Welcome to episode 51 of the Launch Yourself podcast.
In This Episode
In today’s episode, Colleen MacDonald shares her story of becoming an ultra-marathoner after a career transition which became a catalyst for her own consulting business. Leveraging how she makes it through difficult races, she knew she had the mental aptitude to make it in her own business.
Colleen covers topics including:
- Dealing with re-entry into the US when you don’t have a job and are not sure what to do.
- Choosing ultra-running to build confidence, learn mindset focus, problem solving.
- When she knew it was time to go out on her own and why she knew she’d succeed.
- Overcoming failure to success by staying focused when “outside metrics” didn’t match with being an entrepreneur.
- Learning how to fail as a business owner.
- Define success for yourself.
Learn More About Colleen MacDonald
In 2007, she started consulting with a human rights organization in Azerbaijan. Since then, she worked with the U.S. State Department, IRFS, Accountability Lab, and other large organizations. When Colleen realized she could harness the drive and discipline of ultra-running to build a business, M Consulting (M) came to be.
As a consultant, she’s known for her ability to take a project from idea to reality. As an adventurer and endurance athlete, she’s known for my unshakable drive and quest for excellence. Colleen loves order yet can appreciate the chaos sometimes needed to reach a goal. She likes her art abstract and needs her life organized by checklists. One of her favorite phrases is “get shit done.”
Naturally, M is a reflection of Colleen: adventure-driven yet strategic and business-savvy. She takes her love of adventure and brings that into her work. She approaches problems differently, ask tough questions, and challenge assumptions to get to the heart of a vision. She surrounds herself with a kick-ass team of consultants who can support a strong finish.
Melissa Anzman (00:00): This is the launch yourself podcast episode number 51 with Colleen MacDonald. For more information and show notes, go to launchyourself.co/51. Welcome to the launch yourself podcast. My name is Melissa Anzman. I'm a best-selling author and the CEO of two businesses, an employee experience company, and launch yourself where I help entrepreneurs diversify and scale their business by launching digital products each week, you'll hear mindblowing interviews where we peek behind the curtain of other people's launches, as well as actual tips and strategies that you can implement in your daily work life to create launches that actually make you money. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now let's get started. I'm so excited for today's guest on this episode. Colleen is amazing and we talk about something a little different than most of our episodes, because I am so intrigued with how one of her hobbies really fuels her business.
Melissa Anzman (01:06): So that is what we talk about. And we go in depth about her ultra marathon running career and how it has led to success for herself and her business. So a little bit more about Coleen. She is a consultant and the founder of M consulting. She also happens to be an elite ultra runner in 2007. She started consulting with a human rights organization in the middle East. Since then she's worked with the us state department. I RFS accountability lab and other large organizations when she realized she could harness the drive and discipline of ultra running to build a business. M consulting came to be as a consultant. Colleen is known for her ability to take a project from idea to reality as an adventure and endurance athlete. She's known for her unshakable drive and quest for excellence. You will learn all about that and more about what Colleen does and how she made the leap into ultra marathon running and into her business. In today's episode. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thank you so much, Colleen, for coming on the show today. I'm really excited to have you here. If you could share a little bit about your business.
Colleen MacDonald (02:26): Yeah. Hey Melissa. Thanks for having me. It is awesome to get a chance to chat with you today, but yeah, about my business. So I'm an entrepreneur and ultra runner. My business is digital strategy and marketing. So I basically run a digital marketing firm. I have a team of consultants and freelancers that I work with and we all work in and outsourced manners. So every client that I get, I'm able to handpick from my team and build a very specific customized team for that client based on what they need and the project that we do for them. So it's, it's a great business model. There's not a lot of overhead and I have the chance and the flexibility to work with, you know, the people that I choose and I want to work with. So I can handpick the freelancers and the consultants and the experts that I want to work with me. And then I know, you know, what their strengths are and then I can pull them in to work on a specific project. So it's a great, it's an interesting business model. It's probably one that's a little bit unique for, for digital affirm, but it's given me the opportunity and the flexibility to work with a wide variety of clients and also work with a lot of really unique people that are experts in their fields.
