Career Stage

Five Leadership Lessons I Learned in Yoga Class

I’ve learned countless leadership lessons from Jennifer Borrowman. She’s not a career coach. She’s not a colleague. She’s not even in the same field as me. Jen is my yoga teacher — and there’s a reason her classes at Purenergy Studio in Paoli, PA, are so popular. She bursts into each class, excited to share something she has just read or been contemplating that relates to our yoga practice that day, and these nuggets of wisdom stay with me.

For the past six months, I’ve been creating and curating content for Forté’s new professional development programs for early-career women, incoming MBA women, and women poised to move up to the VP or C-suite level. At every career level, women face similar challenges, from overcoming imposter syndrome to stepping out of their comfort zones. As I design professional development programs for women leaders, I often find myself returning to Jen’s words of inspiration.

If you ever have an opportunity to take a yoga class with Jen Borrowman, I encourage you to do so. But just in case you never have a chance to hear from her in person, I’ll share some highlights here:

1. Trust yourself. Jen recently shared the theory that fear is the opposite of trust, and it really resonated with me. Too often, we let our fear of failure hold us back. We don’t make a career move, volunteer for a stretch assignment, or try a challenging yoga pose — even when we know that it would be good for us and that we are capable. Instead of trusting that we have what it takes to succeed, we second-guess ourselves and give in to imposter syndrome. To overcome our fears, we have to trust ourselves. This is how we develop new skills and capabilities.

2. Push your limits. Jen encourages her students to “Be on the edge.” In yoga, this is about stretching yourself to the point where you feel discomfort, but not pain. Stretching makes you more flexible and resilient, and those attributes are just as valuable in your career. Maybe you’re nervous about speaking up in a meeting, raising your hand with a question, or taking on a leadership role for the first time. Instead of pulling back, lean into it. Get comfortable with that discomfort, because that’s how you grow.

3. Be different. Jen says that when she looks at the class, she is happiest when everyone is doing something a little different. She provides suggestions and direction, but ultimately, each of us makes the yoga positions our own. Sometimes, we make slight adjustments; other times, we might be doing child’s pose when everyone else is in downward dog. Our bodies are different, and we’re all getting something different from the class, so Jen doesn’t want us to compare ourselves with the person on the next mat.

Recently, some of the incoming MBA women in Forté’s MBA Takeoff program discussed the anxiety they feel when they compare themselves to other new MBA students. That person is already interviewing for summer 2023 internships? That person attended a pre-MBA math camp? These comparisons aren’t helpful, because just as every yoga student is on a different mat, every MBA student is on a different career journey. Instead of looking at what others are doing, focus on what feels important to you. The next time you feel a twinge of envy or insecurity about what someone else is doing, take a deep breath and bring your attention back to your own path.

4. Move like a toddler. Jen likes to remind us that toddlers explore every day with curiosity, eager to learn. When they fall down, they get up and try again. Toddlers have a growth mindset because they are literally growing, but we can all benefit from thinking this way.

Being a leader means trying new things — in yoga class and in life — even if it means you might stumble or make a mistake. As we get deeper into our careers, we tend to lean into the things that we know we are good at. We develop subject matter expertise. And while this serves us well for a long time, it also limits our openness to possibilities or options that don’t fit our cultivated image of ourselves. If you moved with the energy and curiosity of a toddler, what might you do differently?

5. Practice. Toddlers take 2,368 steps an hour when then are learning to walk. Sometimes they are just moving in place, but even so, that amount of steps covers about .44 miles. When Jen shared these statistics with the class, she pointed out that toddlers don’t just wake up one morning able to walk. It takes practice — lots of practice.

I’ve found that many early career women need this reminder. They’re in a hurry to advance up the career ladder, so they jump from job to job without giving themselves the time to strengthen their skills or build meaningful connections. By taking time to “practice” in her current role, an early career woman deepens her knowledge and experience, builds her reputation, and cultivates her network. At the same time, she’s learning what she wants and signaling to others where she wants to go, which ultimately helps her get where she wants to go faster.

I’m glad to know Jen Borrowman and grateful for all of her lessons. She’s made me a better yogi — and a better leader.

Learn more about Forté’s leadership programs: Career Strategist for early-career women, MBA Takeoff for incoming MBA women, and Forté Rise for women preparing to move up to the VP or C-suite level.

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