When I reached out to Kathryn for this interview, we had never met. Whatever I thought I knew about her was pieced together from mutual friends and—what else—social media. From the outside, she seemed to have it all: a happy marriage, a hugely successful career, and a multidimensional platform that included books, DVDs, and endorsements. Then, in what felt like a surprising shift, those tiny squares on Instagram began to tell a different story. While I had always admired her success, I became more interested in the fact that she appeared to be walking away from it all. Here’s someone who, at the top of her game, decided that the success for which she had worked so hard no longer made her happy. What I was surprised to learn over the course our conversation was that, at the height of her career in the yoga industry, Kathryn was miserable.
16 Jan 2018
Sitting down together in her Brooklyn apartment, we covered a lot of ground. Kathryn surprised me with her openness, and I found her honesty a breath of fresh air. I sensed a rawness in her self-reflection, and it felt clear that she is still processing the past, and working through the awkwardness of transition. The most meaningful aspect of our conversation? Her vulnerability for sure, but also her willingness to sit with the fact that, for the first time in her career, she simply doesn’t have the answers.
Totally inspired by the guts it took to not only admit to herself that she was unhappy, but to also take action, I had to ask: How do you know when it’s time to let something go? Kathryn had a lot to say on the matter:
When you start losing your hunger. It just started to feel like autopilot to me. And I knew I still loved my students but I was experiencing regular dread … this constant pit in my stomach where it was like, ‘This is not what makes you happy.’ Which is really hard to say out loud. Like, this is what I’ve built an entire career on. This is what I’m known for. This is what I’m really good at, and I’m totally wanting to walk away from it. Which is terrifying. And obviously I haven’t fully walked away from it. But sometimes I’m like, ‘What the fuck are you doing Kathryn? You’re ruining your career. You’re going to have nothing.’
Her words underscored that things are not always as they seem. Whatever significance I had gleaned from my perception of her success was, in fact, of my own making. From my perspective, Kathryn somehow managed to do it all and that, to me, had been a major source of inspiration. But from her perspective, it had been a source of suffering. Guess what? Doing it all is not what it’s cracked up to be. “[…] in retrospect, I don’t know how I didn’t die. I was miserable. I don’t recommend that people try to do it all because I don’t think it’s healthy.” Kathryn went on to share that looking back on her marriage, she couldn’t even connect to feeling miserable because she was just so busy. “I knew I had to get things done and if I wasn’t happy in my relationship at the time, I think I was just like, ‘Well, I’m only here for a couple days and I gotta leave anyway.’ And then I would come back and be like, ‘We’re great!’ And so I think when people try to do it all, they lose reality and what’s actually happening in their lives and life can go by really fast that way.”
Fast forward a year, Kathryn found herself changing everything. Now divorced, she’s dramatically reduced her teaching schedule and moved from her beloved Charleston to New York for her new relationship with girlfriend, Kate Fagan, ESPN commentator, journalist, and best-selling author. The transition has been bumpy. “It wasn’t a sparkly oracle-ly moment that you read about in books.” She never felt as if one door closed and another opened. “It’s been a really hard year. I’ve had very few wins.” Wow, what a powerful reminder that transitions are rarely a straight line from where you’ve been to where you’re going. Life doesn’t roll out the red carpet to usher you into the next chapter; it challenges us at every turn as if to test our resolve to make change. To that point, Kathryn commented, “I know they say ‘Anything worth having, you’ve got to work hard for it’ but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to see that. It’s easy to say when you’re successful and you’re looking back at it, ‘You know, I just really had to work through that challenging time,’ but when you’re there, you think ‘This just isn’t working, what’s the point?’
As she continues to look ahead, Kathryn finds that her way forward is still unclear. “It’s hard, and I know a lot of people understand this, when you’re not totally positive what you want. There is no blueprint for what I’ve been doing and there will never be, so I’m not really sure about the next step.” I applaud Budig’s commitment to do things her way—to stay true to herself. It’s the very spirit of her mantra, Aim True, which began as a personal practice and ultimately transformed into her brand. Her own relationship to Aim True is continuously evolving.
Anyone can go out and buy a nice bow and a pretty arrow and be like, ‘This is where I want it to go’ but then when your arrow starts going all over the place, it’s like, shit. And so that’s where I am right now, where I can’t wax poetic about aiming, it’s just like, survive. And stay hungry. The Aim True part is still there and the focus is still there but it’s like, amongst everything that’s going on right now for me, it’s being ok with that. As someone who really likes to know what’s going to happen, I just don’t. I really, really don’t. And I know that’s ok, but it’s a daily practice to remind myself it’s ok.
Aiming True is not just about trying to hit an external mark; sometimes it’s about putting the bow back in the quiver and getting quiet. You have to listen to your heart before you take aim. Regardless of where your arrow lands, it’s that connection to your deepest Self that matters most. The ultimate bullseye lies within.
It’s easy to look at someone’s life and make up our own story about who they are, how they feel, and what they want. Seeing Kathryn as a human being, someone with her own struggles and her own work, was important because it’s so tempting (and I know I’m not alone) to stack myself up against my perception of others and fall painfully short of the mark. How often do we blindly chase after someone else’s story, or the idea of someone else’s success, in business or in life? One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned over time is that in order to aim true, I have to get clear and confident about what works for me.
Kathryn is now making a life in Brooklyn with her girlfriend, Kate, and their two dogs, Ashi and Keonah. Most mornings you can find the four of them on their daily walk for coffee. They love the quiet life—days spent at home, cooking dinner and curling up on the couch to watch Netflix. They’re happily looking into their future together, side by side. Kathryn said of their relationship, “It’s not to say that we don’t bang heads for sure, but we challenge each other to do better, to think better, to be wiser, and to be more considerate.”
Kathryn and Kate’s life partnership inspired their joint venture with ESPN, a sports/health/entertainment podcast entitled Free Cookies. Their chemistry is undeniable and I’m a big fan. “We’re both storytellers and we just thought, how cool would it be if we had a platform where we could bring people together and share really important stories.” Their guests run the gamut, from Misty Copeland to Taryn Toomey to Seane Corn. I love listening to their different interviewing styles—Kate’s questions are smart, carefully crafted, and yet totally effortless, while Kathryn’s approach is that of a genuine fan with questions it feels like she’s been sitting on forever.
It’s been said, you get really good at what you do a lot. But what if the thing you’ve gotten good at—the thing you’ve worked hard to achieve—becomes the source of your suffering? Certainly, you can continue to stick with what’s comfortable, or you can step out of your comfort zone. My conversation with Kathryn reminded me that growth is as painful as it is necessary, and it’s that discomfort that finally propels us into the unknown. Until we step boldly into our truth, we can’t know our own resilience or touch the depths of who we are.
Kathryn took a hard look at her life and her career and realized that the things that had once defined her were actually causing her pain. No longer able to walk her talk, something had to change. Her story made me think—what does success even mean? We, myself included, measure the success of others by what we think we know about them and what we imagine it would feel to walk in their shoes. But how do we quantify our own? Are we checking off boxes or checking in with ourselves? Clearly for Kathryn, aiming true isn’t about a destination; her story is still unfolding, and I have no doubt that brilliant things are in her future. Aiming true is about aligning ourselves with what matters most in our hearts and having the courage to make a change when we veer off that course. This flows directly from our willingness to look honestly at our lives and to redefine what success means for ourselves. Kathryn’s honesty—her realness and rawness—inspired me. Look at what’s truly possible when you’re open to change.
Subscribe to Free Cookies and follow Kathryn at @kathrynbudig