Melissa Anzman (03:48): That's amazing. Yeah. That is a unique model. And I definitely think we could go deep into that, but that's not what we're here for today. Like I'm so bummed because that sounds so exciting. So maybe, maybe we'll tack a little bit of that on at the end, but what kind of launched do you want to talk about today? What was like that one thing that you do or that moment in time that really has changed the way you do business widely?
Colleen MacDonald (04:14): Yeah, that's a great question. I think today I want to talk about ultra running and the decision to decide to run my first ultra marathon. And then from there, the, the consequences, good consequences or the sort of what came after that, that really informed my business because it's an interesting thing, right? To think about how choosing to decide to run an ultra marathon Kennan, you know, influence and inform your business, but looking back on it, there's a lot of connection, a lot of, you know, ways that it makes sense. So, yeah. Let's, let's talk about that if that's okay with you.
Melissa Anzman (04:53): Yeah. I love it. And so just a little bit of like background and information here. So first is I was super interested in talking about this because of two things. Number one, my coach, her tagline, shall I say, is run your business. Like your trainee. Like you're an athlete and training, like, like you're training for the Olympics. Right? Cause that mindset just goes hand in hand. I know. Right. And the second is, is I am a failed and new runner. And I, there are no failed runners. I was not a runner until probably two years ago when I first did the couch to 5k, which friends, this is not ultra running, let's be clear, but I really loved it for the first time ever. And then I stopped running for so many reasons and I'm now running again and I'm loving it, but this was really interesting to me because I have found for me, it has changed my business and I'm not doing it on that extreme level.
Melissa Anzman (05:51): So I was really interested to learn how you're able to incorporate such a big thing. Like you'd be such a big decision running an ultra marathon ultra runner. I don't know if they're ultra marathons, is it anyway? Yeah, there's a runner marathoner. There you go. Whatever that is, you've run a lot for a long time is definitely a choice and it, it sounds like it would quote unquote take away from your business for the time that you need to train. And yet I think that's different. So before we dive into the specifics, can you just explain and define what ultra runner is? Yeah.
Colleen MacDonald (06:30): I really, I really appreciate the background and knowing a little bit about your story. I think that anybody that tries, that runs as a runner, so off the bat, you're a runner and that that's pretty fantastic. And I think there's also that element of choosing to do something that makes you a little bit uncomfortable or challenging in any form is really powerful. Whether that's, you know, deciding to do that couch to five K program or, you know, take a risk with your business, whatever it is. That's even if it's, you know, maybe small to another person, if it's important to you, I think that there's value in that. So I think it's really awesome that you're doing the couch to 5k program. So thank you.
Melissa Anzman (07:08): And in fairness today is my last run with the program. So I will be graduating to the 10 K one tomorrow. So you're going to have to keep very excited about it, but anyhow, back to what's important. So what is,
Colleen MacDonald (07:21): So an ultra marathon is anything that is over the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles. So it's anything that's over that, right? And ultra marathons come in all distances. There's 50 Ks, which is around 31 miles. There's 50 mile races, six or a hundred K races, which is around 60 miles, a hundred mile races. And in the last couple of years, they've started doing these 200 and 250 mile races. So an ultra marathon is anything from an essence of 50 K to 250 mile race. And generally you know, a lot of the ultra marathons are going to be on a trail or in the mountains. They're usually off not on pavement, although there are some ultra runs or ultra races that are on pavement. You're generally gonna find an ultra marathon up in the mountains on a trail in your state park, your local park. It kind of goes to that appeal of the element of nature is sort of what makes the ultra marathon and the ultra marathon. So
Melissa Anzman (08:25): Got it. Yeah. So that's not flat, so it's even harder than just running on pavement for a long time. So this is amazing. I strangely know two people who've done outside of you, who've done a hundred mile races. Yeah. And I think they're crazy and, but, but it's amazing to me, like it is truly a different mindset. So let's go into what, how did you come to the decision that you are going to explore this? Like what happened your life? What was that turning point that you decided I'm going to do? Ultra marathons?
