In her words: Jen Brown

Where were you born and where did you spend your childhood?

I was born and raised in Penrith, NSW at the base of the beautiful Blue Mountains. Growing up, we were the typical “free-range kids” with a backyard swimming pool, a bike and instructions to be home in time for dinner. But having said that, I was not sporty at all. Our parents made my brother and I do one sport each year; for me, that was netball during Winter in Primary School and Softball during summer in High School. But that was it — otherwise all day every day, during weekends and school holidays, you would find me on the couch with my head buried in a book. I was – and still am – a bookworm first and foremost! A few years ago, Mum said to me: “who are you and what have you done with my daughter?”. I don’t think either of us could have anticipated the transformation from a shy, introverted, book-loving, non-sporty kid who was very much a homebody to a (still shy, introverted & book loving) outdoor adventure mad woman who loves nothing more than running along muddy trails or riding mountain bikes!

Where did your professional dream begin?

I was about 15 or 16 when I decided I wanted to be a Lawyer. I honestly have no idea why I chose that. I think it was a combination of my love of the 80s & 90s TV show “LA Law” and it seemed like the single hardest thing I could think to do. I didn’t get the marks to study law in my HSC so I moved to Lismore in Northern NSW and studied a paralegal degree at the University of New England (now, Southern Cross University). I got high enough marks to then enter their Graduate Law program. After graduating, I moved back to Sydney and started my 13 year career as a Lawyer. I loved the work and my clients but I became disillusioned with the style of management that law firms adopted at the time (I’m happy to see things are slowly changing now). This disillusionment coincided with an early 30s life crisis, calling off an engagement and an increasing interest in sports. So I went on to become a Personal Trainer and then a Running & Triathlon Coach. And that has led me my current passion / obsession; sport as a catalyst to change the way women see themselves. It’s been a long and winding road, to say the least!

Tell me a little about your business and where your passion comes from?

Early in my days as a Running and Triathlon Coach, I had two powerful realisations. The first was that I was having very different conversations with my male clients as opposed to my female clients. My male clients would ask ‘technical’ questions ~ about training sessions, equipment, nutrition etc. However, my female clients were primarily discussing their fear and self-doubt; what if they failed? What would other people think? Were they “good enough”? And I came to realise what held many women back was not their physicality; it wasn’t how fit, fast or strong they were. What held them back was the mindset and mental side of performance.

And secondly, I saw how powerful sport is as a catalyst for changing the way women see themselves. I’ve seen it in my own life and in the lives of the women I work with daily; when they achieve a physical goal they didn’t think they could, it unlocks a deep sense of strength, resilience and confidence that ripples into other parts of their life and the lives of the people around them. I’ve seen women go onto apply for promotions, ask for a raise or apply for a new job they weren’t sure they were qualified for. And each has attributed their newfound confidence to the sporting goals they’ve achieved.

So Sparta Chicks was launched as a vehicle to have deeper, more meaningful conversations about these issues and to share practical tools, strategies and tactics women can use to work through and past their fear and self-doubt; in sport and in life. It’s since grown into a coaching business, online community, popular podcast and soon, a conference! 

What have you learnt about yourself during your career?

 So much! For much of my life, I prided myself on the fact I was a ‘perfectionist’. But I’ve realised now that perfectionism (and the procrastination that often followed) is a shield; it’s how I protect myself from my fear of being judged, of failing and generally not being “good enough”. Now I remind myself to “just ship it” as Seth Godin would say and to get my work out into the world.

I’ve learnt it’s normal to feel like a fraud and to question whether you are “good enough” at times. The secret, I’ve realised, is to make sure those thoughts and feelings don’t stop you and instead that you keep taking action in spite of those doubts.

A lesson I learnt early in my sports/adventure career is that I’m capable of so much more than I could possibly imagine. However, it’s been a much slower process for me to learn, and believe it, as a business owner. But looking back over the last two years, in which time I’ve written a book, launched a weekly podcast and am now hosting my first conference, I’m starting to believe it as a business owner too. 

What 3 key gems of advice would you share?

  1. Question your fears. Examine them. Pick them apart. Challenge them. Don’t take them at face value because 99% of the time, you have probably over-exaggerated the risk!
  2. Share your stories; both the highs and the lows, the achievements and the screw-ups. Not only do stories create real connections, it gives the people around you permission to share their stories too. We are all so guarded and fearful of being judged for our success and our failure. But the more openly we speak, the less shame we experience.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have always despised asking for help. I used to think it made me weak and vulnerable. But now I think it takes great strength and vulnerability to ask for help. And make sure you accept it when it’s offered!

 

What are some of the mistakes you made and learnings from them?

Gosh! So many. Not looking after my own health has been a massive one. And yes I appreciate the irony of someone in the sports industry not looking after their own health and fitness! In the early days of my business, I prioritised the business over everything, to the detriment of my health and my relationships. It’s still something I struggle with as the ‘to-do’ list never ends. But interesting it’s also taught me that I don’t need to go out and slog through a one hour run for it to “count”. Even a 20 minute walk first thing in the morning is enough to stretch my legs, clear my head and set me up for a day that’s not only productive but one in which I continue to make smart and healthy choices too.

The other major mistake I made was holding onto my first business for too long. I had moved on but didn’t want to formally announce it’s closure because I was scared of the closure being seen as a “failure”. I carried that mental and emotional weight around for far too long!

Oh, and I wish I had prioritised profit from the start too!!

What keeps you going?

My clients and the women I talk with on a daily basis. There are bad days in business that make you question everything. But then I’ll speak with a client or get an email out of the blue from a podcast listener about how much they love the podcast and the impact it has had on their life, and it re-energises me! Plus I have the most amazing support network around me; my husband is my rock and keeps me sane. I’m close to my parents – we go out for a walk together every Friday morning – and they are incredibly supportive too. My Dad even ‘likes’ all my status updates on the Sparta Chicks Facebook page! My parents are so well known by my clients and community, they have their own nicknames – Sparta Mum and Sparta Dad!

How important is it for women to have mentors/their own circle of excellence to guide them?

I can’t describe how important it has been to me. Sometimes you just need a friendly face who understands what you’re experiencing and can give you some moral support. Sometimes you need someone to bounce ideas off so you can get out of your own head. And sometimes you need some tough love and a kick in the butt! Having people in your world who can fulfil all those roles for you is absolutely priceless – and that’s another lesson I wish I had realised earlier!

What’s next in the journey of BRAND YOU

I am hosting my first conference later this year called Sparta Chicks Unleashed which is incredibly exciting! The goal of the conference is to bring the podcast – Sparta Chicks Radio – to life, by providing a space for deeper, more meaningful connections and conversations about issues that affect women who love endurance sports. I would also like to do more speaking, panels and workshops. I absolutely love it and would like more opportunities to share the knowledge and experience I’ve developed around the role and impact of fear, self-doubt and the Imposter Complex in all aspects of our life.

Your favourite things:

*        Destination: Nepal

*        Drink: Espresso Martini or coffee (do you notice the theme?)

*        App: Instagram

If you were a hashtag what would it be?

#youvegotthis

Jen

Hi, I’m Jen Brown - the Chief Coach and owner of Sparta Chicks.I’ve created #Sparta Chicks to bring together women all around the world who enjoy triathlons or trail running and who want to feel more confident and pursue all the big, and sometimes seemingly impossible dreams you've always had (without self-doubt or fear standing in their way).

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