As you likely know, I recently quit my day job to work on SitterNote and our blog full-time. It has been scary, exhilarating, tremendous fun…the whole nine yards.
I was able to muster the courage to make that leap in part because I have several friends who’ve made similar moves in their own lives: they’ve turned their side-hustle into their main gig. And today we’re talking to one of them: the smart, funny, and cool Jennifer Alwood Fitzgerald. Read on, and be inspired!
SitterNote: Jen, can you tell us a bit about your former career?
Jennifer Alwood Fitzgerald: I had a great job: I was Director of Corporate Community Affairs for NBC Universal. I managed charitable giving for Universal Pictures and the physical studio lot, plus I handled all the community outreach. This means I worked with community members and organizations, sat on the board of the local chamber of commerce, managed Universal’s big volunteer day…it was a really rewarding role.
SN: When did you first realize that you might want to leave that job to do something else? I’m especially interested in this since you clearly loved your old job.
JAF: When I had the boys [Jen and her husband have six-year-old twins]. As much as I did love that job, the logistics were really challenging. I had about an hour commute each way, which meant I wouldn’t see the boys much during the week.
SN: That makes sense. How did it go down?
JAF: During my maternity leave I debated, and actually seriously contemplated leaving my job. After talking with my boss (and mentor) about it, she told me the department would give me a flex schedule, plus a title and pay raise. Since I didn’t actually want to leave my job, this was a pretty great outcome.
SN: But ultimately you still left.
JAF: Yes. A few years after my maternity leave ended, my company underwent some changes to the corporate culture. My flexible schedule stopped working quite so well, and honestly I had an increase in mommy guilt; I wanted to be home more. Plus, one of my sons has special needs and I knew I would need to be an advocate for him as he approached school age.
SN: So this is about when you started thinking about Pilates teacher training?
JAF: Yes. At this point I’d been doing Pilates for exercise for 8 years, and I started considering going through teacher training, just to learn more about it.
SN: And you loved it.
JAF: Yes, I loved it. I began teacher training in January of 2013, and knew right away I wanted to pursue it as a career. I began making a plan to be done with my training by that September and begin teaching part-time.
SN: I know anecdotally teacher training is tough. What was your schedule like during this time period?
JAF: It was a little crazy! The teacher training is a 450 hour program. I worked on my training 8-10 hours a week on top of my full time job. I scheduled it out so I could have it all wrapped up by September, and I made it work with lots of help. I have to give credit to my great husband and my great nanny, because I couldn’t have gotten it all done in just a few months without them.
SN: So did it go according to plan? Did you quit in September?
JAF: Well, September came and I talked to my boss at Universal. I proposed doing both jobs part time, and my boss was open to making it work as long as it didn’t hurt the company. I did this from September to December, but honestly it was really challenging. I felt like I couldn’t give everything 100%. It seemed like my family was suffering most. I ended up giving notice to Universal that December, and left a few months later. I’d been there 11 years; it was an incredibly tough decision.
SN: That is a big life change. Were there specific steps you need to take in order to make the move? This is my roundabout way of asking you about money, day-to-day logistics, etc.
JAF: Yes. My husband and I had a lot of very clear, detailed discussions about what this would mean for our family finances, particularly in the short term when I was starting out as a teacher and building my client base. We had to cut back in a lot of areas, and let go of our nanny, who we loved. It was not easy. My husband has been incredibly supportive.
SN: Did you ever question your decision?
JAF: Honestly, no. I think because I stepped away from my old career kind of slowly, over time, I was very sure of my decision once I finally left Universal completely. Plus, I was kind of maxed out at my job at Universal; there was nowhere left for me to go in terms of career advancement. It was a good time to make a change.
SN: Do you think you’ll ever go back?
JAF: [Pauses and smiles.] I don’t see myself in a corporate job ever again. I love not being attached to my phone all day. If anything, I have plans to really ramp up my new career. I would love to have my own Pilates studio someday. That’s a big undertaking where you’re wearing a lot of hats other than “instructor”, though, so right now I’m just trying to learn everything I can and put myself in a good position to make that move down the line. Actually I’m assisting with the teacher training program now, which is great. It’s improved my own practice and teaching tremendously.
SN: Other than freedom from your iPhone and a more flexible schedule, what are your favorite aspects of your new career?
JAF: I have loved learning a new skill set, something so different from my former corporate job. I love using a different part of my brain; it felt like such a good challenge. And Pilates really suits me; I find it fulfilling. I still get to help people, but in a totally different way. I have had clients whose bodies have been transformed, and not in a vain or shallow way. I mean people who have gained a lot of muscle strength and recovered from injuries, or gotten relief from chronic pain. I would love to do work with a physical therapist at some point in the future…learn more about anatomy, do more rehab work. The therapy aspect of it is my favorite part. My own body has really benefited, too; my low back problems and my shoulder problems are gone.
SN: Have you found that your friends, particularly your other parent friends, have been supportive?
JAF: Absolutely yes. I have experienced the opposite of mommy judgement. People have been really supportive, which to be honest I wasn’t totally expecting.
SN: What are your big takeways from making the transition? Any advice you can offer to other women considering doing something similar?
JAF: I totally get the mentality of being stuck in your career. But for anyone who is unhappy, I would encourage you to really look at your career path and see if there’s a possibility to make a change. For me, my career change has benefited all aspects of my life – physical, mental, overall home life. I know this is a bit of a cliche, but if you love what you are doing, you are going to be successful. If you love it, the money will come, the business will come, the clients will come.
SN: So you’re saying, “Be brave”, right?
JAF: Be brave!