My Transition from a 9-5 Office Job to the Health & Fitness Industry (Part 1)

How I Transitioned from a 9-5 Office Job into the Health & Fitness Industry (Part 1)I picked this photo for my story because it seemed like a good representation of how I got into the health & fitness industry: I have a confused look on my face and I’m pretending to fake run (??) while really just looking like an idiot. 

One of the most common questions I get asked in reader emails and comments is for advice about getting involved in the health & fitness industry and making it a full-time career. I actually don’t think I’m the best person to be advising people on the subject because I wouldn’t recommend doing it the way I did. Nonetheless, I want to do a few posts on the subject with some tips for starting a health & fitness blog and/or launching a group fitness/personal training career, and I thought a good place to start would be to just share my personal story, which I’m titling Universe Guides Dumb, Unprepared Girl into Fitness Industry. My hope in sharing it is that you’ll feel assured that no matter where you are now, it is possible to get where you want to be–whether that’s a career in fitness, blogging or something else entirely. Everyone starts somewhere! And if something makes you truly happy, it is worth pursuing. As you’ll see, I had no idea what I was doing (and still don’t), but fumbled my way along until the pieces started to come together.

I drank coffee for the first time in two months while writing, so this story of mine ended up being quite the literary saga. I’m going to split it up in three blog posts and will post one each Sunday for the next few weeks. I don’t normally post a lot of personal stuff to the blog, so these are definitely different, but hopefully you’ll enjoy them and get to know more about me and how I got to where I am today. If you’re interested in getting into the health & fitness industry, I hope this mini series is helpful; and if you’re just looking for some Sunday afternoon reading material, I hope this mini series is entertaining. :)

Universe Guides Dumb, Unprepared Girl into Fitness Industry

Part 1 | The Background Story: How I Ended Up at My 9-to-5

Chapter 1 | School & My First Year as a Post-Grad: The Hot Mess Era

college-woofMost people talk about college as the best four years of your life. Not this girl. You could not pay me all the money in the world to relive college. Not because UNC wasn’t a great school (it’s wonderful!); not because I didn’t make great friends (they are my favorite girls in the world!); and not because I didn’t have fun times (too many hilarious memories to count). I was the problem. I had no direction, I was emotionally unstable, and I was struggling with depression and awful body image issues. I was all over the place, unhappy, restless, and changed my major six times—dancing around the health & fitness field and then accidentally (literally) graduating with an English degree.

Towards the end of high school, my interest in fitness had really picked up, so my first declared major in college was Exercise & Sport Science. But I got a lot of raised eyebrows from old teachers and even some extended family members about it. They made me feel like it was a waste of my intelligence and that I should be doing something “more” with my career. Eventually I convinced myself that I thought that too, so I decided to go the Pre-Med route and became a Biology major. That was miserable so I switched over to a Nutrition major (still on the Pre-Med track). Looking back, I wish I had stuck with the Nutrition major, but gone the RD route—not Pre-Med.

While hindsight may be 20/20, my current vision was totally blind. Business major it is! Sure, why not? Seems practical. Oh but wait, I hate business. Ok, Italian major. Because that makes a lot of sense and is very useful in real life. Nice work, Nicole. It’s halfway through junior year and I’m panicking because WTF am I going to do with an Italian major, and now I probably won’t graduate on time, so I log into my student account to schedule an appoint with an advisor and see that…I’m actually not an Italian major?

Turns out, when I switched my major to Italian, the advisor had accidentally switched me to English. At this point, I didn’t even care what I graduated with, and I’ve always loved reading and writing, so I just went with it. See, I’m not exaggerating—I was a disaster in college.

Just about the only thing productive that happened in college was my increasing interest in fitness and my roommate introducing me to (I honestly don’t follow the blog anymore, but I LOVED it back in the day when Zuzana started it). It was my first introduction to both high intensity interval training and this weird new thing called blogging.

After graduating, I was able to get my sh*t somewhat together—emotionally, anyway. I was happy, emotionally stable, and my body image issues and unhealthy relationship with food were behind me. But I had NO CLUE what I wanted to do as far as a career was concerned. I moved to Boston anyway and started looking for pretty much any entry-level job I could find. 2010 wasn’t a great year to be entering the job market, but I can’t blame the economy—I had no experience. Every summer during college, I was faced with the decision to get an impressive unpaid internship in some culturally enriching city to add to the resume or … go home to the Vineyard to lifeguard on one of the most beautiful beaches on the east coast and make over $20 an hour. I mean, c’mon—I went home! And I don’t regret it. I’m not sure I’ll ever be as carefree as I was during those summers. lifeguarding

Unfortunately, even a talented exaggerator like myself found it difficult to spin “life guard” into a resume builder. I’m, like, really good at applying sunscreen and swimming and telling small children to stop diving off rocks. Plus, I still didn’t know if I wanted to put my English degree to use and go the writing/editing route or pursue this health & fitness passion that was growing slowly inside of me day by day.

