31: The Art Of Slowing Down To Get Ahead
Six years ago Catherine Zack left her prestigious title and large paycheck
as a corporate litigator to pursue yoga. She shares how she helps type-A,
success-driven (perhaps even workaholic) entrepreneurs slow down
and reconnect to their greatest resource: themselves.
Catherine and I are one of the success stories of technology. We met on Instagram. This was at a time I was feeling burned out; I couldn’t see past the next thing on my to-do list. And in walked Catherine -- a source of light who can hold space and envelops you in her calming presence.
She’s pushed me to be more considerate in how I’m taking care of myself so I can show up as a better leader, a better mom, a better wife, and a better business owner.
This conversation is important -- and not because we’re talking dollars and growth strategies -- but because as the owner of your business you are its most precious resource. And you have to take care of yourself if you want to grow.
MEET CATHERINE ZACK
A decade ago, Catherine’s life looked a lot different than it does today. She was about to graduate from a top 10 Ivy League law school and embark on a career as a corporate litigator at a renowned law firm in Washington DC.
Looking in from the outside, she was a type-A overachiever who seemed to have it all figured out. But a few years into that fast-paced, high-stakes, sleep when you’re done big law life, Catherine finally looked up and realized that a career path toward partnership wasn’t for her.
Though she could hustle and grind with the best of them, her heart and soul simply weren’t i the work. So six years ago, Catherine walked away from her prestigious title and paycheck without a script for success.
FROM CORPORATE LITIGATOR TO YOGA STUDENT
Catherine first discovered yoga in the early 2000s, before the boom of yoga in the U.S Back then it was a pretty unassuming practice and industry, not clouded by social media. It took her from high school to college to law school.
In a way it became something that if she didn’t do -- or cross off her list -- she felt bad about it.
Still, she stayed on her the path she had pre-planned for her life. As a good student, she found success in the classroom. That led her to NYU where she kept making decisions based on the “next right thing.” As any high-performing student might do, Catherine sat for the LSATs and was accepted to UPenn’s law school.
It appeared to everyone that she was thriving. But even at that point the anxiety and pressure of it all was starting to eat away at her.
Once in law school, she became a shell of herself. She lost a ton of weight and was feeling signs of burnout at 22 years old. But she never stopped to consider what this kind of lifestyle was doing to or for her.
After law school, as a corporate litigator for big law in DC, she kept her head down. Placed on all the right teams, pitching clients, and leading social committees, she thrived. She had become the poster child for a law career.
But in the background, yoga kept coming back to the surface. She found a great studio and could afford yoga teacher training, so as a professional with money to spare, she enrolled in her new weekend hobby.
GETTING OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD
Quickly after enrolling in yoga teacher training, she got placed on a case that took her out of DC for an extended period. It was a no-brainer to put the training on pause.
When that particular case settled, three months later, it was the first time in her twenties that Catherine took the time to pick up her head and look around. Nothing around her looked like something that felt right for her life.
“I don’t belong here,” she thought to herself.
While she realized corporate law wasn’t for her, yoga wasn’t an apparent next step...quite yet.
She started spending more time at the yoga studio. Its warm space, filled with natural light, felt like a stark contrast to her tiny air-conditioned, fluorescent-lit, windowless office.
Around the same time, the owners of her yoga studio posted a need for a Studio Manager. So in 2014, she quit her job to teach a couple classes a week and manage that very studio, giving her a soft place to land.
YOGA SCHOOL DROPOUT
When she delivered the news to the partners at her firm, she got one of two reactions.
#1: Wow, that’s really cool. It was almost like you could hear them thinking about what path might be more joyful and supportive.
#2: Well, I totally understand -- it’s a really stressful, high stakes job. As if the only narrative they could pull together in their hand was one in which I was leaving because I couldn’t handle it.
One thing she noticed after leaving the firm was that there was one kind of intelligence that was valued -- the analytical, quantitative way of thinking through the world.
But there are so many other types of intelligence.
We can use our heads for things like strategic thinking and planning but sometimes we have to drop a bit deeper into our heart, our gut, and to the seat of our intuition to make the best decisions for our businesses -- things like pivoting your brand or taking on a new client.
CULTIVATING A DAILY PRACTICE
Catherine doesn’t just teach others how to do the right yoga poses. She helps them create a daily practice that allows them to set aside time for themselves to be with their body, their breath, the crazy thoughts running through their mind, anxieties, worries, and fears.
We’re fed the narrative day and night that you have to hustle and grind to be the best. But she believes it’s impossible to have a moment of clarity and check in on yourself -- and your business -- if you aren’t putting time aside each and every day.
If you find yourself saying, “I just need to do this and then I’ll slow down,” let me assure you: a daily practice doesn’t need to be throwing on your Lululemon pants and driving to your yoga studio or adding to your never-ending to-do list.
Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, carried away, or distracted, you can simply check in with the rise and fall of your breath. And just in that moment, just by touching your physical body, that’s meditation. That’s practicing presence.
Mindfulness can also look like single-tasking: driving without the radio on or walking the dog without listening to a podcast. It can be turning off notifications or turning off your phone.
Listening to the wind. Listening to the sound of your own breath. That right there is a practice. You don’t have to schedule it to get in the flow.
Over the next year, Catherine’s preparing to bring more of her programs and practice online. With a podcast in the works and -- potentially -- a new retreat center home, she’s keeping her own practice sacred to guide her way.