I am going to preface this post with a little PSA: I need you to have an open mind and a whole lot of security reading this piece. Initially, it might come off as self-righteous or “better than” — which as you know is a huge sensitivity of mine, because just the nature of writing online puts you in both the role of educator, but also open to criticism. It’s just part of the deal.
But though I don’t have it all figured out, I can’t let what I still have to learn keep me from sharing what I do know, and writing about my experiences.
And so, I am passionate about this topic, mostly because it’s personal. For many years, I played the victim role, acting from a place of extreme insecurity – and it kept me playing small, scared, defensive and unhappy.
In this blog, I explain how I quit “the fitness hustle” (even though busy-ness and having a packed schedule made up my self-worth at the time) and slowly started creating the schedule and lifestyle I wanted, while also creating more meaning and purpose in my life and helping more people than I ever could in person.
A while back, Molly Galbraith asked me to contribute to a Girls Gone Strong article called “A Day In the Life of a Fitness Professional.” I was asked to outline my current typical day, including work, working out, eating and downtime. And I submitted my contribution and the blog went up, along with the daily routine of 8 other female fitness pros.
As you obviously know, I run a business called JillFit Physiques and I’m a co-founder of Metabolic Effect, Inc, both of which are online businesses, exclusively.
At first, I was a bit blind-sided by the responses on the GGS article, where many full-time in-person trainers scoffed that the piece showed “how ‘fake’ most internet trainers are” and how they “have quite a bit of luxury” in their lives, and “have to be quite selfish” to do what they do.
Hmmm. I was a little taken aback by the response.
But after some thought, I’m actually not surprised at all. I can understand these responses 100%. I totally get it.
Because in 2007, I was working close to 80 hours a week as a full-time fitness professional.
I worked at a university (9-5pm), plus I was a full-time personal trainer and group fitness instructor, training up to 12 clients a day starting at 5am and teaching a dozen fitness classes each week. I’ve actually written about this quite a bit at JillFit.
I started in the fitness industry at 15 years old, getting my first job in a gym NURSERY just so that I could get a free membership. Over the years, I worked every single job in commercial gyms, corporate wellness centers, universities, garnering multiple group fitness certifications and ultimately teaching 2-3 classes a day, plus a client load of 60+ sessions a week at my highest.
I DID THIS FOR 12 YEARS.
And I frigging loved it!
Fitness is my passion. And when I was working “in the trenches,” I felt lucky every day that I got to make other people’s lives better through fitness.
Only … my own life was suffering.
I was burning the candle at both ends. I was starting my day at 5am and I wouldn’t get home until 9pm many nights. It was all I could do to make dinner and get in bed. I had zero mental space for anything except the next thing, what was in front of me, the next client.
And I loved it. But I also hated it. I was energized. But I was also exhausted. I found immense self-worth in it. But I also wanted to make a bigger impact somehow.
And I also resented the fact that the only way I could feel useful and worthy was through working harder and longer than anyone else.
Hard work is admirable—it’s a value system I grew up with—but over time, I couldn’t shake the thought that there had to be a better way. A more EFFICIENT way. A way I could still make an impact, serve my clients, without running myself ragged.
Training clients online allowed me that opportunity.
And slowly—over a 5-year process—I started making small changes to make it a reality for myself. I read ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’ in 2007 and EVEN THOUGH IT SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE at the time, I slowly started talking to my clients about moving their appointments around so that I had more free time to actually WRITE a blog or read a book that could help me learn online business. I started “batching” my clients, booking them back to back, instead of leaving random 30 and 60-minute time slots in between them. Just enough time to scarf a meal or check email but not nearly enough open time to create anything that helped me make an impact without physically being there.
In fact, I had an aha! moment one Friday night in 2007. I was driving the 20 minutes across town to train a single client at 8pm (the only time they could work out) for $15. My friends and family were out to dinner, getting ready for a fun Friday night and I was going to the gym to train for 30 minutes. I was driving, and thinking to myself, “How is this my life?? This isn’t what I want.”
