Posted July 27, 2020 in Podcast

Courageous Reinvention with Jen Hudak

Courageous Reinvention with Jen Hudak

What does it really take to get back up when you fall down?

In our lives and careers, we all experience setbacks. We all fall down sometimes, make mistakes, and learn what it means to fail. What makes the difference is whether we choose to get back up. Do we keep pushing, keep working, and keep striving for greatness? Or do we give up and give in to our feelings of failure and frustration?

Or, more importantly, do we acknowledge that there might be some gray area in between? Sometimes life presents us with opportunities to pivot, and we need to redefine success for ourselves. “Getting back up” doesn’t always look like trying the same thing over again. Sometimes you have to reevaluate what you want and pursue success in a different direction.

My guest today knows what it means to get back up — literally. In her career as a professional skier, she’s had to learn how to get up and recover from injuries over and over again. But she’s also learned how to reimagine her definition of success and love the life she’s living now.

“So to me, I guess success is just really being able to recognize what it is that you want in your life and how you want to be spending your time and going out and creating that for yourself. … I don’t think that’s going to be just one thing for [your] entire life. I think it changes, and if we think it doesn’t change, I think that’s … the source of a lot of misery.” – Jen Hudak

What goal are you working toward? Do you need to reinvent the definition of “success” in your life or career? If you’re in need of inspiration, look no further, because Jen Hudak is here to offer her wisdom about courageously reinventing yourself and creating the life you love. Let’s get started.

Who Is Jen Hudak?

Jen Hudak grew up skiing the slopes of Vermont with her dad. But eventually, she got so good her father no longer had anything left to teach. She joined the nearest freestyle team, and after succeeding in competitions and even winning the Junior World Championship at just 15 years old, Jen realized there just might be a career for her in professional skiing.

She continued skiing for several years, but eventually, the injuries caught up with her. Jen had undergone several knee surgeries in her life, including a few total reconstructions. Eventually, Jen felt the strain of injury and the anxiety of seeing so many of her competitors get injured or even killed doing the sport. Jen found that she’d lost her desire to continue competing at such a high level. At the same time, her father lost his five-year battle with leukemia. It was a difficult time, and Jen decided to retire and spend time with her father during his last days.

But retirement didn’t mean Jen was ready to kick back and relax for the rest of her life! In many ways, Jen works even harder now than she did when she was a professional athlete. For one, she’s now a wife and mother, and she loves taking care of her precious son. For another, she and her husband, Chris, are co-business owners. As passionate adventurers, they run Escapod Trailers, a company that produces, rents, and sells teardrop trailers.

Jen also achieved modest fame by competing on Season 30 of CBS’ The Amazing Race. If you’re not familiar with the show, definitely check it out — my wife and I love it! It’s a race around the world where contestants compete in various challenges for the chance to win $1 million. Jen competed with her friend and fellow athlete Kristi Leskinen, and while unfortunately, they didn’t win, they did set a record by finishing in at least third place in every leg they participated in. 

But upon her return home from her globetrotting adventure, Jen found herself feeling empty. No longer was she getting that same adrenaline rush she got from competing. Retirement from professional sports and the end of The Amazing Race posed a greater challenge than she anticipated. Jen worked hard to learn how to transition into a new life and redefine success for herself, and now, she’s passionate about helping other retired athletes do the same.

Today, in addition to working for Escapod Trailers, Jen has her very own coaching business. She trains retired athletes and anyone else who feels they’re lacking a sense of purpose to reclaim their confidence, self-worth, and abundance. Jen offers incredible wisdom and insight, and I know after listening to this episode, you’re going to want to check out her website!

But for now, let’s get into the interview. Jen and I started our conversation by discussing her mentality around success and making mistakes that led to her amazing skiing career.

Defining Success: Jen’s Athletic Career

Throughout her skiing career, Jen maintained the same attitude:

“I remember my teammates being like, ‘You know, Jen, there [are] a lot of really good skiers here, and so don’t worry if you don’t do so well.’ And I’m just like, ‘I’m just here to ski. I’m just going to do a thing.’” – Jen Hudak

I truly appreciate that spirit. Jen was competitive — she had that fire and desire to get to the top — but she knew better than to define herself by her performance. She was happy to be competing and doing what she loved — the success and acclaim were secondary.

By 2010, Jen was a two-time world champion, five-time X-Games medalist, four-time national champion, and an ESPY nominee. Those are some incredible achievements! But as I mentioned earlier, they came at a price. Jen suffered numerous painful injuries in her quest to become an Olympian, and for a while, that was okay.

“I believed that every time I got hurt there was always something to be learned and always something that I could’ve done differently to prevent it and could do differently in the future so it wouldn’t happen again.” – Jen Hudak

I think there’s a really valuable lesson there — No matter how injured Jen got or how many surgeries she required to keep skiing, Jen chose to see the bright side. She wanted to use her mistakes and even painful experiences to continue to improve as an athlete and as a competitor. 

But eventually, Jen’s perspective shifted. Suddenly, skiing was no longer the same freeing and fun sport she grew up loving. It began to feel unsafe. Jen experienced injury after injury and surgery after surgery as she watched her friends and competitors do the same. Then, in January 2012, Jen’s friend and rival, Sarah Burke, actually passed away in the hospital from skiing-related injuries.

