Raw and Real: Gym Owner’s Greatest Fears Revealed to Peers—and Staff!


Mike (00:02):

At the recent Two-Brain Summit, psychotherapist Bonnie Skinner asked attendees to talk about their greatest fears. Gym owner Justin Keane went first and said his biggest fear was that his staff members hated him. Justin’s courage in front of his peers opened up a deluge of similar comments from other entrepreneurs. Today we’re diving into imposter syndrome and the deepest, darkest fears of entrepreneurs.

Chris (00:25):

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Mike (01:05):

This is Two-Brain Radio and I’m Mike Warkentin. I’ve been avoiding Fran for about five to seven years now. With that vulnerability out of the way, Justin Keane of Woodshed Strength and Conditioning is with me today. And we’re going to get personal and talk about our fears. Justin, at the summit, Chris Cooper told Todd Herman about your comment earlier in the day and Todd called you out as a leader for making a super honest comment in public. Tell me why you broke the ice and typed that comment into the chat at the summit, knowing that all the other gym owners there would see it.

Justin (01:35):

Well, Mike, how are you, first of all.

Mike (01:39):

I get so excited that I just jumped right in. I want to ask you questions.

Justin (01:43):

Yeah, no, you just gave me like Fran shivers, right? It’s funny,you start with that question because, I did kind of have a moment as we were listening to presentations at the summit where the question was, what is your greatest fear as a gym owner? And immediately came to me that my greatest fear is that my staff and my members all hate me, and it felt very raw and it sort of felt like something that came to me that I hadn’t had a chance to edit mentally and make more palatable for discussion. And it just struck me that in the spirit of the weekend and the presentations we’d already had a chance to be exposed to that I should just type it in and see what happened. See if anyone else said, oh yeah, I worry about that too.

Mike (02:43):

Now, if I remember correctly, you were the first comment, is that right?

Justin (02:46):

I think I was first or second.

Mike (02:50):

Like, you just dropped a kettlebell into the pool, you know, in the deep end. And like a big one right off the bat. And the cool part about it was after you did that, so many people started commenting and it was like, someone kind of just needed to break the ice and you did it. And like I said, Todd Herman and people didn’t see this, but he and Chris were talking, in the waiting room before Todd went on and Chris was like, wow, this was just the coolest thing. We just had this incredible speech or presentation from Bonnie Skinner. And she asked this question and Justin just dped in with this super raw, honest answer that everyone just flooded out afterward. What did you feel like hearing Todd talk about you afterward in his presentation?

Justin (03:30):

Honored, humbled. It was the first time anything like that had ever happened to me on online or in a form like that. And I actually, I love Todd’s book, the alter ego effect. I read that read it a few times. The first time I read it was around the time that we were just about to do a rate increase and get rid of some grandfathered discounts a couple of years ago. And his book was immensely helpful to me. So it was kind of a really, it was a really cool serendipity to have tha moment where I felt like stepping out onto the ledge a little bit and typing in that comment and having Todd come back to it, it felt pretty nice, man.

Mike (04:19):

Thought it was really cool. And I didn’t know that part about that you were a fan and had read his book too, which makes it even even more cool. The interesting thing though, is like, you know, you talked about something that we’ve all thought about and imposter syndrome, every time we write about, or podcast about imposter syndrome, people react to it because as entrepreneurs, we’re all, you know, we’re leaders and we’re fearless and we lead large groups of people and all that, but we all have fears. So like how do you project confidence and authority to your staff and clients when every gym owner has fears and anxiety? Like how do you find that balance between being real and honest, but also, you know, showing a brave face and being a leader?

Justin (04:58):

Well, I think for me, and I suspect for many other many other gym owners during this during COVID, and as we’re kind of building our way back up, there is a very real confidence in just being honest. I think the more honestly that I was able to speak with my team and with our people, the more confidence I felt as a leader, and I will always always remembe being on a call with Coop and, you know, 60 or 70 other gym owners, and this would have been middle of March, 2020 before things were really starting to make their way, you know, make their way to the United States and Canada. I’ll never forget. Chris said, guys I’m terrified. But we’re going to push forward and we’re going to make it through together. And, and I cannot tell you, Mike, what a profound impact that admission from Chris had on me as a gym owner, as a person, as a leader.

Justin (06:07):

I think I probably said guys I’m scared, four or five different times to my team during the thick of it. And I think once you’re able to get real like that and be open and vulnerable in that way, everything else feels just a little bit easier, talking about your books with your team and talking about the challenges you’re facing oon a day-to-day basis. It feels like so much easier of a conversation to navigate once you’ve gotten that raw and shown yourself and brought your biggest fear out into the open, I’ll never forget that.

