Ep #19 Emily Jackson on making your own way and turning challenges into opportunities

Emily Jackson, a three-time world freestyle champion and marketing director at Jackson Kayak, shares what it was like growing up in a famous paddling family and how her unconventional childhood has shaped her approach to discomfort and goal setting.

She describes her journey of overcoming the fear of disappointing others, particularly her father, and the importance of choosing your own way. 

Emily and Anna’s conversation delves into a lot of different topics including the challenges of envy and comparison in competition, insights into the realities of sponsorship in paddlesports, and Emily’s parenting philosophy.

If you’re interested in learning how to befriend discomfort, and turn challenges into opportunities, this episode is for you!

About Emily

Emily Jackson is a mother, wife, friend, and among her many accomplishments, she’s a three -time world freestyle champion. She’s the Jackson Kayak marketing director and part owner. She’s a 13 -time GoPro mountain game freestyle champ, a finalist at the Sickline Extreme Race, a US Slalom team member, and TV show host of The Great Family Adventure.

How to connect with Emily:

IG: emilyjacksonkayak

https://www.youtube.com/@greatfamilyadventure

Anna
My guest today, Emily Jackson is a mother, wife, friend, and among her many accomplishments, she’s a three -time world freestyle champion. She’s the Jackson Kayak marketing director and part owner. She’s a 13 -time GoPro mountain game freestyle champ, a finalist at the Sickline Extreme Race, a US Solemn team member, and TV show host of The Great Family Adventure.

Emily, thank you so much for being here. I’m excited to have this conversation with you.

Emily
Yeah, I’m so excited to be here. It’s been, we’ve been talking together for a long time, but it’s cool to actually get it recorded and do something together.

Anna
Yeah, for sure. I like to dive right in and ask when I say discomfort zone, what comes to mind for you?

Emily
My entire childhood, no discomfort to me, it’s a combination of things that, but growth is something, you know, I’ve been very uncomfortable my entire life. So I don’t find places of comfort very well because I always find myself seeking growth. You know, I find satisfaction difficult. So discomfort to me really resonates with growth, but it also means…

Anna
Hahaha!

Emily
not being content with exactly where you are. So to me, that’s what being uncomfortable is, but discomfort is just like not quite content.

Anna
When you say that your entire childhood was uncomfortable, can you say more about that? Especially a lot of our listeners are paddlers, but some are not. So say more about your childhood and the discomfort.

Emily
Yeah, yeah, no, for sure. So yeah, I’ll add it in. Don’t worry. No, for sure. So for me, I grew up in an RV with my parents and my brother, Dane, and we traveled around for my father to pursue his kayaking career. My dad thrives in being uncomfortable. Like he, if he’s not uncomfortable every single day, then he just can’t function. You know, that’s where he wants to put himself. You know, that’s his happy place.

For me, as a kid, I think I always paid really close attention to the fact that we did these crazy things. We went to Africa when I was only nine and we had lions in our campsite. And when I would go back to childhood friends and say, we were in a campsite in Africa and there were lions and my brother got really sick and we did all these different things, everyone was like, oh my God, that’s crazy. That’s not safe. And so for me,

I was always like, oh, I’ll be the protector. And so like my dad was like the chaos coordinator and I was the protector. And so I think that elevated a lot of discomfort for me because the scenarios that I was in growing up were so unstable. There was no routine. And so for me, I seek a lot of that now because I didn’t get a lot of it in my childhood, but it also taught me that it’s totally okay to be uncomfortable.

Anna
So it sounds like you grew up in the discomfort zone and you said that you are seeking out routines now or in your adult life. And you also said at the beginning that you like to be in your discomfort zone. So is…

Emily
Two -parter.

Anna
Routine? Yeah, well is routine and of course we’re all, you know, we can be, two things can be true at the same time for sure. Do you have routines that help you manage discomfort today?

Emily
Yeah, no, I definitely do. But I also have routines to implement discomfort into my life. So it’s a combination of the routines do both, they help me solidify some of the things that I feel need to be consistent. So for me, I’m not I do not do well with not knowing where my next paycheck is, or, you know, financial security is something for my parents household as a young kid, you know, we would have $0, you know, often, you know, and that was something that just didn’t sit well for me as an adult. That routine of striving to make sure that I can make paycheck month after month is like a routine for me that I make sure I execute. But at the same time, I know that in order to grow or potentially when it comes to finances, for example, or your relationship or anything, that you have to get a little bit in the discomfort zone in order to make that growth pattern. So routine for me to approach a discomfort is to…

really figure out the things I can’t handle very well and try to implement routines and organizational structures into my day -to -day life to allow myself to feel like, okay, well, at least I have this semi under control and then kind of push myself in the areas where I feel a bit more comfortable at that time to be uncomfortable.

Anna
Yeah, thanks for sharing that. It sounds like, you know, for those listening who don’t know Emily’s dad, E .J. Jackson, he is probably one of the most famous kayakers, multiple time world champion, personality. Now he’s a, I mean, he started Jackson Kayak. And so, and it sounds like he really was following his passion.

Emily
Yeah.

