Stop hoping that 2021 is going to be better.
And stop telling me I'm lucky.
So many times people tell me: “You’re so lucky for doing something you love!”, or “You’re so lucky you live in a great location”. You know what? None of this had anything to do with luck. Things didn’t just fall into my lap. I took a lot of chances in life and worked hard to be where I am now. And if you want to be as “lucky” as I am, you need to work for it, too.
I’m a self-employed personal trainer and boxing coach and I love every single moment of what I do. Plus, I don’t have to answer to anyone above me. For me, that’s the dream. But when somebody tells me that’s luck, I feel like punching them in the face. I did not get to where I am now because I was lucky. Nor did I always know that this was what I wanted to do.
Fortune favours the brave
During my last year in uni, me and a friend of mine started talking about how great it would be to become a flight attendant. Being born and raised in Serbia and not having seen much of the world, this sounded like a beautiful and slightly unrealistic dream. However, an opportunity presented itself. Emirates, a company from Dubai, was hosting an Open Day in Belgrade. Anyone could apply, given that you were over 21 and spoke English. This meant that there would be hundreds of people applying and they were only recruiting a couple. Not very good odds.
My dad always used to say that life is full of opportunities, you just need to spot them and have the guts to grab them. And so we did. We bought the required formal attire, wrote our CVs and took the train to Belgrade. And so did four hundred other people. There were rounds and rounds of group interviews, and people were being sent home after each. My friend and I stayed. Until the final interview arrived. This is where my friend fell short. She didn’t get the job. However, a couple of days later, I got a phone call, asking if I could fly to Dubai in about a months time. I hadn’t finished my studies yet, still had four exams left. I also knew if I said yes, I would be going there alone, without my friend or anyone else I knew. But I remembered my dad’s words and took the chance.
I didn’t want to leave my studies unfinished, so I decided to talk to my professors and ask them to make it possible for me to do my exams earlier. In the meanwhile I also had to submit about a million papers for Emirates, go to five different doctors for check-ups, X-rays and dental work and we had a mandatory school trip scheduled. When I told people I was planning to graduate before I leave for Dubai, they thought I was delusional. Not the first, or the last time. Two days before my flight I passed my last exam, before the official exam period even started, and was the first to graduate in my generation.
For a year and a half I lived in Dubai and worked as a flight attendant. I got to see so many places I would probably never had visited otherwise and I made some friendships for life. However, I realised that this was not the life I wanted. I did not find myself in it and so I’ve decided to take another chance and leave. Once again, I was labelled as completely crazy, for leaving a dream place and a dream job and a dream salary and going back to Serbia. Well, here’s the thing. It might be a dream job, but it was not MY dream.
If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door
After spending some time in Lisbon, I went home to be with my family for a little while. The unemployment in Serbia was (and still is) huge at the time and people kept saying things like “don’t even bother applying for a job in your field..” Whatever. My friend was working in a hotel at the moment and was generally too busy to hang out. So I applied for a position in the same hotel. That way we could hang out. Something that started as a joke, ended up in me being hired as a receptionist. Now, this was a five star hotel, that in reality would probably get minus five stars, as it was run by some members of the mafia and used as a front for other activities. The salary was minimal wage, paid in two instalments after a two month delay. So even though I did get to see my friend, after my initial three month contract ended, I decided not to pursue a career in the mafia hotel business..
Once again, I had to make a decision about whether I wanted to stay in the country or do as everyone else who had the opportunity has done, and leave. And once again people kept telling me to go, as there were no jobs or opportunities left there. By that time I really got into training and got quite attached to my gym and my boxing club and didn’t really want to leave. So I decided to try to find something that I liked with flexible hours that would allow me to train every day. Quite a big aspiration for the time and the place.
I was never really a fan of fancy five star hotels. and always preferred the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere of a hostel. So I started searching. There wasn’t a single ad looking for a hostel worker or anything similar. So I looked up all the hostels in the city (there were about five of them at the time) and I sent them an e-mail and my CV anyway. I got offered a job in two of them. Take that, doubters!
If you don’t like where you are, move. You’re not a tree.
I spent quite a few years working in the one I chose, as I could really take advantage of the flexible hours and spend the rest of my day in the gym. But, fun as it was, after a while I started losing motivation. When you are the one working right under the owner, there’s really nowhere to go from there. There was no opportunity for a promotion or really any progress. It was time for a change.
Since I’ve been spending most of my time in the gym, I thought I might as well get paid for it. So I enrolled in a course at the local University of Sports and got my certificate in fitness and bodybuilding. And then I enrolled in another on-line course in strength and conditioning. And another one to get my Level 2 for the UK. And then I packed my bags and bought a ticket to London. I got my certificate and started looking for a job. And a place to live. I moved between hostels, airbnb-s and short-term lets for the first six months of my stay. And since I couldn’t really afford a cab, I would drag my suitcase and giant backpack on the tube and on the bus and on the pavement. Until I finally found a place near Angel that was both cheap and in a great location. And every time I told people I lived at Angel, the response would be: “Oh, your so lucky!” Yeah. Lucky.
My room was small like a Harry Potter cupboard. But that didn’t really matter at the time, as I was working three different jobs and wasn’t really spending much time at home anyway. I was still part-time in Fitness First in Kensington, teaching classes in Dalston and doing in-home personal training sessions for a company whose clients, for some reason, all lived in Zone 5. Those were the days...
My fitness journey
I came to London with no experience in the fitness field and, as usual, when I told people (mostly other foreign workers like myself) that I was looking for a job as a fitness trainer, they looked at me with a mix of pity and ridicule. After a few weeks I started my first job in Fitness First. I also continued my education, attended courses and workshops on fitness, S&C and boxing, seminars in Liverpool, Sheffield, Bath and other places, got my Level 3 certificate in personal training and decided that rather than staying in fitness, I was going to be a boxing coach. Ignoring, yet once again, the comments of all the doubters and Scooby Don’ts, I found a boxing club and managed to convince the owner that I was exactly what he was looking for (even though he wasn’t technically looking for anyone). And so I became the only female boxing coach in the club. And finally I found my place. This was definitely what I wanted to do and I stayed there for quite a while. But, one more time, ambition got the hold on me and I decided I wanted to be my own boss and do things my way. Why would I work on building someone else’s dream when I can work on building my own? So, for the umpteenth time, I quit my job and became fully self-employed. Now I get to do what I love, make my own schedule and answer only to myself. And even though it can get tough sometimes, loving what you do and the freedom are priceless.
So is this the end? Of course not. In a few years I am going to open my own gym. Not necessarily in London. Rather in a more exotic location, surrounded by nature. Somewhere you can go running and hiking and diving and have some quiet time. That’s the dream. You think I’m crazy? Join the club.
And that’s the story of my “luck”. So no, I’m not hoping for the New Year to be better. I know it’s going to be better. Because I’m planning on making it the best year of my life. Remember, Fortune favours the brave. So stop making excuses or playing the victim. Take a chance, seize an opportunity and work hard for what you want. And, who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky, too.
The harder you work, the luckier you get.