
PHOTO CREDIT: BRIAN BOLTON
Brustein: In your coaching, you talk about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Practically, how do these differ and play out in your work?
Michaels: Sympathy is one of the worst things you can offer someone. It’s basically a sentiment that says “you are disadvantaged and for that reason I feel for you and only expect the bare minimum from you”. It promotes a false message of lethargy, and disempowers people at their core by validating their deepest, darkest fears that they aren’t capable. Empathy, on the other hand, is critical in motivating or helping someone. Empathy means that you let them know you understand their struggle and you validate their feelings that it’s hard, but you reject the fact that they aren’t capable, and you don’t accept less from them. When you treat people the way you know they should be treated, and believe in who they are and what they can become, they will, in fact, rise up and become just that.
Brustein: Balance is an oft-talked-about topic, especially for business women, particularly those who are mothers, and you’re all three. Do you have any lessons to share with others who are in your shoes, or want to be?
Michaels: Maria Shriver once said, “You can have it all, but not at the same time.” I’d like to modify that statement to read, “You can do it all, just a little bit shittier than you used to”. Bottom line: you must abandon any notion of perfection. We put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all right and do it all ‘well’, but not only is it impossible, after kids it’s a comedy routine. It’s about base hits, not grand slams. And, even if you don’t move forward, but just make it through a year holding your ground, that’s also a win.
Brustein: What does success mean for you, and when you look back at your life, what do you hope to be able to say about it?
Michaels: It means being fulfilled. Having purpose in my work and in my personal life. And honestly, that’s all we can really ask for, and that’s all we can really control.
Brustein: You have a business partner to whom you give much credit for your professional successes. How do you suggest others find and choose a partner?
Michaels: You have to put your ego aside and look at your weaknesses, not your strengths. Then accept that you can’t be good at everything, and look for an individual who can fill in those gaps. Period. End of story. And of course, maybe a background check so you know they aren’t a serial killer. Always get the background check. Kidding, sorta…
LawPHOTO CREDIT: JAMES LAW
Brustein: I read that one of the best pieces of advice you’ve been given was from Suze Orman. She recommended you figure out the balance between how much you trust and rely on others versus how much you stay involved in your business affairs. How have you navigated this advice?
Michaels: Yes. Absolutely. Harkening back to the notion of balance, but applying to a different lesson here: we must never engage in extremes when it comes to management. Too much hands-off and too much hands-on are both recipes for disaster. When you are caught up in micro-managing, you annoy the hell out of your team, but most importantly, you are forced to neglect the macro point of view your business requires. When you trust too much and don’t check in regularly for progress reports on your projects, things can go south… fast and hard. Hence the phrase, “while the cat’s away, the mice will play.” You can have theft happen, projects take wrong turns you didn’t want or anticipate, etc. So, make it a habit to guide your team and check in at regular intervals on their progress without doing the job for them.
Brustein: We share a philosophy that it’s important to do your homework and look at the data, but ultimately, you have to trust your gut and own the outcome. Can you share about a time when the data told you one thing but your gut said another, and how it played out?
Michaels: I’ve made this mistake in a bigger way, in which an expert told me one thing, but my gut told me another. And any and every time I listened to someone else’s take on my life or work, it’s always resulted in disaster.When it comes to the data, I have best seen this play out in my favor when it comes to advertising my products. The data says “these colors” or “this call to action”, etc. And often the data IS right. However, sometimes you have to step outside-the-box and take risks, intelligently calculated, of course. Don’t bet the farm. But hedge those bets strategically, because what’s outside the box often holds the greatest windfall.
Brustein: You are less-often credited for your work as a humanitarian and just simply a thoughtful and kind person in your dealings. What have you learned from living this way?
Michaels: I don’t care what I get credited for, to be fair. I care about how I feel at the end of the day as a result of my relationships with others and with myself. I am well aware that much of what I have comes from privilege. Granted, I worked my way up from nothing and I worked hard, but globally, hundreds of millions are deprived of the opportunities I was given to make my dream a reality. For this reason, the way my conscience reconciles the ways in which the world is so brutally unfair is to share my good fortune and do my part, no matter how small, to bring an equilibrium. To whom much is given, much is required. And I will never disrespect myself by sitting back idly and selfishly taking it all for granted, while other individuals would die to have those chances. I am eternally grateful for what I have, and even more grateful to be in a position to share it.
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This article was originally published on Forbes.com.