When it comes trading in the traditional 9 to 5 for your dream job, how incredible would it be if that very job was simply doing the fitness activities that you love?
Getting paid to do yoga? Making your own business out of lifting weights or helping others keep in shape?
If you’ve long harboured fantasies about swapping court shoes and business suits for comfy sports kit and trainers, prepare to meet the women who’ll inspire you to live the dream.
Sally Moss, Kaya Cansfield and Susannah White have all swapped corporate careers for the fitness world, and here, they tell us just how they did it.
Kaya Cansfield, 27, left a career in PR to follow her fitness dream. She’s now an instructor at Psycle London and a personal trainer.
Since graduating five years ago I’ve been a beauty PR; that was my career and that was my love. I’d worked my way up from being an intern at a beauty PR agency, to becoming a Press Officer at COTY working on my ultimate dream brand, Rimmel London. My goal, and certainly my dream, had been to work on Rimmel and I had made it.
I was working in Fitzrovia in 2014, when Psycle London opened a stone’s throw away from my office. They were giving out complimentary classes to businesses in the area to help spread the word, so I decided to try it out. At the time I was already very into fitness and loving my time at the gym, so this was something new and exciting to try.
It was love at first class. After that, I was going to Psycle a minimum four times a week. I was a regular rider there, I knew everyone, they knew me, it was my happy place and got me through a difficult period in my life. After riding there for a little under a year I emailed my CEO to see if there was any way I could get more involved with the brand… and the rest is history. I trained for six months and qualified to become an instructor, then started teaching classes alongside my main job.
After doing that for around five months, working 9 to 5, and teaching classes before and after work, it just spiralled from there. My status at Psycle started to build, my following started to get stronger and I just began to realise how much I loved instructing and how much I loved motivating and helping people. After realising just how much, I decided to take the plunge; train to be a personal trainer, quit my full time job as a beauty PR (which was all I knew) and do fitness full time.
I knew in my heart what was right and how much I loved it, so I had to take a leap of faith. I am now the happiest I have ever been in my life doing what I love. Once you know, you just know, but if I’m being honest that transition was still very difficult.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my role as a PR or the company I worked with, I really did. But I was giving up something I enjoy for something I love. Saying goodbye and giving my notice in was so hard and I actually burst out crying when I had to do it. It was by far the hardest, and most frightening part, just saying goodbye to what I knew. I was stepping into a world, which I knew I loved, but as a hobby, not as a profession.
A typical week now is completely different to my 9 to 5, and still quite hard to get used to. All I do is teach at the moment. I’m building my personal-training clients as we speak, so that will pick up a few hours in my week too in the next month or so. I am currently teaching nine classes a week at Psycle London permanently. All these classes are my own, which I teach every week but I also regularly get asked to cover so this can sometimes go up to 14 a week.
I teach classes on Monday 7:30pm, Wednesday 6pm and 7pm, Friday 7am and 6:30pm, Saturday 11:30am and 5pm and Sunday 9am and 1pm, so that’s around two a day which are predominantly at Canary Wharf, but on Friday and Saturday I hop between Psycle studios at Canary Wharf and Mortimer Street. As you can see, it can be pretty spread out. After I teach I’m totally free, so I have a lot of time on my hands now which is pretty amazing and something I’m very thankful for. I get time to sleep and look after my body, which is so important for what I do, and something I just didn’t have enough time for before. My body is my temple, it’s my machine, it’s what I use physically and mentally to motivate a room full of 50 people at any one time. It’s my job to fuel and look after it.
My new career goal is to be the best instructor/coach/trainer I can possibly be. I want to motivate, inspire and push people to feel good everyday and feel proud of what they achieve. My thing right now is to help my riders to stop ‘thinking’ and to just ‘feel’ more. We have a lot of time to think and it’s important that when my riders come into my class, they just let go and feel right at home for those 45 or 60 minutes. Psycle is a safe place for a lot of people.
Group exercise can be intimidating so it’s important for me to create that community feel and comfortable environment in that studio. It means a lot to people. Now I am teaching more and have more permanent classes I have themes every week, which help to keep that comfortable environment with my riders. I want to be the most personable, approachable instructor I can be and I want my riders to know that I came from the exact same place as they did. I have been there.