Mike (06:53):

I remember that call too, and it was interesting because you’ve got the fearless leader of gyms saying, you know, I’m scared, I’m scared too. I’m scared for all of us. And we all had to deal with that fear during the COVID pandemic, which is thankfully in a bit of a lull right now, at least in most places. So what happened to you? Like we have this idea and it’s usually this type A entrepreneurial kind of thing where we have to like, be these big people. And again, you do to some degree, like we always talk about in CrossFit, be the big you at the whiteboard and so forth. There is that pressure to do that. But what happened when you showed your, you know, your soft underbelly, so to speak, to your staff, like our greatest fear is usually that they’re going to not respect me or they’re gonna think I’m weak or something like that. So what happened when you showed them your soft side?

Justin (07:37):

You know, I think, nothing dramatic, which to me felt authentic. I feel like conversations between us all deepened a little bit. You know, some of our coaches were able to share that they were worried as well. They were worried about how the gym was gonna, you know, make it through. They were worried about first and foremost about us all staying healthy, and keep our members safe and sound. So I don’t think there was any one sort of aha moment, where I thought, oh, wow, his just changed the tenor of the conversation immediately. But I do, when I look back and I have to say that some of my fondest memories as a gym owner and as a leader are the conversations and the meetings and the talks that I had with my team during the thick of it, I felt a real warmth and a real connection, and a real sense that we were going to push through together.

Mike (08:39):

It almost made you, you know, brought you guys together. I’m guessing by that sort of the same way that a tough workout brings you together. Was it the same feeling that now that we’ve all kind of shared the we’re all scared, we kind of all go together or forward together.

Justin (08:51):

Sure. And I think it’s important to note, and for me, especially, it’s important to note that this isn’t kind of a, I don’t, I can’t look at this as an on/off switch. My job and being open and being vulnerable and honest with my team and with our members is never done ,that’s something I have to commit to do every day, because it is not in my instinct to be an open book. I’m very much the opposite. I like happily sit in the corner of a room at a party, if you could even drag me to the party to get me there and just keep to my own counsel, and sort of have been that way since I can remember. So it’s something I have to remind myself that I need to commit to do it every day. And I have to also forgive myself for the days that I don’t do as good of a job as I would like to, and understand that it’s just, it’s a process and it’s not something that’s ever going, I’m never going to look in a mirror and say, you know, you made it kid, you don’t have to do any more work. You can go back to the way you were, I have to really commit to doing every single day,

Mike (10:03):

How much of your self and your inner thoughts do you share with staff and clients? Like, do you share your books with your staff or how much do you, where do you put the limit?

Justin (10:11):

You know, Mike, t’s a great question. And I have to be honest here, thinking about that question and hearing you ask me that it occurs to me that I probably need to do a better job than I have been doing recently. I think that for us, we’re in Massachusetts, we’re in the Northeast. So for us, most of all the COVID restrictions were lifted a couple of months ago. So, it’s been kind of a real forward push into re-establishing some of the old ways like to call them, you know, people sharing equipment, folks not needing to distance during workouts. I mean, we have to encourage that, cause it doesn’t come naturally to anyone any longer. Right. But it occurs to me that when you asked me that, that this is something I need to recommit to, because I’ve been so focused on bringing everybody back together under that umbrella of kind of, Hey, we’re back at it. That it’s easy for me to kind of push vulnerability and push the inner inner thoughts underneath to the side. So, great question. And that’s going to help me be a better leader.

Mike (11:28):

It’s been a tough period. I mean, there’s so many of us that we’ve been deep in the bunker, you know, just like waiting for the shells to stop coming down so we can get back to business.

Justin (11:36):

Yeah, man, I read your posts on Facebook and I just, my heart goes out to you guys. It’s just a war.

Mike (11:45):

You know, in the early stages of the pandemic, I remember vividly, Chris messaged me and he’s like, I think this thing that’s going on in Australia and China right now is coming here. And I think we gotta move fast. And it was just, the next few months were just a blur, you know? And I don’t think, you know, a lot of us communicated a lot in that period where it was just so much so fast. And so going forward, especially there seems to be almost a renewed emphasis on kind of vulnerability. And we’ve got a video of, Jason Cohen from locomotion fitness talking about his vulnerability.

Justin (12:16):

I just watched that yesterday.