Colleen MacDonald (09:00): Yeah, it's a, it's a great question with a slightly complicated answer. So I, I really had, was at this point in my life where I, with a little bit of x-ray, I'd been living abroad for almost seven years in Azerbaijan, Russia, and China. I had recently come back to the States to wrap up my master's thesis. And as you can imagine, after being, you know, living abroad for so long, in, in such an intense way in countries that were not you know, it wasn't like just going to Paris, right? They were, they were very intense countries with, with cultures and, and, and, you know religion and politics, very opposite of the United States, which is great. But then coming back to the States, you know, everyone talks about culture shock and it was awful to, to put it lightly. You know, I had to wrap up my master's thesis.
Colleen MacDonald (09:53): I was struggling to find a job. I was struggling to figure out how to fit in. I mean, it sounds kind of silly saying these things for me, you know, I, I felt lost and unmoored, I felt like I didn't have community, you know, having to, and there's also that element of coming. And I'm not sure if you've experienced this coming back to the state where you were born after being gone for a long time. Oh yeah. It was incredibly difficult. So on top of all that, I was also dealing with these feelings of being a failure that, you know, I had come back to the States after doing, you know, all of this incredible work and having all these adventures. And I really had to look at myself and figure out, well, what, what am I right now? And, and it's, you know, those existential questions likely, never go away, but it was particularly sharp and in difficult at that time. And so, you know, I've been going through this whole process of trying to establish what I wanted to do with my career. And I basically felt lost. I couldn't find a job here in the States. You know, when recruiters and companies looked at my resume, they were like, what the heck were you doing? You know, like, why would I hire you? And I didn't even know how to answer that question. Like, I don't know. Why would you, that's a good question.
Melissa Anzman (11:20): I'm trying to figure that out as well, that your hand is you're in this state of like exploration and really like nothing to lose. Like you're like, what do I do? Not sure which way to turn, can't get a job so needed, do something to fill time and space. And like you said, create a home for yourself.
Colleen MacDonald (11:38): Exactly. And get something, you know, there's this idea. And I think it's especially relevant or sort of it's, it's, it's, it's a social thing in America where we very closely define ourselves by our jobs and our career. And, and that's good to a certain extent, but it's not good when you come back to the States and your whole worth is wrapped up in your career. And so for better or worse, I was looking for something that was outside of my career, where, you know, I needed a challenge. I needed something to engage me physically and mentally I needed something to give me direction because it felt like everything else in my life did not have direction. And so I was looking for something that was really going to just, you know, take all of that energy or give me some things. So I could in essence and deal with this other that was going on.
Colleen MacDonald (12:32): And I know that when I first signed up for my first ultra marathon, there wasn't a part of that. That was, you know, I, I don't have anything to lose. I love a challenge. You had had a background of running marathons before I'd always been an athlete. So I thought, why not? Yeah. And why not try this because I need something else. And I'm feeling so unmoored that having the discipline of the training and the goal was something that I really needed at that time. And it was funny how that worked out, because I did end up finding a job. That side note was not a good fit for me. I ended up being fired or laid off is the nice way of saying from that job. And shortly after being laid off from that job, I ran my second ultra marathon. And it was a really interesting coming together and sort of this transition.
Colleen MacDonald (13:27): And I would say, if we're going to talk about a lamp launch point, it would be that point of going from having this job that was not a good fit being fired from that. And then maybe a week later running my first or my second big ultra marathon and, and just sort of taking that step into the unknown of not having a job and decided to run this ultra marathon was really powerful because it running that, that ultra marathon gave me courage. It gave me a chance to work through my emotions for better or worse on the trail. Yeah. It gave me a chance to have trust in myself again, because being, let go from a job again, kind of going back to what I said about wrapping up your worst in your career is really tough. Even if you don't like the job, which I didn't, I knew it wasn't a good fit. It was like gut punched. Like, I don't know if I'm sure everyone's had an experience with that, or maybe they haven't and it's, it's good, but like, it was that point of going, Oh. Like, you know, and feeling like
Melissa Anzman (14:34): Failure and they, and they, and they don't want me, even though like, you're like me, I'm not good enough for this. And you know, at the end of the day, I work with a lot of people who have are in transition right. From, from that. And it's very much that feeling of, okay, so if they're telling me I wasn't good for this, does that mean I'm really not good for it? Like, so you start questioning that whole confidence thing, like you were mentioning. So you were there even though you hated the job, but you like, you know, you found a way to get yourself through that through your ultra marathoning.
