Tracy Anderson on Reclaiming Her Business
Fitness entrepreneur Tracy Anderson is a wellness industry leader and the creator and CEO of the revolutionary Tracy Anderson Method and brand. In this conversation, Tracy gets vulnerable about how people tried to take control of her talent early on in her career, and how working with a therapist at her darkest moment finally led her to speak up and reclaim her business, steering it in a direction that honored her mission and purpose.
Daniella Pierson: Tracy Anderson, I am so deeply honored to be able to interview you today. Your journey has been very different from most entrepreneurs. For anyone out there that may not have heard of you (and there are probably very few) do you mind just giving a brief introduction?
Tracy Anderson: Absolutely. Thank you. First of all, it’s such an honor to be on your podcast. I have been a female entrepreneur for over 20 years. I started out not to become an entrepreneur, but to help people and to fill a need that I felt wasn't fulfilled in an industry that I felt had, even 20 years ago, lost its way—the fitness industry, wellness industry. I believe that we all have a primal right to move. We get taught from a very young age that we don't know how to move in our bodies, which is wrong. Nothing could be farther from the truth. And I think that’s responsible for a lot of the misidentified and disconnected feelings that we have in ourselves.
I went to school on a dance scholarship and gained 40 pounds at school for dance. Being only five feet tall (barely) and then to be told, “You can't do this and you're wasting your talent because you don't have the body,” I realized I just sort of wanted to…not necessarily rebel against the system, but I think when you are in your early twenties there is a sense of when you see something's not right. That's really how it happened for me. Lucky for me, I was in love with a great pro basketball player (my son's father) and I got access to this incredible doctor who had done a lot of work and research on an athlete’s spine, and how even then the way that these athletes were being asked to have their bodies treated and what their bodies were being put through also wasn't for the good of their human life long-term. So I set out to create the largest bank of choreography for people to move with that was based off of a five-year study that I conducted on over 150 women to create a roadmap and a journey back to themselves essentially.
DP: How old were you when you started doing this five-year study?
TA: I got pregnant when I was 22. It was when I was pregnant with Sam that I was in Puerto Rico, where his dad was rehabbing his back in a basketball league. That's where I met this doctor. Being only 22 I had already been to New York City from a small town in Indiana with talent and I felt what it felt like to be shamed out of that program. I wanted to learn and so I started my first study at like 24.
DP: That's really empowering. I started my first business when I was 19 and I feel so grateful because now I just turned 27 and I have almost eight years of experience in the business world. I wonder if you feel grateful that you started so young and that you did have Sam so young because it really gave you the maturity level at 24 that you maybe would not have had if you didn't take that path.
TA: Yeah, I do applaud and I do believe in starting young. I personally believe that our systems stunt our opportunity to live our unique and authentic lives to their fullest whenever we want to. As a mother, I wouldn't say I'm a very cookie cutter traditional mom. My son is 24. He's got two startups right now. He's just this extraordinary mind and he has the space to create and that takes time. I don't really believe in the traditional trajectory of things when you have a mission or you have a calling or you have a cause.
DP: Yeah, for sure. Well that is so impressive. I wonder where he got that entrepreneurial spirit from. Speaking about your entrepreneurial spirit, what has happened since you did that five-year study? Obviously a lot happened between then and now. The Tracy Anderson Method is a household name, the biggest stars in the world swear by it, you have built an empire around your method. Can you walk us through what happened in between and also any of the hardships?
TA: I think it's very very very important for people that might listen to an introduction like the one you just gave me and think that I just always had it together—in reality, the one thing I had together was my character for my cause, the people that I wanted to serve. The thing that was the most challenging along the way was the perversion of what other people wanted to do with my talent. That has been very difficult and confusing for me to keep the method growing, keep my research growing, keep it protected when so many people have opinions of what I should be or should do. I think the biggest thing is: you can't change a culture before it's ready and if you want to be part of the conversation you have to learn how to align yourself with the noise. I didn't realize how to do that until I was much older.
In my late twenties, thirties, I got positioned as: I'm a celebrity trainer. How do you get Jennifer Lopez's butt in three moves? or Gwyneth Paltrow's legs in five moves? I mean, I love both of those women. I love women of huge influence just as much as I love the woman who hasn't broadcasted her spotlight like that to the world, it still should shine as bright as possible. But the problem with it and the thing that was always the most difficult for me is—the way that we pedal product or business or create has to change because we create too much stuff that's harming our nature and we're also harming our mental health by having conversations in this way. If I even wanted to have a conversation, I had to be a part of that system, to be older and wiser now, to realize this conversation has to change. You should never want to look or be like somebody else or do what they are doing because you don't think you are good enough. You really need to be moving and working out for your health. The physical balance is a byproduct of that. It is essential to your health.