Chris (12:19):

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Mike (13:32):

Yeah. What’d you think of that? We’re going to put the link to YouTube in the comments, but what did you think of that?

Justin (13:37):

I mean, I love Jason. I’ve never met him. I’ve talked once or twice on messenger, but, I loved it, man. He’s showing us heart, super authentic. And as a gym owner and as a entrepreneur, it’s also great to see, of course, you know, you want to see that there’s connection between being vulnerable and the way that he’s adopted as a practice and how it applies to the growth of his business and his community.

Mike (14:08):

Guys, take a look to that video, if you want to see a former US Marine, a soldier, get open and honest as a successful gym owner, who’s really doing some work on himself. I think you’ll enjoy that. And we’ll put the link in the comments for sure. So Justin, tell me a little bit, what did you take away from Bonnie’s presentation on the shadow self and how it completely can derail you? Like I thought Bonnie at the summit was such a great speaker and she spoke to something that so many of us are prone to where there’s a part of us that can actually destroy us, you know, and just limit our success. What did you take from Bonnie’s presentation?

Justin (14:47):

Yeah, man. I mean, and before I answer, I want to back up and thank you for reminding me that her presentation had proceeded the question about your biggest fear. So I think part of what gave me the confidence to type in that fear was having just listened to her talk and share her heart. And, I thought her presentation was amazing.

Mike (15:13):

That she inspired you.

Justin (15:14):

She did, and it’s, you know, the broad concepts are ones that I’m fairly familiar with. Just from my own reading, my own work, but the precision to the degree,to which she brought precision to the notion of a shadow self and how we can sabotage our own selves and almost always in search of safety and comfort, huge light bulb for me. And that it’s one of those things that when you really sit down and you hear someone eloquent and passionate kind of get in the weeds and get in depth about it, like, yes. OK, this makes sense. This is the answer to the question. Why do you mess yourself up so much? Why you were so intent on sabotaging your good work?

Justin (16:10):

And for me that the concept of we all just want to feel safe, especially after this pandemic, is profound and it’s such a huge concept. And I actually remember a podcast with a couple of years ago, the guys from the StoryBrand guys who were talking about podcasts on leadership and talking about, you know, building your team. And one of the things they mentioned that you want everyone on your team wants to hear from you is you are safe here. Your position is safe here. We are not looking to find someone else to do what you do. You are taken care of here. And when I think about anything, I encounter as a gym owner, as a business owner, and as someone leading a team and someone at the head of the community of his members, if I kind of am able to take a step back and say, how is this person feeling?

Justin (17:09):

How may this person right now be feeling that their safety is jeopardized when we’re talking? It’s such a big step for me to be able to get into a real help first mentality, because I don’t want any of my team to feel unsafe and I don’t want any of our members to feel unsafe. And I think that when I’m able to take that step back and not react quickly, but to contextualize what’s coming at me and in terms of safety and security and comfort, it’s a huge deal. And when I remember to do that, it’s immensely helpful. I loved her presentation.

Mike (17:50):

It was so good and like you, so I think as a gym owner, if you ever get into these conflicts and we’ve talked about on this podcast many times, tough conversations, how to have them, and we’ve talked about, you know, negotiations and sort of deflating this giant ball of anger or balloon of anger between people, Chris Voss, presented on that last year. If we think about all those different things in your daily interactions, if you can step back and think, you know, how is this person feeling unsafe right now or threatened, and you can kind of set them at ease. Life’s going to be a whole lot easier. Like if you think about, just about anything, what you said was profound, you know, staff members want to feel like they’re part of something like they’re safe. When they don’t bad things generally happen.

Mike (18:31):

So as a leader, it’s so important to remember that and, you know, listeners, for those of you who haven’t seen Bonnie’s presentation, I can’t do it justice because she’s a far better speaker. But the shadow self is essentially you have this thing inside you that knows literally everything about you. And it can definitely find every single way, the most powerful ways in the world to derail you and take you off track to prevent you from feeling discomfort and anxiety. Even if some of those things are going to move you forward in life, it can still stop you. And it’s just like, she talked about how to get around that. And again, I really encourage you, we’ll put a link to Bonnie’s website in the show notes. So you can take a look at it. Because it was a presentation that really affected a ton of people, Justin and myself included. So offline. Cause there’s another interesting thing you mentioned. Offline, we talked a little bit about the desire to be your own boss, go your own way and how that can actually make you a bad communicator. And the interesting part is like almost all entrepreneurs have that, which means that they can really mess up the communication. So what did you mean by that exactly, and how do you avoid that in your business?

