Positivity and always seeing the glass half full. I am endlessly positive. I dream, and for me, the dream is my new reality. From all the challenges I have been through, positivity is the one thing that has kept me going. Losing a husband, creating a career from scratch in my 50’s, raising 6 children on my own — I could not have made it past these challenges without waking up every morning and reminding myself of the positive things to look forward to.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50's.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vickie Aigner.
Vickie Aigner is a health and wellness expert turned start-up founder of Alive, Fit & Free, where she provides virtual classes and events for seniors. Her path has been anything but ordinary, starting her career after being widowed at 48 with 6 children, and finally, turning her passion into a social start-up at age 66.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up as an only child in California and I always longed for brothers and sisters. All my friends had them and I wished so badly to have a “normal” family. I was awkward around the brothers and sisters of my friends and didn’t really know how to relate. I think my longing for being a part of a community started at this stage.
I grew up in a predominantly Asian neighborhood in Sacramento and I was the only non-Asian girl in my group of neighborhood friends. I absolutely loved being a part of the community, but at that age I had no idea that I didn’t necessarily fit in. I thought I was Japanese until one day, while dancing in a bazaar at the Buddhist Church, all decked out in my kimono and finger clackers, someone commented on my pretty blonde hair and blue eyes. I was devastated. In my little 6-year-old eyes, all of a sudden, I did not belong to this community that I was so excited to be a part of.
I remember on the holidays, my mother and a group of her friends would always plan big get togethers for anyone they knew that didn’t have family. Our celebrations were open to anyone that needed a place to go; it was a group to call their own. These celebrations were the highlight of my year, as I had more than enough friends to play with and everyone was welcome.
Looking back, my desire to be a part of a community definitely started at a young age from my childhood.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay; love isn’t love until you give it away.”
From a young child, I always wanted to be around people, interact with them, share my passion for life.
This quote encompasses what is important in life. We can say ‘I love you” a hundred times a day, but if our thoughts and actions don’t align with those words and we aren’t actively showing it, it’s rather meaningless. After my husband passed away, I realized that we are never guaranteed another moment than the present. If it is in our hands to do something nice for someone and show them that we care, even if it is just a smile or a pat on the back, then we need to do it. It might be our last chance to warm someone’s heart!
Saying ‘I love you’ is not loving someone — love is a verb and we have to make sure that person has received the love you have for them. And isn’t it just so fun to surprise people with something that uplifts them?
How would your best friend describe you?
Energetic, caring, compassionate, hard worker, dedicated, enthusiastic, loving, high energy, positive. Of course there is the other side as well — I can be impatient, unplanned, impulsive, and too sensitive. For me, life is about getting to know yourself, the good and the bad, and be able to balance those characteristics in how you interact with the world around you. At the end of the day, I’m happy to accept my flaws that make up part of the person that I am.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?
- Positivity and always seeing the glass half full. I am endlessly positive. I dream, and for me, the dream is my new reality. From all the challenges I have been through, positivity is the one thing that has kept me going. Losing a husband, creating a career from scratch in my 50’s, raising 6 children on my own — I could not have made it past these challenges without waking up every morning and reminding myself of the positive things to look forward to.
- Perseverance and dedication to my passion. It’s hard to start a business. It’s hard to get rejected time after time and still keep going, but perseverance is what gets you there. You will find those people you are meant to serve, but it won’t be without rejection and discouraging days. Keeping my vision front-of-mind and persevering was key to helping me get to where I am today.
- Energy. I am very high-energy. I actively keep my positive energy high through various meditation practices and it’s the one thing that people comment on the most, ‘How do you have so much energy?’ Energy is what gives you the tools you need to keep going when times are tough, to have enough fuel in your tank to work hard and do the things you need to do on a daily basis, and to power through challenges as they come at you and move on to the next. At 67, I teach multiple fitness classes a day, have my own personal practice in the morning, and (in non-covid times), enjoy going out with friends at night. I can’t say enough about how having lots of positive energy contributes to your success in life.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
Until the age of 48, I was a stay-at-home mom to my 6 children.