Switching careers has impacted my life massively. I have never felt so content, so happy and so passionate about what I do. The people I have met, ridden and worked with have impacted and inspired me in so many ways it’s unbelievable. I’m wholly fulfilled in what I do – it’s not even work for me. I love it so much I actually spend my extra time at Psycle with my Psycle family, that’s how serious it is. I feel so lucky to be able to sit here and say I do what I love and to be able to be a part of something which has such a huge impact on people’s lives everyday.
I understand how important it is to live your passion and another goal of mine is to pass this wisdom onto others. I’m really passionate about it. It is truly magical and I honestly am beyond thankful to be able to do this everyday. My friend came to my class recently and said; “I don’t know how you have sat at a desk for so long. You were born to do this.” I believe her.
Sally Moss, 41, moved from working with tech start-ups to the civil service, before trading it all in to follow her passion for strength training. She’s now a coach, personal trainer and Director of Strength Ambassadors Ltd.
I graduated from Cambridge University in the late nineties with a degree in English Literature, not really knowing what sort of work I wanted to do. I ended up joining the dot-com boom as a web project manager and worked for a variety of start-ups for about five years.
Those were exciting times initially, working in a new industry, everybody feeling their way and open to possibilities. But I became disillusioned. I loved technology but I felt I was working hard, making money for venture capitalists who didn't really care about the product and business school graduates just looking to make a lucrative exit.
So I decided to try the public sector and do something more meaningful. I became a civil servant and worked in public policy for around seven years, focusing on environment, transport and sustainability. Although I did feel like I was doing meaningful work and having an impact, I also became very frustrated with the slow pace of government and the uphill struggle to make change happen. Coming from IT, I found the public sector incredibly slow and inefficient.
When I finally decided to become a fitness professional, it felt like the culmination of a long process and it felt ‘right’. I was in my early thirties, and I was thoroughly miserable with the work I was doing, but didn't know why. It was intellectually interesting, but I had a deep frustration that I couldn't put my finger on.
Things got so bad that I finally snapped. I said ‘sod this’, packed in the London rat race and moved to Cornwall to be a surf bum. I burned through my savings in about three months and then had to get a job to pay the rent on my little apartment by the beach. It was while I was in Cornwall that the answer became obvious.
I had been passionate about fitness, particularly lifting weights, for years, but had only ever thought about it as a hobby. I was actually afraid of ruining it by making it my career. But I realised that the only way I would be satisfied making a living would be working for myself, and this was the obvious way to do it.
Strength training was something I was passionate about and good at. I had a desire to share the experience and believed that I could really help people, effecting change that would last a lifetime. I liked the idea that I could have an impact on people directly – not at a distance like when I worked in Whitehall, but in person.
I'm a very decisive person. Once I'd figured out that I wanted to go into the fitness industry, I wasted no time. I handed in my notice, packed up my belongings in a van and drove back to London.
I moved back in with my mum as I had no money left. I got a part-time job to pay for my fitness qualifications. Once I'd got my first certificate, I applied for a job at a high street gym as a fitness instructor – the gym equivalent of starting in the mail room. I was 35 years old and a Cambridge graduate, but I cleaned machines and did gym inductions just like my 20-something colleagues.
I was ambitious though and I wanted to learn from the best. So I went to the top personal training gym in town, Ultimate Performance, and managed to get a job with them. I was there for two years, learned a ton, and eventually left to start my own company, Strength Ambassadors, in 2013.
As the director of a small company, I wear multiple hats and so my week is extremely busy. I get it all done by scheduling ‘block time’. I only started doing this recently but it has been a revelation. So for example, I have a block for financials on a Monday morning, and a block for writing my weekly newsletter on a Wednesday afternoon.
The highlight of my week is the time I spend coaching people, whether it is one-to-one or in groups. My clients are brilliant; they have goals that excite and interest me (all strength-related of course) and they work hard in their sessions. No one moans or complains, they all want to be there and are keen to learn. Last Friday I was teaching a rock climber client of mine a breakdancing move I used to do back in the day and we were collapsed on the floor laughing; I didn't get that experience when I worked in Whitehall.
On a typical day, I will get up around 8am and have a leisurely breakfast. I will either have personal training clients in the morning or I'll have my scheduled block time to get regular tasks done. Lunchtime or early afternoon is when I usually train myself or meet a friend for coffee. Then back home for some food and a bit more work, writing training programmes and answering emails, before heading off for my evening coaching sessions.