I got an unpaid internship writing blog content for a start-up e-commerce site so I could put something on my resume, but the money I’d saved during the summer was starting to run out, and I couldn’t bear the pressure of not having a job much longer. Not even from a monetary standpoint—it was getting to the point where I just wanted any job so that I could avoid the uncomfortable silence that arose anytime someone asked me, “So, what do you do?” *hangs head in shame*

I decided I should eventually go back to school for Nutrition or something health-related, so I ended up taking a job at one of the major health insurance companies in Massachusetts—it wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I figured it would look good on a grad school application. IT WAS THE MOST MISERABLE JOB I’VE EVER HAD. And I’ve had a lot of jobs. One time two of my college girlfriends and I were hired to give out samples of MGD64 (that disgusting 64-calorie beer from Miller) in the aisles of Harris Teeter while wearing boxy yellow collared shirts on Saturday mornings. Nope. This health insurance job was worse.

Guys. I don’t even know how to express how terrible it was—my blood pressure is rising just trying to type this and I can feel an anxiety attack coming on. I had to sit on the phone all day talking to people who either A. didn’t get covered for a medical procedure and wanted to literally reach their hands through the phone cord and murder me or B. were hysterically crying over a recent diagnosis or inability to pay for a necessary procedure and wanted someone to comfort them. And I couldn’t help any of them. I had to respond to these heartbreaking human situations with the most unfeeling of policy restrictions. I cried every day, lost all faith in this country’s healthcare system, and have never hated a job more. On paper, I was supposed to be resolving insurance claims; in practice, I was a human punching bag for health insurance members. It was emotionally draining and completely traumatizing. I am NOT cut out for that type of work.

One day I spoke with a woman whose husband had just lost his job (their insurance coverage was through his employer). They had an ill child who required regular medical attention and procedures. She was trying hard to keep it together but her voice was trembling as she asked me when their coverage would end. I could hear her child crying in the background. The coverage had already ended.

After about three months at that job, I had a massive meltdown and quit via hysterical phone call in which I’m pretty sure I hung up on my supervisor, but who knows—I think I blacked out. What I do know is, I then dealt with the fallout by simply ignoring phone calls and deleting voicemails, if that gives you any idea of how mature I was fresh out of college…

One positive that came from my time at that job was my first blog. I needed an outlet—something creative, something fun, something to take my mind off of how miserable I was at work. I think of that first blog the way I think of my first AIM screen name (dreamgurl6464) or email address ( brutally embarrassing, but a rite of passage of sorts. The blog, called Nicole All Day (I’m turning red with embarrassment just typing that), was the definition of random. I’d post funny articles, news stories and videos I found around the web and then write a post with my own humorous commentary. Sometimes I’d share random thoughts, like a post I did exploring the deeply philosophical question: Is dipping almonds in almond butter cruel and unusual punishment, similar to forcing a chicken to eat scrambled eggs? Yup. I seriously did a whole blog post about that.

The blog was beyond stupid, but in my very biased opinion, it was actually pretty funny. And I loved doing it! The content creation process, the thrill of getting a comment (which was either from my mom or my aunt…literally no one else)—it was all I thought about and all I wanted to spend my time doing. But as more friends and friends of friends found out about it, I started feeling really insecure about it and uncomfortable with doing something so public. At that age, I was still very concerned about what people thought of me, and the pressure got to be too much. I deleted Nicole All Day. RIP.

With my first blog—and Job from Hell—behind me, I was all gung-ho about putting my English degree to good use after all. That summer I got an amazing paid editorial internship at a company just outside of Boston. Did I feel a little insecure about the fact that I was a 23-year-old intern? Admittedly, yes. But it paid well, everyone at the company was wonderful, I enjoyed my work, and the office environment was super laidback (which lord knows I needed after that last job!). We even had a gym in the building that employees could use whenever they liked, and twice a week a trainer would come in and lead an interval training group class for us—um, hello! I loved it, and was thrilled when the summer internship turned into a permanent job offer that fall. I was officially a nine-to-fiver.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next Sunday!

If you’ve had any similar experiences, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section!