Colleen MacDonald (15:13): Yeah. Yeah. And I know, I mean, and I, I just, I think back to that time, I still have some pictures that I took of the, the ultra that first, second ultra marathon. And I remember I hadn't actually cried about being, like, go from the job until I finished that ultra marathon. And I started crying at the finish line and it was like, this can opener. Yeah. Just like your emotions are like, they're coming up and realizing, but it wasn't, it wasn't necessarily, you know, crying as hard to articulate. Sometimes it wasn't necessarily grief. It wasn't necessarily joy. It was like realization and understanding
Melissa Anzman (15:55): Yeah. And feeling the emotion through it and just like being able to let that be so. Okay. So ultra running ultra marathon, which I still, it blows my mind. I just ran a few marathons, like okay. Cray, Cray. So anyway, so after that, how did that then turn into your business? Because what I think is so interesting about your story is they're really connected. Your ultra marathoning has a direct correlation to the creation and success of your business. So can you share a little bit more about how you, how you made that connection?
Colleen MacDonald (16:38): Yeah. I think, I think that's a great question. And it's, it's taken me a while to figure out how they're connected, because I didn't necessarily think that they would be connected in the beginning. And what I mean by that is, you know, I finished that second ultra marathon and it, and it was that, that affirmation or confirmation that I, that I had something right. That, you know, I could finish an ultra marathon. I could be laid off and that's not the end. There's still something else. And then for awhile, I was unemployed after that. So I was unemployed, but I had this, but I had ultra running. Right. And that was good because I had the discipline and direction of the next race that was coming. That was helping me go through this, this time of not being employed right. Fast forward to what, seven or eight months later, I'd had a temporary job and I'd had a win in a, in a 50 mile race.
Colleen MacDonald (17:45): And I had this idea in the back of my head for years that I wanted to be location independent, that I wanted to work remotely, that I wanted to be my own boss side note. I'm stubborn. And I hate it when people tell me what to do. So all of these things that sounds a little familiar over here, too, there were these things in the back of mine. And, you know, I, I won this 50 mile race. I crazy dad. I had, you know, a temporary job that I was working in and everything kind of came to this point. So maybe it's another launch point where I could either continue in this, this job, get another contract or I could quit. And I know that the day when that decision came up, if I was supposed to quit, or I wanted to continue in this job, it was one of those contract jobs that you would renew, you know, every year, every two years.
Colleen MacDonald (18:43): And I had this very distinct thought that I understood that I had figured out courage and I had figured out how to manage risk. And I thought to myself, if I don't take this risk or take this lunch, as you would say, and decide to start my own business, I'm never going to have, I never will, because this is the, this is the moment where I'm feeling like I have, I know myself well enough. You know, I've learned how to know myself from running these ultra marathons. I've gone through the searching for job being employed, laid off temporary job. You know, I I've gone through it all the next step for me is either start my own business, right? Yeah. This is the moment to do it. And so I ended up quitting walking away from a job at a very large corporation, which I'm not gonna mention now, but in, in, in turning down a contract job and literally starting my business the next day side note with no, no business plan and one client, what is better than none.
Colleen MacDonald (19:54): And I know that what had helped me is like going into that starting my own business, which sounds crazy when I say there was no business plan and I had one client, is that up until that point, you know, I'd run, what's three, four ultra marathons. At that point, I had confidence in myself that I could figure out the discipline that could organize my time, that I could work towards a goal that I could achieve that. And then also that I could deal with the hardship or that struggle or that because I've been doing that in the ultra marathons and it, and I had, you know, and maybe it wasn't until that point that I started to really articulate and see how the ultra marathoning and putting myself through that and, and pushing myself physically and mentally were translating into the career aspect. But it was really obvious to me at that point. And it really gave me the courage to say, okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna dive into this business thing and see where it takes me.