Anna
And from what you just described that the finances maybe weren’t always as stable within that. You are also following, like I look at you and you are following your passion. You’re also a multi -time world champion. You’ve got your accomplished paddler, you’re a mom, you know, so, and you are following your passion and you’re saying that.

finances are important to you. I like this conversation because sometimes I feel like it’s not had enough in the outdoor industry. And I am a big believer that as outdoor professionals, as athletes, that we should be able to make a good living because we’re professionals and we’re good at what we do. We’ve invested a lot of time. And so thanks for having this conversation with me. And so what does that look like?

Emily
Yeah, not at all. Yeah.

Emily
Yeah.

Anna
Can you say more, is that working in the company as well as you living right by the, so you’ve chosen to, for instance, live at Rock Island to be able to paddle and also you’ve chosen this high level job within Jackson Kayak. So I don’t know if my question is well formed, but I’d love to, if you pick up on any of that of what you’d like to riff on.

Emily
Dive in. Yeah. No, it’s good. No, 100%. So for me to approach the financial security aspect of trying to pursue my passion and raise a family, I think that’s a lot of times where we see people that are incredibly passionate about what they’re doing disappear because having a family and being able to pursue, you’re like, well, maybe I’m compromising either the kid’s lifestyle or I just simply can’t afford it, which is a reality for a lot of people.

Being uncomfortable with my father and the way he always came up with creative solutions to raise us showed me that there are ways to make it work. You just have to be willing to put in that extra level of energy, which at times is completely, it seems like a lot, you know, it’s not easy. But if you have the opportunity then to be able to continue to pursue your passion, then it’s totally worth it in my mind. So I feel like I work incredibly hard.

What is financial security? It means something different to every single person, but for me, it means having my house paid for and being able to live somewhere that’s reasonable. So we have a house in Tennessee. It’s incredibly cheap to live in Tennessee in certain areas. My neighbors are cows, for example, but I have the river right nearby too. So it really checks off two boxes for me. And those are the ways that I think about it and approach it.

But on top of it, helping elevate and educate more. I made a whole document on how to approach sponsors and make more money in the kayaking industry because as the marketing director for Jackson Kayak, I receive emails weekly from young people looking for money from the industry itself. And it’s very challenging. But the thing is to be flexible, to be malleable. Think about…

you know, what are my strengths? So I’m a pretty good speaker and writer, and I utilize that initially to get myself into the positions that I am now. So I think on top of your passion for your sport, think about, you know, am I good with a camera? Am I good at video editor? What is it that I’m good at and how can I apply it to something I love so much?

Anna
Yeah, that’s great. Great advice for young folks out there because the whitewater kayaking world is small compared to other outdoor sports. We can just be real about that. And I think that sometimes young folks, I know when I was first coming in and getting sponsored, I had this idea that the companies were like rolling in it and they just were like, you know, stingy.

And I think there is some time so we could get into the equity conversation as well in terms of, you know, you know, who gets sponsored and all of that. At the same time, I think it was definitely a misconception on my part that companies are rolling in it. And at the same time, companies, I think, do invest in folks who, like you say, who show… that they have talents and are willing to get out there. And maybe in the whitewater kayaking world, sometimes it’s more about, it’s more than just being an athlete and performing because it’s so small. Yeah.

Emily
I think.
100%. So that’s 100%. So, you know, Jackson kayak, if you receive any compensation for us, you’re performing a job role outside of just your capabilities in your kayak. And that’s the only way that I can make it work. But we have the biggest team and we support more athletes to such a high degree simply due to the fact that I’m like, okay, well, you’re enjoying photo work right now. Okay, well, I’m not hiring a I don’t pay for photos, but you’re going to be my photo guy this year. And it’s a fun way to engage in. And then I

I can help coach and educate them on other ways to get more involved in companies even outside of kayaking.

Anna
Yeah. I love that your approach is mentorship as well. I think that is, that has been a huge, or when I was coming up in the whitewater kayaking world, that was a huge missing piece that I felt, you know, in turn, and maybe still that there is missed opportunity to mentor the younger generation and folks so that we can, what’s that?

Emily
The same time though, you are at the same time though, you’re a great mentor now. And so maybe if you didn’t, if you had a great mentor during your, you know, upbringing into our sport, maybe wouldn’t have driven you to be the person you are and are in just two days. Yeah. Yeah, I know. And you do a great job. So I’m pretty sure if you had one, maybe when you don’t know what the results would be, you change things up, right. So

Anna
Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. Thanks for that reminder. It is. I’m very passionate about it. So yeah.
Right? Well, and to that, you know, how, what our experiences are shape us, just like you were saying, your experience growing up shaped how you approach life and stability and discomfort now. Yeah, same thing, how I was brought up in the whitewater world or my experiences definitely inform who I want to be now and how I show up and how I have shown up over the last 20 years. So, yeah.

Emily
Yeah. Yeah.

Anna
Yeah, you never know what can, you know, our challenges can really shape us into, yeah, who we are and shape our contribution to others. So I think that’s cool.