At weekends, I'll often be running all-day workshops or training my weight-lifting teams. Every so often, my lifters will have a competition so I'll be there coaching all day. I don't have many days off, so thank goodness I enjoy what I do.
I used to think that ‘fulfilling my potential’ meant doing well in exams and climbing the career ladder. Now I think that it is about doing things that make a difference to people and giving something to the world. You don't have to start a company to do this, of course, that was just what I was driven to do. Seth Godin says we live in a ‘hyper-competitive world involving art and gifts and fear and the ability for you to make an indispensable contribution to something you care about’. I couldn't agree more.
What I care about is giving people freedom, health and happiness, through lifting heavy things for fun. I also believe that I fulfill my potential by putting myself out there. Whenever I write an article or launch a class, I'm the ‘man in the arena... who dares greatly’, as the famous Roosevelt quote goes. It is very scary, but boy, do you feel alive.
I spent 12 years feeling frustrated and trapped. Now I feel free. I’m happier, more fulfilled, less stressed. I can shape my life the way I want it. To take a simple example, I've never been a morning person and I hate having to get up early and travel to work in the rush hour. Now I don't have to.
I've organised my working day so that I have a calm and leisurely morning, to start the day in the right frame of mind. Things like that make such an enormous difference to your quality of life. I feel free to create work that I am truly proud of. It's also my responsibility to create the values and standards of the company I lead – I can't blame anyone else, or make excuses when things don't get done. It's made me a better person; someone who is constantly striving to be fair, effective, compassionate and supportive.
One of the best things about working in the strength world is being surrounded by positive people – both colleagues and clients. People are there because they want to be. They are not worried about what they look like, they are more excited by how much they are lifting or how their skills are improving. We deliver positive experiences and people always leave smiling.
I always loved writing and, after taking a degree in journalism, I decided that becoming a journalist was the natural career path for me to take. I spent three years working as a beauty and lifestyle journalist (writing for Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Zest to name a few) before making the transition in to the world of beauty PR in 2010. I initially worked in the beauty department of an agency called Purple where I looked after some great clients such as Ren skincare and TIGI haircare.
In 2012 I transitioned in-house to manage the digital PR for Estée Lauder in a fantastic but demanding role that opened up some wonderful opportunities for me.
My final role before moving in to yoga teaching was as a PR Manager for Benefit Cosmetics. I loved my time working at Benefit – who wouldn’t love working for such a fun brand? – I wish I had arrived at the brand a few years earlier so that I could have had more time working for them before leaving the industry.
As much as I enjoyed my role however, I’d known for a long time that I wasn’t entirely happy working in PR. It was a career that felt incredible initially – liaising with journalists, planning trips and events, fashion weeks, working with celebrities and being at the forefront of setting beauty trends. It felt so exciting and glamorous in my early twenties. But it was also a career that demanded so much of my time and energy, and generally required me to be available (either in the office, attending events or on my Blackberry) at all hours of the day and night. I always felt I was chasing my tail and could never catch up with myself. In order to succeed in the industry you have to be prepared to commit a huge part of your life to the work you do, and as the years went by I realised that I didn’t have the passion to wholeheartedly commit.
This meant that as my drive waned I began to feel exhausted by the whirlwind and intensity of the industry. On the one hand I loved the excitement, but on the other I started to realise I was living my life in a permanent level of stress. By the age of 30 I started to feel burnt out, relationships were suffering and I felt overwhelmed. My passion wasn’t there anymore and I didn’t feel the same as I used to about the work I did. That’s when I knew that I needed a plan B. I did some soul-searching and realised that having a big corporate career in PR wasn’t where either my strengths or my heart really were. I just couldn’t see myself being happy and fulfilled with where I was heading in my career.
In the background to all of this was yoga. It was something that I had been practicing for a good few years and instantly fell in love with. From the moment I discovered yoga something seemed to click – I not only felt healthier but I noticed how much more connected I felt in both body and mind. Over time, practicing yoga opened up my mind to new possibilities and helped me to question the career path I had chosen. It helped me to embrace instead of fear change, and reminded me that no decision I could make regarding my career could cause me any permanent harm. Yoga became more than just a way to stay fit and healthy, it became a very important part of my life.