After my teenage years, I moved to Northern Idaho with a dream of living off the land. I homesteaded 60 acres with no running water or electricity. I befriended the old timers and gleaned all I could from the land while growing and preserving my own food. After I lived there for ten years, I felt I had accomplished my dream and I was ready for something new. During this time, I had taken some certification courses in health and wellness, but I never practiced in the industry.
I then moved to Oregon, where I met my husband. After we married, we eventually joined the Mennonite Church, which is a God-fearing religious community with a very specific code of rules to live by. As we had been searching for a community for so long, this tight knit, caring community drew us in. As a woman in the Mennonite Church, my job was to be a submissive wife and mother, which I did for the good part of 10 years.
Before my second chapter, my main experience for the last 15+ years was being a stay-at-home wife and mother in a very religious community.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
After about 10 years as a part of the Mennonite community, it became more and more clear that this lifestyle was not for us. We had just moved to Mississippi and had started building our own home. I was the contractor and my husband and two sons were the builders. The plan was to complete the house, sell, and move, leaving both Mississippi and the Mennonite community. This would not be an easy feat as they must ‘expel’ you from the community for you to leave and they don’t do that easily.
Life, however, had different plans. Halfway through building our house, my husband had a severe heart attack and passed away within a week. Here I was, a grieving widow, with six children ranging from 3–18 years old, in Mississippi, in the middle of building a house amidst the Mennonite community.
I had no reserves or savings and began cleaning houses for a living, hauling several of my children along with me. After surviving on cleaning houses for a year, I realized that this was not going to cut it and went back to what I knew — fitness and nutrition.
That was the year of reinvention. I mustered up the courage to leave the Mennonite community. I began pursuing my personal training certification as well as other fitness certifications and started studying for my Wellness Coaching and Holistic Nutritionist degrees.
We then moved to Arizona so my oldest son could pursue his degree in architecture and that’s where my career in health and fitness began. I worked at several fitness clubs before becoming a Wellness Coach for a company where I coached hundreds of people a month — and I loved it! I decided to start my company, Alive, Fit & Free, to help people get healthy and happy. I wasn’t sure what that looked like, but I kept on walking through open doors and following the trail that led me to where I am today, targeting the senior industry.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I had a couple of triggers.
When I was 25, I developed cervical cancer which I healed naturally. That was the first trigger that got me passionate about health and wellness.
My second trigger was when my husband died, in 2001. I was forced to go to work cleaning houses and I determined this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
My third trigger was perhaps the most important to defining what Alive, Fit & Free is today. After my husband died, I threw all my energy into surviving. I never addressed the elephant in the room, processing grief and prioritizing my mental health. After I crashed emotionally in 2007, I attended a self-development school, which provided me with that missing piece. As I grew and healed from the grief, I realized what a huge role mental and emotional health play in overall wellbeing. As a health and wellness practitioner, I could give you all the right foods and teach you how to move your body, but if we didn’t start from the inside out, with healing and changing beliefs about who we are, we weren’t addressing our whole health. We are holistic beings. We cannot separate our emotional, mental, and physical aspects; they are intertwined. This gave me a renewed passion for the direction I wanted to take Alive, Fit & Free.
Finally, my most recent trigger was in late 2019. I was still providing fitness and wellness services as an independent contractor under Alive, Fit & Free, but I started experiencing more demand than I could fulfill. At the same time, I had this feeling that it was time for something bigger. I wanted to scale Alive, Fit & Free to reach as many people as possible. My daughter, a tech entrepreneur, decided to partner with me to make this happen, and we took the plunge to launch Alive, Fit & Free as a social start-up in early 2020.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skill set inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing?
For me, it was more of a rediscovery of who I was.
As you have seen, community and the opinions of others had played such a large role in my life for such a long time. The fear of what other people thought of me and my longing for the approval of others was crippling. For so long, I had hidden myself because I was afraid of disappointing others. I needed to gain confidence in myself, trust myself, and find the courage to act on it. It took me a long time to move past that fear and actually let myself shine through, but when it finally happened, that’s when I noticed the biggest pivot in my life. And seeking the approval of others to validate oneself? Such bondage. I’m so happy to be able to be myself freely, although it’s often easier said than done.
