Sarah McGrath, founder of Mat & Table, shares with us her stories of Olympic-level hustle, work-life balance, and redefining success.
My parents were my role models…
..and also my close friends. Growing up I looked at their version of success and it shaped what I thought success ‘could’ look like for me.
My mom was a big-shot American diver. She was one of the crazy ones who jumped off the ten metre boards!
In 1980 she made the US Olympic team and had a real chance at medalling. Unfortunately, that year the Americans boycotted the Olympics, so she never actually got to compete. You can imagine how devastating this was for her, after working tirelessly for ten years to make it there. In essence, she’d forgone any type of ‘normal’ childhood and had sacrificed her teen years in pursuit of her goals.
It wasn’t her status as an Olympian that inspired me to succeed. Instead, my model of success comes from the message that she instilled into my brother and me: enjoy the journey.
It’s not about the end result.
I’m so grateful for that. It's helped me continuously challenge the idea of 'when i get this promotion, or to xyz … then I’ll be happy or successful’.
Instead it’s always been:
1. Take every day, one at a time,
2. Follow your gut
3. Don’t be afraid to carve your own path
4.The journey is where the real growth happens - soak it in.
My Mom was so focused on making it to the Olympics that when it didn’t happen she deemed herself ‘unsuccessful’ for so long. I think preaching ‘it’s all about the journey’ to her children was a big part of helping her heal.
Both of my parents were very hardworking and intelligent people who had made it to seniority in their respective careers before my brother and I were born. But over the years, they both continued to cut back on work, eventually leaving altogether to start their own businesses: Mom, a party-planner, Dad, a toy marketing guru. This was because they wanted to spend more time with us kids. They didn’t need to keep ‘rising to the top’. Instead, they wanted to be able to make a decent living doing something they loved, without having to compromise time with their family. While they both took a cut financially, they carved out a beautifully balanced life. This was their definition of success
This is why we need these conversations.
For so long now, human beings have tried to prove themselves to others before listening to their own needs and wants first. I’m so glad places like Kin are starting the conversation that ‘success’ has many forms, and that working until and then through burnout isn’t the only option—actually, it’s no option at all.
I’m so thankful for my yoga practice because it reminds me everyday to listen to my body, to go at my own pace, that life is not about competition, and to be introspective. Once I realised this for myself, it then became one of the reasons that I felt drawn to teaching. I wanted to create a space for other people to grow, learn and be utterly themselves.
For me, it took an ‘ah-ha!’ moment (or two, or five) to get me there.
I studied Sign Language Education originally. It wasn’t recognized as a legitimate major, so I convinced my University to allow me to develop my own ‘personalised study program’ so it could be one. I worked tirelessly over four years seeking out experts to help me build my own curriculum and teach me everything they knew.
By the time thoughts of postgrad started I’d realised that I wasn’t studying out of love anymore. Instead of pursuing grad school, I went to a funky and progressive-thinking event production company in Chicago. They’d advertised for a summer intern—I ended up working there full-time for six years.
Oops, I did it again.
‘Hustle’ was definitely my mantra during those years. I started out as an intern but eventually I worked my way up, I was directing multiple departments, working eighty-hour weeks, and constantly under stress. I was continuously thrown into situations that I had no expertise in and spent a lot of my time ‘just figuring it out’. It was such an invaluable learning experience, but … by the end of six years, I was exhausted, again.
I started to ask myself questions.
Is it possible to be proud of your work and not exhausted? Why did I always have to be at the top or be ‘the best’? Can’t I just be good at my job instead of being ‘the best’? Do I really want more responsibility, and the resultant stress that comes with every promotion?
What other things do I want in my life, outside of work? I’ve built a career—but then what?
This was no longer the life I wanted.
I sold all of my belongings (literally, everything) and pursued a dream that I’ve had since I was young: travelling the world, solo.
I like to call this experience my ‘real life graduate school’. This is where I had felt most ‘successful’. I had one back pack of clothes that I wore for almost a year, no make up, I was staying in hostels, roughin’ it, and I never planned more than one week ahead at a time (if that!).
I had never felt so free. So myself. I woke up everyday excited to explore, learn, meet people, and live. I met amazing people, saw amazing places, learned about different cultures, and became the better version of myself. For me, this was the most impactful thing I’ve ever done, and my biggest ‘success’ or ‘accomplishment’. I freakin’ travelled the world by myself! Heck, I can do anything now!
When I moved to Australia I decided to work towards becoming a full-time yoga teacher. It took me just under a year of balancing event management work with part time yoga teaching before I could make the big move of becoming a full time teacher. I’ve never been happier. I make significantly less money than I did when I was hustlin’, but I wake up everyday doing something I’m wildly passionate about, that allows me to have a positive impact on others.
This it what my version of success looks like for me:
1. Always growing and learning
2. Doing what feels right for me
3. Listening to my needs
5. Doing something I love for a living (teaching yoga!)
6. Surrounding myself with people that lift me up and help me grow
7. Making a positive impact on the world.
8. Making any changes along the way to continue to be my truest self.
9. Acknowledging that my version of success is fluid and is allowed change.
My body works with my mind now, not against it.
I know how to work very hard, and I know how to rest very hard. As long as I’ve upheld my responsibilities, I do whatever my body is telling me it needs. I also know that there are certain things I have to do for myself in order to set me up for success. These are non-negotiables (i.e. get enough rest, move my body, connect with my people, eat healthy, watch my shows, and start my day with a cappuccino!). Others may not notice if I have or haven’t done these things, but I do.
My yoga practice or any type of mindful movement helps bring me back to myself. I always make time for breath work, being in nature, genuinely laughing, and talking to the people who really know me.
Carving out time for yourself is the most important thing you can do for your mental health. And dedicate that time to doing something you love. We are not on this planet to just make money and pay the bills! I am also a believer that everyone could use a therapist. Just like we move our bodies to feel good and stay healthy, we need to take care of our minds.
I teach others; Lucy teaches me.
Lucy, a greyhound, is the epitome of play/work hard and rest hard. She loves to run and go for long walks but then will spend the rest of the day on the couch, bathing in the sun. She’s a great reminder of balance. Like all dogs, her unconditional love and non-judgemental attitude will always be one of my favourite things.
She loves to explore, and it’s a reminder of how much I love to also! Even if it’s a new walking route, or taking time to literally smell the flowers (in her case, every other dog's urine on the path), she’s in no hurry. She soaks it all in.
There are no ‘right answers’.
Knowing that I’ll never ‘have it all figured out’ or ‘be fully grown up’ or ‘made it’ is a huge relief. There is no end goal to life. It’s just a journey that’s ever changing and flowing. I think as soon as I realised this I took so much pressure off myself.
So, for now, I’ll keep teaching yoga, meeting more amazing students, and deepening my own practice and knowledge!
What’s next for me?
I’ve been bringing a side project dream to life which includes some of the things I love most: Seriously good yoga, food and wine!
Mat & Table is a refreshing & joyful take on a wellness experience; a chance to escape the city, practice seriously good yoga & enjoy delicious local food & wine in charming, destination towns in driving distance of Melbourne. Mat & Table is not your traditional yoga retreat. We believe there is as much magic in a sweaty vinyasa flow as there is in sharing stories over a bottle of red with new friends.