Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 38 - Joan Meiners - FAIL FORWARD - Part 1 of 3

But I really think that my experiences with athletics or just kind of getting out there and doing something until you-- and just like doing it badly until you do it well really shaped a lot of the ways that I approach these new things.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 38 - Joan Meiners - FAIL FORWARD - Part 1 of 3

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“But I really think that my experiences with athletics or just kind of getting out there and doing something until you-- and just like doing it badly until you do it well really shaped a lot of the ways that I approach these new things. Like, oh, I want to do this thing. Well, I know I'm gonna suck at it at first because that's kind of how it goes and then you just keep doing it until you are legit.” This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, Skincare for Athletes. Whether you're in the gym, on the mats, on the road or in the pool, we protect your skin so you're more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go to JESSE: Welcome to the Smart Athletes Podcast. I'm your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today has her PhD in interdisciplinary ecology. She's worked at several different postdoctoral fellowships. Recently, she finished a year with ProPublica local reporting network as she's working as a journalist. And currently, she's working as a freelance journalist. Welcome to the show, Joan Meiners. JOAN: Hi, thanks for having me. JESSE: Joan will and for everybody listening, Joan, I don't know if you just have a soft voice or a soft microphone, so we'll just have to like, kind of work with her microphone as we get going. So, that's just how it goes sometimes with technology though, right? JOAN: Yeah. JESSE: So, I kind of want to jump right in. I think I read that you basically have grown up being both interested in journalism and the environment. Can you tell me a little bit more about how those things kind of got going in your life and how they continue? JOAN: Yeah. So, I always like writing and I always like science and ecology. And I sort of, I think originally I thought I had to pick one. And so I kind of picked science seems like the research path was a little more clear cut. And I went down that path for a long time. I did my masters, did my PhD, I had a variety of field jobs. I had all these crazy jobs where I had to like get up at six in the morning, go mountain bike and collect beetles or I had to go to work and go jump in the ocean, catch stingrays and stuff like that. But my path has had a lot of interesting weird jobs. But I ended up at the place in my PhD where I really felt like what is the point of all this if nobody knows about it, if we're not communicating the results to the general public, if people aren't aware. So, I ended up studying bees and one of the motivations behind studying bees is to solve the problems that we're currently experiencing with bees. But I really kind of felt like all of my efforts were being wasted if I didn't make sure that the information that I was learning got to the public because it isn’t necessarily going to get there otherwise. And so that kind of led me into, well, if you want something done, sometimes you have to do it yourself. I'm going to write about my research and then that was really fun and rewarding. And so then I thought maybe I'll write about other people's research too. And that kind of led me into the journalism path. And it was a passion project and I just kept doing more and more of it, kind of neglecting my research a little bit until finally I was a full-time journalist and wasn't doing research anymore. JESSE: So, I mean-- Okay. So, explain that to me where it's like-- So, you have your PhD in a completely different field. You didn't go to school at all for journalism or more of a traditional path, right? JOAN: I don't have a degree in journalism. I took courses in journalism while I was doing my PhD. I'd kinda be like sneaking out of the lab ?? 04:05> my journalism class probably when I’m taking-- have extra homework in journalism. And then I ended up actually TAing the journalism class and doing some lectures on statistics for journalists. So, a little bit of formal education but all kind of during my science PhD program. JESSE: Okay. It's kind of the approaches people take, especially people like you that are in what we could probably say are two pretty disparate fields. You know, just kind of how you get going and I always feel like creativity is the ability to, like think outside the box, think outside of just like, I can't be a journalist because I don't have a degree in journalism or wherever, just figuring out, well, this is what I want to do. So, what a I need to learn to get there? Whether I go to school or not like that, that skill, that creative skill is so essential, especially now in just the kind of crazy job market we have in kind of moving you forward towards your goals. So, I think it's pretty cool to see people like you doing it, instead of just talking about it. JOAN: Yeah, it was definitely scary at first the first couple times I emailed people and said, I would like to interview you about your research. I was like, “Oh my gosh, who am I to even ask people ?? 