That’s when I realised that training to become a yoga teacher was right for me. It all came down to a ‘fuck it’ moment on my 30th birthday when I tentatively suggested to friends and family what I was thinking; they all met it with overwhelming positivity. I had no idea if I would be any good at teaching, but for the first time in adult life I had found something I was truly passionate about. And as soon as I told myself I had nothing to lose (and potentially a lot to gain) by quitting my job and going on teacher training, the fear of change was removed and I only felt excitement.
The hardest part was making the decision to turn something I daydreamed about to reality. It’s a very different thing to dream of doing something than to actually do it. But once I’d talked it through with a few family members and friends I realised I could genuinely make my dream a reality.
I had a holiday booked soon after making the decision to become a full time yoga teacher and this gave me the time and space to consider exactly how to approach it with work. Before speaking to work about my decision, I realised the first thing to do was to physically book myself on to a yoga teacher training course (and pay for it) – that way I couldn’t be tempted or swayed to stay in a career which I knew couldn’t make me happy.
Telling work was hard. It was a very emotional experience and, yes, there were tears. It wasn’t just that I was saying goodbye to this one job in particular, but a whole career and industry I had spent over 10 years being dedicated to. It may not be right for me now but there was a time when my job in journalism/PR was my life. Leaving felt like a breakup.
But once the difficult conversations had happened and my training had been booked, I felt a huge wave of relief and knew that for the first time in my life I was doing something for no one else but myself.
My typical day now is very different. I set my alarm for around 7:30am, and I’ll have a quick breakfast and then sit down to do some admin – replying to emails, booking people in for a class, answering questions and managing my social media accounts.
I like to keep my classes fresh so I’ll often spend some time researching, planning new sequences and practicing them to make sure they flow nicely. I get inspiration for my classes from lots of different books, YogaGlo.com, the fitness app Cody and even attending other teacher’s classes. It often falls down to me just playing around until I find a sequence that works.
On days where I have the time I will write a blog for my website. I love writing and it’s where I began my career, so I want to invest more time in blogging now that my classes are becoming more established.
I’ll usually try and allow myself an hour in the late afternoon to simply relax and have something to eat. This is because I teach most evenings and don’t get much downtime.
I teach different styles of yoga in the evenings, as this is when most people want to practice. I currently teach pregnancy yoga, vinyasa flow and yin yoga. I am also trained to teach hot yoga but am having a temporary hiatus from the heated environment while I grow my baby (30 weeks and counting).
It was really important to me that in quitting my career in PR I would be able to be a better daughter, sister, wife and friend, so I make the most of managing my time by scheduling in time to have fun days out with family and friends on weekdays, as well as at weekends. This was something I could rarely do before, and is definitely a perk of working for yourself.
It feels really strange to refer to my work as a yoga teacher as a ‘career’. Although on paper, yoga teaching is my profession, it really feels more like a lifestyle choice than a career. Yoga is so integrated in to my everyday life that teaching is just one part of my yoga practice.
I didn’t enter in to teaching yoga for the money or the career path. I decided to become a teacher to find more balance in my life, and to feel more in control of the choices and path my life takes.
That being said, I definitely have plans and ambitions for the future. First and foremost my goal is as simple as learning as much as I can about yoga, and becoming the best teacher I can be. This isn’t something that happens overnight and I will most likely spend my whole life studying yoga and honing my teaching skills. That is part of the joy of yoga – there is always something new to discover and you can never get bored.
Although there are times when I feel nostalgic for the fun, glamour and vibrancy of working in the media and beauty industry, I definitely feel more happy and fulfilled in what I am doing now. My stress levels are at a minimum and the great thing about yoga is you learn how to better manage the stress in your life.
As I am self-employed, I now choose the opportunities I want to take and so ultimately feel more in control of my path. Everyone tells me I seem much more relaxed these days and they can see how happy my new life makes me. It’s all still very new – I’ve only been teaching for a year, and I’ve definitely had moments where I’ve doubted myself, but ultimately I’m a much happier person.
I feel more confident, in control and able to make decisions about what I want from life; yoga will do that to a person. I genuinely feel like I’ve found what I was meant to do in life, and although I’m a firm believer in the phrase ‘never say never’, I can’t see me ever wanting to do anything else.