Justin (19:33):

Yeah, man. I mean, when I reflect back on mistakes that I’ve made and ways that I may have made members of my team or members of our community feel unsafe, you know, like they weren’t secure in their position or they weren’t secure in a place. It’s almost always been due to very poor communication or really no communication. You know, I say, you know, I grew up, went to Catholic school. I was an altar boy. So if we need to go down the, you know, I heard a lot of don’t do it this way. Don’t do it this way. Don’t do it this way, do it this way. Don’t do it this way. Don’t do it this way, do it this way. You know, if I’m being honest with myself, you know, one of the most appealing things about running your own business is that you don’t have that.

Justin (20:25):

You don’t have that voice over your shoulder. You don’t, you’re not answering to anyone else except yourself. But that doesn’t permit you to project genuine communication from your team or from your people. And it can sort of cast that as nagging and intrusion and that’s, so for me, that’s something I have to, you know, I have to be conscious of, there are definitely times where I kind of lock into a groove and I’m working on a project or a new offering where it’s very easy for me to just plow through and not update folkss on what what I’m looking at and where we’re going, what we’re doing. And it’s goes back to I mentioned earlier that it’s something I need to commit to do every day. So I think the first step is just being conscious of it.

Justin (21:17):

Like, yeah, man, it’s in my nature to not like feeling as though I’m being overseen. And that, you know, there may be somebody with a ruler ready to rap me on the knuckles. If I do something, you know, if I don’t do the right thing. Something that’s helped us or has helped me, aand I hope has helped my team, we use Slack for team communication internally. And I don’t remember when I started doing this, I started doing this thing called the daily brief, where in our channel, our staff channel every weekday morning, or sometimes after noon, I’ll just write two or three things. Like, this is what’s going on. Here’s what we should do today. AndI have to fight the impulse to kind of look at it like a pass fail thing, like, oh, are these things significant enough to write? Should I just not write anything today? And to just realize that actually the important part is that I do write, it’s not necessarily sharing the perfect thing every day. It’s just kind of opening up my mouth and communicating and practicing, getting better and getting more comfortable with just saying, here’s what we’re doing. Here’s what I’m doing. Hit me up if you have any questions. So that’s been really helpful. I don’t see any reason to stop doing it, so I’m going to keep doing it.

Mike (22:37):

So you, as you were explaining that, I thought of, you know, an example that really hit home for me, and I’ll just give it to you. And you tell me what you think you think about the, you know, the desire to be your own boss. And so sometimes we just want to move, right? We just are tired of like following procedures or whatever. We’re just doing stuff. We want to just get it out of our head and move, and don’t want to be dragged down by people. But an example is like, you know, hiring someone without telling the rest of your team that that person is coming in or that you’re doing it. And thinking about this, like your team looks on, all of a sudden, they just see on whatever board, they just see a position being hired at your gym and they don’t know about it. How much fear would that put into your staff and limit? Like, could you not see how all these bad behaviors could come from you just not communicating? Like that is just such an incredible, like, I think I’ve made this mistake personally. Does that hit home for you?

Justin (23:27):

Absolutely. For sure. A hundred percent.

Mike (23:32):

Who’s being replaced?

Justin (23:33):

Yeah, exactly. What’s going on? Why is this person, where’d this person come from?

Mike (23:41):

Is it gonna affect my income? Is it gonna affect my hours? Is it going to take my clients, do I have to like, try and carve up someone else, you know, to keep my position like, wow, all of a sudden you’ve got this, you know, this horrible situation where bad behaviors can be amplified by fear.

Justin (23:56):

I’ve made that exact mistake. You know, probably a couple of differences here or there, but definitely have made very, very similar, very similar mistakes a couple of times. And, you know, the flip side of that, as crappy as it, as crappy as it was, and as crappy as it felt, you know, I have to look back and also be incredibly grateful to, you know, the members of my team who approached, you know, when something like that has happened are courageous enough to say, Hey, what’s going on? You know, you said one thing and you’re doing another. And it’s never easy to hear, for me, but probably 10 times harder for, you know, someone on my team to say, and, you know, it’s ultimately, it’s a blessing, right? To have team members that will approach.

Mike (25:01):

The ones that will actually call you out on stuff and help you out when you need it, rather than just stay silent and get angry.

Justin (25:06):

Are you familiar with King Lear?

Mike (25:09):

Not as well as I should be, I read it a long time ago. So refresh, please refresh me.

