On the most basic level, the secret to success might be the characteristics that are easy to point out, like next-level leadership skills or quicks smarts, and unmatched confidence. However, a growing number of successful women give credit to a less-talked-about quality: resilience. This is a learned skill that you adapt when you’re faced with adversity and setback.
“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself.” This was the advice Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg offered to graduating students at the University of California, Berkeley in a stirring commencement speech on Saturday (May 14). Approach the strong women you admire and ask them how they learned resilience, and you’ll be surprised by their stories. We certainly were when we posed the question to Natalie Yco who is an award-winning group fitness instructor at Equinox and founder of YCO Active, a lifestyle clothing brand for women who aren’t afraid to be bold.
Can you start a business with no prior knowledge of the industry? “Absolutely!” Natalie tell us. For as long as Natalie can remember, she had battled asthma, and what some would see as a setback, Natalie saw as an opportunity. She quickly turned this setback into a successful career.
We sat down with Natalie to hear her honest story of how she became a leading fitness instructor and fashion entrepreneur. One thing is for sure, setback and failure are inevitable, and it’s what you do next that really counts.
We sat down with Natalie to learn more about her professional experiences and to discover what it takes to chase a dream.
Tell us about your background
“I was raised in a single parent household by the strongest spirited woman I know. My mother survived the Holocaust, raised a black child on her own and has been in remission from cancer for several years now. She is a tough 93-year-old woman, and she continues to inspire me every day.
I grew up with asthma, which made it tough for me to participate in sports. I didn’t have any athletic role models, but something inside of me wanted to pursue fitness. I tried joining my school teams, but every time I had to perform cardio drills, I had an asthma attack, so I quit. I was strong, however. I received the presidential fitness award, which I was so proud of, but anything that requires cardiovascular endurance was my kryptonite.
As luck would have it, I was introduced to weight lifting when I was 19, and immediately fell in love! Lifting gave me the confidence to dive into the fitness world. Several years later, a friend took me to a Tae Kwon Do studio, and I was so intrigued. I started taking classes and fell in love all over again. I didn’t expect to be good at it, and I felt empowered –– like a superhero! Around a year later, my instructor asked me to help him launch a kickboxing program. Who knew I could teach group fitness!
I received a BS degree in Sports Management from San Jose State University, but my path led me in the direction of encouraging others to incorporate fitness into their lives. At the age of 50, I feel blessed to have been introduced to this world.”
What have been your biggest challenges in your career and why?
“My business partner, Rachel Chavez, and I started YCO Active not knowing anything about the fashion industry. We were absolutely clueless, and we took advice from the wrong people. We made so many mistakes. However, we are soon to launch our second collection, and though it’s still not a smooth ride, we’re making every effort to learn from our previous setbacks so as not to repeat them. One of our strategies to avoid complications is to continue to learn as much as we can. We’re also very hands-on with the entire process. If something doesn’t go right, we want to know exactly what happened and why. If we aren’t involved, then we have no control, and that would be our fault. We’re so pleased with our new team.”
What is your passion?
“My passion is fitness and fashion. I’ve always represented other brands as an ambassador or master trainer, but for so many years I dreamt of having my own activewear brand one day. It makes me feel so happy when I see students wearing something I designed. Plus, combining two of my favorite passions just seems so fulfilling.”
How did you tie your passions to your current career path?
“The way I tied my passions to my current path is still in the becoming stages. We’re a new business, and I have so many ideas that I want to make a reality, which combines my love for fitness, fashion and helping others. I try really hard not to think about the future, focusing instead on what we have to accomplish right here and now. Otherwise, I drive myself crazy.”
What triggered the desire to create your own clothing brand?
“I desired workout clothes that I wanted to wear, which triggered it all. I started writing notes about my ideas eight years ago. I liked what other brands were producing, but it was a lot more different than it is now. These days, there are so many amazing brands that have the aesthetic I would’ve loved back then. We want to be among those big brands and to compete not only in style but in functionality as well.”
A key element of success is forging strong professional relationships. What practice do you use to cultivate them with your colleagues?
“Being new in business, I feel it’s so important to learn from others that are more experienced. I have no problem letting people know that I need their expert insight. I believe that when people understand that they may have the necessary knowledge to help someone be better, it makes them feel important and special. And they are.”
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
“The best career advice I ever received was to treat every day as a Monday and to stick it. As long as you have a passion for what you’re doing, keep going! I’m learning that we aren’t the only small business dealing with growing pains. It helps to learn that others, who have either succeeded or are a few years ahead of us, share the same experiences we have.”