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
Most 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 BodyRock.tv (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.
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 (QTpiePerry33@hotmail.com): 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!