Lessons From the Quarantine

Yesterday evening we were out walking our dog, a new daily ritual that I really love, and Shaun asked me this: “what are the lessons you’ve learned from the quarantine?” First of all, I thanked him for this question. I’m usually the one who asks the questions, but mine are typically random, and I force Shaun to come up with answers to crazy things like ‘what is your favorite thing about us’ and ‘what are the two things you love most about San Diego’ and ‘what do you think Logan looks more like- a panther or a muppet’?

His question gave me pause. It’s been one week for most Americans in quarantine, but my stress actually started back in late February when I was abruptly laid off from my job. No warning, no real reason other than we’re eliminating your position. No severance, no health insurance or benefits extending beyond the 48 hours following the news.

I’ve never been laid off from a job, so this was a new phenomenon for me. At first it was a shock (how could they let someone with my passion and enthusiasm go?), then sort of a relief (is that really what I wanted to be doing anyway?), then mildly terrifying (how can we afford to live in San Diego without me pulling my weight?)

As I continued to try to process the emotions, I sort of became numb. As a perpetually positive person who believes in karma, I honestly didn’t wish for bad things to come to this business I’d given so much of my time and energy to. But as a tender-hearted perfectionist it was quite hard to just let it go and move on and not take it personally. I really didn’t know how to feel.

Luckily, I got on the ball and did something else new that I never thought I’d be doing- I applied for unemployment. I had no idea if I was doing it right, if I’d actually get it, and if so, how long it would take. Today my debit card arrived with the prepaid amount, which is a fraction of what I had been earning. But still, the system worked, and I am embarrassed and empowered that I am receiving help during this bizarre time in my life and in the world in general.

I guess the silver lining in all of this was that I was ahead of the mad rush of crowds of newly freaked out, unemployed people who have lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19 and the global economic shutdown. I submitted my application in just in the nick of time. I mean, I guess that’s a good thing, but it’s pretty sad as well.

So back to Shaun’s question. After I lost my job, worked to process the emotions, updated my resume, began making new connections on LinkedIn, started having initial phone screenings, and applied for several jobs, the world pretty much stopped.

Instead of throwing all my energy into finding a job, I’ve been throwing everything I have into planning virtual workout classes. I’ve cried several times thinking of how eerily similar this feels to the post-Irma days when no one knew exactly what to do, but everyone was simultaneously kind, devastated and a little delirious.

The virtual classes have been what’s gotten me out of bed. They make me take off my pajamas and put on spandex clothes. It’s how I evaluate how much more I ate the day before than I probably should have. It’s how I’ve stayed connected with people near and dear to my heart, my workout community. These classes are essentially giving me life.

twerk and tone at home


workout at home

So what I’ve learned most during the quarantine is that I need a reason to get up and be excited every day. I need to be intimately connected to like-minded people. I need to have outlets to bring all of my energy and yes, my craziness, to others. I need to help people feel happier and healthier. Major bonus if this involves creating playlists and choreographing dances and coming up with new toning combinations. And more than anything else, I need to be with people.

photo by Kat Krafel

photo by Kat Krafel

The other really hard lesson I’ve learned during quarantine is that unfortunately for this extroverted fitness instructor, I literally can feel the evidence that I can’t do this full time. My inner thighs are on fire from squeezing a pillow in a class I created trying to use only “equipment” people have in their homes. My right shoulder is reminding me of an old overuse injury from my Twerk and Tone days. My butt is literally burning, and it’s not from hemorrhoids. My body is like ‘what the hell are you doing to me Ash?’

On one level, my heart is broken. I believe I was put on this earth to teach fitness classes. I don’t want to admit that if I started a fitness business I couldn’t teach classes all day long, every day of the week for many many years to come. On another level, the past week has gifted me the time to think. When I haven’t been planning my workouts I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life. And may I just ask, does anyone really know the answer to this question?

I know once the quarantine is over and it’s time to seriously start looking for full-time work, one thing I want to incorporate into my life is motivational speaking. Of course I will continue to teach a couple of classes a week for as long as I am given the opportunity, but I now know I must have some other outlets that don’t also involve weights, booty bridges, planks, and jump squats.

twerk and tone

While the idea of public speaking used to absolutely terrify me, the most spectacular result of being a group fitness instructor on a personal development level is what it has shown me I am capable of… Creating content, motivating people, showing up and giving it my absolute all regardless of what’s going on outside the walls of the studio. I count reps, give form queues, tell personal stories and try to be funny all while doing an intense workout to the beat of the music. Surely I could give an inspiring speech if I had the luxury of breathing normally and not having to wipe sweat, adjust the volume, and try stay on rhythm, right?