How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
In 2007, I attended a self development program that really taught me how to embrace myself and find the full power of me. All of those qualities that made me ‘me’, I gained a new respect for. My whole life, I had tried to place myself in a box, reasoning that if I could be like everyone else and follow all the rules, I would be worthy of love and acceptance. But I had it all wrong. I am a free spirited person. Boxes and limitations do not fit me. I am happiest when I am free and flowing. In a sense, I gained permission to be me.
Then, I started meditating and seeing the life I wanted. I would say daily affirmations to encourage myself. I was, and I still am, my own cheerleader and take time for myself daily with my morning routine to get myself ready for the day with the right mindset and attitude.
How are things going with this new initiative?
This whole journey has been absolutely amazing!
At Alive, Fit & Free, we are creating a platform that offers affordable, accessible classes and events for those most impacted by loss of human connection, while giving class instructors and event facilitators a way to easily scale their businesses. We mainly target seniors, but we are open to anyone!
We are very passionate about two things:
- We are passionate about defining what SENIOR really means. Currently, society painted seniors as people simply sitting around, needing to be taken care of, with no more individual interests — even though technically we are classified as seniors once we turn 60. What senior should mean is having the freedom and flexibility to learn new hobbies, try ziplining for the first time, take up aerial yoga, indulge in our fashion addictions, and truly live life to the fullest ANY way we want. We aim to show the world what senior means by actually giving seniors the options to live alive, fit and free at any age or ability.
- Community! Remember my childhood and the deep desire to always belong? You got it. I want everyone to feel accepted and welcomed and we have created a community that allows just that. The sense of isolation that happened this last year was horrendous for us all. When we began our virtual classes, our community started to develop naturally and organically and it has been so rewarding to watch it unfold.
- When we started planning Alive, Fit & Free’s pivot in late 2019, we had a strategy to be a completely virtual platform. When COVID hit in early 2020, it was the perfect time to launch. We started with just 5 weekly classes early last year and now offer over 60 live classes and events every month. We are working with individuals and senior living facilities across the country and have instructors and facilitators from all over the world. We offer fitness classes, creative workshops, virtual tours with international tour guides, language classes, and dance classes, just to name a few. Of course, it was difficult to get started, but momentum is definitely picking up and we are in full growth-mode. We are launching the next version of our platform next month and we can’t wait!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My daughter Sophie, now business partner, saw the potential of where Alive, Fit & Free could go. We talked about it and brainstormed for a few years before taking the plunge. When the time was right, we said, “Let’s do this.”
Sophie is an entrepreneur and her expertise is in social tech ventures. We are just about polar opposites: she’s calm, cool, and collected, has an incredible mind, and strategizes and plans precisely. Now, me, on the other hand, am open, jumping right into things as they pop up without stopping to think about it. My talents lie in creating the vision, encouraging and inspiring others, driving sales, and designing engaging, well-loved classes. When you combine the two, it’s a great balance.
When we first began working together, I was used to just doing whatever I wanted and when I’d get an idea, of course I would run with it. We now work very well together, as she manages the business and tech side, and I manage the day-to-day operations, both playing into our strong suits.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
There are quite a few, but one of my favorites is when I was learning what an incubator was.
Earlier last year, when we were deciding whether to raise investment or go the bootstrapping route, my daughter forwarded me some emails about some incubators in Silicon Valley. I had no idea what Silicon Valley was (or meant), and even less idea about what incubators were. After she explained it, we both had a laugh, imagining a 67-year-old startup founder sitting with all the 20-something college dropouts at a Silicon Valley incubator. We decided not to go in that direction, but I haven’t ruled it out! Although I may be even older by the time that happens.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Oh my gosh — yes, yes, and yes!
Honestly, I never really analyzed who I was or how I was or how I processed things. I just did without thinking.