Jen experienced and witnessed a lot of pain, and over time, it became clear that she needed a new direction. Jen needed to invent a new path for herself, so she set out on a new journey…

Reinvention: Jen’s Pivot From Athlete to Coach

Once she retired from professional sports, Jen found herself without a direction. That sense of purpose and accomplishment was suddenly gone, and her mental health suffered as a result. When I asked her what she did at that moment, Jen got candid. But of course, she immediately turned around and found something positive in the situation:

“[After retiring from sports, I] got depressed [and] cried a lot. … It was horrible. It was horrible. … It’s actually what prompted me to get my life coaching certification because I wanted more tools to be able to help athletes through that transition. When I do return to that being kind of the focus of my time, that’s what I plan to do.” – Jen Hudak

Jen still has the same drive and passion she always had, but now she’s channeling it in a new direction. She struggled a lot when she transitioned out of her life as a full-time professional athlete, and now she wants to use her experience and the tools she’s acquired to help other retired athletes make the same transition.

Have you been through an experience like this? Do you know what it’s like to come to a place in your career where you no longer want the same things? In those moments, it is completely okay to pivot! Just like Jen has transitioned from being an athlete to coaching former athletes, you can also draw on your past experiences and skills while learning to use them in a new way.

The important thing is that you maintain your passion and a positive mindset. No matter what she does, Jen still has a positive attitude. She chooses to learn from her mistakes and see the best in a given situation, all while remaining competitive and driven. And of course, she’s found other ways to indulge her competitive spirit even though she doesn’t compete in skiing anymore.

The Amazing Race: Continuing to Set Records

I mentioned earlier that Jen competed on a show called The Amazing Race — That truly was a unique experience in her life. Jen had already retired from professional skiing, but while she no longer had the same drive for that specific sport, her competitive spirit was as strong as ever. She needed a competitive outlet, and The Amazing Race provided the perfect opportunity.

That’s especially true since Jen and her partner on the show, Kristi, set a new record for the highest female average in The Amazing Race history. The competition happens in a series of legs, and each leg has a winner. At the end, the winner of the final leg is crowned the official overall winner of the race. Jen and Kristi didn’t win overall, but they do hold the record for the highest average placement for all-female teams in the almost 20-year run of the show.

“You know, the gift, I think … for me, was that return to competition and just being able to realize [that] okay, Jen, there is something a little different about you. It wasn’t just about skiing. … I have this ability to tap into some other level in my mind when I need to, and I love that. And I just wish I could compete on The Amazing Race all the time.” – Jen Hudak

What is a little different about you? What skill or passion do you have that makes you unique? It doesn’t have to be a competitive spirit, though, for Jen, it is. It could be that you have a passion for philanthropy. Maybe you have a particular talent for motivating and encouraging others. Perhaps you’re especially crafty, and you know how to decorate for events better than anyone you know.

Whatever your natural-born skills are, you can find a way to use them no matter your stage in life. Jen’s competitiveness was a massive part of her life when she was a professional athlete, but it didn’t just go away when she reinvented her career. It just changed its direction, and in a way she never could have anticipated.

If it’s time for you to pivot, think about ways you can use the abilities that come naturally to you in new ways. Continue to use those skills and allow them to serve you in the new career you imagine for yourself. By doing that, you’ll ensure you continue to live a life that you love while making a pivot to a career that is more aligned with where you are in life right now.

Reach Beyond with Jen Hudak

This episode was incredibly inspiring to me. I love the way Jen remains positive and forward-thinking all the time. She’s experienced her share of setbacks, but she’s never let them defeat her entirely. She just keeps courageously reinventing herself and her career, and she sets a positive example for all of us.

Before I go, I wanted to share with you Jen’s current definition of success. Spoiler: It has a lot to do with her new role as a mom:

“I think I’m finally starting to accept that I actually enjoy having a clean house and taking care of a home. … As an empowered, strong woman … you’re not supposed to like housework. And I’m realizing that, to me, the true definition of an empowered woman is a woman who is very aware of what she truly desires based on what she desires, if not what society, in one way or another, is telling her she should or shouldn’t desire. And so to me, I guess success is just really being able to recognize what it is that you want in your life and how you want to be spending your time and going out and creating that for yourself.” – Jen Hudak

I want you to know that you can do exactly that — You can go out and create the life you want for yourself. Some of you want to start a business. Some of you have started a business, but you need to learn how to grow and scale it. Others of you are ready for a pivot in your careers. Wherever you are, you have the power and ability to use your unique attributes and create the life and career you desire. All you have to do is get clear on your desires and pursue them with everything you’ve got. If you do that, success is a sure thing.

Thank you so much for joining me today! I hope this episode inspired you as much as it inspired me. If it did, please share it on Instagram and tag Jen, @jenhudak, and me, @kyle_depiesse, with your biggest takeaways. Also, if you have an extra minute today, I’d be so grateful if you’d leave me a five-star review over on Apple Podcasts. Your reviews really do help new listeners find this podcast!

Until next time — Cheers to your success. I’m rooting for you.