In this episode, Maria chats with her guest, Marina Anglim, the co-owner of CrossFit Cove in Columbia, MD, mother of 2 and former VP of Marketing at the Discovery Channel. The conversation revolves around career change and the notion of “life is a lab” – in other words, a place for you to experiment and see what’s working and what’s not.
Marina gives advice on how you can use your current skillset to pursue a different career path, why the “why” is so important, and encourages you to think less linear – to embrace a more ’squiggly’ path…
READ THE TRANSCRIBED EPISODE BELOW:
Hey mamas, welcome back to the Engine Mom podcast. I am so excited for you to listen in on my conversation today. You are going to hear from an all-around “Mom Boss”. She is the co-owner of Crossfit Cove in Columbia, MD, which was voted the number 1 crossfit gym in the country its second year. And – SPOILER ALERT – she is actually the owner of the gym that I coach and train at, so you’ll be able to tell that we have a connection previous to this conversation. She is a mom of two boys, former senior vice president of marketing at the discovery channel, and has been ranked top 3 in Maryland during the Crossfit Open for her age group two years in a row. She is a true badass, and in our chat we are going to be talking about career change and the notion of “Life as a Lab”. In other words, a place for you to experiment and see what’s working and what’s not. She’ll show you how you can use your current skill set to pursue a different career path, and encourages you to think less linear – to embrace a more squiggly path. You’ll see what I mean from this conversation. I know you’re going to get a ton out of it. So please stay tuned for an amazing chat with my guest, Marina Anglim.
MARIA: Hi Marina, welcome to the Engine Mom Podcast! Thanks for joining me.
MARINA: I am thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me!
MARIA: Absolutely. Let’s start off by getting a little bit of background about you. What do you do? What have you done previously? How did you kind of end up where you are? So a little bit about you professionally and also about you personally.
MARINA: Great! Sure! So I should start off with I’m 45 years old, I am a mother of two very busy, loud and messy boys, and I have a husband to go with that mess. We live right now in Baltimore, MD but I grew up outside New York for most of my life. I lived in New York City and I ultimately found my way to Maryland for both love – my boyfriend at the time, now my husband, lived in Arlington – and at the same time work brought me down to this area. So, for years and years I was in marketing and advertising in New York at various agencies, and I had a great opportunity to kind of peg it and join the marketing side at Discovery Channel. So that was my, as I call it, “the first half of my life” because I did that until I was about 40 and in that time at Discovery and after moving to Maryland and marrying my husband we had the kids who are now 8 and 10 and we have settled down into a very nice life space in this area. But the major change I would say over the last few years, kind of after we got acclimated to this space, is that I left Discovery, my husband left his job with the government as a contractor, and we opened up a Crossfit gym, which neither of us would have ever dreamed would be in our future if you asked us that 15 or 20 years ago. So it’s been a really interesting ride of twists and turns, but right now we are owners of an amazing box in Columbia, MD and I couldn’t feel luckier.
MARIA: That’s awesome. I love your story and I think it’s funny that, you know, recently you are getting rid of some of your professional clothes, your board room attire, your heels, that sort of thing, and you’re now downsizing your closet to exclusively fitness gear.
MARINA: Yeah that was a big reality check for me because I think when you change something so dramatically, right? You’re going from a boardroom to a gym. Literally, a boardroom to a gym. So everything about your demeanor and how you look and how you present yourself has to change, like on the drop of a dime. So I think with parting with my wardrobe was that last step of “Wow, you probably aren’t going back, and this is your new life, and it’s OK.” And now my closet looks so organized… [laughs]
MARIA: And now you can spend money on LuLuLemon instead of Jimmy Choo
MARINA: Yeah it was Tory Burch and Chanel and now it’s totally No Bull and Lulu
MARIA: I love it. So can you tell me a little bit about what inspired the transition? Obviously you guys, you and Brian, came up with this idea together, but what was the big inspiration behind it?