But then there’s the doubt that creeps in. What would I say? How could little me really help people? Would I be able to say anything that hasn’t already been said before? Why would anyone care what I was saying anyway? These are all things that I’ve pondered the past several days. And here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. I’m self made. While I am convinced I am supposed to have a trust fund, after four decades of living on this planet, I still have not found it! I have many wealthy friends and have, at times, been guilty of envying them. But the more I’ve lived, the more I am 100% certain that money does not equal happiness. And, the more grateful I get to feel for the sacrifices my parents made, like paying for 14 years of dance lessons. I don’t take things for granted, and I know that contributes greatly to my attitude of gratitude.
  2. I’ve taken risks. When everyone else was climbing the corporate ladder and becoming fixated on raising babies or getting pregnant, I convinced my husband that we should sell our house, quit our jobs and move to a Caribbean island. This is the subject of an entire book I plan to write, but suffice it to say, that move changed literally everything. Everything.
  3. I’ve been extremely successful. I am a humble person but allow me to share that I was at the peak of my career when I kissed it goodbye to move to St. John. I won President’s Club three times in five years, so I earned the elite Chairman’s Club designation. Do you need to know anything about what this is? No. But bottom line, I have a unique sales philosophy, and it sets me apart. It works. Year after year. I was a really good pharmaceutical rep.
  4. I’ve sucked really bad at my job. I was a really bad timeshare salesperson. I was a really bad boat salesperson. I can admit that I’ve tried things that were downright silly. Not that either of those jobs are silly in general; they were just silly for me. And it’s a beautifully humbling thing to completely suck at something.
  5. I’ve become a pro at reinventing myself. When you suck at something, if you have the courage to walk away, you get to do something I have done many times over the past few years. You get to reinvent yourself. It’s terrifying, and the older you get the more you may question what the hell you think you’re doing. But when you find that thing- your thing- you’ll know those feelings of fear and uncertainty were worth it. Because you cannot have those high highs without some low lows. And then that thing- your thing- may one day not be your thing anymore. And so the cycle continues. And it’s exhausting and it’s exhilarating, and this constant search becomes the story of your life. And that’s ok. In fact, the destination seems to indicate the end; and I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. The goal of life is be on a constant journey of growth and self-exploration.
  6. I’m not afraid to follow my own path. I’m from the southeast. Growing up in a small town, attending college, and then moving to a city (all in North Carolina) can take a huge toll on someone who’s not sure she wants kids or the big house or the newest SUV or all the other things everybody else seems to want. Sometimes it seemed like it would be so much easier just to get on the path everyone else was on and try to quiet the voices in my head and that feeling in my soul that told me I was different. Many times I felt alienated, or maybe the better way to put it is I felt like an alien around those I had known the longest and loved the most. But, I never gave in.
  7. I want others to live their best life. Now. Here’s what I believe- options are everything. And it’s not actually just the options themselves. It is the acknowledgment of those options that empowers you more than I believe anything else in life ever can. If I had given in and followed the path everyone else was on, would I have been able to walk away from a successful career? Would I have had the opportunity to suck at some really interesting jobs? Would I have multiple books I want to write about the hilarity of some of my experiences? Would I have gotten to live on a Caribbean island and start a fitness business? Would I be living what feels like my best (albeit currently unemployed and quarantined) life in San Diego? I have to believe it’s unlikely at best.

ashley cates san diego

I have so much that I feel inspired to share in an effort to empower others to live life on their terms. To work and to earn and to save and to plan, but then also to realize that unlike in dance, we don’t get dress rehearsals in life. This is it. This is all we have.

Each day we have the opportunity to write our own story. It can be neat and tidy and linear, or it can be colorful, messy and zigzagged. Neither is right or wrong. It’s the journey to discovering what you want and how you want your story to read that makes life so incredible. And here’s the secret: it’s never too late to ask yourself ‘what the hell am I doing’ and start a new journey.

san diego san diego

Ashley Cates, Professional Motivator, Experience Creator, Dance Party Starter

San Diego, CA

1 Comment
  • Gloria Cates
    March 25, 2020

    Ashley, this is absolutely beautiful just like you. Hang in there and may all your dreams come true. I sure am rooting for you. Love, Gloria

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