See, I loved training but I was so busy, so stressed and working time-for-money so long with my head down that I had zero awareness that I was chasing every single dollar and stressed every second that if I didn’t immediately acquiesce to my client’s preferred time and payment amount, that I would lose them as a client and I would end up broke and homeless. I was driven by fear. I was taking on more and more with absolutely no consideration for my own quality of life.
I love training clients (and I still do it every single day virtually), but it’s also a time-for-money job. If I get sick, I don’t get paid. There’s a built-in ceiling to how many people I can reach. How many people I can impact.
And if you’re in a good place with that, then that’s perfect. Do it. Don’t change a thing.
But for me, I felt a deep, deep obligation to get a message that I felt incredibly passionate about out into the world. And I couldn’t do that without taking myself online. And I couldn’t take myself online when I was doing the fitness hustle 80 hours a week. Just wasn’t possible. No physical time and certainly no mental energy.
And so there was a choice.
And it didn’t happen overnight. And it was anything but easy, but it got to the point that I couldn’t NOT try. This stuff didn’t just land in my lap. I didn’t just catch a lucky break. I consciously made changes over time. One at a time. That’s it.
So now, 7 years later, I wake up at 5am and blog or write emails for my readers and customers. I lie on my couch and read books that can help educate me to get better. I go to business and psychology conferences. I read research and other resources that can teach me how to be a better communicator and give me more insight into human psychology so I can make a bigger difference for the people who read my blog. I go for leisure walks because I know that for me, engaging in restorative activities helps me stay focused when I do work (admittedly many less hours than in 2007), remain patient with my family and clients, and stay centered when it comes to relationships and personal happiness.
And in terms of it being more “selfish” to have a business online, I can’t really get on board with that considering on my busiest in-person training weeks, I was working with 60 people. But now I work with 600+ regularly. If anything, isn’t it less selfish to extend important education on health, fitness and fat loss to so many more people? It’s it more service, not less?
I love working with people. Always have, always will. It’s just that the delivery method is different now. And I worked my ass off to make those changes a reality. And I still do, every day.
If internet business is not for you, then fine. Everyone should have the opportunity to follow their own bliss, and do exactly what makes them happy. I don’t judge it. Careers are an individual journey. And the idea that the original article was meant to inform full-time in-person trainers how to live their lives is definitely not the case. People need to do what they need to do for them, period.
I do admit that perhaps featuring trainers not working in the online space would have been helpful. But to take the schedules represented in the article personally and to jump to the conclusion that no one in the article has worked a 5am to 9pm personal training schedule is short-sighted.
Bottom line, in my opinion, is this: Do what you want. But if you’re doing something, own it. Love it.
And if you don’t love it, then reach out and ask for help. Look for solutions, not problems.
I initially started by asking my current clients if they could move their time slots so I had more free time to do something bigger. That’s it! And to my pleasant surprise, 90% of them were able to switch no problem! And for those last 10%, that was the risk I was willing to take in order to move myself forward.
Any way you go is going to present challenge; life has a way of delivering the perfect amount of obstacles. But to assume that every trainer or coach who works in the online space versus in the gyms is any less hard-working or is not “a real trainer” is myopic.
For those of you in the trenches, I think you’re amazing. I commend you for making a difference in your clients’ lives. It’s magic, what you do every day. And the original post would never attempt to take that away from you or insinuate that there’s anything wrong with how you do things. It’s not personal.
And look, I understand the grievances, totally. I do.
But I’m also a fan of finding commonalities and solutions, instead of getting stuck on problems and taking things personally. The latter never serves me. And narrow-mindedly asserting the way I was doing things back then as the only noble way of training ultimately didn’t serve me either. And when I was holding on to the idea that the only way to truly help people was by creating a martyr of myself and using my busyness as a means of affirmation, for me, became misery. I refuse to do that now, and I definitely won’t do it when it keeps my message contained and runs me ragged.
My new way: working to creating a life I love where I have the freedom to create meaning, while also following my passion without resentment.