MARINA: So I had worked really long hours and really hard to build my career in marketing and advertising, and that meant a lot of tradeoffs. So when my kids were very young I was traveling all the time, I hardly ever saw them. Brian picked up a ton of the slack for the family responsibilities, so tending to the house and tending to the kids. And his career took a back seat but it was a voluntary back seat. This is something we all knew we would be doing for the family. The plan was for us to kind of reassess when the kids got old enough to know. When I say “Old enough to know” it means old enough to know I wasn’t there, or that I was the mom who was missing at the soccer field for the games. Because when they are really little they might know, but it’s so temporary. The “know” now is so lasting. So it was always our plan for me to take a step back when the kids were 6, 8, 10ish and for Brian to kind of follow his dream. And the way it worked for us is that he had an opportunity to leave his job at a time that worked for him. I had an opportunity to leave my job at a time that worked for me, and we were planning for a pivot toward him. What happened was exactly that. I turned to him and said, “Hey, there’s a time that is on the horizon that is time for me to step away. What do you want to do?”I thought it was, “I want to be a big cybersecurity contractor.” or “I want to travel internationally for work.” He was like, “No, I want to open up a Crossfit gym. And I want you to do it with me.” And I looked at him like he had five heads and I was like “That sounds awesome. Let’s do it.” Literally it was one of those life decisions that you make with your gut. We knew we loved Crossfit, and we loved working out together. We loved surrounding ourselves with the kind of community that comes with something like Crossfit, and the fact that we could think about that as a way to make a living was almost too good to be true. So that’s kind of how it happened.
MARIA: It’s funny because I don’t think I ever really knew about Brian’s background professionally, so I cannot see him at all in a security clearance position. It’s just funny to me because I see you guys as owners of the gym, the coaches, the athletes. And that’s the only way that we know you, so it’s really interesting to see.
MARINA: We literally call this place our midlife crisis. We have former lives and they were just very different than what we have now. Most people just know us as this, and if people knew that I was wearing a suit in a boardroom and heels every day they probably almost wouldn’t believe it.
MARIA: Yeah. Definitely. So tell me a little about what that was like. You went from a position where you had worked your way up and spent many years developing yourself in the position of Senior Vice President of Marketing at the Discovery Channel, and all of a sudden training people in Crossfit. So, explain to me what that was like.
MARINA: That’s right. We actually thought we wanted to do this but we didn’t have any experience. We were like “Who is going to trust us to train them, and who is going to pay us money when we have no experience in doing this?” So I believe very firmly, and I’ve kind of approached my whole career this way, that life is a lab. And I mean, not a Lab like a dog – it’s a lab like a living, breathing experimental place that changes every day and you need input. Again, with a marketing background and doing focus groups, I think that was just kind of naturally in my DNA anyway. So we just said “Let’s try it.” So we got our neighborhood friends, we got the minimum order that we needed from Rogue (our equipment supplier) to get free shipping, which was $5000, and we bought kettle bells and plates and some barbells and boxes and we held free classes in the green space in our neighborhood. Because we knew we wanted to serve people like us, meaning 30’s-40’s, not necessarily building a place for the college athlete straight out of the gate, it was great because our neighbors were like us. They were a little older and they had kids and they had different concerns than someone who is playing Division I Baseball might have, so it helped us understand breadth of athlete and we had a ball. People came before work, literally at 5:00 in the morning, before work, in a dark field and we brought spot lights in, we brought a boom box in, and we would train in the morning and then we would train in the evening. It was a great guinea pig test pilot sort of situation for us, and that was the final straw that helped us really make the decision to do this.
MARIA: I love that story. It’s such a great evolution. I’m very curious about how you took the skill set you developed in your marketing position and applied that to your growing business.
MARINA: It’s really funny, when you sit back. The beauty about change and it happening… if you can look back and say why or how. When I look back now and sort of “armchair analyze” what happened, what I loved about marketing and what I loved about my career wasn’t necessarily the ads that we made, even though I loved Shark Week and I loved The Biggest Catch and I loved all of the products I worked on over the years, but my favorite part about my professional career – and I can clearly say this now although I probably could not have at the time – was mentoring. I was a leader in the field and I could take super junior people – I mean green to the business- and I could bring them to the board room and I could have them present a piece of the plan. Or I could bring them to strategy meetings where they could get to see things from a different perspective. I was always a part of the corporate mentoring programs, and I think that watching the growth of these people professionally was something that I just loved, and I wanted to be around it all the time. When I think about what I do now, it’s the same thing. I find the same joy. I find that I get to help and develop and grow people, but in a more physical way now. I should say probably more emotional and we can talk about that in a second, but I take that same raw, talent-hungry, eager to try something new and now I just get to play with that all day. So I actually find that the parallels between what I did before, or what I loved about what I did before, and what I do now are exactly the same.
