Reflections On My Time in Whistler B.C. at the 2016 Lululemon Ambassador Summit
by Dan Lao
Exactly one week ago, I was deplaning onto a sunny Canadian airstrip. Today I’m seated in my favorite coffee shop to write - something I love to (yet rarely) do. I find that writing about significant moments in life help me process past events, giving deeper root to lessons learned. While this exercise is more for me than you, I’m also writing with an open audience in mind in an attempt to share my experience with others. Edition #1 of my recap of Lululemon’s Ambassador Summit dissolved somewhere into the abyss of lost 1’s and 0’s when I forgot to save it before shutting down the computer. So, in Version #2, I’ve decided to dispense with narratives and details and am going with a list of lessons and thoughts from my time.
1. People. It’s all about People.
For 4 days, Lululemon brought 100 Ambassadors, 3 Store Educators, 1 editor from Self Magazine, 1 yoga master teacher, and a vivacious team from the Store Support Center (SSC) to a single location for a time that can only be described as unforgettable in the most wonderful ways. In any other context, the food, weather, lodging, service, and activities alone would have been spectacular. In this case, I will remember the people. Conversely, take the same people and remove the Four Seasons Resort, Whistler, Skiing, gourmet cuisine, and yoga, and at its core, the experience would have been no less remarkable.
Representing 9 countries and a myriad walks of life, it would have been so easy to find points of division. Instead, for four days, the entirety of us lived in a way that would have led an outsider to label us a bona fide cult (As a CrossFitter, I am well-versed in this). And, while I know that given enough time, the spell would have eventually lifted, I have never seen such a diverse group of people come together in such a cohesive way. This leads to the question – How was this possible?
At first glance, our group was diverse. Composed of men and women ranging in age from 24 to 40+, we spoke different languages, had different preferences on body art, piercings, hair style, music choice, and dietary concerns. There were yogis, runners, lifters, spinners, dancers, crossfitters, surfers, and oh yeah, a free-diver, and an Olympian speed skater. What I quickly realized is that the bonding agent was a passion and love for people. For each of us, our “discipline” or sport is merely the vehicle through which we convey this passion. And at the Summit (#alpinefling), for four days we were able to live in community with other like-minded people without considering business strategy, competing products, and other self-interests that so quickly blur the best of intentions.
2. “We’re fine”… until we’re not anymore.
The first half of Day #3 was spent in four 1-hour blocks best described as self development sessions. Little did I know that one of these sessions entitled “Restoring Balance” would deliver a painful, yet needed shot of insulin to my heart. Katie, from the Leader Development Team at the SSC, guided us through an exercise where we first listed 8 of our life priorities around the outside of a circle. Mine were: Faith, Marriage, Family, Friendship, Career, Personal Pursuit, External Community, and Rest. We then plotted points representing the current level of effort given to each priority; the higher the level of effort, the closer to the outside of the circle. Finally, we plotted points representing where we wanted to be in each area. I’m not proud to say that my area most deficient was in the areas of “Marriage.”
In that moment and for the remainder of the session, I began to see myself and my marriage in a different light. Without going into excessive detail, I’ll say that life had gotten full enough for me to hold the belief “We’re fine.” In turn, “We’re fine” led to complacency and the idea that the relationship with the person most important in the world to me could be placed on cruise control. This isn’t meant to say that our marriage was facing troubles of catastrophic proportions. Rather the opposite – we were meandering down a gently sloping path into a bland, monochromatic place of disinterested, apathetic co-existence.
I love my wife. She is my best friend, my biggest supporter, fellow adventurer and food critic, my comforter through scary movies. She takes me at my best, loves me at my worst, and is probably the only woman who would put up with all of me. And if she’s all this, isn’t she worthy of my devotion not just in word but also in action?
3. Masterpieces do not happen by accident.
It’s not an overstatement to say that the 2016 Ambassador Summit was a masterpiece. It exceeded expectation in every way for me. It was the perfect combination of purposed agenda and unscripted leisure time. We were given all the autonomy of responsible adults, and just the right amount of hand-holding so that our biggest concerns were “Will dinner be NY Strip or Prime Rib?” and “What time is our gondola ride up the mountain?”
