What Working at a Boutique Fitness Studio for Minimum Wage Taught Me That My Six-Figure Law Firm Job Never Could

I owe a great deal to my firm for all of this experience and I’m confident that the skills I gained while working there could transfer to a job in almost any other field.

That being said, there are some skills and things that you’re unlikely to learn in Biglaw that I’ve recently picked up in a somewhat unexpected place: working for minimum wage at a boutique fitness studio.

How did I end up working at a gym, for $15/hour?


As I alluded to in my updated About Me post, after I left my job, I struggled with what to do with my time and also what to do about money.  I didn’t want to burn through my savings, but I wanted to keep writing and see if I could earn a living this way.  I wanted to work but I wasn’t ready to give up on the dream of an alternative working lifestyle in favor of getting another full-time, corporate job.

The solution turned out to be working at a gym.  I get to write as much as I want (freelancing in addition to this blog and some other projects) while working a few days a week at a gym/fitness studio (think: a gym that offers only expensive group fitness classes, which I used to pay upwards of $30 per class for when I worked in Biglaw).

And, nope, I don’t work as an instructor.  I’m the one who checks you into class, answers the phone, unlocks your locker when it gets stuck, gets you a towel and cleans up the gym after class is over.  The job pays minimum wage and, aside from the occasional 4am wake-up call to make it to the first shift of the day, I really enjoy it!

My co-workers are nice, they come from all walks of life and they make working there such a pleasant experience.  The stakes are low (especially compared to what I was used to in Biglaw) and we work hard, but mostly we have fun while doing it.

In addition to wanting to make some money, I also couldn’t turn down the free classes.  Even when I was working in Biglaw, I didn’t feel that comfortable dropping $30 on one exercise class, so I tried to limit that spending.  When I was no longer making a Biglaw salary, spending that amount of money on one exercise class was out of the question.

Four Things That Working at a Gym Has Taught Me…That Biglaw Didn’t


Having been at the same corporate, Biglaw job for my entire adult working life, I was in for quite a change when I started to work at the gym.  But that change came with some pleasant surprises, too, including picking up skills that I never could have learned in Biglaw.  Here are four things that working at a gym has taught me (so far) that Biglaw didn’t.

1. There is more than one way to work hard.


Working at the gym has taught me that you don’t need to work in an office, work 9-5 or work at a job that is easy to explain to someone at a cocktail party or in an elevator, in order to work hard.  Simply put, there’s more than one way to “work hard.”

In Biglaw, how hard you work is measured one way: by the billable hour.  The more hours you bill, the harder you are perceived to work and the more valuable you are to the firm.  Especially for junior associates, the billable hour means there’s a pretty black and white view of the definition of “hard work.”  Either you meet your hours requirement or you don’t.  Either you bill enough every month or you don’t.

My co-workers at the gym have shown me that there’s way more than one, strict definition of what it means to work hard.  In addition to working as instructors at the gym or part-time behind the scenes like me, my coworkers all hustle like crazy.

From babysitting or working in a clothing store, to writing their own music and plays, to touring the country performing in off-Broadway shows while waiting for a big showbiz break, my co-workers do a little bit of everything.  They wake up at 4am to commute an hour each way to the job.  They make it to work in time for a morning shift, work all day and then perform at night.  They teach kids’ dance classes during the day and swing by the gym at night to work a later shift.  The permutations of what it means to “work hard” are endless!

2. What it means to really workout hard.


The gym also taught me what it means to workout hard and how far we can physically push our bodies with exercise.

There’s no way I would have learned this in Biglaw because Biglaw isn’t exactly known for its athletes (although there is a subset of Biglaw attorneys who are crazy about fitness and somehow make the time to train for marathons, etc., while working at a firm.  I still don’t understand how those people function).

I’d forgotten how much I worked out when I was younger.  It was normal to be at soccer camp all day long in the summer and be active for 8 hours straight.  Even during school, we would run around before school, at lunchtime, and then for 3 or 4 hours in the afternoon.  Somewhere along the way, we grow up and think that one hour a day of working out is more than enough.

Realistically, exercising for one hour a day is amazing if you can squeeze that much in.  But what I’ve learned at the gym is, if you have the time (and let’s be honest, we almost all do – especially since you can do a workout at home, in front of the TV), your body can (and wants to) work out way more than for just one hour a day.

I’ve learned that you can do more than you think you can – from the customers who take two classes a day, to my fellow co-workers behind the desk who crush it during a spin class or a 6am weight-lifting class, to the instructors (who are next level fit and work-out hours a day, since that is their job after all) – all of these people are amazing examples of how much we can push our bodies and get ourselves in shape.

3. Working through pain isn’t smart or healthy and it shouldn’t be rewarded.


Working through pain and pushing your body past its limits isn’t healthy, leads to injuries that force you to sit on the sidelines for a long time and never pays off in the long run.

In Biglaw, however, pushing through pain is rewarded.  Pulling an all-nighter before a closing or consistently existing on 3-4 hours of sleep a night is seen as a badge of honor and praised in Biglaw.  Similarly, skipping out on personal commitments in favor of your work is also rewarded and expected.  You’re seen as a team player when you do things like this and Biglaw culture reminds you that this is the norm.

The problem is, working through the pain, consistently missing important personal events and missing out on sleep, all leads to one place: burnout.  Putting a big work project ahead of your health by skipping out on a spin class, staying late to finish up a last-minute client-request or missing a happy hour here and there is one thing, but it’s another if these things are constant and are a daily part of the job.