MARIA: I find that really interesting because a lot of times I hear people say “I’d love to get into this field, but I don’t have any experience so I need to go back to school” or something, but it’s really about just finding specific themes that can overlap.
MARINA: I always tell people you have to dig deep – like you have to really psychoanalyze your self or be self-actualized enough to figure out why you love what you do. Even if you don’t love what you do, I’m sure there are elements that get you out of bed in the morning and get you there. And you have to figure out what that is, and then how does that manifest in something else? To a point it can be in a completely different business but there is that thing that is going to get you excited and that you can apply at home and, you know, do anywhere.
MARIA: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s about finding the joy in the things you’re doing on a day to day basis and bringing that into whatever space you’re in. You talked about finding joy in mentoring and being in that role in your old business, or in your old job, and now at the gym nurturing people’s development is not only physical but also emotional. I think in a sport like Crossfit they definitely go hand in hand. So how do you develop the athlete emotionally? Can you expand on that a little bit?
MARINA: Oh yeah, and I love this. To me, and this is my take on it, it that is all about the “why”. So when I worked in advertising and marketing, someone would say, “well I like this product” or “I like this show.”. Well, why? They would say, “Because it’s entertaining.” Well, why? You have to keep digging to get to the core of what is driving someone. So someone might buy a product and a woman might say, “I buy this product because it cleans better than the other product.” After you dig deeper, what it reveals is that this woman actually feels like a better mom because she’s giving a cleaner house to her kids. You know, there’s usually a deep emotional connection to why we do the things we do. People don’t really realize that. It was my job to kind of get at that and develop branding and positioning around it. And it’s the same thing here. So somebody will come in and say, “Well, I want to lose 5 lbs.” That’s great. Why? “Well I have a wedding coming up.” That’s great, you’re getting married. “Well I haven’t seen this person in 10 years…” and they will go back to some psychological thing where they used to be an athlete and they used to be confident in their body and they just feel like they are getting old. It’s usually tied to something much deeper, and I love scratching away at those layers. So that’s super fun and I think that it’s also what helps make the connection between us and the coaching staff with our athletes so much deeper than any gym or other kind of outlet could.
MARIA: Yeah, I think that our community is unique and I think the Crossfit community in itself is unique in that you’re really bringing people together from all walks of life and giving them an opportunity to connect and sort of share the experience of fitness together. It’s so funny because I talk to friends of mine who are not necessarily involved in Crossfit and they go to a local gym or globo gym where you’ve got all the different machines and you’re kind of in your own zone with your headphones and you’re not really interacting with anybody – you’re just sort of waiting your turn or going and doing your business and then leaving. It’s kind of hard to formulate in your mind what that is like to have friends at the gym or to create relationships at the gym, but it is so true. We have really created a community – you guys have created a community – that is so inviting, that really caters to people from all walks of life. It’s not just for one specific athlete and I think that’s really special because I think that’s exactly what people need at the end of the day on top of getting that sweat therapy session in. It’s really nice to walk in to a safe place and see familiar faces.
MARINA: You know, when you know something about someone and you look at them across the room you can kind of be like, “I got you.” or “I get you.” I think that this place, or this thing called Crossfit, attracts a certain kind. So whether you are 22 or whether you are 62, there is somebody who enjoys – I call it “collaborative suffering”. you come in and work your butt off, but then you’re high 5-ing and maybe you’ll go out for a beer after and it’s this work hard play hard mentality that I think gets people in the door, but then for some reason… I use the analogy that it’s like a church, where people come to pray at the altar of a barbell or they find this sweat notion or this sweat therapy which then allows them to drop the pretense. So people might come in saying “What do you do?” or “How was your day?” and by the end they are telling each other their deepest darkest secrets. You know, you get vulnerable. You’re lying on the floor together, you’re reveling in the aftermath, and people just open up. So I don’t think that happens in a lot of places. You don’t get to the level of a physical intimateness in a public setting. Crossfit results in an emotional openness, and I think that that connective tissue of being open to that, being willing to share, being willing to support the person next to you is what makes this place so special but also makes it not age discriminant. You can be any age and have that desire or that DNA.