Emily
100 % right now I like to use the word up leveling. So when I feel extreme levels of discomfort, I usually know that it means I’m about to up level to what I’m capable of handling or understanding or there’s a lesson involved there that I need. And so often, when I think about the past and the things that shaped me and how I’m approaching, and the times that were most stressful in my life, or the most uncomfortable, I think about what was the result afterwards? What came right after that? Usually, it’s a sense of either accomplishment or a better sense of understanding of who I am or who I want to be. And so anytime I’m really uncomfortable, I remind myself of that. This winter I was very uncomfortable and then a bunch of things landed on my plate, great opportunities, room for a lot of growth and I’ve been approaching them and it’s amazing really following that transition. I do work with the life coach to help remind me of my own patterns. And so, you know, that’s one really cool thing about being uncomfortable is that for me, I know that it’s a growth state. So.

Anna
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much for just saying what you just said. I just want everyone to like hone in on that, that Emily works with a life coach, right? And I think that, I mean, that’s what I do for a living. I don’t love, I actually very dislike the term life coach, but I have to come to terms that that’s a lot of what I do with my one -on -one coaching, mental agility for paddlers. We, you know, my clients, I, coach them on all aspects of their lives because how you approach kayaking is how you approach your life. How you approach your life is how you approach kayaking. It’s all connected. And I think that sometimes we see really successful people like yourself and we think, oh, they did it all by themselves. Like they must have, they have something special that I don’t have. And sure, we do have talents and, you know, different support systems that come into play, or opportunities. And at the same time, folks who are successful, I feel like a lot of them have a coach or some type of continuing education on growth.

Emily
Yeah, I think that’s an incredibly valid necessity for continuing to it’s totally fine and fair to be like, this is where I’m at in my life. And I’m just writing it right now. And I’m loving it, you know, whether it should be, you know, have your first kid and you’re like, do this baby phase, you know, just sitting there. But there are, you know, if there’s something in your life that you want, and you feel like you’re unable to either get there, or you don’t know what the steps are, you don’t even know how to approach it. It’s really important to have those uncomfortable or as you would say,
discomfort conversations about yourself. And the cues for that if you’re with anyone in your life that has an agenda, it doesn’t feel like it’s really hard to separate from what you think their personal agenda of what they like with my husband, if I want to talk to him, Nick, you’ve been married for a very long time. 16 years or something like that. And

If I have any conversations with them, I’m thinking, what’s the agenda here? So to me, it’s very important if you do want to get into these places of being uncomfortable, to be with someone that you don’t feel like there’s an additional agenda to it. And so that I think is incredibly powerful. And the first question that solidified my faith in therapy was I recognized for the first time in my life, no one had ever asked me what I wanted. Like,

They could ask me what I wanted out of a relationship or what I wanted out of work or what I wanted, but just like, Emily, what is it that you want? And I was like, couldn’t even answer the question. That could take a long time. And that’s pretty wild because I never was given the space to approach that conversation. And that was incredibly uncomfortable. But the second that we did that, every other area of my life became much more solidified. And I managed to remove myself from making every single bucket feel uncomfortable like I’m really comfortable in my own skin, I’m really comfortable in my home, in my marriage, in my, you know, bringing an income for my family. And so it’s really important, I think, to have that ask yourself that question, but also give yourself space to have that conversation with someone that you’re disconnected from on a personal level.

Anna
Yeah, well said, super well said. Yeah, I think of Andrew and I have been together for over 20 years and I have other folks that I go to to talk things through. It’s not that I never talk things through with him, I do. And yeah, just what you’re saying, it’s good to have a different perspective, someone who’s not so close and someone that will hold you accountable. Cause sometimes we can’t always hear, can’t always hear what our partners are saying because.

We also have a certain listening of them at times. And yeah, and there was something else you said that I thought was really awesome.

Yeah, I lost it, but what you said was great. We’ll just let it stand.

Emily
That’s good. Perfect. Yeah.

Anna
One other, so I’ve known you for a long time when I was competing on the freestyle circuit, you were very young. And I think also when we look at it, when someone looks at you and your accomplishment in paddling, they think that you always loved kayaking, that you were out there since you were like a baby. And I can remember, I have this vivid memory of you.

uh, making milkshakes, like having a milkshake stand that you were, and you were selling. So there’s your entrepreneurial spirit at one of the freestyle competitions, because you actually didn’t love to kayak at first. It wasn’t something that you were really into. And I thought, wow, this girl is super resourceful. So cool. She has her milkshake stand and set it up for all the athletes. And so I bring that up because from my recollection, you starting to kayak was uncomfortable for you. Is that, do I, am I on the right track with that?

Emily
You’re 100 % correct. Yeah, you’re totally on the right track. So yes, I grew up in a household where my dad was very much a name. People are like, oh, that’s EJ. EJ is your dad, you know, EJ, EJ, EJ, which is, which is great. And as a kid, it was, I have nothing but like, pure love for that man 100%. But I was always so afraid of disappointing my father because he was such a an individual within our sport. There was this expectation that if we’re growing up along the river that we were going to be these incredible kayakers. And for me, I actually love water. I love being in the river. But the kayak for me, I think the combination of the fear of disappointment, disappointing myself, but mainly disappointing my father. And then combined with the fact that I was actually really afraid was just too much for me at a younger age to handle. So like just saying we’re going kayaking today would elevate to the point of tears. You know, I just be like, oh my God, we’re kayaking today. We could have been on flat water, but it didn’t matter because my immediate thoughts are I’m either going to disappoint him. You know, I’m going to disappoint myself or I’m going to do something that really scares me. And that’s a lot with a young mindset to have to handle. That transition for me, and I did have a lot of fun selling milkshakes on the side for sure. That’s how we actually ended up paying for pop tires in the RV multiple times is my milkshake money. Because my parents didn’t have any to pay for RV fixes. But the other aspect was that my brother, Dame, is very brave. He was born at six months. So he was born very premature.