Melissa Anzman (20:51): That's so amazing. And I, this is why I think your story so interesting is because, you know, a lot of the online quote, unquote, grew Roos out there are like, you have to do it this way, or here's a step by step to follow, or yeah. You need a business plan or yeah. Things will get tough, but you'll just know how to handle it. Or they won't be that tough cause you're using my plug and play and it's like, that's all. And right. And in addition to that, it's like, you have to treat your business. Like you would a different type of life goal that you're going after. And your ultra marathoning is such a good example of that. Like you learned, you can't run 50 miles without working up to that. Like, I can't go run 50 miles tomorrow. You have to train, you have to work up to it. You have to eat right for it the night before, probably weeks before you have to have a plan. Like you've really. And when things go wrong, when you twist your ankle one day, like you have to be able to troubleshoot that. And I think that is so helpful from a mindset perspective to running a business, because what I see most businesses, I know of most digital products that I see all the things out there don't work because of mindset. Yeah. And I think, and that's a really good,
Colleen MacDonald (22:17): You know, what, I'm glad that you said that too, because I think it's really easy to say that there's a, maybe a quick solution or one way to do things. And there's not, that doesn't mean that you want to do things stupid, but I think there's an element to that that you have to trust yourself, trust your gut or your, or your intuition at a certain point and make that choice and then own it. Right. Even if it does and just go for it. I mean, maybe there's probably some points where that doesn't work, but in, you know, in the business context, I do think that that works because, you know, by all outside metrics I was a failure, you know, I didn't, you know, there were so many things in my professional career that I failed at, you know, I, I had been on track to be diplomat and I failed the Fs, you in the foreign service officer exam, I'd, you know, been rejected from Fulbright.
Colleen MacDonald (23:11): I've been injected, rejected from a rotary scholarship. I'd been rejected from, you know, my top five universities that I wanted to get in for my masters. These, you know, master's program I'd been rejected from all of the companies that I wanted to work for. And it was like by all my outside metrics, I was not the person that should be starting a business or, or like jumping into this field. And if I would have listened to that and internalized even more of those negative messages, or really maybe internalized more of that rejection, I don't think I would have started a business
Melissa Anzman (23:48): Would have been horrible. Like where would we have been today? You know,
Colleen MacDonald (23:51): I agree with you that I think there's an element of that, that, you know, learning how to, you know, trust your intuition or, you know, understand what you have or your courage or the strengths that you have in being willing to go for it when it, when it makes sense and, and owning that I think is really powerful in the business.
Melissa Anzman (24:08): Yeah. And being able to like, fail, like learning how to fail, because I don't know about you, but what, as I've been an entrepreneur failure is a huge part of the game. Like almost daily. I'm like it didn't work or yeah, no, that was a bad decision or no, like readjust type of stuff. Right. And so you have to try, but you also have to have that tenacity, that mindset to like keep moving forward and keep training, which ties us pack. And you're totally right. Yeah.
Colleen MacDonald (24:43): Because I think, you know, I've, I've thought about this and I've, I've talked about it several times that I really think the, one of the main, I mean, there's a lot of lessons and crossovers between, you know, being an ultra runner and being an athlete and running the business. And I think one of the main ones is, is learning how to embrace failure at a very, not at a cheesy, like home embrace failure, you know, like that right?
Colleen MacDonald (25:07): You know, like it's sucks. Let's be honest, it's horrible. But I think my way of embracing it is saying I'm going to be vulnerable and I'm going to see it as a benchmark of success. And I'm going to see it as a, you know, something that tells me that I'm stepping outside my comfort zone, that maybe I'm following my intuition that maybe, you know, I can, I can try and fail and that's okay. You know, and that's, that's because you're probably doing something right.
Colleen MacDonald (25:40): And being able, you know, and let's be honest, I've, I've failed in my ultra, in my ultra running career. I've had some races that went absolutely awful. And I was able to learn from them. And it gave me having those failures in my ultra running was able, you know, gave me the courage or the, the, almost the clear eyes, ability to fail in my business and know that it wasn't the end. Right. Because I think we think that failure is like this and, and it's not, you know, seeing it as a beginning or a launch to, to something else I think is really valuable. And it, and practicing that over and over again, I think builds up resilience. And it was that like failure muscle. Right. Because you're not going to feel well multiple times.