MARIA: Yeah, and I know you guys are so dedicated to preserving this sacredness of our community and making sure that it’s a safe place for everybody. You have been lovingly given the nickname “Mama Bear” for many reasons, I think, but as a mom and somebody that is taking care of others, how has that impacted the way that you build your business?
MARINA: Oh my god, yeah. So as I’m called “Mama Bear” I lovingly refer to all of my athletes as my children, and so when Brian and I are having dinner or lying in bed before we go to sleep, we talk about the athletes like they are our kids. I mean, they are. We are helping grow them, we want to nurture them, we want to provide them with a safe environment where they can be expressive and be themselves. That is literally what I do as a parent. I try to create a safe place where they can be who they are and that is a very direct parallel. But in terms of your question about designing a place for that notion and with the parenting kind of blend in mind, I think that it’s a pretty simple answer in my mind, which is that you have to anticipate needs. So say you’re a mom and you’re going to Target and you have a baby. You can’t just grab your keys and go. Do you have the diaper bag? What if they poop? Do I have the diaper in there? Do I have the wipes? What if I get stuck in traffic? Am I going to have to pull over and feed the baby? You have to preemptively think about everything that could go wrong or if things go well. Hey I’m going to have a lollipop or things went well I have the binky. So I literally put that lens on this place and I tried to anticipate needs that people might have before they even knew they had them. So childcare was a no-brainer in terms of “gosh, I can’t even work out unless I have someone to tend to my children in a safe environment.” Great. That’s done. I mean little things like having extra bottles of water free for the members under the sink. Forgot your water bottle? No problem, I’ve got one for you. Go grab one. You know, we’ve got a blender, a kitchen set up so that people can eat their lunch or make their smoothies. They don’t have to worry about making it to the grocery store and picking up something quick before they have to get back to the office after lunch. We really tried to anticipate every scenario of an athlete that might walk in the door that would have either a tiny little need like a glass of water or a big need like somebody to take care of my baby so I can have an hour to myself.
MARIA: Yes, and I know how important that is for any mom just to get a little bit of time to themselves, especially when it comes to self-care and exercise, and knowing that there are people there that you can rely on to take care of your kids. That is so valuable and I know that the moms in the classes where there’s childcare – there’s typically a lot of moms – and we just bond so hard.
MARINA: Right! And like we talked about, the fact that this is such an emotive place. This is the place where you can share things that you might not share in the regular outside world, where you can sweat and these other women and men and just feel really good about yourself after an hour, and to do that without guilt?
Like I know that people just carry such guilt. “Oh my god, I don’t know if I can do the gym because I have to do ….. and so-and-so is going to be upset…” You kind of either have to be the person who can turn that off, which is really hard, or you can try to find a place that tries to alleviate that guilt for you. Again, tending to your little ones so you can have that hour is priceless, right? Although it’s free here. [laughs]
MARIA: Right. Exactly. So I want to switch gears for a second and I want to talk to you about what it’s like being in business with your husband.
