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Meg Gill

Confessions of a swim team drama queen No. 6

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Confessions of a swim team drama queen No. 6

It's a Thursday morning, and I hadn't gotten a swim in this particular week yet. I could tell by my mood. I hit send on the first draft of Golden Road's Annual Report to our CFO, Paul, to review before it gets sent to Tony. I was supposed to have gotten it in the night before. It was 10:12am and I was exhausted. Checked into emails and found a group one from "Lucky" Mike. He said "who can swim - I'm jumping in Rose Bowl at 10:30 for a workout." 
 

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Confessions of a Swim Team Drama Queen No. 5

Meg shares her views on empowering women in the workplace and the value of a good mentor.  

 

A season of change is upon us. As many are preparing to walk across the stage to bridge the gap between academia and real life, I am reminded of words my mom shared with me in my graduation note that said, “The final steps of a journey create an arrival.”

These words resonate even today. Recently, I was fortunate to be chosen to represent Fairfield Inn & Suites in a campaign called Every Day Connect. The program is dedicated to showcasing relationships with mentors of who have had a life-long impact from one’s college years and beyond. Not surprisingly to most, I asked my university swim coach Tim Wise to meet me in New York for these interviews.

Tim and I spent a full day together, which was the biggest treat of the trip. Although it’s been years since my college swimming days, it was easy to reconnect and reminisce about the intensity of the sport; some of the biggest physical  and emotional challenges I have ever had to face. Speaking with Tim brought back fond memories. My favorite quote from Virgil’s Aeneid is: “Endure the hardships of your present state / Live, and remember as there will be better fate.”  

As the idea of women in the workplace and gender inequality takes center stage in the media, the trials and tribulations of my developing years in college stick in the back of my mind. Now, I don’t mean to whine here, but being a woman in any industry in the post-grad world is not easy. In fact, I feel it’s safe to say that many young women (and men) in this day and age are still figuring out what they want -- how to achieve their goals or break from what may be perceived as “normal.” There are two philosophies that have helped empower me in these often confusing and terrifying times:

1. Survival & Risk: I thank God every day that I was brought up in a modest home with loving and supportive parents who told me I could do whatever I wanted but never handed me a check. NOT having money after college and having debt meant survival. I learned, and am still learning, that having financial responsibility makes you learn a lot, fast. It used to be just me – now it is 150 employees. I didn’t have the burden of a trust fund – I had the comfort of being broke for so long that I was (and still am) resourceful and hungry.

2. Swimming & Friendship: The thing I’ve known my whole life is who I am when I’m in the water. Having an outlet and a network of swimmers through The Olympic Club gave me support and guidance at the most trying times – from bad breakups to a near-fatal car accident. I was saved by swimming and swimmers throughout my 20s. I have also learned that it’s ok to be dependent on others at certain times in your life. As an overly-independent 22-year-old, I thought, “hey, you die alone, you should make it alone.” Quickly after college, I learned that we are actually all together in this life, so let’s help each other - in business and in our personal lives. Those support lessons have translated well into Golden Road’s culture of supportive women in our workplace. I feel the positive energy every day guided by the excitement of our business developing alongside our friendships for people of any gender.

As graduation commences, I just want to say to these young ladies looking for their place… This shit is hard so hold on tight, don’t let go, and carry on! You WILL get through it and be better off on the other side. It is interesting to reflect on our journey and how fortunate I am to have landed in LA with Tony’s support and a network of amazingly talented folks who help me and Golden Road every day. I am sure life doesn’t get any easier or slow-down.  But those post-grad years of finding your passion and your voice, are tough survival years – and I strongly believe – will help overcome future challenges.


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Confessions of a Swim Team Drama Queen 4

Over-Prepare & Let it Flow

 

Having been a 50 freestyler, the shortest event in college swimming, it was not commonplace for me to need to train the meters my coach enforced. Yale Swimming Coach, Tim Wise, had me train with the distance swimmers and attend more than the required workouts to "over-prepare" my body and mind by swimming over 15,000 meters/day for weeks on end, concluding with a training trip in Puerto Rico. Sounds like a tropical break from the depths of Connecticut winters, but trust me it’s quite the opposite. The final workout was over. If we weren't so tired, we'd be celebrating. Tim said “Ok, Gill, on the blocks – 50 freestyle for time.” I looked at him like he was crazy and started crying in my goggles. There was no gas left in my tank. The whole team was out of the water watching and I was their captain – I needed to lead. 

