By Corinne Cordell (MBA’22), VP of Communications
As part of our programming for Women’s History Month in March, the Owen Women’s Business Association (WBA) had the honor of hosting Shawn Johnson East virtually for a Q&A session. Shawn is a former Olympic gymnast, New York Times Bestselling author, entrepreneur, investor, broadcast personality, philanthropist, and most importantly a wife and mother. WBA VP of External Affairs Rachel Scott moderated the session over Zoom on March 16 during Owen’s lunch hour.
Shawn truly lit up the (virtual) room with her warmth, her honesty, and her humility. She covered topics ranging from her Olympic days, to body insecurities, to motherhood, to being in the public eye, and to her entrepreneurial endeavors. Shawn provided a lot of sound advice from her personal experiences and advice she was given throughout her life.
One major takeaway from the session was the advice she was given by her gymnastics coach: “You have to fail miserably before you can ever succeed at something.” This was a lesson and reminder that Shawn has held onto her entire career and something that really resonated with the WBA, as we are all pursing our individual endeavors. It was nice to hear that even an Olympic gymnast is human, and we just need to all continue to reach for our dreams without fear of failing.
You can see through Shawn’s many ventures — such as her presence on Instagram and her books The Flipside and Winning Balance — that it is very important to her that people who look up to her understand the reality of living a life on the path to the Olympics. During the talk, Shawn reflected on a time when she re-watched the Olympics. She remembers watching the background story or “fluff piece” they put together to illustrate her journey to that stage; she was frustrated because she went through 16 years of training and hardships to get to that point, and the story made it look so easily attainable. “I wanted to print my journals so people could see these Olympians are actually humans, and I wrote The Flipside as fiction so that a younger audience could relate to it and see the struggles of life as a teenager,” she said. It is Shawn’s mission to provide the honest reality of her journey to the Olympics and to ensure the younger generation understands the path and grit it takes to get there. We as graduate students can apply Shawn’s Olympic journey and learnings to our own goals and aspirations; success requires hard work and perseverance.
Shawn Johnson is local to Nashville and has a tie to Vanderbilt through her husband Andrew East (BS’14, MBA’15), who is a Double Dore (and the former long snapper for the Vanderbilt football team). Before the Olympics were on Shawn’s radar, it was her dream to become a doctor, and even today she says she would love to go back to school to pursue that dream. During her talk, Shawn recalled a time when she attended an Owen event with her husband and she, of all people, was nervous about asking the Dean at dinner about the possibility of coming to Vanderbilt to pursue her dream.
The WBA was truly honored and blown away by Shawn Johnson, and we all are going to check out Shawn’s favorite Nashville restaurant, O-Ku, soon!
For more information on other upcoming WBA events, visit our Anchor Link page.