MARINA: Yeah! That’s a great question. So on most days – Well, first of all I want to say it is wonderful. And I feel like I am happiest when things are blurry. By that I mean that that I’m not doing one thing over here and then I shift and I’m doing another thing over here. I love when work and joy blend together. Most of the time it is more joyous on the work front, but there are times where – I’m not going to lie – where we both have pretty strong personalities, and we have to have a way to resolve the conflict. And we do a couple of things. One is that we brought in a third partner to help us be a tie-breaker. So he’s a minority partner in the business. He is the owner of Crossfit Federal Hill, he’s a genius programmer, amazing coach, and a fantastic co-owner, but he is also my marriage counselor. I mean, he will play the tie-breaker role when we don’t agree on something and then we just go with that decision. We don’t question it, and that’s the way it is. So it took us a while to figure out that groove. But the blessing and the curse though, is that when you blur what you love to do and when you do it with someone you love, the lines don’t always become clear of when the day starts and ends. So again, sometimes it’s in a good way – so we’ll sit in bed and talk about “Oh my god, I can’t believe Maria snatched 85 lbs today! She’s never done that and it’s so exciting!” and we’re talking about them, again, like they are our children, and something we love to talk about with each other, but then sometimes you’re washing the dishes and you’re not in a work mindset and you start talking about a contract that needs to be signed with someone who is going to do a renovation or “Hey, did the plumber come look at this?” or “Is the electrician coming to fix this?” or whatever, and you don’t have a pen, you don’t have a paper, you’re washing your dishes, you’re prepping lunch for the next day, and sometimes we have to say to each other, “I’m a parent right now.” or “I’m your wife right now.” or I am whatever other role, other than “Your business partner” at that time. So it took us, I would say, a good year and a half to be able to say that to each other without it being off-putting to the other. But you know, 8 times out of 10 it’s a great hour, it’s a great day, but then there are the two that need a little bit of massaging,
MARIA: Sure, and I think that’s normal in any married relationship or business relationship. You kind of feel out each other and see how the day is going. Some days are going to be more seamless than others, but at this point – 2 1/2 years in and I mean you guys were voted the #1 Crossfit Gym in Howard County and you are at about what, 200 members now?
MARIA: It’s so exciting! So, knowing what you know now, is there anything that you would have told your former self or just would have done differently starting the business?
MARINA: Former self. You know, I almost wish I knew this was coming. This sounds so weird but when you are going through the grind of your day and you think about “I’m going to be in this business for so long, and I’m going to rise up the corporate ladder….” Everything is so linear, and that’s the way much of the world is designed. It’s designed to be – they even call it a “career ladder”. It’s literally something you climb from the bottom to the top. And what this helped me really realize was that life is not necessarily a ladder. It’s sometimes a lot messier than that. Sometimes it’s a checker board. Right? You can go diagonal. Sometimes you have to go backward to be successful, and then take that step forward and jump over something. You know? And I think that until I got here, I didn’t quite realize how fluid that process should be. So I spent a lot of my time on that linear track, thinking “What next?” or “What’s the next logical path?” versus thinking, ”How can I break that line? How do I get more squiggly and not so linear?” Because every day here is kind of squiggly. I mean, sure, we run a business. But because I have that ability as an owner now to say, “Do we want to try this new program? Sure, let’s try it.” Fun example: people have been practicing hand stands in the gym, so we’re going to run a 6-week handstand clinic. In my old life, I would have done almost a little bit of analysis to paralysis but this place really helped me kind of live that “life as a lab” in very real time. And I wish I could kind of reflect on my former self in the corporate world or say to anyone who has a “job” that they report to and they go and do their best every day, that “You can be successful by finding the zig zags. Look over your shoulder. See what someone else is doing in a different department, in a different field, and talk to them and learn why they love it. There’s again, this “life as a lab” notion, you can learn from so many different sources. So I wish I kind of had soaked that in a little bit earlier.
MARIA: I appreciate that so much because I feel like you just gave me a big chunk of knowledge from your inner workings, so thank you for that. And it is really obvious that you were in marketing because your metaphors are spot on. I love the “It’s not a ladder it’s a checkerboard”. So it’s very very visual for me.
I have a series of questions that I ask all of my guests. I call it my rear-view wrap up. So they are like reflection questions that I will ask you and there’s one sort of rapid-fire question.
MARINA: Oh my gosh. I’m nervous and excited. All right.
MARIA: Ok so the first couple don’t need to be rapid fire. So what is one aspect of your life that you are currently fine tuning?
MARINA: Oh gosh, there are so many. So I’m currently fine-tuning – this is going to sound a little weird – leading as an example. So I think people call me “Mama Bear” and they look to me like a motherly figure, but I don’t always do everything the best I can. I think I can do better in the gym. I think I can eat better. I think I want to be more of a holistic example of good health, and I know that sounds so ironic because I own the gym. I get that. But I do want to tune up “me”. I want to eat better, feel clearer, maybe drink one less glass of wine when I’m with my girlfriends. That kind of thing.
