Waking up at 6AM the morning after Thanksgiving wasn't at the top of my bucket list, but it was my reality on Friday November 25th, 2016. I was hungover from my (new) husband's (now) famous spiked caramel apple cider, of which my family devoured an entire pitcher, and tired from taking my teenaged cousins out to the mall after dinner for our annual shopping trip.
After gathering myself and dressing in Lululemon, I left for a 45 minute journey to a new cycling studio for my very first class. This place, an elite boutique cycling studio, could potentially become a new employer of mine if I played my cards right and impressed all the right people... not something I was quite ready to be worrying about with a sour stomach and pounding headache. Nevertheless, I made the trip and arrived about 10 minutes early, typical for me. I scrolled through my social media feeds, but nearly everyone I knew was either at work or in bed. Finally, when it was an appropriate time and I was certain I wouldn't be the first, I went in.
The studio was gorgeous, as I expected, and very well put together. I could tell right away the type of clientele they were after, and, judging by the Maseratis in the parking lot and the $200 workout clothes on sale in the lobby, they were doing a good job. The lobby was clean, white and very well lit, and the studio dark and colorful, like a sweaty dance club with stationary bikes instead of couches and chairs.
The class was being taught by my current manager at a gym much closer to home. I taught spin for her at the gym and was quickly becoming one of the most sought-after instructors on the schedule, with classes filling up quickly week after week. Since I was doing so well at the gym, she wanted to try to bring me on board at this small studio, where I'd "make the real money," she said.
I don't remember much about my first class at the studio. I remember struggling through the first few minutes and then quickly losing all symptoms of my hangover (PSA: no matter what you did last night or how terrible you feel, sweat it out!), I remember watching myself ride in the mirror to be certain that I was perfect, and I remember changing out of my cycling cleats in the lobby, imagining a time when this place would be home and these people would be family.
Since beginning my career as a cycling instructor, I longed for a studio that I could be proud of, one where I filled my classes because of my music, coaching and class style, not out of the convenience of a group fitness schedule.
I trained at the studio from December until May, when they finally decided that I was ready to teach. My training was messy and void of strong, finite criticism, focused instead on things not to do, or things the riders didn't like. Most of all, my training revolved around one idea: the riders at this studio are like sharks: they can smell fresh blood from a mile away, and if they don't like you, they'll eat you alive.
Months passed and the handful of women who took my one off-hours class each week came in with their Venti Frappuchino's and rolled their eyes at my attempts to relate to them. When the music went low and I told them that they could accomplish anything they wanted, they laughed at me. When I asked them to turn up the resistance on their bike and told them that they were much stronger than they realized, they scoffed.
It was clear that I didn't fit in there.
In addition to my class not going well, I was feeling very excluded from studio events. The other instructors didn't bother to introduce themselves to me or to invite me out with them. They just waited for me to be eaten alive by the sharks. To them, it was inevitable, just as other instructors had been eaten before me.
Back at the gym, where I felt like a rockstar instructor, my boss (the same woman who brought me into the studio) was asking me for more favors than ever before. A few instructors quit, some had other obligations, and suddenly four more classes a week needed covering. I seemed to be her only option.
Swamped as a full-time personal trainer and business owner, I wasn't really prepared to take on four more classes. At first, I thanked her but explained that it wouldn't be possible given my hectic schedule, and then she played her final hand.
"I'll give you a raise," she said. "I would so much rather you do it and pay you more for your efforts than hire someone else I'm not sure I can depend on."
I weighed my options. Could I move some things around and make it work? Sure. Would it help to have the extra money for what would now be nine classes a week? Absolutely.
But then it hit me: if I was making more money per class at the gym, I could quit this higher paying studio job that I hated. I could stop subjecting myself to the torture of showing up to a place where I didn't belong and still earn more. I had it all figured out.
I told her that I needed two weeks to make it work with my schedule, but that I'd happily take on the nine classes. She was ecstatic, of course, and made me feel very appreciated.
It was then that I decided to tell her that I'd be leaving the studio.
"It's just a long drive for me for one class a week, and I really don't think they care for me. I don't think I'm a good fit, and I'd rather focus all of my energy on my classes here than be putting on all of that time and effort for just one class."
She nodded in agreement. "I'm so glad you're telling me this," she said, "because I found out yesterday that they were going to ask you to leave."
My heart sank. I had never been asked to leave a job before, and I really felt that I was a strong instructor! It was one thing to know that it wasn't working out, but it was another to find out that I was going to be asked to leave.
