My Career Journey + 6 Life Lessons

Don’t you just love when you graduate from college, know exactly what you want to do, and get accepted into your dream job right away?? Oh wait, that didn’t happen to you either?

When I graduated college 5 years ago, I would never have guessed I’d be where I am today. Sound familiar? I am currently a personal trainer and group fitness instructor at LinkedIn and I can honestly say that I look forward to going into work every morning. In addition to the hours I put in at work, I also maintain a small online personal training business, where I send clients from all over the country personalized training programs and receive weekly accountability check-ins. But it wasn’t easy getting to the place I am today! It took time, hard work, mistakes, getting out of my comfort zone, taking risks, starting over… you get the idea. Here’s a little bit about how I got to where I am today.

Lesson 1: Recognize and Pursue Your Passion.

I developed a love for running at an early age, and a big part of my college decision was based on where I could get a track scholarship. I visited Olivet Nazarene University and fell in love with the campus, the community and the team. I started out as an Exercise Science major, thinking I wanted to be a physical therapist (let’s be honest, I had no idea what I wanted to do). After the first semester, I started thinking that I wanted a career in the event planning industry, and changed my major to a Family and Consumer Science degree. If you’ve never heard of that/are wondering what that is… that’s exactly the reason I changed my major to Communications. After realizing that was still too broad, I finally landed in marketing. I absolutely loved the business classes I was taking – everything from graphic arts, to writing business plans, to networking. I started to visualize a career in the bridal industry. And who is more motivated to work out then an engaged bride?? My passion for my own health and fitness seemed to fit into this vision quite nicely. Event planning by night, personal training for brides by day. I had found my career path! …or so I thought.

“Pay attention to the things you are naturally drawn to. They are often connected to your path, passion, and purpose in life. Have the courage to follow them.” – Ruben Chavez

Lesson 2: Be Patient.

As I started getting into the bridal industry, working at a bridal salon and helping at event venues, and I quickly learned that the bridal industry wasn’t all I hoped and dreamed it would be. Let’s just say I will never watch another episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” ever again. But the more I wrote personal training plans, the more I enjoyed that. I started studying for my personal training certification and passed my exam December 2016. It may sound somewhat simple, but it took two and a half years for me to get to this point and the realization that personal training was my true passion. Let’s rewind a little. Right after graduating college, I worked for a year in a marketing and administration role at a physical therapy clinic. Mo and I then moved to Boston where I worked at David’s Bridal. Six months later, we moved to Australia, where I got a job as an administrative assistant for a private physical therapy clinic. Six months later, we moved back to Chicago where I got a job at a specialty running store and worked at David’s Bridal again while studying for my exam. All of these jobs, starting over, meeting new people, digging into my passions, led me to the confidence that personal training was where I was supposed to be. It didn’t happen overnight!

Lesson 3: Don’t Sell Yourself Short.

After passing my personal training exam, I left the running store and David’s Bridal in Chicago and was hired at a small neighborhood gym. I got a few clients here and there, but I was finding it hard to keep a steady client base. I ended up applying at a high end health club downtown Chicago and was offered a personal training position. I was thrilled. This gym was WAY outside of my comfort zone and what I felt I was qualified for, but I am so glad I decided to go for it anyway. Don’t sell yourself short. Even if you think you might not be qualified for something, it doesn’t hurt to try! And if you do get it, chances are you’ll grow and learn so much quicker! These are a few of the reasons I loved working at this health club:
  • My manager invested the trainers – he put on a two day kettlebell certification course for us, and we had weekly meetings where we would discuss our clients and challenging cases, get assigned topics to do our own research on and share what we learned at the following weekly meeting (topics such as different injuries, limitations, nutrition topics, etc.).
  • My manager was also very big on functional movement and less focused on the aesthetics. I learned the importance of having a good foundation first (stability and mobility) before focusing on strength and appearance. So many people’s posture is terrible from working at a computer… so start with correcting that. Having capped shoulders or biceps to flex is great, but ultimately what’s most important?!
  • I shadowed classes and other trainers, and my manager/peers were always willing to answer questions or help me out when I needed it. It was a friendly atmosphere, not a competitive, cut-throat one.
Tip: If you are an aspiring trainer and want to start by working at a gym, I would ask what they do for continuing education, if you have to be “on the floor” recruiting clients (some people love that atmosphere, some people don’t), and get a feel for how the people seem to interact with each other. This can make or break your first experience in the fitness industry!

Lesson 4: Be Open to change.

After a year of working at the health club in Chicago and loving it (you don’t wake up at 3:50 every morning for a job you hate!), Mo and I packed our bags and moved to California last May. Another unknown chapter and a fresh start ahead of me! I was fortunate to get a part time job in corporate fitness at VMWare and six months later, transferred to a full time position at LinkedIn’s headquarters. My role isn’t just a personal trainer – my title is officially an “Exercise Specialist” so we do consultations with members, fitness assessments, talk about their overall wellness, and do our best to equip them with the tools that they need to be successful in reaching their individual goals. I love that our primary role isn’t just to sell training, but to help our members live an overall lifestyle.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Lesson 5: Provide Value.

So how did I start and grow my personal online business? It was all very organic. I had friends and family asking me for plans, which I gave away at first. I believe that providing value for free to people is the way that you’ll get clients when starting out… and that looks different for everyone. Maybe you can help a bride look and feel great in their wedding dress, and then she’s a walking advertisement for you. People sharing their success with others is everything! Maybe you start posting free workouts or recipes for people to save on Instagram. Or you volunteer to instruct a group fitness class for an event. Providing value for free can be helpful, but it can also be harmful to your business. There does come a point where you have to realize your value and start charging for your time and expertise. Ultimately, people will be drawn to you if you’re authentic, real and relatable!

Lesson 6: Never Stop Learning. Never Stop Growing.

My website started out as a blog that I originally used to stay on top of the trends in the health, fitness and wedding industry. When I started getting more and more interest in my online/private training services, I started looking into ecommerce websites. I liked how user-friendly and professional Squarespace was and chose that as my platform. I studied other websites, blogs, and trainers to get ideas for what was visually appealing to me. I had professional pictures done (shoutout to Isabella Summers Photography) and launched my ecommerce website, Extra Mile Fitness, about a year ago. Since then, I’ve completed a number of certifications, qualified for the Boston Marathon and am constantly reading books and listening to podcasts about the health and fitness. I’m also working on a new healthy lifestyle challenge, one that’s different than any other programs I’ve offered in the past, that I’m hoping to launch early summer.

I am sure that I am nowhere near my highest potential. I have so many more ideas, dreams, and goals for myself and my career. All I can do is take it all one step at a time and surround myself with people who push me to do and be better. And be open to where that takes me. I can only hope that this inspires YOU to do the same!

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