MARIA: Yeah, absolutely. What do you do to refuel/recharge? So not necessarily food, but if you had a long day or if you’re just kind of feeling drained, what do you do? What do you need to kind of re-fuel yourself?
MARINA: I mean, honestly, I do crossfit. And I know that sounds like a cop out because I own the gym, but when you own a gym you actually don’t get to do what is done at the gym as often. I mean if I’m working out and I see a spider web in the corner, I have to go clean it. You know, that’s my job. So when I’m feeling drained, working out or some kind of physical-ness has to happen. If it’s not Crossfit, it’s definitely being outside. A hike, a walk around the harbor, a jog. Fresh air does wonders for me.
MARIA: So in the past month, what is one thing that motherhood has taught you?
MARINA: So, I think it’s just to be kind. I knew this, but sometimes you need a reminder because you never know the kind of day someone’s having. So this is, and I don’t want to go too long on this, but we were watching old [home] videos. Me and my son. And he’s 10. And it’s him in the bathtub and he’s a baby and he’s splashing around and he’s kicking and he’s having a ball. You can hear me with my infant voice “Oh buddy! Good job! Oh you’re so cute!” and he’s like, “Mommy, who’s talking?” I’m like, “That’s me.” He goes, “But you’re so nice!” [laughs] And I really almost threw up in my mouth. It was a kick in the gut. And he didn’t mean it that I’m not nice, we have a great time and we laugh together. But I was- you know – that way you treat a baby and the way you’re just joyous and you want to just play – I sometimes get very serious, either on the business side or as my kids’ school gets harder you get tougher. And that moment where he said, “Oh you were so nice” I was like “Oh my god. I AM nice. And I need to BE more nice, and I need to just be more overt about it. That was a really weird story but –
MARIA: no, I think that’s a super relatable story, yeah. That’s awesome. And you are very nice.
MARINA: Apparently not to my children. No, I mean we have a great relationship but it was, you know… You get tough…
MARIA: You use your batman voice sometimes
MARINA: My batman voice. Yes.
MARIA: So this is my last one. This is sort of the rapid fire. So it’s a fill-in-the-blank, and it’s “Mama needs a ______”
MARINA: Gosh, Maria, that’s a really hard one!
MARIA: Right? It’s like in this instant.
MARINA: My head is going in a thousand different directions. I would say, a break. And I don’t mean a break from work or whatever, I just need to find a time where I can turn my brain off. You know, where I don’t have a to-do list running through my head, where I’m not thinking about what the next thing I have to do is while I’m doing something else that’s actually interesting. I need to find like 10 minutes, I don’t care where I turn it off. So maybe you’re going to have to work with me on meditation. I know that you’re good at that.
MARIA: Yes. I can take you through that, or at least attempt to.
MARINA: Mama needs to just turn it off for a second. Like, that’s it.
MARIA: I think that’s the hardest thing. Well obviously because you’re a business owner, you’re a mom, you’re also trying to do family transitions. You have a lot going on , so –
MARINA: We all do. You know, finding each other right? and learning from each other and hearing stories.
MARIA. Absolutely, and I think that a lot of mamas can agree that mama needs a break. And that’s 5 minutes, ten minutes a day. Something.
MARINA: I just want to shut it down. The shop is closed for 10 minutes.
MARIA: Awesome Marina. Well thank you so much for joining me today. I was super excited for the conversation. Like I said, we could probably go on for a really long time, diving into other aspects of your life and the business and everything, but for now we will wrap it up and I will definitely have to have you back on the show because I feel like you have a lot more introspection to share with us.
MARINA: Thank you so much. And I’m so excited for you and your journey, and what you’re doing is amazing, and I know you’re going to touch and inspire so many people. I’m so proud of you for finding your checker board.
MARIA: Thank you! That’s it. It’s my new metaphor. This is my checker board.
MARINA: You’re doing what you’re doing. Great. Well thanks for having me and I’ll talk to you soon!
MARIA: Talk to you soon.
MARINA: OK. Bye!