Sonya LeClair, 41
The Reluctant Enthusiast
Sonya LeClair doesn’t want to know how small you want to be; she wants to know how big you want to live. LeClair, 41, of Peterborough, New Hampshire, is the owner of The Reluctant Enthusiast. Part self-help blog, part empowering trip into the wild, LeClair is in the business of helping her clients reach health goals that don’t revolve around a number on a scale.
“As a coach, ecologist and unapologetic nerd,” LeClair writes on her website, which doubles as an inspirational blog, “I use the established benefits of time outdoors to help you increase physical activity, enjoy your food, slay your dragons and blaze your own trail to the most amazing views.”
She recently spoke with The Business Journal to discuss her own journey to entrepreneurship.
Tell us about your business and how you got started.
Summer of 2015 was the official start, but it was building before that. I have a background in ecology and wildlife. I have a bachelor’s in wildlife biology and a master’s in biology. And I have about 20 years of experience doing that sort of work. So I already do a lot of work outdoors — and work with people outdoors — and have been doing that for a long time. And I’ve always been active because that job requires that you be active outdoors.
I was increasingly interested in fitness and, of course, mental health and ... that intersection. So I ended up getting some certifications. So where that intersection is, I ended up … branching off into this work to combine my interest and my background and my expertise in the outdoors with fitness and health and using the outdoors as a springboard to improve physical and mental health and using that as a way to ... live your own version of a rich and meaningful life.
I saw a lot of the health and fitness out there was dysfunctional or was just a lot of the same old stuff. And that can get frustrating. So my philosophy around a lot of that was more of a paradigm shift and looking at not so much how — not that weight loss is a bad thing — but looking at physical health as being less around how small we want to be because that becomes a numbers game around weight loss. So rather than looking at how small do you want to be, I want people to think more of how big do you want to live.
So that’s how I try to word it for people: What do you want your body to be able to do? What are the big things? Do you want to be able to walk on vacation? Are there certain mountains you want to be able to climb? What kind of things do you want to do with your families? What’s important to you?
(Also), how do you want your body to be able to function? And mental health wise, where do you need to be? And looking at that as your ultimate goal.
And have you noticed that by shifting perspective on that goal, are people are more successful?
I know, personally, certainly that is the case. I was doing some diabetes coaching. I had to work within a certain framework, but I did … interject my philosophy in there. You know focusing less on “you’re not allowed to do this/you’re not allowed to do that,” and focusing on the big picture, and yeah, I think that tended to go over well. Because it wasn’t about restriction. It’s really about how is it that you want to live and I think that was received much better because it wasn’t as though they weren’t allowed to do things anymore. … It’s not about the numbers all the time. Yeah, the numbers might be important overall, but focusing on that becomes tough after a while. It just feels like a rabbit hole after a while, and it’s never good enough.
Making that leap from what you were doing before to having this business ... What did you see was the need in the marketplace and what made you make that leap? Making that leap could be scary for a lot of people.
Yeah, I guess that was in 2015; well, I didn’t have a lot of choice. That choice was made by my employer at the time, which was a separate story in and of itself. But it was sort of scary for a lot of different reasons at the time. And it was good … to face those kinds of fears. And I suppose liberating in some ways to face those fears. … And it still is on a daily basis.
So let’s talk about that a little bit. What are some of the challenges to having a unique business? And, what is it like to set off on your own as a young entrepreneur?
Some of the challenges are: You have to get used to failure and you have to get used to hearing "no." And you have to be persistent. You’re it. The benefits are: You have a flexible schedule — I work from a home office. But you’re the only one, you’re doing the marketing, you’re doing the writing, you’re reaching out, you’re wearing every single hat there is — and it’s tough to wear all of those hats simultaneously — and to fail at things, and to decide where the priorities are, and to make the tough decisions sometimes when it’s tough to make decisions.
What have you learned, what are your "lessons from the wild" that you’ve discovered about your business?
I think probably that you just have to be persistent. That it’s tough and you just have to keep at it because it’s going to get you down and you’re going to want to throw up your hands and say, "Forget it, this is ridiculous. What am I doing? What am I thinking?" The whole thing is so hard; I think that’s a tough lesson. Being able to see failure differently or to use it as an opportunity and to not internalize it so much, I think that’s a tough one.
Learn more: thereluctantenthusiast.com.