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'On the Other Side of Fear, I Found Freedom'

his summer, SoulCycle is traveling across the country and Canada for our Instructor Audition Tour. In honor of the tour, which continues Friday in Seattle, we're celebrating our instructors and the personal journeys that led them to the podium. Next up, BLVU's EARL BENJAMIN.

When I was 10, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. From that moment on, I took all the necessary steps and planned my life accordingly. At the age of 17, I left my hometown in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and headed to a bigger island: the concrete jungle of New York City. I majored in Journalism at St. John’s University. Things were going according to plan and my life was unfolding at a rapid pace.

Throughout my college career, I faced a few moments of doubt... I wondered if this was truly my passion and whether I made the right choice. I quickly brushed those questions aside because a) school was expensive b) school was expensive and c) school was EXPENSIVE.

I’d made my choice and I decided I’d just have to be happy with it.

I studied like hell, took part in the necessary internships, and graduated in 2010 ready to take the media world by storm.

I accepted a job at AOL, which at the time, owned a company called that specialized in hyper-local news. It was the perfect first gig out of college and I learned and grew a TON. Three-and-a-half years later, I was ready for a change.

I applied for what I thought was my dream job, as a product coordinator at the Associated Press, and after several interviews, I got the job!

I was over the moon. This was the big break I was waiting for and I jumped in head-first.

It was the biggest reality-check I’d experienced in my life: I hated it. Every second of it. It lasted one year until I was left wondering where things had gone wrong. During that time, I had discovered SoulCycle and it became my saving grace. Every time I would walk into the studio, something would come over me and I would feel a sense of freedom that I hadn’t experienced anywhere else. I was also serving in my local church at Hillsong NYC as a connect group leader, and discovered that I had a passion for helping people. It gave me the utmost satisfaction to see people thrive and become the best version of themselves. But I also knew deep on the inside, I was cheating myself of this very thing.

Still with this knowledge, I decided to give journalism one more try. I accepted a job with an incredible food magazine, Nation’s Restaurant News, as a content producer. It was the closest I’d been to feeling fulfilled at a job. The people were amazing, the work was engaging, and yet still... I felt a bit empty inside. I looked around me and saw people who had been working at the company for more than 20 years.

I asked myself a serious question: “Do I want to spend the rest of my life settling for ‘just okay,’ or do I want something that makes me feel alive?”

It was the hardest question I ever had to face and I knew that I needed to make a change. For the first time in my life, I decided I would make a choice that was unsafe. I decide to take a risk and apply to become a SoulCycle instructor.

On February 29, 2016 (Leap Day!), I took a giant leap of faith and submitted my resignation notice. It's never easy putting yourself out there, taking a risk, and not knowing what the outcome will be. I encountered more moments of self-doubt than I could've imagined. I questioned if I made the right decision to leave my job. There were moments that were just plain scary, but I've found that what's even scarier is never trying at all. For each moment of fear and uncertainty, I would replace that thought with all the affirming words I could think of. I was also surrounded by a group of people who were supportive and encouraging me to face those fears head-on. Honestly, that is what helped me the most — having a community.

I remember one day in my pre-training phase, when I felt like giving it all up and applying for a safer job, my instructor mentor, LILY, unknowingly helped to snap me out of it. She reminded me after class to pull from within to find the person that I am becoming. She spoke of her own similar journey and how SoulCycle pushed her through it. I know it wasn't a coincidence that we crossed paths. It was just the reminder I needed to keep pushing, keep fighting.

Audition day FINALLY came and I walked into the room feeling every single emotion you can imagine. I was facing my greatest fear: potential failure. I knew I wanted it more than anything else, so I did my best to silence the all the voices in my head that were telling me I was crazy for thinking I could do this. When it was my turn at the podium, I went up and gave it everything I had. Almost two days after my audition, I was still coming off the high. The moment I walked out of that room, I knew I wasn’t the same person. I’d conquered a fear. I felt braver and stronger than I’d ever felt in my life. Just that feeling alone was worth the sleepless nights that led up to it.

