Sarah Robb O’Hagan turned around the Gatorade brand, led Equinox through reinvention, and this year assumed the position of CEO at Flywheel Sports. She’s also been fired — twice — a topic she is more than willing to broach as part of her movement to help others realize their full potential through self-discovery and risk-taking. At the 2017 WISE/R Symposium, Robb O’Hagan spoke to journalist Jane McManus about her book, Extreme You: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat., which she left her job as president of Equinox to write. Below is a portion of that conversation, edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Jane McManus: What is a career these days?
Sarah Robb O’Hagan: When I graduated college, I didn’t feel this enormous pressure that we put on young people today to be perfect. The amazing people I interviewed for my book, many of them didn’t know what they were going to be until they were 40, and I think it made me realize that it’s high time that we almost took the pressure off and showed a different way. What I believe a career is today, it’s about taking every opportunity to understand who you are and figure out what blows your hair back, what you feel amazing at, what you suck at, all of the above, and you will get to where you’re going. But if you start with this “I must be perfect,” “I must have this job,” “I must get to this place,” chances are you’re going to miss a lot of the forks in the road that are the awesome ones.
JM: In the news, we see that Uber’s CEO has resigned, a rash of things happening on his watch that are not so great, and one of them was the culture. I kind of wonder even if you were the best engineer, totally driven, and you were a woman in that environment, you probably couldn’t be the best version of you because the culture doesn’t seem to support that. How much does gender factor in?
SRO: You have to be aware of it, obviously, but don’t ever let it become such a hot spot for you that it clouds your confidence to just go for it. And I do think we all find ourselves in environments from time to time that are not bringing out the best in us that could be for gender reasons; it could be for all sorts of other reasons. That is the moment when I do think you have to make a choice. If you’re in an environment and you legitimately know that you cannot be the best you want to be, you can either be the person bitching beside the watercooler — like I was at Virgin, who eventually gets fired for it — or make a move. Carve your own path.
JM: Your book, the advice obviously applies to either gender, but you said that you’ve gotten some very unique feedback because you’re a woman, and so people assume that this is advice for women.
SRO: What is that about? Why is it that it’s completely OK from a media standpoint that any of us in this room would read a book that was written by a man, but because it’s written by a woman, it can’t be relevant for guys. That has really been eye-opening for me as something I believe all of us — the next generation, as well — really need to be aware of and stand up and say something about. I have gone out of my way with my publisher to find exclusively male channels because I think we have to figure out how to not be in our female echo chamber all the time. It’s not right that young men and young boys shouldn’t be growing up and learning from the experiences of really great women.
JM: You chose to accept the position of CEO of Flywheel when you were in a place where you were not sure what you wanted to do next. What was the impetus?
SRO: I was absolutely not planning to get a job because I was planning to launch my book, and I had a whole bunch of stuff going on there. This opportunity came up, and I was like, “Absolutely not.” And then, it was really interesting to me the more I got to know Lew Frankfort — who is the main investor behind it — the more I got to spend time talking to him, to see what he dreamed of doing, what this little business could be and what my skill set was. It was almost like the act of writing the book had really helped me have this incredibly strong filter for what I wanted to do next. I had other opportunities that on paper might have looked bigger and more impressive, but I was like, I don’t care anymore. I want to do something where I get up every day and I just friggin’ love it.
Read Extreme You book review.
WISE Member Exclusive: Watch the full interview.