And so he grew up with this sense of everything he did, it was like cheered for, you know, like, so like if he was the fact that, you know, he stayed alive initially when he was first born was like a big deal was celebrated the fact when he first learned how to walk, when he first started speaking, because they weren’t sure he would ever speak, they weren’t sure he would ever hear, they weren’t sure he would ever have the mental capacity to pass a five year old, still debatable, but no, there’s all these things that.

So he got really celebrated. So for me, I also had this little brother that was very protective over and fearful for him. Because when he would go out in the water, he was, you know, balls to the wall, crazy, didn’t really care, ran a lot of things at the age of two, you know, very, you know, so like, when you think about that, that’s just wild, you know. And so for me, I was like this very protective and overthinking, you know, older sister, transitioned where one day,

We were here in Rock Island. It’s a very small town, like I said, it’s where I still live now. And we went to go kayaking. And I had been kayaking with my dad a few times, cried a whole bunch, was not having fun. And I gave it like maybe two weeks where nothing was ever said. Never said between us, nothing about kayaking. And I was bored. I was tired. I was homeschooled, there’s no friends here. I was sitting around, I was getting out of shape as well at 12.

And I just noticed that I was uncomfortable in my own skin, like something was missing. And I said, dad, I want you to take me kayaking today. And it was the first time I ever asked to go in my life. And something about it being my decision transferred over to like, this is a choice that I made, not something that was put on me. And it’s funny when you decide that, and I carry that into my life a lot now.

Anna
Yeah.

Emily
You know, we do things, it’s like, well, I have to do this. If I don’t do this, no one else will. You know, like I’m looking at a pile of laundry, you know, if I don’t do it, well, no one else will. Well, that’s the choice that you make also. Are we going to approach it? Are we not going to approach it? What are we going to do? And so now I carry that always where when something’s my choice, I feel so much more in control of my life and it’s a lot less uncomfortable.

Anna
Thanks for sharing all of that. So, do you approach your own children in that way? Introducing them to a lot of activities and then allowing them to make the choice.

Emily
Yet so with my kids, we’ve done where it’s less emphasis on what their physical capabilities are, but the experiences around it, like it’s springtime. So if we go on this hike, we might see a lot of really cool flowers, not we’re going to try to get to the top of this mountain. So I’m really, um, probably over emphasizing the journey aspect of everything we’re doing and less on the actual physical activity. So for kai, it’s a little bit like we have this really cool week long rafting experience. We’re gonna go eat along the river with our friends. And if you don’t want to be in your kayak, you just hop in the wrap. I don’t really care. But it gives my children the opportunity to try to make choices. And then often I’ll give them kind of boundaries or parameters around it. Like, I understand you’re a little uncomfortable, but I’m only asking you to be uncomfortable for like 15 minutes. And then if it doesn’t work for you, and you didn’t have fun, and you’re not proud of yourself, we’ll just get out of the water and you don’t have to worry about it. I won’t make you do anything else that day. And I feel like having that really baby step approach, but also allowing them to feel like they’re in control. Because how often do we get scared simply due to the fact that we just don’t feel in control. And I think that’s a little bit with my father, he was very controlling of the situation, like this is what we’re doing. And so the fear could just be a combination of not feeling like I had a sense to control it. So that’s what I’m trying to give my kids. I’m sure they’ll have their own problems from that, because that’s just how that works with parenting.

Emily
But so far, my son, for example, it’s raining today, he has a friend over and he said, mom, Mathis is here, I really wanna go kayaking, let’s go kayaking. And so I said, okay, well, I’ve podcast today and I have some meetings, but uncle Clay’s down the road, another kayaker, and he’s gonna take you guys out on the flat water in a couple hours. Sounds great, it’s really cool. Yeah.

Anna
That’s awesome. Yeah, Uncle Clay is on this podcast too. So yeah, it’s awesome. Yeah, thanks. Yeah, for sharing. I’m sure there are a lot of parents out there who are encouraging their kids to get into boats or other outdoor activities. And I’ve actually seen, I am not a parent, so I don’t have the experience.

I have seen from the outside that when parents push kids too much in terms of, or what occurs to me is too much, like really about kayaking and performing, being kayaking, unfortunately what I’ve seen is that those kids over time really lost interest in the sport. Yeah, exactly, lost the joy. And so, and I would always, and actually…

There have been times over the course of the last 20 years where I have actually, I think said that to a few people is that, Emily and Dane weren’t forced into a kayak. They really were able to choose it and they love it. And again, people I think would look at your family and think, oh, they must paddle every day. It’s what they’ve done forever. So I really appreciate you sharing your experience. Cause I think, I mean, that’s the…part of the point of this whole podcast is to actually hear from people about their experience. Yeah. Oh, I’m sure.