The world just wanted to know how to get someone else's butt or thighs or body parts and that wasn't what my study was about. But I was so good at changing whatever anybody wanted to change in their physical body that I was tagged this guru (which is a dangerous word) or secret weapon or all these things. And again, that is to the detriment of society at large instead of what I actually created, which was for the health of society at large. If we are moving and working out and moving in a way that isn't a dumbed down version of how we were born to move, we are much more powerful and healthy. Then I had all kinds of people take my steering wheel because I knew how to do this one thing and I didn't know all the other things. I really feel for artists and women in particular that have created things that are powerful or communities that are powerful, that get their steering wheel taken from them and they don't even really realize what they're handing over sometimes. To bounce back from that in business is very difficult and I've had to do that more times than I care to admit.
DP: Please talk to me about taking away your steering wheel because I think that is such a good analogy. I can totally relate in terms of having friends that are seen as talent having people that handle their business in a way that they don't want it to be handled but they're supposed to be good at this one talent and they're not supposed to look behind the curtain. When did you find out that your steering wheel was being taken away from you? Did you know it at the time? And how did you finally take that back?
TA: I knew my steering wheel was being taken from me many times before this one breaking point for me but I internalized it. What I did was I just did more of what I do well because it felt too big for me to take on standing up for myself. When I created this product Metamorphosis, I was working very very very very hard. When I first put out DVDs, Gwyneth Paltrow directed my first big mainstream DVD because she wanted to share this thing that meant a lot to her wellbeing and she had suffered from postpartum depression after Moses and this helped her with all the things and she wanted to share it, which was beautiful and I'm grateful for it. When you attach someone with a talent like mine to a mega-talent and fame like hers… The two of us only had the purest of intentions for each other but the things that other people wanted from our relationship—I was easier to access but then the dream is like, “Then I'll get to Gwyneth Paltrow.” So I had a lot of these situations that were confusing to my brain.
I was working very hard and I was set up on a blind date. When you're overworked and misunderstood, it can be a little bit of a recipe for disaster when you try and just help yourself feel better. For me, this was dating someone I wouldn't have typically dated. It turns out that it ended up giving me my daughter, I have a big gap between my son and my daughter. I chose to have my daughter and I knew it was gonna be tough but I had no idea it was gonna be as difficult as it was. I didn't speak up for my needs, I didn't have my steering wheel. Instead I tried to just make myself feel better in other ways. It was a nightmare. Because when you diminish your light, you open up your opportunities for abuse, right? People can see it and people that will take advantage of others who have that in them will go full force when you don't have your steering wheel. It was in that moment when that journey that I chose became so so difficult that I realized that I had to stop diminishing my feelings and my voice. I decided to do a year of psychotherapy at that point, which is why I'm so happy that you talk about therapy because I think if you're with the right therapist, it can be life changing. I did a year of psychotherapy and it strengthened me in ways that I was uncomfortable being strong before and it made all the difference. Now I'm my own CEO. I own my own business now and I did that way too late. I mean, I'm 47 years old. Like, don't wait. Well, first of all, don't you give away the keys to the kingdom anywhere. But I think it's easy when you've got something for people to say that they know how to make it bigger and better and say, “Oh, I went to Harvard,” “I've got my MBA from Stanford,” and “I’m the CMO or the C-suite of this or this or this." Like, “You know how to do this really well but you don't know how to do all these things really well.”
DP: It's almost like gaslighting and I know this happens in Hollywood all the time but it's really interesting to hear, because you are part of Hollywood as a huge talent but also a businesswoman, for you to realize that you could have the power even though you did not go to Harvard or did not go to business school because nobody knows your business like you. Even if there are things you need to learn, there's no reason why you should feel like an employee of your brand instead of the boss and the owner. What would you say to anybody who right now feels like they do not have the steering wheel, whether it's them being in an unhealthy relationship, whether it's them feeling like somebody is taking advantage of them in business? What advice would you give somebody like that?
TA: Well first of all, I do believe that you have to know the difference between something that is healthy and something that is not healthy. If you are in an abusive relationship and you know it, you need a community that you can trust and that you can plug into and that can help you from crisis to comfort. That's why I believe in reaching out to organizations like Safe Horizon or finding organizations that have people that can give you the tools. But then there's also business, right? There are a lot of opportunistic entitled people in the world that will take from other people and they don't care about it at all. My work gets stolen and misused in so many ways and that can also feel like an abusive thing that's happening. I think that you need to get help. It's like if you were going down the highway and there was a drunk driver next to you, you would call somebody for help to get the drunk driver off the road. If you have a tire that blows out, you would use every fiber of your being and strength that you have in you to manage that situation. But sometimes we don't look at the motion of our lives being put in danger because we're too fearful to face the thing that's unhealthy there.
DP: Yeah, I totally agree. I've had traumatic situations where I was not able to, because of my circumstance, get out of that. It's really powerful for you to say, “If you had a friend that was going through this, what would you tell them? If you would tell them to leave or go seek help or seek community, then you should do that.” And so I really appreciate that answer. You are somebody who has had decades of success and it seems like in the beginning you felt like that success was steered for you in ways that maybe you didn't believe in. Now it seems like you feel like you have everything under your control and everything that you are doing aligns with your values. How did you get to that place?