Justin (25:13):

So it’s funny. I had a client who was going up to see, a production of King Lear this weekend. It’s kind of like the first big Shakespeare production locally since COVID and anyhow, so King Lear has three daughters. And, you know, he’s getting, if my memory serves me right, he started in the process of transferring his power. And two of his daughters are very willing to flatter him to no end. And his third daughter Delia, you know, essentially said, I love you. And that’s it, no more, no less. And to have someone who is willing to get past flattery and Hey, you know, of course this is the right decision. Of course, things are perfect here. And to actually say what what’s up. I think you can do better. I think is amazing. And then I always think of King Lear and Cordelia in that situation, and spoiler alert and she’s the good daughter. She’s the one that wins out in the end, sorry, I spoiled Shakespeare for anybody.

Mike (26:30):

That might be the most literary and perhaps insightful reference we’ve had on Two-Brain Radio in a long time.

Mike (26:39):

It’s just, it’s so important to have those people around you that will just say like, you know, call you out and help you improve as a leader, you know, because that shows obviously belief in you. And it also shows that they have communication skills and so forth. So listeners, if you’re out there, a step you can take is to like, identify your core Delia’s so to speak in your staff and thank them and then try and learn something from them. I think that would be a really cool thing. Justin, you’ve got the perfect analogy there. What are you going to do going forward? What’s your plan now that you’ve kind of had, like, I feel like over the summit and maybe even this conversation, we’ve talked a lot about Jason’s video vulnerability, what’s your plan going forward? How are you developing yourself as, you know, a vulnerable but strong leader? And is that gonna mean for Woodshed and your staff?

Justin (27:28):

Good question, man. If there was another lesson that I learned over the pandemic, it was to pause before you act. So I can’t tell you in this moment what our precise next step will be, because I have a lot to reflect on, I mean, just even in the course of this conversation, it occurs to me that there are people that I need to thank again. I would say probably that, you know, we talked about it a little bit earlier that in kind of the push forward over the last couple of months, I probably have neglected to share more of my own MO, you know, share more of my own vulnerability and to be more open and transparent with our people. So that would be step one. So that took us taking a pause and thinking, what have I been pushing past in the name of safety and security over the last couple of months, and then find a way to communicate that in there, across the right channels and at the right time. So, that’s kind of always step one for me at the beginning of every day. Like I said before, it’s something that some days are better than others, but it’s always one day at a time. Which is another thing I took from watching Jason’s video, I think he and I are both big one day at a time guys. So, great question, man.

Mike (29:02):

That’s a great answer. I do appreciate the thoughtfulness on it. I think listeners, if you’re listening out there and you’re thinking of another thing that you can do to take away from the show, I would tell you to go out and do this. Subscribe to the show, but then after you do that, make sure that you go out and get on your slack channel or get on your email thread, or however it is you communicate with your staff even better would be pick up the phone and maybe just say something to them, tell them something, give them a brief, tell them what you’re doing. And if you don’t have anything important to tell them, just thank them for something, just something, you know, randomly that they’ve done recently that’s good. And open up those lines of communication. I would encourage you to do that. I was, as a gym owner, was guilty of not doing this enough. I was very focused on external communication to the detriment of internal communication. And I think that if you guys do that right now, I think you’ll take a good step and then read King Lear, look for your Cordelias, I love that reference. It’s just such a sound one that, you know, I would not have known. I’m going to start, I’ve got the complete works of Shakespeare in my bookshelf, crack it open.

Justin (30:03):

This performance of King Lear that my client and his mom are going to, the guy playing King Lear? Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Christopher Lloyd. How cool is that?

Mike (30:21):

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads. 21 gigawatts, the whole thing like, I love it.

Justin (30:33):

So good luck to Christopher Lloyd out there.

Mike (30:36):

I can’t beat that. We’re going to end on that one. And then the final takeaway from the show is, you know, post your favorite, Christopher Lloyd doc brown quotes in the comments or something like that. Justin, thank you so much for taking us through this. This was a super insightful conversation. We spent a lot of time hammering into business on this show. This is business from a very deeply personal angle and I appreciated, you know, your openness, your honesty and your thoughtfulness. Thank you so much.

Mike (31:01):

I’m Mike Warkentin and that was Justin Keanee. FOMO alert: You must be in the Gym Owners United group on Facebook. Other gym owners are helping each other solve problems in there, Two-Brain Mentors offer all kinds of free tips. Don’t miss out on peer support in the industry. That’s Gym Owners United on Facebook. Join it today.


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