4-Minute Tabata HIIT Workout from The Fitnessista

4-Minute Tabata HIIT Workout from The FitnessistaTHREE workout posts in one week?? It’s still New Year’s resolution month, so I figured the added motivation would be welcome. :)

Today’s workout comes to you via my lovely friend Gina from The Fitnessista. I was really excited to check out her new book, HIIT It!, because—as you’ve probably noticed by now—I love high intensity interval training. The book is great, especially if you’re a beginner. In it, Gina doesn’t just give you a proverbial filet of cod, she really teaches you how to fish. Starting with the basics, she goes over major muscle groups, what HIIT is and why it’s effective. She then shows you how to apply it to cardio workouts as well as strength training, and gives tons of sample workouts and weekly workout plans. HIIT It! by Gina Harney

The tabata I’m sharing today is actually one part of a full sample workout in the book: warm-up with cardio, a full-body strength training circuit, this tabata, and then a cool down. Yesterday I had a ridiculously busy blogging and teaching day and knew I wasn’t going to make it to a fitness class, so I decided to instead slip this 4-minute HIIT workout in a few times throughout the day to give me a break from the computer. It was perfect! I ended up doing it four times throughout the workday, so even though I didn’t get a long workout in, I still felt good. That’s the whole idea behind HIIT—you don’t have to workout longer, just smarter.

Before we get to the tabata, I just wanted to add that HIIT It! also has a great index of exercises with written descriptions and accompanying pictures. Ya know, like professional photos—not this: blooper-23

(Couldn’t resist posting another blooper from yesterday’s blog post—they’re just too awesomely awkward. Butterfingers!) The book then ends with a whole section on nutrition with lots of yummy recipes.

4-Minute Tabata HIIT Workout

Set an interval timer for 8 rounds of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest. You’ll go through the following four exercises twice. To clarify, that’s: 20 seconds of as many high knees as you can do; 10 seconds rest; 20 seconds of as many burpees as you can do; 10 seconds rest…and so on.

4-Minute Tabata HIIT Workout

  • High Knees: Use your core to jog in place, lifting each knee up to belly button height. I like to keep my hands in front of me and drive the knees up to hit them to hold myself accountable for really getting them high.
  • Burpees: Start standing, feet about shoulder-width apart. Squat down, bringing your hands to the ground by your feet and jump both feet back into a plank position. Do a push up. Quickly jump your feet back up by your hands and shift the weight into your feet, bring torso upright into a low squat position. From here, jump up, arms overhead. Land softly on your feet, sinking right back down into a squat and starting from the top.
  • Mountain Climbers: These are like doing high knees in a plank position. Start in a plank, hands stacked underneath shoulders, core squeezing in tight (don’t let your low back sag or your butt stick up in the air). From this position, drive one knee at a time up towards your chest, like running horizontally. The pace on these should be quick.
  • Squat Jumps with Rotation: Perform a squat facing one side. As you power up, jump and rotate 180 degrees so that you land facing the opposite direction, sinking right back down into a squat and repeating. Make sure you’re turning towards the opposite shoulder each time you rotate so that the legs are worked evenly.

This is an intense tabata—each exercise really gets your heart rate up! Use it as part of a longer workout or on its own when you’re having one of those super busy days.


Before I end this post, I just wanted to let you guys know of an awesome promotion ClassPass is running right now. If you’ve been on the fence about trying it, now (until Sunday evening) when you sign up using THIS LINK you’ll get a $50 Visa gift card. I use ClassPass and LOVE it. For $99/month (in some cities, it’s even less expensive) you can go to classes at a huge variety of fitness studios. You can go to each studio up to three times in a month, with the total number of classes across the board unlimited (it might not be unlimited forever, but I’m pretty sure it is until at least March). When I first started using ClassPass, it was only in New York and Boston, but now it’s in 20 cities!

Full disclosure, as part of this promotion they’re running, I would also get a $50 gift card if you sign up, so there is some selfish motivation behind this (:)), but I use CP myself and recommend it to all my fitness-loving friends, so the hype is 100% genuine. And, c’mon, you get $50, too—I gotta share the love!


Medicine Ball Wall Workout

Medicine Ball Wall WorkoutIf you follow me on Instagram, you already got a hilarious (at my expense) sneak peek of this workout via blooper reel. Trying to time an overhead toss sit-up so that it could be caught on camera resulted in me getting hit in the face, the chest, the stomach, my lady parts…it wasn’t pretty. But oh man was it FUNNY. I think I got a better ab workout laughing at the outtakes than I did actually doing this workout. ;)

But before we get to pictures that did make the cut from this workout, I want to draw attention to the pullover that’s keeping me warm in them. EIGHTYONE 20 Bulky Neck Pullover

I got the chance to sample the new athletic wear line EIGHTYONE 20, and with the weather in Boston being…typical freezing Boston weather…the timing was perfect. The Bulky Neck that I’m wearing is incredibly warm and soft. The outer material has that performance sheen of quality athletic apparel, but the inside of the pullover is a soft, heavenly fleece. You know that feeling of pulling on a pair of new sweats that haven’t gone through the wash yet? Is it not the best?? I think it’s even better than putting on a fresh new pair of socks—and that’s saying a lot because that feeling is magical.