Emily
Well parenting is uncomfortable. You know, because you’re every second guess everything, but at the same time, the one thing that I know is surround yourself with people, you know, don’t think that you’re going to do everything on your own. So the kayaking community to me is such an eclectic group of people, you know, whether it’s beliefs, views, politics, environment, whatever, it’s just such a hodgepodge of individuals. So as far as approaching fear, discomfort with kids, and I really think that we forget to really communicate as a parent, you want to be able to say, well, me and my son climbed this mountain, right? We did this thing. You know, this is what we did. This is this awesome thing we did. I took my kid on this river, but it’s so important when you’re in there, who is the joy for like when you seek joy in this scenario, what is the joy to the kids? And we tend to push, well, I want to get to the top of the mountain. My kid might not care whether we’re halfway up the mountain or at the very top and we don’t think about that as a parent often because we set a goal and for us to get our dopamine hit of checking off that box, we’re saying, well, I have to accomplish this goal. So as a parent and with a lot of my friends and my social circles, the goals that we set, there isn’t a, for example, if I’m teaching my kid how to roll, I don’t say you’re going to get three combat rolls today. I say, we’re going to try 10 rolls today.

like has nothing about reaching a certain thing, but they get the dopamine hit because the goal was set in a way that regardless on how you perform, you get your joy out of it. And I think that’s also what allows Dane to continue the sport and feel good is that our goals aren’t win the world championships. I don’t write down, I want to win the world championship. I know I want to, but I write down is I want to, um, train hard to try to learn three tricks. And so in order to do that, that the micro goal that I’m actually looking at is this year, I’m going to try a hundred lunar orbit. And it doesn’t say anything about accomplishing it. It doesn’t say anything about using it at the next event. But when you set things that allow yourself to succeed, it kind of gives you that hit, but it also allows you to find joy in what you’re doing. And I think often in society now, parenting and not parenting in any sport you’re in.. we set the accomplishments so high and the bar like this is what you need to do. And we’re not looking at, if I had just set all these micro goals and things that I find that bring me joy, I could actually get there. But when I just say I need to get here, it’s very easy to get frozen and just not be able to approach it.

Anna
Hmm. Yeah. Yeah, it’s also it’s that breaking things down into smaller pieces, hard moves and easy water, you know, scouting a rapid, there’s so many analogies, you know, that we could use. Yeah. How, how, what earlier you mentioned that you, when it came to kayaking, when you were very young, you were afraid of disappointing your dad. So how did you and then you chose and you asked him,

Emily
Yeah. So many. Yeah. Yeah.

Anna
Right? So it felt powerful to get out on the water. And then how did you overcome the fear of disappointing him? Because y ‘all have competed together for decades and you are a very accomplished competitor. And by the way, paddling and competing are two different things in my mind, because I was always at the top of my game or not at one time I was one of the top in the world and I was…

Emily
Completely, yeah.

Anna
paddling, I didn’t always compete and I didn’t love the competition aspect. So they’re definitely two different things. You’re a very accomplished paddler and competitor. So how did you overcome that fear of disappointing your dad?

Emily
I think there’s a combination of his fear of disappointing myself and fear of disappointing my father. Part of it was learning to communicate better with him initially. As far as my dad went, as a parent, he just wants you to have fun.

And a big part of it is really hard for him to recognize that the things that bring him so much joy might not be the same things for me. And for him, that was a big lesson for him to have to learn. And it took a lot of time and I’m not sure he still fully gets it. Like we had a conversation about that this weekend, which is super fun, but having open conversations, I think often assumptions are made in relationships. And you don’t take the time or because he’s my father, you would expect him to take the lead in a conversation to help you with your life and it’s not always the case they don’t recognize what you need so for me and approaching my fear of disappointing my father I have to truly sit down and this only happened recently within the last five years I just take a step back and say what does my father truly want for me he wants me to be happy and he wants me to push myself and
when I recognize that I’m like, well, I’m doing those things, but I’m compromising that if I’m doing what I think he wants from me versus what I know is best for myself. And so that is really hard. And we’ve had a lot of really hard conversations, very challenged conversations with his departure of Jackson Kayak, for example, because he started Jackson Kayak, but he left and he really wanted my brother and I to go with him because we do everything as a family. And so it was another…

adult learning moment for me, just like that 12 year old girl where I had to say, well, no, I’m staying here right now. This is what’s in the best interest of me and my family. And I think we have a much higher level of mutual respect for each other now because we both know that we’re doing the best we can and we’re not looking to disappoint each other, but we’re really trying to do what we think is best for ourselves as individuals.

And those are not the same thing between my father and I. So what’s best for him and what’s best for me are almost yin and yang. So it’s it, but we had that conversation this weekend again, just saying it’s funny how we’re so polar opposite, but so alike at the same time. So yeah.

Anna
Thanks for sharing all of that. I really appreciate your authenticity and I don’t know if it feels vulnerable for you, but I want to acknowledge that you’re really being vulnerable and authentic in this conversation. And I really appreciate it.