Melissa Anzman (26:27): Totally. Alright. So real quick, how many ultra marathons have you run today?
Colleen MacDonald (26:33): Oh, God. I'd have to think about that ballpark. Probably 10, 15.
Melissa Anzman (26:41): Oh my gosh. That's so, so I can't even think of one. That's so impressive.
Colleen MacDonald (26:47): Okay. I'm not good with numbers, but probably, 50 plus mile run.
Melissa Anzman (26:53): It's no big deal and beanie. Okay. Colleen. So what advice would you give to somebody who is, you know, thinking about, well, maybe put yourself back into that head space of, I don't know where I fit my business isn't necessarily feeling comfortable. Like what advice would you give to somebody there that, that led ultimately to your I'm going to do ultra marathoning? Like what advice would you give people?
Colleen MacDonald (27:23): Yeah. That's Oh man, I love that question. It's a tough one. But I think one thing that I've gone back to, especially, I would say in the last couple of years that I wish that somebody had encouraged almost given me permission to do, would be to you obviously we've talked about failure, which I think is a huge thing and that's something that's, you're always going to need to do is figure out how to embrace failure, but also define success for yourself. It sounds simple, but I wish that when I had been, you know, five years ago, six years ago when I first started ultra running and first started my business, somebody had told me that and given me, cause I needed permission, you're giving me the permission to define success for myself. And it's taken me a long time to figure that out because I think so often, you know, especially as, as a, as a female, your metrics of success are so defined by social and cultural norms and, you know, sort of pressures and these boxes or lanes that you can get put in that you can very quickly feel like a failure when you haven't been, when you don't see yourself in those lanes, or those boxes are hitting those other people's metrics of success, whether that be money or the career or the clothes or the husband or the car, and all of those things in and of themselves are really, really great.
Colleen MacDonald (28:40): Like they're good, but if that's not important to you, then it's it shouldn't, it's not right. You know, and, and being able to define what success looks like for yourself is so important because it's going to vary and it gives you, when you have that permission to define success for yourself, it allows you to grow. It allows you to fail. It allows you to follow your intuition and it allows you to take those risks that you might not otherwise feel like you can take because you know what success means to you. So I think that's, that's one thing that I would,
Melissa Anzman (29:15): I love it. I love it. It's so true. Yeah. It's so true. Where can, where can our listeners find you online?
Colleen MacDonald (29:23): Yeah, so I am on Instagram and I have a, I have a website. Instagram is where I hang out quite a bit. I, I have a fluffy white dog, as you heard earlier. She is a Shepard Husky mix and she's very adorable, very, very, very much a dork, but gorgeous. So anyway, I'm getting off topic here. I love dogs. My Instagram, you know, I have a lot of photos of, I covered the dog. I do ultra running. I do inspirational stories trail running, you know, mountains, rivers, adventures, that sort of thing. And occasionally I post about clients and work as well.
Melissa Anzman (30:02): Awesome. So we'll be sure to include all of Coleen's links so that you can go ahead and follow her and learn about what she does and maybe watch watch her as she takes on even more, ultra-marathons see your results and so on. I'm so excited for that. Now I'm so honored to have met the first woman I know who runs a ultra races. So the first two people I mentioned are men. So I'm really happy that you're now in the same league of the Adam. I'm so inspired by it. So thanks so much for coming on today and sharing your story.
Colleen MacDonald (30:36): Yeah, thanks, Melissa. It was really great to talk to you. And I, I love having the chance to hopefully encourage and inspire other entrepreneurs or other business owners. I think the, the thing that's really great about, you know, podcasts like yours is that it allows people to not feel alone. It gives them a way to learn from others and really, you know, connect to others who are maybe in the same boat or going through the same thing and, and hopefully, you know, inspire other people to be able to take that risk and launch themselves. So. Awesome. Thank you. Yeah. Thank you Melissa.
Melissa Anzman (31:07): To join the free Launch Yourself workshop where you'll learn, why your digital products aren't selling nearly as much as he planned for and how to diversify and scale your income by launching those right way. Text launcyourself, all one word, to: 44222.
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