Woman sitting on rock looking out at sky

Finding My Footing as a Corporate Athlete

By Clare Hefferren

I’m the weirdo that walks into an elevator and stands backward just to see the reaction on people’s faces. As a child, my father and I arrived at the airport extra early for the fascination of sitting on the outside concourse aisle to people watch. My father’s nurturing of my curiosity led me to be intrigued with psychology and sociology, and as a result, I plotted my career and even named my business after it, Callosum

The corpus callosum connects the left side of the brain to the right side, connecting the hemispheres in the largest connective brain pathway, made up of more than 200 million nerve fibers. – Science Direct

people standing on cell phones

In business, I connect function and art. We are brand strategists. In the years following my traumatic brain injury, I found myself returning to my roots by studying the brain to heal myself. Devouring books, attending conferences, listening to podcasts, until one day I finally had enough. 

This is the second blog in a series of three about Entrepreneurship and Flow State. If you missed the first in the series click here to start at the beginning to read my story of how I reached burnout. 

Series Synopsis: We all have arcs – business and personal. While mine began separate and distinct, over a span of two decades they converged in (and on) purpose. This 3-blog series follows my path – an entrepreneurial startup story and how it evolved to outdoor purpose through flow state. I invite you to come along and join me on my journey and bring snacks and plenty of hydration, as it’s an adventure after all.

* * * 

2020 was to be a year of professional development. Alas, the pandemic canceled my travel plans, yet kindly introduced me to The Flow Research Collective*. As quarantine hit, I enrolled in Zero to Dangerous – a program for entrepreneurs and executives to study flow state in a business setting. For eight weeks I was engulfed with mind-blowing strategies and ways to redesign my life. 

Chock full of assessments, it hit me that it was no badge of honor to be off the charts burned out. What did it feel like to be burned out?  Oh my! A 50-60 hour workweek. Exhausted, consuming caffeine like a fiend. Unable to sleep as my head was spinning with work perceived emergencies. Cynicism was often pointed at clients/staff. A lost connection of the team win and instead focused on an ego-based singular win (me me me!). Loss of confidence as a business owner and leader. Ineffective multi-tasking and rarely fully present. No personal life. 

Making it through the Fire 
As I logged on to my daily coursework, I quickly found that I would be reinventing not only my work life, but also my personal life. Class began with learning the importance of positive psychology. The building blocks are sleep, nutrition/hydration, social support, gratitude, exercise, breathwork, and nature.

For 10 days I hit the hay at 8 pm like a senior citizen, listening to yoga Nidra to close the work-brain loop and bring me back into my body. I invested in meal planning and curbside pickup. I replaced my Netflix zone-outs with a weekly documentary. Sundays were a day of reflection, and active recovery through yoga, hiking, infrared sauna, meal prep, and (non-work) reading. My weekday lunch break became cell phone-free and included 20 minutes of breathwork. And water! I now consume enough water to drain the nearby Colorado reservoir. 

Clare pausing for a meditative break at Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.
Clare pausing for a meditative break at Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.

An Active Recovery Plan

As I dialed in my health, I began to emerge from the brain fog. Next up: New methods of recovery for my brain and nervous system. 

Flow-state originated with high-performance athletes and was brought to corporate life with the same principles. A lifetime athlete myself, I was very familiar with the need for physical recovery. Yet, it never occurred to me that I also need brain recovery after a day’s work. I took several routes to create my active recovery plan. 

  1. MASSIVE TRANSFORMATIVE PURPOSE (MTP): We had conversations about my WHY – what is my legacy? I knew I loved my work and was passionate about the outdoors. I knew nature was part of my answer: Nature inspires and heals me. It helps me feel alive – when I’m taking risks, challenging myself, and growing. There are endless opportunities to raise the bar with outdoor endeavors, and that translates to business as well. My new MTP: I daringly advocate for access to nature as a source of inspiration and healing. 

  2. SERVICE: Following the wise advice of my mentor,  I chose a new topic to study and build curiosity. I volunteered on a non-profit board. I was no longer interested in the singular win for myself – instead advocating for the collective win by nurturing the community. 

  3. BOUNDARIES: And yet my coach stopped me in my tracks when he stated that the most obvious person I needed to advocate for was… me. I was a giver, a doer, a go-getter – yet when the race was on, my personal needs were often dismissed. And so I learned to better be in service of others, I needed to start with myself. I adjusted my leadership methods to create a culture of health. My team (employees, staff, etc..) ski on powder days, take lunch breaks and cap the week at 35 hours. My team’s fav “Clare quote”: We’re not Amazon and no one is dying on our watch. Go home!


Post Burnout
What did I feel like after recovering from burnout? Ahhh, equally on fire and zen. A capped workweek at 35 hours. Restful sleep. Excitement for the day ahead. Able to prioritize important tasks. Energized at the end of a workday. In service, in community, for a collective win. Work is ON or OFF. Recovery time is non-negotiable. Got my personal life back in the evenings and weekends.   

You CAN recover from burnout. Life as an entrepreneur can be a spaghetti bowl of intersections and downed signage. To mitigate the highs and lows, I rely on my flow state foundation – using my brain as a muscle rather than a filing cabinet. In the next and final blog in the series, I’ll share my favorite tips and insights on how to use flow state to best use your day. 

Clare Hefferren is a sophisticated tomboy, passionate people’s champion, and CEO/Founder of Callosum, a purpose-drive strategic firm that guides outdoor & mountain destination brands. Based in Vail, CO, and working with clients nationwide she’s committed to doing business for good – people, planet, profit. Equally comfortable in the backcountry and boardroom, she has proven successful in understanding the brand life cycle in the outdoor and mountain lifestyle industries. 

Away from the desk, she’s a lifelong outdoor enthusiast: Alpine & telemark skier, snowshoer, trail and road runner, road & mountain cyclist, hiker, backpacker, and river & reservoir stand-up paddler.

    •    Positive Psychology

    •    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

    •    Steven Kotler

    •    Should you decide that you’d like to enroll in the Flow Research Collective, please email me as your referral will provide sponsorship for another student. I do not benefit from your enrollment.