Emily
Yeah, I think transparency is really key. I think when you’re trying to share information, if you’re only half asking the story and not actually being authentic or transparent. It, it doesn’t give the full picture. And so for me, you know, I’m, I would say I’m a self conscious person in a lot of ways, but when it comes to sharing stories or anything, I feel like it’s very important. It’s a respect to you and make like, for me to feel comfortable as well, like out of respect to you, I will always give you 100 % of the truth and not half it.

Anna
Thanks, Emily. I did an episode with Andrew actually on this podcast and we talked about, for me, one challenging aspect of our relationship was when we were both competing and I would often collapse my self -worth with my competition results and he is exceptional. And so when we both did well at a competition, it was like woohoo, like the best. If I did well and he didn’t, which wasn’t, ever very often. I think one time I did better than him. Like I was like super stoked. If I, if he did really well and I didn’t, I would, it was really, I would just kind of be a punk about it. I mean, I was, I was going, yeah, so, envious. And then I would be like, I suck. And why can’t I be like him? And like so much suffering. And so, um, do you, how do you and Nick approach competing…

Emily
Yeah.

Emily
A little jealousy almost.

Anna (34:58.992)
together. I’m not saying that y ‘all are like me. I just was prefacing this question with, you know, it can be challenging. So how do you all approach it?

Emily
No, no, it’s good. Yeah, it’s good.

So, yeah, Nick and I started dating in 2006, both as fully in the competition scene. So we’ve been competing full on for, I guess, 18 years now. I agree with your assessment. I think younger, I felt the same way, where, you know, envious could be a word that was used. But my household, I grew up in a competitive environment. I grew up watching my dad be disappointed in his own competition. So I watched that dynamic constantly like throughout my entire childhood where my mom would have to take care of my dad because he was frustrated with an event or so forth or didn’t make a team like he was trying for the Olympics for slalom he went in 1992 but then he didn’t make when he was like favored to make it at one point it was a really big blow because you train four years and so I watched that and we actually had no money and we jumped in a car we went to Disney World that’s exactly what we did like that evening like didn’t even change our bags but for Nick and I and…

Having seen that it carries into my relationship with Nick where when I go to a competition, I am a wife and I am a competitor. But at the same time, Nick and I both don’t really react to the results as much as people would think. You know, like the energy in the room, regardless of how we’ve done, stays pretty positive. And part of it, I learned this even more so after I had kids because…

It would be the day before competition, for example. I remember one, this is a good way to frame it. We had the Reno River Festival and my son Tucker was a year and a half years old and he had just thrown up pizza inside the heating vent of our RV. And it was like anytime the heat would turn on, because it was freezing, it was snowing outside. Anytime the heat would turn on, there’s like throw up smell. And so we didn’t sleep, but finals was the next morning. We’re like getting ready for finals and we’re laughing. They’re like, this is so not ideal.

I guess this is what we get for having kids, you know, like, let’s go. And then the second the competition was over, we had to change diapers and like be active in other areas in our life. And so we noticed that if our attitudes, like, does how I did it, the competition change how I feel about the journey? Did I compromise myself and who I am in order to get to a certain level within my kayaking? And I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re still so joyous.

and engage with the sport is because if you were to ask me what I’m compromising to be a top level athlete, I would say absolutely nothing. And the reason I feel that way is because of the structure that we’ve set up. Now, if I had felt like I gave up things or compromise in any way, then the results would have a much bigger impact on my attitude. But we usually, I mean, through humor, coaching helps a lot. So we have a lot of kids that were like, avid coaching, training. And so at the event, their joy is my joy. And so that’s another level of it too. So in the relationship, it is hard sometimes to separate, you know, the wife to the competitor and so forth. But we tend to do a good job of giving each other that space or finding other areas to share joy or laugh or just recognize what we’re doing and how incredible it is that we have our kids on the road and we’re still competing. That alone brings us so much joy that

It’s very rare for the results to affect that. Usually it’s a quick glass of wine, just something fun or whatever. You sit around and talk or, I don’t know, really engage with the kids. We lean on the kids a lot for that emotional support too, because they’re like, you did great. My son’s finally old enough where he’s like, literally asked me the second of the water and he’s like, you didn’t win. And I was like, yeah, I tried. I did not paddle well, but he’s like, okay, that’s fine. And that’s the conversation. And it’s like a…

out of the mouth of a babe. It’s perfect. Yeah, that’s fine. You’re right. It’s fine. Whatever. I’m gonna go celebrate everyone else who did win. So yeah.

Anna
Yeah, yeah, and that’s great. I feel like the freestyle competition world is really supportive in that regard. Yeah.

Emily
They have to be right now. It’s a small niche of people. And so, you know, if you feel polarized, there’s just not a lot of space for you.

Anna
Right. Yeah. So what would be your advice to our listeners for, you know, stepping into and through their discomfort zone to follow their passion or live like their best life? What you got for them.