My best friends Morgan & Caroline were in the water below my block. Caroline smiled. Morgan yelled "Go, Meggie, under 27." I gave him a glare, like “You're crazy, Morgie, no way...” At that moment, my mind was able to call on what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmikalyi calls flow. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. I remember every stroke of that single 50-meter lap, which should have been the toughest race of my life; my body and mind in extreme pain and exhaustion. Yet the engagement and enjoyment was of one of the greatest moments in sports performance for me. It was also one of the fastest swims of my life.


 
Instead of panic, fear, or anxiety, I felt joy, engagement, and total flow.
 

Flow has stayed with me. Studying and learning to call on flow has been a huge influence in my business life. Recently I visited the Forbes office in San Francisco where I was told I was going to be featured as the Food & Beverage 30 under 30 honoree. The editor sent me links to last year's video interviews and I was given a time to show up. The week leading up, I prepared by calling various beer industry sources. I felt I had a unique opportunity to share a two-fold message about the beer industry that hadn’t been shared by Forbes - craft beer is single-handedly contributing to the growth of the beer industry in America - and the role the Los Angeles market and its brewers are playing while simultaneously contributing to the growth of their communities. Like my 6 hours of training/day to prepare for a 22-second swim race, I over-prepared by answering every question the editor had ever asked a Forbes honoree with stats from some of the beer industry’s top leaders. I was ready.



When I showed up at Forbes, the editor told me the format changed. None of the questions would be the same, there'd be no pre-interview, and we would only be given a few seconds to answer. A Forbes Hot-seat. In this moment I was able to call on Tim's lesson. Instead of panic, fear, or anxiety, I felt joy, engagement, and total flow. It is better to over-prepare leading up to a big event, even when there are surprises and things that don't go your way. I enjoyed every bit of my day at Forbes; the surprises, challenges, Forbes staff, and of course the inspiring other 30 under 30 honorees. While the environment changed, the over-preparedness paid off, and I felt at ease and in Flow with my entire Forbes experience. 



Special thanks to following folks who helped with my prep for Forbes: Julia Hertz at the Brewers Association, Jenn Litz at Craft Business Daily, Andrea Riberi at The Nielsen Company, Bump Williams & Jeff Nowicki at Bump Williams Consulting, all Golden Road distributors & especially John Anderson of Ace & Mission Beverage Co, George Couch of Couch Distributing, & Tony Yanow, Phil Jamison & Paul Burgis at Golden Road Brewing


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Confessions of a Swim Team Drama Queen 3

Streamlining, Detail, and Focused Passion

 
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When I was 6 and learning butterfly with the 9 and 10 year-olds, I couldn’t keep my feet together so the coach duct-taped my legs together and had me swim the workout duct-tape butterfly against the older kids with un-taped legs swimming freestyle. My first lesson in obsession toward perfection. When I was 11, my coach Karen told us that we would have to start the workout over if anyone “broke streamline” off any wall in the workout. She said that everything had to be perfect all of the time or that we shouldn’t come. Girls like me who wanted to be fast at the shortest events could not afford a single error and every movement and positioning of my body, mind, and spirit had to be in flow and perfect. We had to Streamline. When I was 19, after a successful first year swimming at Yale, coach Dudley Duncan, told me we’d swim all night if I couldn’t make the interval the team was swimming at 50X100s on the 1:10 while keeping my stroke count at 12 per lap, breathing bi-laterally and never missing a turn. This kind of repetitive discipline and painstaking focus is what has stuck with me throughout my career and in my daily activities.

We may never be perfect, even when we have succeeded in being the “best to become the best we are capable of becoming” (John Wooden, Spieker Aquatic Center at UCLA) – there will always be more we could have done. Reaching that potential starts with the details and a “focused passion” for the details (Phil Jamison, GRB). The best memories of my athletic career are learning the details. Becoming great at the shortest event in competitive swimming meant no detail could be left uncovered. I think there’s a similar unique position to be had at Golden Road. We aren’t trying to be a theme or serve the nation or take over a category; we are intently focused on one thing – growing craft share and culture in Los Angeles. The first few years of building Golden Road, lots of what we have been doing is “building” and I have been less focused on details than when I was training for the 50 freestyle. It’s been a cycle of infrastructure, hiring, construction, securing distribution, more construction, hiring, brand releases, increased distribution, new recipes, more construction and more hiring.


 
We aren’t trying to be a theme or serve the nation or take over a category; we are intently focused on one thing – growing craft share and culture in Los Angeles.
 