05:34> time?” I'm just a random grad student and I'm emailing these prominent researchers and saying “Can I talk to you on the phone for 10 minutes?” But then I never introduced myself as a journalist. I was kind of like I'm a person who wants to write about your research because I didn't totally feel comfortable using that word for myself. But I think the confidence slowly developed just like anything else. And I think actually, I know we're going to transition to talking about athletics more later. But I really think that my experiences with athletics of just kind of getting out there and doing something until you can just like, doing it badly until you do it well really shaped a lot of the ways that I approach these new things like, oh, I want to do this thing. Well, I know I'm going to suck at it at first because that's kind of how it goes. And then you just keep doing it until you are legit. JESSE: Right. I mean I kind of think about it like anytime I talk to somebody who's like, “I wish I could do whatever it is,” it doesn't matter what it is. It's like “Well, do you really want to do that?” “Yeah, but I'm not very good.” Well, yeah, because you haven't done it. So, it's like embrace the suck, embrace how bad you're going to be and then realize that slowly you will become less bad. JOAN: Yeah, exactly. But I think you kind of experienced a similar thing that I have too. Like, I had a lot of trepidation starting the podcast because I'm like-- it's kind of almost a catch 22 where it's like, you feel like, well, nobody's gonna want to talk to me because I don't have much of an audience. But you can’t have an audience unless you talk to people. So, you got to start somewhere. And I kind of cheated a little bit. I started with my coach, and some people I knew that fit well and branched out from there. But I definitely have experienced where it's like, I'll speak to like well-known professors and authors, and people send me their books and I'll go through the books we’ll talk about the book. Things are coming out and people you wouldn't think that you could approach have been more than happy to just say, “Hey, I'll spend an hour with you just chatting like, that's perfectly fine.” It's kind of nice to see people aren't as scary as you think. JOAN: Definitely, and I don't think that's cheating at all what you did. I mean, yeah, you start with what you know better. Like I started writing about my own research. And then the first time I wrote a freelance article, it was about some research being done by another grad student in my program. So, that kind of felt like cheating. I felt like, well, I didn't really find this person in maybe the way that you're supposed to find someone that you write about just kind of venturing out beyond your own sphere a little bit more. But it worked out really well. And yeah, start with what you're comfortable with, like baby steps. And that article that I was just kind of writing for fun to see if I could pass as a real journalist. They actually paid me for it almost $500 and I would have done it for free, but I didn't know they're gonna pay me for it. And they're like, “Okay, where do we send the check?” And I was like, “Oh, okay. Yeah.” JESSE: I'm not gonna say no. JOAN: Right, right. I'm like, “Oh yeah, of course, cuz I'm a real journalist. You are gonna pay me obviously.” JESSE: I do this every day. This is perfectly-- this is like fake it till you make it thing. JOAN: Exactly, yeah. JESSE: So, we can actually jump into this. We'll go back to the research. You're talking about athletics, I got a little bit of background from Joe and that you're in cycling and you have a sponsor, at least one sponsor that works with you. What discipline of cycling are you actively involved in? JESSE: So, I'm not racing right now. I had a really bad crash a few years ago and I haven't, and then I was like in the middle of finishing my PhD. So, I'm not racing right now. I had to kind of take a step back from it. But I used to race for a team out of Northern Utah in Idaho, all of Harrison Sun Valley. We were sponsored by Chick-fil-A for a little while. Actually, during the whole Chick-fil-A fiasco where they didn't support-- where the CEO came out and said he didn't support LGBTQ, and that was a little bit awkward. I actually went and got some-- I don't want to get too political here but I just went-- I actually when all that was happening I'm like racing around in this jersey that says Chick-fil-A all over it. And I'm uncomfortable with that. I still wanted to race. So, I went and bought rainbow ribbon and kind of like adorned my jersey with it and put it in my hair and stuff, not thinking about the fact-- This is, I’m totally making fun of myself right now not thinking about the fact that rainbow stripes on the sleeve and cycling mean that you're a world champion. And it's not exactly the rainbow colors but it-- JESSE: Right because there's black in there, but-- JOAN: It's close enough and white. It's close enough that it could be mistaken for that. And so ?? 