Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO of EXTREMEYOU and former president of Equinox, shares her leadership lessons and career advice.

With a championship mentality reminiscent of her SRO 2own New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team, Sarah has climbed to success with heels on her feet and her head in the game. Recognized by Fast Company as one of the Most Creative Women in Business, Sarah has built her career at top-tier brands: from roles at Virgin, Atari, and Nike to becoming global president of Gatorade to her most recent role as president of premier fitness lifestyle company, Equinox (including the Equinox, Soul Cycle, Blink Fitness and Pure Yoga brands).

Recently, Sarah Robb O’Hagan announced her decision to leave her dream job at Equinox in order to pursue her true passion – empowering others with the tools and support they need to reach their fullest potential. She is now using the experiences, knowledge and network that she’s developed throughout her career, to help inspire powerful change in others with her upcoming book, EXTREMEYOU (to be published in 2017).

In the following interview, Sarah Robb O’Hagan talks about her decision to embark on the next adventure, the power of a challenger mindset, and how to think differently about your career.

What was the “a ha” moment when you decided to leave your dream job and take the leap to pursue EXTREMEYOU?

I don’t really think it was an “a ha” moment such as a multi-year journey that led me to realizing late last year that I needed to do this. I’ve had a 20+ year career with a LOT of ups and downs that I was starting to write about in my book EXTREMEYOU, which will be published early next year. In addition to my experiences, I have been interviewing a number of incredibly successful high profile people and was clearly seeing this giant gap between the journey that we had all taken, compared to the expectations that we give to those starting out their career journey today.


The more clearly I could see this gap, the more strongly I felt that it was my duty to do something about it. Then late last year, I was at home in New Zealand visiting my mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and it really hit me that life is short, our health and brain power is not guaranteed– so while I am still young enough and in a position to do this, I simply must make the leap!

How do you hope your upcoming book will impact readers?

I hope the book will leave readers with a huge sense of permission to just exhale and realize that perfection is overrated. It’s OK to make mistakes and have screw ups, because that is a necessary part of reaching your potential. I hope the book leaves readers with a sense that they have a choice. Success comes to those who work their asses off for it, and in every generation there are those with high potential, but a low sense of grit and humility, who end up missing out on achieving all that they might be capable of. I hope readers put down the book and make a mental commitment not to be one of those people.

What lessons do you think we can learn from sports and fitness to help us excel in our careers?

Oh wow, there are so many – it’s hard to know where to start. But the most fundamental lesson is the concept of winners and losers. In life and in business, not everyone can be a winner – you have to outwork, outsmart and outlast others around you if you are going to have outsized success. I feel personally disturbed by what I call the “everyone’s a winner” culture: we have taught so many at a very young age that as long as you just show up, you still get a trophy. And that leads to people showing up to work expecting promotions and progress just for participating and doing their job.

It’s not fair to create this expectation because in reality, not everyone can make it to the top. Achieving really big success requires so much more than just participating. It’s a choice we all need to make – and there’s no place to better learn that than on the sports field. If you lose, you need to go back as a team and feel the loss and get mad about it! Then you can identify your weaknesses, work as hard as you can on them to come back and win the next time around. The exhilarating feel of a win when you’ve really earned it is something you can equally experience in the work place, and it can drive individuals and teams to achieve even greater things.

You talk about instilling a challenger mindset in the next generation – how do you believe companies (big and small) can encourage this mindset in their employees?

What I just love about the millennial generation is their massive desire for social good – they really want to make the world a better place and they have the education, technology and innovative minds to do it. But to go from ideas to action requires a real challenger mindset – a willingness to not only see things that are broken and the need to fix them, but also the drive and resilience to go after solutions regardless of the weeks, months and possibly years of naysayers, failures, and set backs. Companies can encourage a challenger mindset in their employees by creating goals for people to aspire to as individuals and as teams, and really rewarding those who stand out from the crowd with their competitive spirit, work ethic and drive to succeed.

Having worked with renowned brands such as Equinox, Nike, Gatorade and Virgin, what can large, iconic brands learn from startups when it comes to innovation?

It can be a lot harder to innovate in big companies simply because of the sheer size, scale, layers of people and cultural need to “defend” what exists, such as the return on expensive capital assets. Many young people who start their careers in big companies are likely to be well battle-tested when it comes to innovation, which will serve them well if they move into the startup world. When you are at a startup without any of that baggage, you can be so much more nimble.

With all that said – I think what big companies can learn most from startups is the willingness to see the landscape in a way that doesn’t exist today. To be a great innovator you must let go of something to be able to move forward – and that’s something that the startup world does so well.

What excites you most about opportunities ahead for the millennial generation?

There is so much that excites me. The millennial generation has been raised with a much more diverse perspective than any generation before them and that gives me great hope for their potential to drive change in the areas of society where it is so badly needed.

With the low barriers to entry in pretty much every industry, it’s easier than ever to get going and make a difference. But with all that opportunity, also comes the need for good old fashioned hard work, experience and resilience if we are going to make the greatest impact possible.

What advice would you give your younger self today that you didn’t know when you were just starting out your career?

I would tell myself to pursue experiences more than outcomes. When I was starting out I was so focused on reaching a goal and so worried about anything that was not on the straight path towards that goal. But now that I’ve had a long career history, including big successes and epic fails – I realize that both were SO necessary in preparing me to be the leader I am today. The many side steps and back steps in my career did more for my long-term trajectory than any other moments because they taught me humility, self awareness and resilience.

Most important career lesson you have learned so far?

Without risk does not come great reward.

Daily routine that keeps you inspired?

Running. It is my quiet time where I am able to imagine possibilities without any limitations.

What makes a day successful?

A great workout, some progress in business and seeing at least one of my kids have a real belly lau

Words to live by?

It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. (Sir Edmund Hillary)

Connect with Sarah on Twitter @ExtremeSRO

Originally posted on Purpose Generation