Emily
Yeah. Okay. Yeah. If I was to give people advice on stepping into discomfort is for starters, you know, set attainable goals, you know, maybe it’s something up high that’s really uncomfortable and there’s a way to get you there. For me, that’s how I approach it. You know, like I Olympic weightlifting scares me. So I started CrossFit and I started with the body weight and worked my way up and now I can do a lot more, but I never would have done that initially, you know, so baby stepping your way into it, I think is key.

but there’s always gonna be a leap point. And I think mentally preparing yourself in a framework where can I do this for five minutes? Can I do this for 10 minutes? For me, re -sewing is ice baths. Just the thought of getting in the ice bath makes me very anxious immediately. Heart rate, I’m already hyperventilating, I’m warm, I’m not even in the ice bath. And then habit. So one, set the framework to approach it.

Give yourself the opportunity to approach it in a controlled environment that you feel safe in. And then from there, really try to set bite size that creates a habit. So it’s five minutes, you know, for a week, maybe it’s 10 minutes next week. That goes back to the goal setting, but at the same time, if you can keep it consistent, you don’t recognize how far you’ve come. And then what made you uncomfortable initially is much more within reach or you’ve already done it. And so like to give you an idea, just a little insight into my life. I have what I call my Bible, it’s this little black book and it has check boxes for every single month and it has a goal for every single month. And some of it are for things that make me uncomfortable. And some of it are for things that I just really wanna attain. So if it’s a thousand miles for the year, the idea of running a thousand miles makes me a little, like I said, I don’t like the idea of it, but.

I do it in that, okay, if I break it out by 12 months and then I check the boxes. So I really implement constant dopamine hits into my day -to -day life. So when I set goals that cannot be more than a week out, I have to figure out what is the goal that I can accomplish today. And that is what’s really opened up my growth, but also approaching being scared, being in the discomfort zone and getting through it is knowing that I’ve taken a lot of little baby steps to get here and I trust myself and the work that I’ve put into it. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Anna
Thanks for sharing that.

Do you have any questions for me?

Emily
Oh, yeah, I got so many questions here. I mean, in general, I feel back in the day, I always felt like, you know, I carried a lot of my father’s terminology into approaching things, you know, where it’s like, you just have to do it. And sometimes I think there’s a degree of just pushing someone because you feel like you’re the controlled environment. Like I’m holding your hand, I’ve got you, we can do this. And you always were much more ahead of approaching the mental aspect and what the toll of that could be or how to approach it.

When did you decide to really start approaching, you know, you don’t like the word life coach, but mental agility for, you know, the people that you were working with, like how did that transition for you and helping people with being uncomfortable?

Anna
Well, I think that I, well, at first it was with my first DVD, Girls at Play, which is back in 2004. And I was on the freestyle circuit competing. And then in between at that time there was like a competition every weekend almost, like, you know, all over the country and people there seems to be like a kind of a routine where you’d compete, you’d train for freestyle and compete and then you would go paddle really hard stuff. And I didn’t have a lot of experience paddling really hard stuff. And so then I was all of a sudden like in the sponsored cars, Dagger Subarus, traveling around, paddling class five with like the best, some of the best class five boaters in the world.

And I always felt like behind and nervous. And I was really felt, you know, like folks are really, you know, I remember being on a Class 5 River in California. And one of the paddlers is like, you better be at the bottom. If you’re going to walk this rapid, you better be at the bottom by the time we’re done, because we don’t want to wait for you. And so I was already nervous and because running hard stuff was never my total passion. I really love freestyle, honestly. And then I also do enjoy river running, but I hadn’t had a good progression, I feel like. So I was, and then there, or you should, if you look at a rapid, you should be able to decide if you’re running it within five seconds. There was like a lot of hardcore really limiting statements and not a lot of support. I can remember paddling the little white. And at that time, you know, I would just run spirit. That’s what you did. And one time I, you know, came up and I lost my paddle and I flipped at the bottom and hand rolled up and made it into the Eddie. And two of the like really great guy paddlers were sitting there and I was like, did you see that? And they were like, yeah, you shouldn’t have lost your paddle or something like that. You know, when I was like, did you see that? I just like…

Emily
Yeah, so bad. Yeah. Yeah.

Anna
ran that waterfall and I rolled up. So all of that, my own experiences, I just felt bombarded. Like I felt like I had no support. I was kind of on my own. There were only a few people. And when I would talk to, and I thought I was the only one, but then when I started talking to other women who were on tour and they started sharing similar experiences, like, oh yeah, I totally was frustrated and had like, I was crying, but I didn’t want the guys to see me. So I had to suck it up, blah, blah, blah.

So that’s all of those experiences is kind of what started me on the path of, I really, you know, it is mental agility. I want to create a space where people can show up like as they are. That’s always been important to me because I didn’t feel like I was allowed to do that. So I hope that answers your questions.

Emily
As they are.

Mm hmm. That’s a great message for sure. Yeah, no, for sure. I mean, show up as you are is definitely is key there for sure. I mean, in in anything and I think that’s part of it when you’re approaching discomfort as well is you can’t show up envisioning the person that you’re trying to be. And you can’t show up just thinking about the person that you’ve been in the past, because every day we’re not necessarily the same person. We don’t have the same experience. We don’t have the same thought process. And so I think you really need to give yourself that space. And I think that falls in line with any sport you’re approaching to and discomfort is recognizing that you can give things another shot, another go, because it’s constantly, I mean, that’s what’s beautiful about the river. You’re never on the same water twice, you know? And so I, remind myself of that every time I’m uncomfortable approaching kayaking in particular is that this isn’t the same river, it’s not the same water, and I’m not the same person, you know. Yeah.

