Founder's Friday Episode 06 – Harris Fanaroff
Updated: Nov 1
When life knocks you down, do you stay down? Or do you rise up with strength and purpose?
In the era of Covid-19, where uncertainty and struggle are all but guaranteed, there is perhaps no quality more desirable than emotional resilience. In business, sports, and life alike, this quality allows us to take control over the way we react to unfortunate circumstances, emerging as stronger and wiser individuals.
Harris Fanaroff was raised in a typical American household, flanked by siblings who knocked the ball out of the park academically. Having never truly excelled in the classroom, Harris took the phrase a bit more literally. He loved the sport of baseball, so much so that at the ripe old age of 10, he set his sights on becoming a Division 1 baseball player. His daily routine quickly followed suit; he trained relentlessly, ate as healthy as his voracious appetite allowed, and soon found self-confidence and a sense of identity as the athlete of the family.
Like any great entrepreneurial story, Harris’s wasn’t without its fair share of ups, downs, and everything in between. After years of training, competing, winning and losing, the moment he had dreamed of finally came.
He was going to play D1 baseball. He was headed to Lehigh University to live out his dream as a student-athlete.
Or so he thought.
Several weeks into his college athletic career, Harris suddenly found himself with the stark inability to throw accurately. He was soon diagnosed with the yips, a rare psychological disorder that severs the brain-limb link that is so critical to success in the sport of baseball. Naturally, this steered him away from his passion. He soon faced himself in the mirror with the knowledge that he would likely never return to the pitcher’s mound. As a lifelong athlete, this was a mental battle which had only just begun.
Without his sport, Harris faced a road of self-discovery that ultimately led him to his current career path as a performance leadership coach. According to Harris, mentorship was the seminal boost his self-exploration journey needed.
From the moment he was given the heart-wrenching news of his diagnosis, to the time he founded ACT Performance, he worked incessantly to re-define himself as more than just an athlete. It wasn’t until this period of deep self-reflection that Harris began striving toward an emotional state he now knows as “self-actualization.”
In the absence of his one-beloved sport, Harris found contentment bonding with his fraternity brothers and studying business while at Lehigh. Upon graduation, he found himself working in inside sales at a healthcare company. Although the job paid his bills and provided healthy job security, he never felt the passion he once had for baseball.
Harris began searching for something new, and tapped the network he had cultivated throughout his academic and athletic careers. After dozens of conversations that left him discontent and unfulfilled, he eventually found guidance from Brian Levinson, an eminent sports psychologist and leadership coach whom Harris credits for changing his life. Brian helped Harris sit with, and ultimately accept, the negative emotions he was feeling. He also led him to find both an identity outside of athletics and a constructive outlet for his natural energy and ambition.
“I had always thought about my baseball career as a massive failure, and we were able to work through that. My whole identity was being a baseball player, and we worked through that as well. Really, I was able to push through so many roadblocks that had been in my way before. I wanted to do what [Brian] had done for me for other people.”
At the age of 26, Harris became a certified leadership performance coach. As one of the youngest members of the profession, Harris knew that he faced an uphill battle to truly distinguish himself. Using his past experience as an athlete and his deep desire to improve the emotional intelligence of leaders within business organizations, Harris joined Otto Kroeger Associates (OKA). To stay true to his roots, Harris also founded ACT Performance, LLC around the same time. ACT aims to improve emotional intelligence and resilience in leaders from high school locker rooms to corporate boardrooms.
Through these two experiences, Harris reignited the spark he last felt on the pitcher’s mound, poised to unlock the true potential of athletes and business leaders alike. Through his self-discovery as a student of Brian’s, he was uniquely equipped to become a coach himself.
At ACT Performance, Harris seeks to not only inspire confidence and ambition in his trainees, but to normalize the display of vulnerability, a somewhat taboo topic in male locker rooms.
I asked Harris what emotional intelligence really meant to him:
“I am all about normalizing the idea that it’s okay to not be okay. The more we can become comfortable with sharing our vulnerabilities, the better. I work on emotional intelligence and the more I can get rid of that stigma, the better society becomes. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand your own emotions and the emotions of others. How I can understand my own self-awareness to better self-manage myself.”
This idea is something that everyone, especially in a fast-moving society, can learn from. Learning to manage adversity in its many forms allows us to grow both personally and professionally. It is crucial, now more than ever, to recognize the humanity in all of us and learn to take a step back to sit with our true emotions. And just as importantly, we must remain humble to continue learning and growing as individuals.
“Leaders are lifelong learners. They are intentional about how they show up. They treat people the right way. And so, yes, there may be some innate qualities that contribute to success as a leader, but it’s through the bumps and failures that you end up where you want to go.”
The Astral Consulting Group approaches every business case with a clean slate, and applies a unique framework to build workflows to suit each client's individual needs. Our founding partners come from engineering backgrounds, and understand the importance of reasoning from the ground up. As such, we combine this "first-principles" style of thinking with a holistic growth mindset to evaluate each case from both the top-down and bottom-up. This creates a comprehensive process unique to each solution we develop, and gives our clients insight into both the granular details of their business and the high-level strategy and vision to propel them forward.