From my seat, the entire week went off flawlessly. I can honestly say that I was never once bored, overwhelmed, annoyed, confused, or left wanting. From the seat of Britt Collins, I’m sure things were quite different. Britt was the woman behind the green curtain, puppet master, and Jedi master.
I know Britt would be the first to defer to the members of her team for the Summit’s success, but I have a special place in my heart for leaders – for no one knows the burden of leadership like the one who bears ultimate responsibility not just in success, but in failure also. There were months and months of planning, meetings, emails, and adjustments made. Contingency plans were undergirded with backup plans. Some backups were used and others were not, with no one except those behind the scenes being the wiser.
So I guess this one is not so much a lesson learned as much as an observation and an appreciation for all the work that went into decorating the hotel, setting up rooms, preparing gift bags, planning meals, and logistics on top of logistics. Thank you Britt and everyone who helped pull this off.
4. Swimming requires that you get wet.
The atmosphere during the Summit was nothing short of remarkable. Despite representing many different approaches to fitness, business, and life, there was an extremely positive and unified sense of purpose amongst our group. To be clear, there was no Kool-Aid or animal sacrifice. Even still, it was a bit astonishing to me that I never once caught a glimpse of any self-promotion or unhealthy competition. When someone announce that they were publishing a book or releasing a dvd, others were genuinely excited for them. (I have neither a book deal or workout dvd in the works).
I think the reason why everything came together is that we all chose to buy into the agenda. I think the analogy of swimming works well here because just as at the pool you can wear your best swimwear, show up to the pool, and even wade into the shallow end and still not be swimming. At some point, you have to release your feet from the bottom of the pool and go for it. At the Summit, there was a similar requirement to simply let go of reservation, buy into the agenda, and dive in.
It started with little things – like showing up scheduled events on time and being respectful when others were speaking. Initial shyness in meeting strangers soon gave way to the anticipation of forming friendships with an incredible assembly of individuals. Before long, yogis were taking part in an early morning run and workout and CrossFitters muddling their way through a 3-hour Baptiste Yoga practice. Sure, I was put a bit out of my comfort zone when Jay Co and I stood facing each other with about 5 inches of space between us for what felt like 15 minutes straight, but when I knew all of us were in it together, my awkwardness seemed like not a big deal.
I know that the utopian-ish community I got to experience was a very short timeframe and that another reason for its success was that it was created in a microcosm absent many of the complexities of real life. However, it does leave me a bit more hopeful that within smaller parts of society (families, churches, schools, studios, gyms…), if people leaned in and lived with unified purpose, perhaps the larger sum of parts could add up to something amazing.
5. You can’t stay on the mountain.
By the time I awoke the morning of the 4th day, one bus had already left the hotel to take a group to the airport and just like that, the 2016 Ambassador Summit was drawing to its end. Part of me would have loved to remain there for another 4 days. There were still people I hadn’t had time to connect with and I think with one more day, I could have perfected my Half-Moon Pose. However, I had been given time to relax, grow, learn, inspire, and be inspired, and it was time to go home.
I think life offers us seasons like that. In some seasons, it seems like it’s all we can do do stay ahead of the next urgent requirement thrown in front of us. At other times, we are given these precious, sweet opportunities to catch our breath. It is these “mountaintop” moments that offer us the chance to process, think, and regroup. But as my good friend Damon says, “Real growth happens in the valley.” And it is in the valley where real, gratifying, and fulfilling life happens.
The mental images of sunsets, glaciers, and breath-taking waterfalls I have are accompanied by a heart full of hope, inspiration, and a few ideas that I hope can be used to better myself moving forward.
While, not exhaustive, those are a few of the lessons learned from my time at Whistler. I am thankful for the chance to have been there. It was an experience made possible by the members of my gym, fellow coaches, and an amazing team of people at Lululemon Bellevue. As I said at the start, writing this was more an exercise for me to try to process my thoughts, but if you’re still reading, thank you. Fellow #AlpineFling attendees I’d love to hear your own thoughts and reflections. See you next year Whistler…. (please?).
- Title Photo Cred: Jordan Junck, www.jordanjunck.com