Anna
Yes. And surrounding ourselves, and that’s who I want to be for my clients on the water or my coaching clients off the water, is I want to be someone who sees their potential and is standing beside them and allowing, giving them the space to grow, not limiting to, oh, well, exactly. You know, oh, well, this is how you are, so I guess you’ll be like this forever. Like, no, you know? And it’s amazing what folks can accomplish with that support.

Emily
Advocate.

Emily
and celebration.

Emily
Mm -hmm. Yeah. Yeah.

Yeah, the last piece of that too is that with the technology world that we live in today. You know, like we’re here on a podcast, great, but everything’s about a comparison. So it’s a comparison of experience, comparison of thoughts, comparison of photos, imagery, everything is consistently your experiences you really have to own for yourself and not have it be in comparison to someone else. So like I’ve also had where people say, oh, we will like this river or that. And you really need to show up for yourself to make your own decisions because if everything is a comparison constantly, it doesn’t really allow you to truly see things for what they are because instead of just seeing something for what it is, you’re comparing it to something else. And so I think it’s really important to go back and really look at things for what they are on their own and yourself sometimes too.

Anna
Yeah, and also look back and be like, wow, look at the progress I’ve made from a month ago, a year ago, five years ago, whatever. So, okay, I have some rapid fire questions for you. Okay, what’s a morning ritual that sets you up for success?

Emily
Mm -hmm. 100%. Yeah. Yeah.

Sounds great.

Emily
When I’m home, it’s a bath with the hot lemon water. It gives me time to decompress before I get crazy in the day.

Anna
What’s a non -negotiable self -care practice?

Emily
Oh, for me, it’s kayaking or meditation is the form of being entirely focused on one thing. And when I’m kayaking, I’m only thinking about kayaking. And if I think about something else, I get off. So that’s non -negotiable for me is whatever gives me space to be 100 % present. And kayaking does that for me.

Anna
I love it. What’s your favorite motivational book or talk?

Emily
Oh my, I read so many books. I’ve already read like 12 this year so far or more. More than, yeah, a lot. Atomic Habits is a great one. Stillness is the key. I’m a huge fan of Ryan Holiday right now. Courage is Calling, Ego is the Enemy. All of them where they dive into different ways to approach and think about things. But right now, oh my God.

Anna
I know.

Emily (49:47.954)
I would generally say right now, if I’m looking into one that’s had the biggest impact, I would say atomic habits.

Anna
Yeah, that’s a big one for me too. I recommend it so much. Throughout the course of your life, have you felt like you’re the underdog or the favored to win?

Emily
Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great one.

Emily
Oh, both constantly. I don’t know if you want to escalate into that, but there’s always younger girls that I’m competing against that are showing up 100 % for what they’re doing. And right now with everything on my life, I have a really hard time feeling like I’m truly showing up 100%. So it makes me feel like an underdog, but no one would call me that. Yeah.

Anna
Awesome.

Anna
Got it. Great answer. Okay, we’ve already talked about this a lot, but I’m going to ask the question anyways. Hard moves in easy water or flooding?

Emily
That is hard moves and easy water honestly. That just for me, adrenaline does not result in joy for me often. It makes me anxious or unhappy. So when I feel slightly more in control, so easier water pushing myself brings more joy into my life.

Anna
Yeah. What’s a word that would describe your comfort zone?

Emily
Um, yeah, that’s a tricky one. What’s a word that would describe your comfort zone?

harmony.

Anna
Okay. Freedom through discipline or I do what I want.

Emily
freedom through discipline, 100%.

Anna
In one word, what do you hope your legacy will be?

Emily
kind.

Anna
Love it. Is there anything else you want to tell our listeners?

Emily
Yeah, I mean, just choose to show up for yourself. I think everyone in this world is here for a reason, and I think they have something to offer. And I think when we listen to outside sources too often, we don’t really get the opportunity to shine in the way that we were designed. So really look inward. Usually, you know what you’re supposed to do if when you do it, you’re like, yeah, that was fun, or that was awesome. You know, seek joy in your life, and it can help you figure out what you’re contributing to society will be or to this world. Yeah.

Anna
Well said, thank you for that. Where can people find you or connect with you, Emily?

Emily
You my goodness, there’s a lot of ways to find a connect with me. But we have a YouTube channel called Great Family Adventure, the TV host for that one. And so that’s the family adventures. Otherwise, I’m on Instagram at Emily Jackson Kai. Can I share a lot of my vulnerability and stories there? I think it’s important. And then, yeah, you can find me at any Jackson kikes up there too, because I wear a lot of hats there. So just about everywhere on the river. Yeah. Yeah.

Anna
Yeah, awesome. And yes, on the river. And I’ll share your handles in the show notes. So I’m going to sign off in a second, but don’t leave. I forgot to tell you that.

Emily
Yeah.

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

Anna
Emily, thank you so much for being here, for being so authentic, for sharing of yourself and your time. I really appreciate you. And yeah, thanks for being who you are.

Emily
This is awesome. Thank you so much, Anna.