Once I started that journey of self awareness, I realized I lacked self confidence and was so self conscious and fearful of what others thought of me. I am one to get an idea, say to myself ,”Wow that sounds fun!” and dive in without thinking. That would often come off as self assured or self confident, but on the inside, I never felt that way. I just knew I could do something and went for it. Everything would be good until I took my eyes off of the goal, and then I would get fearful. My lack of self confidence would send me down a rabbit hole of ‘I’m not good enough, everyone thinks this or that, why would they listen to what I have to say,’ and on and on.
What has really helped me are my daily affirmations, which I continue to this day, that speak the truth of who I am to ME. I also read books that build me up and help me to remember who I am. I’ve worked many long and hard hours reframing beliefs that no longer serve me or that are just not true. I think we continually need to grow in our self awareness and create that arsenal of tools that works for us to continue to grow and gain the self respect and self confidence we need. Then, we can keep our eye on our goal, on our why, and take the focus off of ourselves.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
I had a great networking group that I had worked with for many years. We all encouraged each other in pursuing our dreams. That was huge, as over the years it kept me going and dreaming and moving toward my vision.
I also have family and friends that can be supportive. Operative word here, can. Sometimes the ones we are closest to are not the most supportive when we embark on a new journey. You can’t take it personally. Listen to their concerns, but follow your heart.
I also keep joining groups that are pursuing their goals. You can learn so much by simply exposing yourself to others that are also pursuing their goals. Listen to motivational speakers, TED talks, or whatever you can find to keep yourself motivated. Just surround yourself with others that are becoming and transforming. Once you find a good business partner and team, you have that support system built-in and you are all working toward one amazing dream!
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I’m not afraid of change. I get bored quite easily and my personality is to just get inspiration and jump right in, full speed ahead. Now, in some respects that’s wonderful. I’ve always said if I stopped to think things through I probably wouldn’t bring to life half of the ideas I get. However, there is a healthy balance. You do need to stop and get a strategy before diving in.
When I was 19, I had a dream of homesteading a piece of land. I put my mind and energy into it and away I went to live in Northern Idaho on 60 acres with no power and no running water for 10 years. This is how I lived — I had a dream and I jumped right in.
For me, jumping in is what I do. I am now embracing my ‘jump in’ nature and learning how to balance it with strategic planning as well.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Dare to dream.
For me, dreaming and having a vision is so important for all of us! It expands our possibilities and it allows us to look forward to something that resonates deep down within us — and then bring it to life. I personally love creating vision boards. It is there as a visual representation of my dream and what I am working towards every single day. In my experience, having that daily reminder of what dream I am working towards always gets me there in the end!
It’s said things are created twice — once in thought, then bringing that thought to life. I recently had the privilege of meeting Clara Knopfler, a ninety-three-year-old Holocaust survivor, author, and speaker — who stills speaks and shares her story any chance she can. She spoke these words that stuck in my memory:
“The script stays; the words fly.”
When having a dream, it is imperative to let the words fly — out of these words you will gain inspiration and perhaps use it to help to define your ways of working later on. Every day, speak your vision out loud as if it is already happening, but make sure to put some emotion behind it.You’ll find out just how powerful dreaming, and surrounding yourself with that dream, truly is.
2. Have a daily routine to care for you.
You can’t pour out of an empty cup!
As leaders, our number one job is to keep ourselves functioning at our highest. How do you keep yourself filled up, encouraged, and ready to share whatever it is that you do?
I have a few tools that I use daily and others I pull out when my tried and true “daily’s” just aren’t cutting it.
I teach wellness and fitness classes to seniors. My classes are known for being upbeat and fun. We laugh and get excited about life. However, some days I just don’t want to — the energy and motivation isn’t there. On those days, I get up and put on a meditation for motivation. Then, I speak through a list of affirmations to encourage me. I do some specific movements that change my vibration and increase the release of those feel good hormones which change the chemistry in my brain. I move my body, I become my own cheerleader, and I can root myself on, “Come on Vick, you got this! One more step, put that smile on your face, clap it out, now laugh.” I move my body in a purposeful way that helps ‘fill me up’ for my day.