11:00> like ribbon all over my jersey to distinguish myself as LGBTQ friendly, and people are like, “Oh, like you're just giving yourself like World Champion stripes?” ?? 11:14> what have I done? So, yeah, I raced road mostly. And then I got into endurance mountain bike racing. So, like cross country, like marathon events 50 miles or longer on a cross country mountain bike course. I did that all through my masters. Speaking of kind of just jumping into things and faking it till you make it, I did a fat bike race in the snow. And I think my fifth race or something was the National Championships in Ogden at Powder Mountain in 2016. And that was really fun. I got fit so it worked out as far as my expectations for that point in time. I've kind of been all over the place. I think that my credentials are probably not as much like as-- I haven't been as successful as some of the other people you've interviewed on this podcast, but I've kind of skipped around a lot to different sports. I ran in college, I ran the steeplechase which was again one of those my coach said, “Hey, you want to do the steeplechase?” And I said, “Okay, sure. Put me in.” JESSE: Right. Because nobody wants to race a steeplechase. That's how-- Well, I did it. I did it because nobody else wanted to run it. JOAN: That was me too. That’s awesome. That was me too. He put me in the 10 ?? 12:49> I hated it. The 10...terrible thing, in my opinion. JESSE: You gotta embrace it. I'm getting ready to do one here in a couple months back on the track. JOAN: I'm sure you're gonna do great. For me, 25 laps at my absolute red wine limit was just like, “No, thank you.” I was more interested in doing kind of the middle distance. So, I said “Coach, what do I have to do to never run the 10K on the track again?” And he said steeplechase. I said, “Okay, put me in.” So, that was college, then I actually dislocated my hip in college and started cycling to rehab. And then that's how I got into cycling. And then I got into that country skiing and actually started like ski mountaineering racing in Utah, as well. JESSE: Yeah, you have been all over the place. JOAN: A bit of a grab bag in terms of my athletic background, as well as my professional backgrounds. JESSE: So, I have to back up because this is-- anytime I tell somebody who's done the steeplechase and I've only talked to one other person on the podcast so far, Ben Yoakam who's a decathlete, and he ended up-- If you haven't listened to that episode, listen to that episode, the steeplechase story comes on relatively early in that episode. But Ben's a great storyteller. And he talked about he did it because nobody else-- not enough people were in the race so he could just go do it. As long as he finished, he would get points first team, and that basically help them win the meet. But I always ask anybody who's on the steeplechase, how was the first time doing it? JOAN: The first time actually was probably really relatively great for me like time wise, and I had a great time. Because I think I had no expectations. Like I didn't ?? 14:47> time in my mind, I didn't have a place that I wanted to do. I was just kind of doing this ridiculous race for fun and there's-- JESSE: Built for horses. JOAN: Right. Exactly. I'm like, I'm a horse in this race. And there's pictures of me from that race where I'm like smiling and like waving at my friends because I'm like, this is-- I don't know what I'm doing like, this is a really crazy random race. And actually I have another crazy story about that specific race, which is that kind of nervous. I was warming up for it. I was just gonna take it as a fun thing, but you know, you still get nervous sometimes. And I hear my name over the loudspeaker, this is at Bowdoin College in Maine, I hear my name over the loudspeaker. I go up to the tent, I'm like, what do they want you know, I'm trying to stretch and stuff. And the coach of the other team is like, come with me. And I'm like, this is weird. And he walks up the bleachers and he like says “Follow me.” He walks up to the bleachers to these three women that are sitting in the very back of the stadium with like a hat on, a sunglasses and stuff. And he goes, “Joan, this is-- meet Joan.” And it was Joan Benoit Samuelsson. JESSE: I don’t know who that is. JOAN: She won the first women's Olympic marathon in 1984 and I'm named after her. And she lives in Bowdoin where this race was taking place. They had invited-- my coach had told the coach of the hosting team “Why don't you see if Joan Benoit Samuelson will come to this race because I have a runner who's named after her.” And she did and we chatted. And she’s this, you know, Olympic gold medalist, who I'm named after because my dad was a marathoner came to watch the very first time I ran the steeplechase ?? 16:49> mortifying. I'm like, she's like...running today. I'm like, “Oh, my God. Thanks for the first time I’m so sorry. Please don't watch me.” But she was really nice and it was really exciting to have her there even though I didn't know what I was doing in the race. Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3

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