This is by far the most common question I'm asked and sometimes I feel like there are so many different ways to tell the same story but the point is, I gave myself permission to change my mind and redirect my life completely in 2013. In May of 2011 I graduated magna cum laude from Loyola Marymount University with a B.A. in Communication Studies and a Pre-Journalism Certificate. I had been working in television for about three years and had finally moved up the ladder to become the on-camera host for "California Adventure TV" on KCAL Channel 9 in Los Angeles. To everyone around me, I was living my dream. All of my hard work at various internships ("Good Day LA," "The Soup" and "The Daily 10" at E! Entertainment) had paid off and now I had set myself on a trajectory towards becoming a successful broadcast journalist...
The truth is I was miserable.
Between work and school, my schedule was stacked with research papers, conducting interviews and writing articles for the CATV magazine, driving to shoots all over Southern California and somehow making time for a social life. My health was no longer a priority and other than the few yoga classes I was able to take at school every week, I was gaining weight, eating poorly and feeling terrible about myself. This was of course made worse due to the fact that my job was to see myself on television everyday. I couldn't hide from the fact that I was unhappy and it showed from the inside out.
At the same time I found out that I was nominated to apply to be valedictorian of my graduating class, my grandfather's battle with cancer was worsening and the initial grieving process began. My grandparents were very hands-on raising me, and losing my grandpa was the most overwhelming loss I had ever experienced. As you can imagine, writing an inspiring speech for thousands of graduates felt impossible. How could I offer a message of encouragement when all I felt was overwhelming sadness?
One of the last times I saw my grandpa smile was when he heard about my nomination, but I was never able to write that speech.
My grandfather passed away three months before graduation and I was completely devastated. Nothing could fill the void I felt in my heart, but eventually we had to "buck up," move forward and acknowledge that life was going to be different from now on—without him.
It was a far cry from a seamless transition for me, but I inevitably had to return to work.
My aunt Diane offered to take me shopping.
We pulled into Nordstrom Rack and my aunt reminded me about why we were there: "We are here for professional, business attire—no hippie clothes...work outfits should hang on your body, not hug it... It's ok to go up a size if it makes it more flattering." I was bored and humiliated by what I was doing. Trading in my free-spirited style for gray skirt suit sets in sizes that reminded me of how far I had fallen. I held back tears of disappointment as I looked at myself in the mirror.
It felt like I had given up. I was pursuing the same dream but it was no longer making me happy and I wasn't excited about the new phase of my life that these clothes represented. It felt like I was settling on a dream that was no longer mine.
When I returned to LA I decided I needed to take a step back and reevaluate the structure of my daily routine. Once school was out of the picture, I called my contact at a yoga and indoor cycling studio in Venice Beach and asked if they were hiring a receptionist. She said yes and I was invited to start taking classes for free. I had been practicing yoga for many years at that point, but indoor cycling was completely new to me.
I had to walk out and throw up after my first class, but something much greater than vomit was also manifesting.
I kept coming back, over and over, week after week until I was finally confident enough to ride in the front, cheer as loud as I could and crank up that resistance so much that I could barely move the next day. I was addicted to the feeling of being alive again and I finally felt like there was no limit to how strong I could become.
My indoor cycling instructors helped me believe that I still had more to give to others and myself, even in the depths of despair after losing my grandpa and feeling professionally lost. I could still find light in the darkness; a glimpse of happiness from the pain. Every pedal stroke truly felt like a breakthrough; I was finally being the person I was put on this Earth to be and my grandpa was there, cheering me on as he had been since I was born—helping me push past my physical limitations and fight for greatness.
During his final days, my grandpa would always tell us to "buck up," and as frustrating as that was to hear, I finally started to understand why he didn't want us to waste our energy on feeling sad. Life—real, painful life was happening, and no amount of sadness could keep my grandpa alive—but that didn't mean we were allowed to play the victim and give up. Finally, I had the fresh perspective I needed to fight for myself again.
After six months of working at the front desk I was offered free instructor training while there was all this buzz about a New York based indoor cycling studio expanding on the West Coast.
SoulCycle had two locations in LA at that time, West Hollywood and Brentwood, so when my girl Gina Heekin came back from instructor training I was both eager and terrified to take her class. What was so special about SoulCycle? Why were my employers so angry about it? Why did my favorite instructors want to teach there instead? Obviously all of these questions and much more were answered after taking that first class with Gina. I walked in feeling so confident having been teaching for a handful of months at that point, but that class destroyed me in the best way. I laughed, I cried, but most of all I felt like I belonged to a community full of strong, courageous, loving people and that was exactly what I needed.
It was physical, emotional, mental and hard as hell.
Even though I struggled through that first class, Gina didn't hesitate telling me that I should audition. She told me that I would have to move to New York, that the training program would break me down before building me back up, but that it would also be worth it. We didn't go into too many details but I started riding regularly to prepare for my audition. I was still shooting segments for CATV at this point, but there was a huge shift in focus that many of my friends and family had a hard time understanding. My family saw teaching as a temporary gig while I looked for a position at a news station, but the truth was I was giving my whole heart to SoulCycle and trusting that The Universe would guide me through this transition.
I soon received an email from my employers about their new policy regarding SoulCycle:
"If we hear that you are riding or auditioning at SoulCycle, you will be fired immediately and banned from our studios."
The message was clear but I wasn't going to let them scare me out of doing what I knew I had to do. I auditioned in West Hollywood about a month after receiving this email. When I told my employer that I had accepted an offer to move to NYC for SoulCycle instructor training, her response was a testament to why I was making this decision in the first place:
"Lauren, I thought your career goals was to be in TV... so you are giving up your true goal for an ego move."
There it was, the grammatically incorrect closure I needed.
Sometimes we have to make a choice for ourselves, even if no one else understands, so we can live a life that truly makes us happy and that we are proud of. Sometimes I think about this email exchange and the things I was told before I went to that SoulCycle audition and I am so thankful that I didn't allow anyone else's negative opinions to hold me back from making the choices I did.
What's more, I can't help but think about the valedictorian speech I was never able to write and the fact that now I have the privilege of putting on a microphone and speaking to 40-65 people at a time, 15 times a week, as a full-time SoulCycle instructor. I've realized that the darkest times in our life can also provide us with the clarity that we need to grow into the people that we truly want to be. I miss my grandpa everyday, but its the lessons he taught me that I use to inspire people in every class I teach.
What challenges have YOU faced that have helped you become the person you are today? What darkness have you experienced that helped direct you toward the light? Please share your story, leave a comment and check out my SoulCycle schedule in San Francisco this week!