I also try to take at least one day off where I’m not allowed to do any business. I take myself off the schedule and do whatever I want whenever I want — and I take plenty of ‘me time’!
3. Keep your eye on your passion and just keep going.
When we first get a vision, we’re fired up and excited and passionate about it. We see where we want to be and how it’s going to look when we get there, so we begin doing what we can to move forward. A lot of the time, we didn’t anticipate that hard part between “Let’s go!” and reaching your goal. It’s the reason that most entrepreneurs give up and most businesses fail. Maybe we feel like the growth isn’t happening the way we imagined it or the results aren’t immediate, and we get very discouraged.
We then need to stop, step back, and focus on the passion and excitement we had at the beginning; we need to remember our why. I know — everyone says that, but honestly that’s where our focus needs to be. Not on the money, not on the results or the R.O.I, but remembering the outcome we are trying to achieve. Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing, how you planned to get there and why you planned to do it this way. Adjust course if necessary, but most importantly, just keep going. As you stay consistent and keep going, that snowball gets bigger and bigger as it rolls down the hill and soon the speed picks up.
4.Trust your team to do their job.
One of the hardest things for me to do, after 15+ years working on my own, was learning how to work with a team and delegate responsibilities. I had been a lone leader doing what I wanted, how I wanted and when I wanted, answering to no one. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wanted and needed a team to help shoulder the growth and expansion. There was too much for me to handle. So, taking my grimy little fingers off of everything as I delegated tasks and responsibilities was, and still is, a learning experience.
The right people joining your team, each one in the position that will allow them to bring forth their expertise and be creative, is the perfect scenario. Let them know what the expectations are, then give them the freedom to be creative in that role. Now you have many people with creativity and ideas working together. That’s called multiplication!
My daughter is great at developing websites, communication, and business. Me, not so much! I like to play, design classes, create movement patterns, and study the latest in scientific research to see how we can change brain chemistry for the better. I was politely removed from several departments that are not my expertise and it’s nice to know that those tasks now belong to someone else and will be done correctly because that’s where they shine.
5. Let your personality shine through — people want to deal with people, not businesses.
There are most likely many alternatives your clients could turn to instead of using your products or services. What makes them choose your company? What can they get from you that they can’t get anywhere else?
The answer: You! You are the only you. Yes, keep your eye on the competition so you can stay ahead of the game, but a very big part of business is the relationship you have with your clients, and that is hugely influenced by your characteristics and personality.
People want to deal with people. If a client feels that they have a valued relationship with you, they will want to work with you, and will try their best to make that business relationship work. If a competitor comes up with a feature they would like, they may tell you about it to see if you can also provide it instead of instantly switching to a new company. The reason is you — your personality, your unique ways, your ‘human-ness’, how you make them feel — so make sure that you let those things come out in a client relationship!
I’m known to be the one that makes you laugh, inspires, and lifts the energy in the room. I work this way with everyone, including my clients, and I have very close relationships with many clients because of it. Be real — ultimately people want to interact with a person, not a business, so be the person that you are. Let you shine through!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
It would be exactly what we are doing at Alive, Fit & Free — only a million times bigger with a reach all around the globe. Creating a community that embraces and encourages all people of any age, any ability, anywhere to love on themselves, do the best for themselves, get strong and healthy, and enjoy their life.
What do you want to be remembered for the most?
I would love to be remembered for helping others laugh, sharing the gift of health and self care with others, spreading joy, and ultimately creating a safe, welcoming community for people to simply do life together.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
I would love to have lunch with the Instagram inspirations, the @idiosyncraticfashionistas, Jean and Valerie. To me, they embrace who they are and share that with the world in the most out-loud way, shouting from the rooftops! They have redefined the word “senior” to be vibrant, colorful, and alive. They demonstrate courage and confidence and inspire me to do the same.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow us on our website — www.alivefitandfree.com. We have all of our virtual classes and events offered there. We also have a blog and freebies page to get you started, and you can sign up for our newsletter for regular updates.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!