Golden Road doesn’t appear to be slowing down in these cycles, but we are now ready to focus on Streamlining, like Karen taught me nearly 20 years ago as a young sprinter. We have built amazing beers, packaging, events, food, culture, fans, and team-members. Now we will be able to focus this base and work on the programming details to support our distributors, retailers, and ultimately our fans. 

Athletics and business has not been about a swimming time or a number, but about constant improvement of life’s journey. We now have 15 distributors and 4,000 accounts that have supported us with very few resources in our startup first two years. We couldn’t have done it without them. I am so excited to have the resources in place to focus on the details and improve how we support our community as we “focus our passion” heading into 2014.

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Confessions of a Swim Team Drama Queen 2

Goggles Fall Off, Dresses Rip; Carry your Ace through Unexpected Chaos

 
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Coaches have said to me, the only certainty in life is uncertainty. So you must learn to prepare for uncertainty. For Michael Phelps, it was having his coach make him race at an early age, without goggles a couple of times, so he could prepare to swim blind, knowing where he was in the pool at all times. This would come back to help him at the moment he needed it most in the 200 Butterfly in Beijing; it happened to be the race where Phelps could break Mark Spitz's record and become the most decorated Olympian of all time. I remember feeling anxious when Phelps dove in with water-filled goggles on his first of four laps, thinking it was over for him. But he didn't miss a stroke; his race was perfect, his focus never more on point. Phelps broke his own world record and said it was the "unexpected chaos" his coach had prepared him for throughout his life that helped him continue on.

I've felt the same sort of chaos happen in moments of high anxiety and focus. It reminds me of my of my favorite quotes from The Alchemist, "before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything it has learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we've learned as we've moved toward that dream." The night before my final Ivy League Championships, my performance suit ripped in the locker room and my coach drove to Rhode Island to find the only size 24 royal blue Speedo legskin suit on the East Coast. Having a great team around you to deal with chaos when it matters most is an important lesson that I was reminded of this month. I was (finally) invited to present to my #1 distributor's #1 account. 


 
Think of your two daughters in an emergency. I have an emergency. We have to go.
 

There was a lot of nervous prep from the executives at the distributor on what I was to say and how to deliver the message. Perhaps they are conservative; perhaps I can be a loose canon on big sales calls...needless to say, I met the distributor's key account manager at their warehouse early, with cold beer and a killer presentation in hand. We drove to a bustling warehouse, walked through a sales bullpen, and waited for our presentation to begin inside the owner's office with 8 guys and one gal. Story telling happened on both sides, and all the beer was sold in with ease. I was thinking "What was all this prep about from the Big Bosses? This guy is easy." I was then escorted out to meet the sales guys in the warehouse bullpen, and had my back to dozens of warehouse guys. A couple minutes into chatting, a girl ran out of the office with a panicked look. She said, "Come here!" I thought it was going to be another one of those situations where all the men tell their bosses "Meg's mouth got us kicked out of the meeting." Did I say something wrong? 

The sweet gal says, "Your entire dress is ripped, all the men are staring at you in the warehouse."



Most horrific moment ever. Bare ass in a beer warehouse. I tried to keep my focus; I thanked her and grabbed my guy's arm; "Think of your two daughters in an emergency. I have an emergency. We have to go." My guy grabbed a folder from the sales guy's desk and ran behind me as to block these guys from seeing what they'd been staring at for God knows how long. We met the distributor's off premise manager in the parking lot (we were set to change cars and throw me into another key account in the area) and threw a Corona jacket around my waist. We then headed to Macy's on the way to our next sales call, where, I kid you not, my Budweiser Distributor Off Premise Sales Manager picked out dresses for me and brought them to a dressing room. The first one I tried on, I bought, with BDOPSM saying, "baby, I know this dress is only 30 bucks, but you look like a million bucks." I told him back, "This will be the month Ace hits targets for the first month ever. Only extreme chaos could warrant success with you guys."

Later that day, I had lunch with the owner of the distributor in my new dress. I told him the story, to which he responded, "Now that's a partner, baby!" Then, after seeing yet another month of hockey stick Distribution growth and triple-digit Volume growth, yet still not hitting Monthly Targets, he told me to keep the reigns tight, never stating, or even hinting, my expectations for Ace were unrealistic after nearly 2 years of demanding more. To the only distributor allowed to call me baby (drivers to owner), who have come so far in their development of craft beer and Golden Road in LA, thank you for leading me through chaos and preparing me for the unexpected. Your friendship has been one of the most rewarding parts of building Golden Road for me. Congrats to your first month of green thermometer success - it will only get better from here!

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