A few weeks ago, I did something I never thought I’d be able to do.
“This’ll be my last two weeks here,” I told my manager at my cushy bank job. “I am leaving to focus on my writing.”
Buried under a mountain of student debt, I thought I’d have to put in at least 10 more years at the full-time grind before I could redirect my career toward my dream: freelance writing. It’s unstable, unpredictable, and requires a serious daily hustle just to stay afloat. How could I manage that and make enough money to pay my bills at the same time?
The secret, I discovered, was in exercise. Yes, really.
A few years ago, around age 26, I realized I needed to make a change in my life and I joined ClassPass. I’d never exercised, always hated gym class, and couldn’t even touch my toes! I figured I’d sign up for the program for a trial month, just to say that I tried working out and found it wasn’t for me.
But taking workout classes was actually a game-changer. I learned valuable lessons that gave me the confidence to quit my full-time job and pursue my dream.
Today, my career is in my hands. I’m completely independent—with no one to answer to, but also no one to provide guarantees in terms of money or benefits. And because of exercise, I’m more ready than ever to take this on. Here’s what working out did for me.
I found discipline.
When it comes to working out, showing up is more than half the battle. You can come up with any number of excuses to skip that workout class. But if I signed up for a fitness class and didn’t show up, I’d get slammed with a hefty cancelation fee—far too high for my then junior–editor salary to weather. So I’d trudge to class, motivation be damned.
Working out taught me to show up and follow through with my intentions. If I didn’t feel up to exercising, but I showed up and worked up a sweat anyway, I’d feel amazing afterward.
I realized the same thing happened with the freelance work I started dabbling in after my 9-to-5. Of course, I never wanted to spend a few extra hours writing in the evening after a full day at the office, but opening my laptop was the equivalent of showing up to a fitness class. The freelance work demanded that I follow through with my intentions and commitments to my clients. And the discipline was well worth the payoff in personal satisfaction and growth. Just like my body would feel fantastic after an hour of bootcamp, my mind and spirit soared with each assignment I accomplished.
Discipline, it seems, is a powerful tool for self improvement.
I made sacrifices.
When you want something so badly, whether it’s hitting the finish line of a half marathon or writing a travel guide for National Geographic, you’ve got to make sacrifices that take a while to pay off.
To find the time to exercise consistently on top of everything else I was doing, I had to give up time I would have otherwise spent socializing or catching up with The Real Housewives. I did it, begrudgingly, until I hit the 6-month mark and started noticing positive changes in my mental health and my appearance. Suddenly, all those “sacrificed” hours felt worth it—those small, momentary indulgences I had given up actually yielded amazing long-term rewards.
I applied that mindset to my freelance work and spent my energy networking, learning how to run a business, writing for hours into the night, and building the financial safety net I’d need to jumpstart the next stage of my career. I said yes to every opportunity that came my way.
Devoting all that time to work instead of something more fun felt frustrating, until I finally saw a serious uptick in my skills and opportunities to do what I love.
Like each push-up, squat, and downward-facing dog, every word I wrote pushed me toward becoming my best self and making my dreams a reality.
When you’re trying everything from bootcamp and boxing to yoga and pilates for the first time, you’re going to fail—a lot. Working out taught me to accept my failures and move forward from them—a crucial lesson for someone who wants a career pitching articles that some editors will ultimately reject.
…and I kept trying.
It’s not easy to pick yourself up after falling out of crow pose, one of yoga’s simpler arm balances, and try again. Falling didn’t hurt much physically, but it was certainly a bruise to my ego. Why can’t I just do it right? I wondered.
Practice became the key to success, and Keep trying became the mantra of my life. I was determined to nail that crow pose and gave it my all until finally, like magic, my knees gracefully lifted atop my elbows and I was floating—body and soul. I realized that if I could balance in crow, I could certainly find a way to balance creativity and money in my career, and I’ve finally nailed it.
I took on more.
I never thought I could be a person who enjoyed working out. I used every excuse in the book to get out of P.E. as a kid and avoided the gym like the plague as I got older.
But when I devoted myself to exercise in my mid-20s, I found myself taking on harder and harder classes. The challenges were addictive, and I began chasing harder opportunities and filling my schedule with more freelance work than I thought I could accomplish. When I pushed myself, I created opportunities to impress myself. And that gave me confidence.
Exceeding my own expectations, both at the gym and at the keyboard, has pushed me to reach my potential and push the limits even higher. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish with a conviction and a commitment to follow through.
It’s been a long, sweaty journey to get to this point. I resigned from a stable, full-time office job to make my way as an independent writer. Working out taught me that everything great in life starts with just a single step, and when you put all those tiny steps together, you can climb to heights you never thought you could reach.