On this day four years ago I spent my last workday sitting in a cubicle. (For those of you just catching up, I worked in advertising and marketing for six years before making the switch to fitness and freelance full-time. You can read more about it in this post.)
Each year on this day I find myself reflecting back on the journey and taking stock of where I am now. The last 12 months have been significant when it comes to career growth. My first book was published, I turned in a second, I landed some pretty amazing ambassadorships and partnerships with wonderful companies like Premier Protein, The Track & Field Store and ALDI, I totally reworked my schedule to free up more time for what I want to focus on, I partnered with one of my best friends to launch Core Desire Yoga, I let go of freelance work that wasn’t filling me up and I stepped into a marketing and communications role at Y2 that is my dream job.
As I have shared with you time and time again, I feel so blessed to call what I do my work. I never wake up one single day dreading what’s in front of me. Four years later and I still can’t believe I pulled this off. And I not only pulled it off but every year I have been able to increase my income while continuing to really hone in on the things that I’m really passionate about.
(Photo Wanda Koch)
But I’m not here today to write another post about all the good stuff. Instead, I wanted to share the hard parts of working as a full-time fitness trainer, yoga teacher, blogger, writer and freelance marketer. The question I get asked most often is advice for transitioning to this type of career. I have written continuously about the perks but here are some of the more difficult aspects of the profession.
In the fitness industry, you work when everyone else is not working. That means saying yes to to clients who want to train at 5:30 a.m. on the same day that you also teach a 7:15 p.m. yoga class. If you don’t like getting up early, seriously reconsider this profession. Those clients who want to train at 9:30 on a weekday morning are few and far between. Snatch them up when you can!
Also, weekends. I have worked every single weekend teaching and training clients since starting this profession (except when traveling). I usually try to stay off the computer on Saturdays whenever possible but I do devote a lot of time on Sundays to blogging and studio marketing work.
While we’re talking about hours, it’s hard to set boundaries around hours when it comes to blogging. I set my intention to blog every day but usually end up taking 1 day off per week (usually Saturday) but then there’s social media to maintain, comments and emails to respond to, etc. I would love to get on a schedule where I work on my blog at the same time every day but it’s hard to do with the fitness piece because my schedule changes week-to-week depending on clients, meetings, subbing classes, etc.
I would say that when I was REALLY trying to make this career happen I was working upwards of 80 hours per week (including teaching and training a ton more than I am now) and these days it’s probably more like 60-70. It’s hard not to work a ton when you really love what you do. I’m learning every year how to get better at this.
It can be physically and emotionally exhausting.
On the days that I teach multiple classes and also train a few clients I find myself totally exhausted. First, just because you are standing on your feet all day and moving around assisting yoga students in a 100 degree room (remember…I don’t practice with them…I just walk around the room and assist), loading bars and moving weights around for clients, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love not sitting all day every day but it’s a physically demanding job. (And worry what I would do if I broke my leg or something happened where I couldn’t do the physical part of it.)
And from the emotional standpoint…in this field energy is constantly being passed around. (Read this post about energy exchange as a yoga teacher.) But I give my clients and students a lot of my energy and take on a lot of whatever they have going on. This is not an industry where you can just show up, put your head down and do your job. This is an industry where you show up, connect, engage and give all you have to give despite what’s going on in your private world. And it can leave you feeling completely wiped after a long day of teaching and training (although more often than not, it totally lifts me up and energizes me). It’s super critical to have a strong self-care practice with this type of work.
There’s no set salary.
I have a ballpark idea of what I’m going to earn if I teach “x” amount of classes per week and train “x” amount of clients but the freelance income can take huge swings depending on what opportunities are available. There’s simply no way to predict what kind of opportunities are going to come and when. It makes budgeting and planning for taxes pretty challenging.
When you don’t work, you don’t get paid.
While we’re on the topic of money, there’s no vacation time or sick days. When I sub out a class or cancel a client session or skip a blog post, I’m missing out on income. It’s a major decision to go away for the weekend or take a vacation.
Related: this is why it’s crucial to have a strong cancel policy with clients. I’m generally pretty lenient with mine because I’ve worked with most of them for so long but last minute client cancels are typical in this industry and can result in a pretty big loss of income because you could have been training someone else during that time.
Also related: there is no maternity leave so for all of you in your 20s and 30s who want a family, this is something to seriously consider.
Also related: there’s no company 401K or retirement plan. You have to figure all that out yourself.
Your life is somewhat public.
Whether you’re a group exercise or yoga instructor who teaches 10+ classes a week to over 300 people a week or a blogger who shares day to day updates on the internet, people are up in your business. You will constantly run into students and clients around town and just by nature of being a leader people are curious about what you’re up to. I totally own that I have a tendency to be somewhat closed off and introverted so this was a pretty big adjustment for me. (Although it hasn’t been all bad…it’s also been great for getting me to come out of my shell and open up more.)
(Photo David Adams)
Things are constantly changing.
When I first started teaching group exercise on the side one of my group ex directors said to me when I was looking for more classes, “Oh don’t worry, something will come up. Group exercise changes like the wind.” Was she ever right on that! And it extends beyond group exercise into the fitness industry as a whole AND freelance work. Things are ALWAYS changing. I look back and can’t believe how many job titles I’ve had in just four years. And how different my schedule has been year to year.
This kind of work requires an open mind and a lot of flexibility. You have to be willing to try out and test different things and see where they might take you. Some are amazing. Some are good for a short time. Some are complete fails. You learn from all of it.
There is no guarantee of what will come tomorrow. This is an industry full of short-term, part-time and contract work. You just do the best you can and pray the next best way to grow is right around the corner. This is why I diversify what I do so much. It’s important to me to have multiple revenue streams so that if one gets shut off I won’t be totally screwed. It definitely adds a little to the exhaustion piece to spread yourself around but for me personally it’s a worth it for the peace of mind.
Would I do it all over again?
A thousand times yes. Having work that allows you to help make a positive difference in the lives of others is an awesome responsibility. The purpose of this post isn’t to complain, garner sympathy or make it seem like my life is hard. I know that every profession has its benefits and drawbacks so I just wanted to share my take on that since so many of you are curious about this work.
Please let me know if you have any other questions about working in the fitness industry, teaching yoga, freelance marketing or writing. I am so happy to share any insight I may have. And I’d love to hear from others who work in these industries. What would you say are the drawbacks for you?