Liz Mayers is a very accomplished change professional, has done lots of work in HR, is a fantastic facilitator, and also – in her own words – jumps around half naked in Lycra in front of workout classes twice a week, as part of her own business.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? About what you do, and your business?
I’ve been working HR, in organisational development and in transformation. I’ve always been a really ‘touchy’, people-type person. Intuitively working, being able to talk and do all that nice fluffy stuff. And I enjoy it a lot.
I think, we work for the best part of our lives, and to get up every day and work, we’ve got to do something that really feels meaningful, we enjoy, feel passionate about. The minute it becomes a bit of a burden, re-evaluate, take stock, and see what changes you can make.
‘Charge and control’ is one of my affirmations. I take charge and control of a situation as much as I can. There are some things that you can’t do. You could be in a large crowd, say a concert, and there’s lots of people around and you’re not feeling right. You can’t control the volumes of the crowd, but you can control by walking away. You can say I’m going to leave this event early.
That’s what charge and control means for me. If I can take charge, weigh up the values, the risks and then make the decision that is right for me.
You also run your own fitness business. Can you tell us more about that?
This happened organically. In 1985 I started to work and I started to work out physically. I passed an exam. And I started teaching classes for centres in the early 90s. And I loved it. My day job was corporate, all tidy in a nice blouse and skirt. And in the evenings I could jump up and down half-naked in lycra and kit, and bop to music. I mean, how cool is that!
It became my my self-employed business in October 2011. That year, across London, a good number of riots took place, and some of the gyms that I was teaching in were sabotaged. There were a few ladies that lived locally, who said ‘can we meet locally and go to the park’. Do jogging. Squats and lunges.
Autumn came of that year. It got dark, it got colder. So I explored the options of hiring a hall and did it. I had the support of these ladies and the encouragement, and I was confident in what I can do. And the thing is, I am so passionate, I enjoy teaching so much, it just seemed natural to do it.
Those who know me well know that if I could teach for free – I have overheads to pay, hall hire cost and equipment – I will teach for free. So that’s how much it means to me.
What are your considerations for others?
The consideration for others is ‘would I do this for nothing?’. There’s also going to be a transitional period in which you need to explore setting up, the money, the resources, the location, the venue, your target audience. You’ve got to build up a client base. You’ve got to work with suppliers. How passionate are you about it?
And if you have dependencies, young children, family, again, think about how it might impact on them. Those are just some of the considerations.
What other advantages do you see?
I love the fitness side of things. And it comes with additional benefits. All my clients are my friends. Some of my best friends I met as strangers, coming into the class for the first time. We are such a community, it’s amazing. We celebrate each other’s birthdays. We meet up. We have fun days in the park, when the sun’s out. A few of us have been on holidays at the same time. Fitness is what we have in common. For me they are all advantages. I haven’t really seen a downside to it yet. It has just grown and grown.
So whilst you don’t see any disadvantages how is this working next to your fulltime job?
This has never been a disadvantage, but when I’ve gone for jobs, I will overtly say ‘I’ve got a real keen interest in …’ and ‘I do this at x times a week’. I say that there is a requirement to have flexibility to leave early on whatever day. But I make up the time and I like to feel that what I contribute in the working day or on a regular day offsets me scurrying away early because I’ve got an evening class to get to.
Not a disadvantage, but something I always feel a bit wary about when talking to a new employer. If I am going for a new role.
I haven’t had an employer say ‘no, you can’t leave early because.. ‘ And because it is my own business I can forward plan. So if something is going to happen in the evening, where it’s beneficial I am at work then I can change my schedule. I can say to the group there is no class tonight. And they totally understand.
Are there any other things that are hard when you do this, when you run two lives?
No, and I might be fortunate, because I don’t have a big family to worry about. It’s me and my partner. And we’re adults.
Sometimes you can get tired. I do something physical most days of the week. If I’m not teaching I may train myself. So sometimes you just get to a burn-out point. But I simply address this with more sleep. And more food.
I also get great feedback ‘Oh Liz, you helped me with this’, whether it’s a physical thing or a confidence thing, a mood thing. Sometimes people are going through stuff, and fitness is that first thing they’ve got in front. But behind that is this stuff you help them get through. That is just so valuable. So really lovely to hear.
I’ve worked with people who have been training for marathons. Before their weddings. After pregnancy. It’s just so good to hear ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’. That is such a motivator. More so than the monetary aspect.
I think anyone considering something different than their corporate job just think about ‘why am I doing this’. What’s in it for me. What’s in it for my target audience. And how best you can add value.
Are there – in hindsight – any things you would have done differently?
I thought about this and no. Not really. Maybe a bit more about social media? At the start? But I like the way that the business has organically grown. I like the community that I have.
And sometimes, whilst social media is a marvellous way of reaching out and getting to where you want to be, it can have an adverse effect. So, at this moment in time there’s nothing I would have done differently.
Are there commonalities in your fitness business and your day job?
The common ground is people. And I work with them in different ways. The common ground is people and bringing out the best in them. Getting them to a place of readiness. Getting them to a place of fitness. Demonstrating resilience and professionalism. In both groups, but in a different way.
For me, the two running alongside each other is an easy way to address work-life balance. I can do something, I can facilitate, I can help, coach, mentor, I can get them ready for change and transformation. And then I flick a switch and I can be leading in a different way, a fun way.
I think it benefits my day job. Because I can switch off. I can concentrate on this piece of work for 7-8 hours and then I know there’s something else coming. For some people the day job runs into the evening, into the night and can take over. There’s no work-life balance. There’s nothing special. And I do think we have to come away.
What are you looking to do going forward?
In my fitness business I’ll be keeping up with the trends. And going to other courses. I’m on a register for fitness professionals. You do a certain amount of courses a year to keep your points up. Sometimes that can prove challenging. When you get some downtime it is good to log on, do some of their learning, to keep abreast.
And – as we’re talking we’re in this COVID19 crisis – one thing to really ponder is virtual teaching.
I’m also already thinking about the first few courses after we get back. After communities can get back together. Because people will be at different states of their fitness. I’m already shaping that and what that might look like.
Do you have any recommendations, any things that you would like to say to women who are looking at doing something different?
Have passion. Think about some of the questions I just asked: Would you do this for nothing?
Also, speak to others and gain some of their learnings, some of their best practice.
And I think you need the support of those nearest and dearest to you. Because no amount of preparing for it will prepare you for what is to come.
You can have a strategy. And then – I don’t know – COVID19 happens, some other catastrophe. You’ve got to have the support of those closest around you. Because if what you are pursuing is affected negatively, you might need to depend on others for a while. So let people know what you are doing. And also, if you have identified an obstacle, have a solution.