Quit Your Shit Job is a column that interviews people who left their totally average jobs to do something they actually wanted. This week, we speak to Seema Parmar, 37, from London. She quit a meaningless gig in PR to become a spin instructor and fitness coach.
VICE: Hi Seema! What did you do previously?
Seema Parmar: I worked in PR in consumer brands on the agency side. I worked with lots of big brands and celebrities – basically all the stuff that sounds really impressive to other people but when you’re inside it you realise it’s a bit shit.
Why did it suck?
I got tired of always doing things for other people. Tired of the long hours and unrealistic deadlines, the constant drama, the bitchiness, of demanding clients and the constant feeling of never being good enough. It worsens as you get more senior, too, because you get caught up in the politics. For me, the job became meaningless. On a moral level, I also just didn’t enjoy promoting products I didn’t necessarily believe in onto people who didn’t need them.
What did you switch to instead?
A spin instructor, and fitness and wellbeing coach.
Was there a lightbulb moment?
Kind of. I’d hit a point in my career where I was really unhappy, particularly after returning from a year-long sabbatical that I spent travelling. Nothing had changed. It felt worse than it had when I left it. I was spending every spare minute at a local spin studio, trying to claw back some balance in my life. One day I found out that they were looking for new instructors, so I asked about it. I have a dance background, so have rhythm and am used to being in that environment. I started teaching my first few classes alongside my PR job, and immediately realised I felt much more fulfilled as a spin instructor – and I was good at being a teacher and a coach! From that point, it wasn’t long at all before I quit my other job to focus on spin.
What do you love most about it?
I just love that I can help people and make a small difference to their day or week. I love the transformation that I see within people coming to the studio, and the fact that I'm able to motivate them and be part of their efforts for a healthier, happier lifestyle.
Working for yourself gives you an amazing sense of freedom, too. When my mum was ill last year I could drop everything to be there for her. At the time, I was so, so grateful not to have to negotiate with a boss to wrangle the time, or to have to be on my emails or feel guilty about dumping work on the rest of the team. It made me really appreciate that my time is now my own – although of course I didn’t get paid!
Being in charge of your own finances also gives you a fire in your belly that I never had before. The nature of the industry is that it ebbs and flows as people move on, or stop training for whatever reason. I’ve found myself in the position from time to time of having to generate new opportunities for myself, and I like how it energises me. Also, I get to use the gym when everyone else is at work, which is so nice.
Are there any downsides?
It’s a much harder gig than most people think. It’s super competitive, especially these days with the Instagram-isation of the wellness industry. You have to be seen, become a “brand” and be constantly promoting yourself, which can be tiring.
A big issue I struggle with is the lack of BAME people in the industry or women above the age of 35. As someone who falls within both of those categories, it can feel isolating at times. But it also drives me to push for greater representation in the industry. There’s a privilege that underpins so much of what we see of fitness and wellness on Instagram. It ends up alienating a lot of people. I want to change that.
How hard is it to not get obsessive about fitness when working in the industry?
It is very easy to develop a very unhealthy obsession with yourself. There’s so much pressure around you to look and be a certain way. You’re always on show. It’s a vicious spiral and invariably ends with you injuring – or hating – yourself.
Fitness instructors aren’t immune from self-comparison and the negative impact this can have on your self worth. It’s such a competitive environment, I really do have to check in with myself regularly to make sure I’m doing things for the right reasons and that I’m looking after myself.
What do you wish you'd known about your new job before you started?
I guess that everyone has this idea of people in wellness having all their shit together – including myself. But of course they’re all just as human as you. A large amount of the job is performance – the show must go on and all that. I’ve been through some big traumas in my life and it’s really difficult to show up and be the person that energises everyone else.
What was the single worst moment of your dull job?
Outside of the constant late hours and the lack of appreciation – when my dad died after a very long and traumatic sickness. I took two weeks of bereavement leave and in the first week my boss rang me to ask me when I was coming back to work.
Rate your life out of 10 before, and now:
I’m an optimist but I was in dire straits back then, so I’ll say five. These days it’s more like 8 or 9. Work doesn’t feel as hard when you’re doing something you love.
How smug do you feel when you talk to your mates in shit jobs?
I actually do feel really smug but keep it to myself. I’m not being malicious, but I feel proud because I think, I made my life better. I haven’t just changed my job, I’ve changed my whole lifestyle to suit what I want to do and not what society says. As an Indian woman, this isn’t common. Many friends or family members don’t understand it – it’s a big fucking deal culturally speaking.
What advice would you give other people who hate their jobs?
I see many people coming in and out of the studio who are searching for something else. It sounds trite, but it’s so easy to spot people who are hustling to make their dreams come true. I don’t know anyone who has switched careers who would tell you it was easy, but the deep satisfaction that you get when you do – and it works out – radiates from you. It’s a beautiful thing. I’d say: don’t just assume that changing your job will just change how you spend your working day – it has such a big impact on your physical and mental health – and use that to drive you.