From High-Powered Exec to Pilates Instructor — Am I Happier?

You hear about those folks who eschew corporate America — who just bail and find some trade that makes him or (more likely) her happier, more fulfilled, less angry. You envy them at times. Maybe you crave to do what they’ve done. Perhaps you have a plan to do the same at a certain age or net worth.

I’m that girl. I did that.

I used to be a media executive. I made the big bucks. I was a Senior Vice President at several major media companies: Scripps Networks Interactive (aka, the parent of Food Network and HGTV), Discovery Communications and Time, Inc.

Having started my media career later than many (I did odd stuff until I arrived to it at 30), I ascended fairly quickly. I was a VP by 35 for a high-profile company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. (Fun fact: I started the week after she got out of prison.)

Among other things, I had teams under me numbering over 100 people and managed P&Ls in the multi-millions. I was a kind of a big deal, to quote Ron Burgundy.

And then I wasn’t.

It was a bit of a slow fizzle out, though, at this point, it feels fairly sudden. To protect the innocent and — to some degree — my pride, I’ll spare most of the gory details on the leaving-the-media-world portion of my tale. Let’s just say I was not at all at my best after losing my dad and two other close family members — suddenly; unexpectedly — over the course of about nine months. And I had a pretty shitty boss too. I walked into said boss’ office prepared to resign, and she did the resigning for me.

Did I mention my best friend died the week before? Yeah. Really.

And I had hip surgery the week after.

And my boyfriend broke up with me. Again.

Yadda yadda yadda, depression. It’s a beast that has hunted me for decades anyway. It smelled blood.

I was more often than not miserable. Like, go-to-the-hospital-style miserable. Things weren’t bad; they were BAD. I didn’t know who I was anymore, and I’m positive my friends and family didn’t either.

Yadda yadda yadda, depression. It’s a beast that has hunted me for decades anyway. It smelled blood.

There was one place that made me feel okay and more Jody-like: the Pilates studio. Especially Chelsea Movements in Manhattan. I’d been going for years, but it started to be more than just someplace I went to get stronger. It was the only place I felt strong at all. It was a community and a spot where I even forgot the beast that waited outside. I was cared for there. I started to want to be a part of that all the time. So what else would a (former?) businessperson do? She’d decide to open her own studio.

At the time, I didn’t even think I wanted to teach. I assumed being certified to be a smart prerequisite to owning a studio, so I enrolled at the Kane School for Core Integration.

As it turned out — fortuitously —I both loved teaching and had squandered all my money in my depression and stupidity. Without really realizing it was happening, I became a Pilates instructor. Ta-da!

So, the big question: Given the choice, would I do it again? Or did I make a mistake?

The answer is as gray as the storm clouds over my 401K.

When people (most often my students) ask that question, my answer almost always is: “I’m poor, but I decided to be happy for a living.” It’s a great line that makes me look enlightened and smart. Sometimes it’s the truth. Sometimes it’s barely this side of a lie.

See, when I say “poor,” no one believes me. I don’t look the part, and the truth is, I’ll never be homeless or truly want. Also a fact? I’m on a serious budget. I have some debt. I worry (hourly) and cry (more often than I’d like) about my financial situation. I work three side jobs to support my “happiness.” And while I believe in a prosperous future, some days the path is so overgrown I have to stop and rest before I try to find it again.

Believe me: I play the lottery, and promise — O lottery Gods — I won’t be one of those people who squanders her money and goes bankrupt. I’ll be charitable, but invest wisely first. And I won’t have more than three houses.

Also, it may sound vain and snobby, but I gotta admit: I miss the feeling of power. And by that I don’t mean overlord power over people (I’m no Trump). I mean feeling personal, deep-inside, I-can-make-shit-happen power. There isn’t that in Pilates.

But there IS the chance to change peoples’ lives by helping them better their health. Maybe it’s recovery from hip surgery or cancer; maybe enhancing the sports performance of a golfer or runner. Maybe just making folks feel a little better. This is the happiness part. And know what? People don’t come see you if they don’t like you. Rarely will you encounter a hater student — ESPECIALLY in comparison to the corporate world. That air of positivity does wonders for a girl.

I still stumble, but rarely do I fall.

The moral of the story: Fuck happiness. Just kidding. The moral of the story is you can do anything. But always — always — there will be a cost. You just gotta balance that with the gains.

(Photo: Carolyn Lagattuta/Stocksy)

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