Working yourself so hard that you can’t work anymore isn’t smart, it isn’t healthy and it isn’t going to benefit anyone in the long term.  Biglaw could really use some work in this department, as this was one of the main reasons I left and know that many feel this way.  (If you are struggling with your health in the law, check out this post on my top tips for healthy lawyers.)

Being at the gym, constantly surrounded by instructors, gym-goers and athletes has taught me that working through your physical pain is stupid and is not something to be rewarded.  Instead of pushing their bodies past the limit, these people take time to recover.  They foam roll and stretch before and after class and listen to their bodies when they need to take some time off from the gym.

Taking time to recover means you miss a few workouts in the short-term, but your body will be thankful for the rest in the long-term because you’ll come back stronger. Unlike in Biglaw, where your body and your mind might be saying “no more, I can’t take it!” but the client is saying “I don’t care!” the gym has shown me the importance of physical AND mental rest and recovery and the payoff you get when you listen to your body.

4. The importance of pursing your dreams.


Most importantly, I’ve learned the importance of pursing your dreams and putting those dreams above what society says you “should” do.

Some people dream about being Biglaw lawyers and becoming law firm partners one day.  If that is you, that’s great and you should pursue that dream.  However, for the vast majority of people in Biglaw, being a Biglaw lawyer is not their career dream.  It certainly wasn’t mine!

People often stay in Biglaw because it’s a good, respectable job that pays a lot.  Or maybe they went to law school and have tons of student loans to pay back and can’t imagine leaving after sinking all of that money into their law school education.

I’ve always had an inkling inside that there was more out there for me.  I’ve noticed that there are some people who do pursue their dreams, something different for themselves or another type of life.  They succeed at this and are fulfilled.  While I knew this to be true, I also needed the evidence (and lots of it) that this was possible for me, too, and working at the gym has offered this proof.

The gym has shown me that it’s ok to be different and to have a career that other people don’t understand.  That it’s ok to work a bunch of jobs to make it work so that you can keep going out on auditions for a commercial, show up for a dance role or produce your friend’s play at a small theater in Brooklyn.  At the gym, it’s not only ok to do something different but it’s the norm.  In fact, when I first began working there, it was weird for me not to have another “thing” I was dreaming of pursuing.  Now that I’ve made writing my “thing” I’m encouraged at work to pursue it and to talk about it openly.

From Hiding to Proudly Working at the Gym


It took me a while to admit that I was working at this gym and I didn’t tell many people at first.  Was I embarrassed by it since I’d left such a high-paying career?  Maybe a little bit.  Did I feel like I was wasting my education?  Perhaps.  But now I’ve realized that working here has allowed me to meet new people, learn new things, make some money, and it has given me the courage to pursue an alternative lifestyle and pursue my writing and my dreams.

What jobs have you held that have taught you unexpected skills?  Do you have a non-traditional career now, or maybe a hodge-podge of jobs like me?  Is there something you dream of doing but feel held back from?  Would you consider working in something less “normal” or traditional and give yourself the opportunity to pursue your dreams or something different than what is expected of you?

skills minimum wage teach biglaw corporate jobskills things learned working minimum wage corporate job did notworking at a gym taught me biglaw did not
  1. Hey Marissa, thanks for this amazing post! I used to be a lawyer too, although not biglaw by any means (I actually applied to over 1,000 jobs after passing the Bar, to no avail). When I first quit law, I worked as a waitress for $3 and change per hour plus lousy tips, sometimes none, and then as a seasonal worker and a line cook. It certainly taught me a lot and I think that most people who work in an office would benefit from some sort of physical, “in-the-trenches”, blue-collar work – it builds character and lends perspective. I am so happy for you that you stayed true to yourself and pursued your dreams, keep up the great work! 🙂

    • admin says:

      Thanks, Kalli! I totally agree with you on the value of working in restaurants, at a gym, retail, etc. There are just some things you learn at certain jobs that you can’t learn at others and there’s value to be gained in working at ANY job. I’m sure your work in restaurants was stressful in its own way but gave you so many valuable skills that you’ve taken to your new career.

  2. I love it! Working in engineering meant being accountable to the billable hours as well, and it drove me crazy. I got out of the full-time world after four years and have been freelancing ever since (for more time flexibility). For years I worked as a fitness instructor (free gym membership! free childcare! friends! paid to work out!) and loved, loved, loved it. It’s my retirement dream job 🙂

    • admin says:

      Thanks, Kim! Working as a fitness instructor might just have to be next on my list – maybe for my “real” retirement one day, too! Congrats on getting out of full-time and carving your own freelancing path. That’s my ultimate goal so I love to hear when others like you have successfully done it!

  3. Great article and I can totally relate, though my direction of travel was the opposite.

    As a first-generation immigrant, I put myself through high school and college by working in restaurants. First a busboy, then a waiter and finally a bartender. I worked in fine dining restaurants where the clientele was pretty finance heavy – and it actually inspired me to become an investment banker..

    So now when my coworkers are complaining about how hard they work, I just chuckle to myself. It’s good knowing what life is like outside the investment banking bubble.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective! Either way (whether you spend time working in restaurants/gyms/etc. before or after a corporate job), that experience is so valuable no matter where you end up working in the long-run. I imagine the investment banking bubble is similar to the Biglaw bubble and love that you are still able to channel your work from your prior “life” to appreciate what you have now. I was definitely guilty of complaining about how hard I worked when I was in law and sometimes all you need is a little perspective again to realize that hard work comes with ALL types of work.

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