TA: Being my own CEO and realizing that I didn't need to go and acquire a fancy education for that, I created something that meant something to me. I'm the one that did the study, I'm the one that looked the women in the face and figured out how to do something that can help people at large. That is my responsibility. For me to have the steering wheel to my own business now means that I'm going to do it right. I think that one of the best things that any entrepreneur can understand is that—I don't care what any business book says, this notion of, “Emotion doesn't have a place in business,” or, “You have to separate emotion from business” is the most absurd, absence of humanity at a basic core of who we are. It all belongs together. It is a business because I employ a lot of people and I care very much about their financial wellbeing, their personal success. So I am running a business. What I do is expensive to produce and to put out but I'm going to do it right.
I just launched a new product called MYMODE. When it came time to do the materials and the production of it, I put my learning cap on and I went to the 5 Gyres Plastic Institute. I learned and uncovered how the fitness industry is environmentally dirtier than the fashion industry. And I'm like, “I'm not doing this, so this is gonna be an expensive product but we're going to make it right and we're going to align ourselves with the environment and we're going do something healthier.” For me having the steering wheel now looks like things like that. I’m going to do things that I'm proud of. What's difficult is every day that I wake up, knowing that I took on those standards.
DP: There was one thing that you said on CNBC about your business—I think you were launching some sort of nutrition bar in a retailer. I watched this probably four years ago and I remember you being so determined. I guess the retailer needed it to be a smaller bar and you said, “I refuse to do that because if I'm going to say that this will be a meal replacement bar, I refuse to have it be this snackable size where I'm essentially asking people to starve themselves, that does not align with my values.” You were so strong on that and you were willing to even give up this huge massive opportunity because people trust you. You didn't want to give people a bad product. How does it feel hearing that today knowing that you have all of the power and thinking back to that moment where maybe you felt like you didn't?
TA: Thank you for all of that and for bringing that up because I did give that up. And it cost me a lot of money to say that, more than you would probably care to think. Because at the end of the day if you don't have your character… Look, there's enough people that want to make people look like this or that or whatever and at the end of the day I want to sleep well at night every single night. I can make mistakes (everyone makes mistakes) but they're mistakes that I know. I do think that having a strong character is everything and caring about other people is the most important thing. Genuinely caring about what you bring forward, how you use your power, how you use your influence. There are so many influential people today. Anybody can be anyone now, which is amazing and extraordinary. But when you have people who are following you, who are marinating in your feeds, who are looking at you, do not mistake that power. Don't look at other people like they're weak or like they're stupid or like you're going to make so much money off of them. That's evil, right?
That opportunity, I didn't end up seeing it through. I pulled it and it's because when you go to the inner workings of big box retailers, at the end of the day they make money off of making you think that they're a safe place for you to shop and that their products are safe and they care about your family and they don't. I'm investing in regenerative soil, in trying to get people who can afford it to buy clean food and start making food at home and stop this cycle. So I pulled it and as a businesswoman, it cost me a ton of money. By the way, I got yelled at a lot by a lot of powerful people: “You do this, shut up and do that.” Or you know, “These ingredients have to go even though they're the ones that you cared about because they cost too much and to be on this shelf here, you have to feed them something that's this cheap.”
DP: This is all so helpful. You have been such a successful businesswoman—what is something that you are most proud of? To encourage other people listening to just be like, “You know what, I'm so proud of myself for doing this and I'm going to own it.”
TA: I am so proud of myself that I have continuously, every single week, choreographed brand new sequences off of the science and the study. I am proud of myself that I've never not delivered what I promised myself and the people that have been customers of mine. I am proud of myself for that.
DP: That's amazing. The last thing I'll ask you is just one piece of advice you would get to anybody listening who is maybe having a rough day.
TA: Obviously it's my business but—every single person has a primal right to move. It doesn't have to be with me. It doesn't have to be with anyone. It's like, just put on music and just move in yourself, when you start to move and you even start to straighten your spine or let your chest open up, whatever it is to change the noise that's circling in your mind when you're in a downer place is really powerful and you don't stay there. We are fluid beings, we don't stagnate, we are energy that's in motion. I think always telling yourself too in a dark moment like, “I am motion. Life is motion, which means that this moment is going to pass.”
DP: Yes, I love that. I love that advice, Tracy. Where can our audience find you? What are any new programs or any new launches that you're excited about?
TA: It’s tracyanderson.com. I’m just @tracyandersonmethod on social. And I just launched the MYMODE, which is basically a biodegradable workout system. I just launched that but I have weekly streaming and I have all kinds of stuff.
DP: Thank you for your time, Tracy. And I truly know that there are going to be so many people inspired by the vulnerability and the emotions that you've showcased during this episode. It was an honor.
TA: Thank you, Daniella.
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