The drawstring on the neck is also great for cold days without a scarf, and the sleeves have thumbholes for easy layering. As a long-limbed chick, I don’t always use thumbholes unless a top has extra long arms, but I figure it’s a feature worth mentioning since everyone loves those little sleeve slits. :)

The EIGHTYONE 20 collection is small right now, but their other piece of outwear, the Raglan Zipper Hoodie, is worth checking out at well—I love the two-tone color detail, and could totally see myself wearing it to and from the studio.

Medicine Ball Wall Workout

Equipment I Used:

Important: Make sure you’re doing this workout against a concrete wall or other sturdy surface—don’t go hurling a medicine ball at your grandmother’s living room walls.

For this 30-minute interval workout, set a timer for 30 rounds of 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest. You’ll go through the following five exercises six times. Medicine Ball Wall Workout

Med Ball Burpees with Chest Pass to Wall

Start standing about four-five feet away from a wall, holding the medicine ball at your chest, with feet about hip’s width apart. Squat down, bringing the ball to the ground in front of your feet. Keeping your hands firmly on top of the ball, arms straight, jump your feet back into a plank position. From there, jump your feet back up towards the ball, power up to your feet, bringing the ball to your chest, and pushing forward with both hands, throw the ball at the wall. When it bounces off, catch it with both hands and go right into your next rep.

Overhead Toss Sit Ups

There are a few ways to do these, all with varying degrees of difficulty. I want to take the time to go over them, because when I did this workout, I had to switch between them as I fatigued.

Lay on your back with your feet about one-two feet from a wall. Hold a medicine ball in your hands, outstretched overhead. From here, think of your upper body as a catapult. You’re going to do a sit up with arms still outstretched and launch the med ball overhead at the wall. Think of a soccer goalie launching a ball overhead back into play (except you’re seated). As it bounces off, you’ll catch it and return back down to starting position. You have to generate quite a bit of force to do this, so if it’s not happening, switch it up a little by doing the following:

Modification: Instead of launching the ball overhead in a smooth catapulting motion, do the sit up and then bring the ball down to your chest and throw it forward at the wall from there. A chest pass is a lot easier in the scenario than an overhead pass. Here’s what it looks like: Medicine Ball Sit-Up Toss from 30-Minute Med Ball Wall Workout

Up for a challenge? You can also make this exercise harder by doing with your legs hovering off the ground, forcing your core to work overtime. I can’t to an overhead toss with my feet hovering (yet), but I did a couple intervals of the sit-up-to-chest-pass this way and really felt the burn in my abs! Medicine Ball Sit-Up Toss

Wall Ball Squats

Start standing about four-five feet away from a wall, holding the medicine ball at your chest, with feet about hip’s width apart. Squat down, sending your hips and butt back and down, weight in your heels, med ball still held at your chest. When you reach the bottom of your squat, power up from your legs to standing position, thrusting your hips forward. As you do so, throw the medicine ball forcefully up and forward so that it hits the wall at least several feet above your head. Catch it as it bounces off and falls back down, and go right into your next squat.

Rotational Scoop Toss (Right)

This is a great one for the obliques. Start standing about six feet from the wall, with the wall to your left, ball held at your hip in your right hand. Plant your left foot and pivot on the back right foot as you launch the ball towards the wall with your right hand. It may take a couple tries to get it down, but you want the ball to hit the wall and then bounce once off the ground before you scoop down to grab it. You want to do this move rapid fire, so as soon as you catch the ball, wind up for the toss and twist right back into it.

This one is easier to show than explain, so I’d check out THIS VIDEO of it in action. You’ll notice in the video, the guy uses an underhand toss—I don’t get enough power when I do that, so I scoop down for the ball then bring it up and push it from my hip. Do whichever works for you!

Rotational Scoop Toss (Left)


Enjoy the workout! It’s a little different from other workouts I’ve posted in that it’s focused completely on power and dynamic movements. It’s a fun one–especially if you’ve got some anger to work off.


Disclosure: This post was sponsored by EIGHTYONE 20. While I was compensated, all opinions—as always!—are my own.