The next day, I went to the studio and broke the news to them before they could break it to me. I said that I couldn't make the class work in my schedule anymore, and they completely understood.
They never mentioned that they were going to ask me to leave.
On that final walk from the studio to my car after my last class, I felt free. Yes, it was a beautiful studio with a great reputation, but it wasn't for me. It wasn't bringing out the best in me, and it certainly wasn't adding any value to my life.
It was someone else's great opportunity, but as much as I wanted it to be, it simply wasn't mine.
After the two weeks I was given to transition my schedule, it was finally time to start my nine classes a week at the gym. We hadn't again discussed the raise that was brought up at our last meeting, so I quietly proceeded with the arrangement, waiting for it to either show up on my paychecks or be brought up to me at a subsequent meeting.
Weeks passed, and no raise was given. No raise was mentioned.
Anyone who has ever taken a cycling class will tell you that it is not easy. Anyone who has ever taught cycling classes will tell you that it is not kind to your body. As someone who taught nine classes a week for months on end, I can tell you that injury is inevitable.
That summer, I tore something in my knee. My husband and I did not have the luxury of health insurance at the time, so I was relying on a diagnosis from a doctor at a walk-in clinic who took an x-ray and told me that I tore my meniscus (the humor in this is that there is no way to see soft tissue on an x-ray, and that a few days later we ran into that same doctor at a Mets game and he asked me if his diagnosis had been correct.)
Whatever I did to my knee, I knew it had been because I was doing too much. I took about two weeks off the bike, rested it, and made a full recovery.
When it was finally time to return to my nine classes a week, it was also time to ask about the raise I had been promised.
Asking for a raise is hard, even one that was previously promised to you. I was so nervous - what if she didn't think I deserved it because I had failed at the studio? What if she was in the process of hiring someone else to take over these classes? Was I about to make an idiot of myself?
I rehearsed my speech with my husband, with the dog, in the shower, and in the car ride over to the gym. I knew exactly what I was going to say, how I was going to say it, and I knew not to back down or apologize.
I was extremely nervous, but what came out of my mouth was something along the lines of
"I really love working here. I love the riders, I love my classes, I love the schedule... but we did discuss a raise before I took on these extra classes, and I'd really like to discuss it with you again."
She released a massive sigh of relief when she realized I wasn't quitting.
"I definitely want to discuss a raise with you, but unfortunately I don't have it in the budget until January. We can definitely talk about it then. For now, though, why don't we get you teaching a few more classes back to back so that you can be earning more?"
I was shocked. It was August, and the raise had been first brought up in July. She wanted me to wait another four months and pick up more work in the meantime? Of course I really did enjoy teaching there, but I truly felt that, after a year of hard work and dedication, I deserved what had been dangled in front of my face like a carrot. Instead, I was somehow being manipulated into working more, picking up more classes, doing more favors, all for the same wage.
Naturally, this was not really about money, this was about feeling taken advantage of. Going from feeling like the black sheep of an elite studio, to the workhorse of a local gym was emotionally taxing. I knew I was worth more, and I knew that this did not fulfill my desire for a job with a company that valued me.
Through the coming months, I tried to give up portions of my overwhelming class schedule, but to no avail - there were simply no other instructors who could take over - so I taught my nine classes and worked crazy hours to accommodate my growing personal training clientele. I was often sweaty, messy, tired and hungry, but I made it work and grew stronger from the experience. Thankfully, I never experienced knee problems again.
I started looking for other jobs. I was very particular in what I applied for so as to avoid falling into these situations again.
One night, I noticed that one of my new followers on Instagram was a brand new cycling studio in my area. The owner reached out to me. He wanted me to audition for him.
Now, about four months later, I am on the cusp of a new experience with new people. I am already feeling valued for what I bring to the table, "different" as it may be, and am excited to begin the chapter I've been trying to write for years.
I learned many things from this experience, not the least of which were how to leave something that is no longer serving me and how to politely ask for something I deserve. However, what I really discovered from this experience was that when I asked the universe for something and opened myself up to receive it, I got exactly what I was looking for.
I needed to make very clear what I wanted (a job at a studio I could be proud of, where I was valued and compensated fairly) and allow it to find it's way into my life.
For too long, I was trying to force a situation to work despite how unhappy it made me. Then, I was so focused on making one unmanageable situation work that I was unable to see any other possibilities. It was only when that situation didn't work out the way I wanted it to that I was open to other things.
"Know your worth and then add tax."