I still remember when I got the call-back for round two of auditions. I was at the West 4th St. subway platform in NYC and I’m sure people thought I was crazy. I almost jumped over the moon in that moment. I was on a crazy high, completely unprepared for what would soon be a crazy low...

I prepared and over-prepared for the second round. The fear was still loud and clear but I was learning more and more how to silence it. I walked in and gave it all I had. Again.

I could not sleep a wink after the second round of auditions. I had done everything in my power at that point, so all that was left to do was wait. I did my best to go about my daily activities until the email finally came in. I re-read it slowly until it finally sunk in: I didn't get into the summer training program. Crushed. I was beyond crushed. I’d left my comfort zone and faced my fears only to experience the one thing I’d been running from my whole life: “failure.” I put it in quotes because I now realize that what I was running from was the only way I could grow stronger as a human.

One of my favorite authors, John C. Maxwell says it best: “Embrace adversity and make failure a regular part of your life. If you're not failing, you're probably not really moving forward. Everything in life brings risk. It's true that you risk failure if you try something bold because you might miss it. But you also risk failure if you stand still and don't try anything new. Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success.”

I had two choices at that point: I could let that moment define me and give up on the crazy notion that I could drastically change my life or I could do something even crazier and try again. I allowed myself two full days of sulking and, with the help of an amazing friend (thank you, Sai), I decided I would fight for what I wanted.

I decided I would train even harder and work my butt off for the next try. And the second time around was actually scarier. I had to shut fear up all over again. I held on to every ounce of faith I had left, prayed and took the leap. Again.

“When achievers fail, they see it as a momentary event, not a lifelong epidemic.” I gave it my all. I gave it my everything. I walked out feeling that same bravery from the first round, but this time I was at peace with whatever the decision would be. I knew that I’d put blood, sweat and tears into something I believed in. A few days later, I found out I made it into the fall training program! The risk that I took on Leap Day had finally paid off.

Looking back on that crazy rollercoaster of a year, I can honestly say playing it safe is no longer an option. I learned that your story isn’t over until you say it is: We decide how far we want to go and how much we can achieve. Change hasn't been easy, but it’s been more than worth it. That’s the cool thing about SoulCycle for me — it gave me an opportunity to fail forward and grow. We all come into a room with different backgrounds and experiences, but the moment we click into our pedals, we are all chasing the same goal: to leave this room stronger than we walked in. We move forward.

I now find myself living something that once used to be a dream. I’ve met some of the most incredible people along the way who continue to inspire me. And just when I thought I was done taking big risks for a while, I decided to pack up 10 years of NYC life and move across the country to help open a brand new SoulCycle studio in Bellevue, Washington. Because life is too short to just dream once.

You Dream. Do. Repeat.

The initial transition was daunting and almost overwhelming, but once I made the jump, things started to fall into place just the way they were supposed to. It’s now been seven months in my new home and job and there are no words for how INCREDIBLE the journey has been.

The community has embraced SoulCycle in greater ways than I could’ve have imagined. The stories of people’s lives being changed in such a short time are my reminders that I made the right decision. I’ve made some beautiful friendships that feel more like family. I am blessed to still use my degree writing for our local magazine, Bellevue Lifestyle. And just last month, I experienced the greatest surprise EVER, when lululemon asked me to be an ambassador for the Bellevue store. I was and am still speechless — it was the most humbling day for me. Looking back, I know none of this could have happened if I was too afraid to invest in my dreams by taking a chance. For every “What if....” scenario that I played in my mind, it was the ultimate gift and reminder that we don’t know what is on the other side of our decisions. We just have to follow our hearts. On the other side of fear, I found freedom.

Learn more about SoulCycle's 2017 Summer Audition Tour HERE. Time to book some classes? Purchase a series HERE.
Article by Earl Benjamin
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