Updated: Jun 3, 2019
Sometimes we say "Follow your dreams, everything will be okay" too much. Because sometimes it doesn't work out and then we're like, "Oh my gosh, what happens now? They said it would be okay, but it's not." Success is ultimately what you create.
Below is an abridged audio transcript of Episode 16, lightly edited for clarity.
This week we feature Jackelyn Ho, an internationally known fitness instructor and expert. This conversation will inspire you to move!
Jackelyn is founder of Arrival Fitness, a Los Angeles-based corporate wellness company bringing fitness experiences to the workplace. Jackelyn has collaborated with major brands like Nike & Toyota, and her weekly yoga & high intensity fitness classes are among the most popular classes at UCLA’s Recreational Department and LA Boulders.
Jackelyn may be a fitness fiend, but her career origins come from journalism and marketing. Jackelyn balances her love for exercise with her day job as Marketing Manager for LegalNet Inc, a legal metrics software company. Previously, she wrote a column titled Young Broke and Single about entrepreneurship for Inc. Magazine.
Outside of that, she loves nothing more than connecting with her students in a sweaty fitness class.
We talk to Jackelyn about:
The surprising origins of her fitness career,
How she weaves her love for storytelling into her classes,
What her relationship is like with her sister Cassey Ho, who started the #1 female fitness channel on YouTube - blogilates, and
Her definition of true health
I. Jackelyn's Origin Story
Jackelyn: My name is Jackelyn Ho and I'm the founder of Arrival Fitness. We do corporate wellness and we bring fitness experiences to the workplace. I'm also a fitness instructor who's been teaching for about 10 years. I am a writer. Oh, and I also do digital marketing! That's my bread & butter and and they all just meld together and I'm a happy person with all of them.
Lynne: In many ways, Jackelyn is a true child of the Golden State. She was born in LA and raised in the Bay Area. Jackelyn also went to college in San Francisco and now lives in LA. She even came to the interview with her puppy.
Jackelyn has radiant skin, is super fit, and has a beaming spirit. But, according to her, she didn’t really develop that sunny Cali attitude until a bit later.
Jackelyn: Little Jacquelyn did not learn how to smile until she was five or six. In all of my baby pictures, I look like a potato head and I'm really worried and concerned. I think, in first maybe second grade, I learned how to add some teeth and smiling.
Lynne: Mind you, she had the biggest smile on her face as she said this. So it’s fair to say she grew out of that phase.
As we mentioned before, Jackelyn’s older sister is Cassey Ho of blogilates. Cassey is the creator behind POP Pilates and has also started her own fitness apparel line. Jackelyn and Cassey are 4.5 years apart. They’ve been close since Jackelyn was young.
Jackelyn: Little Jackelyn always followed my big sister. I loved to see what she was doing, copy what she was doing. I wanted to hang out with her friends because they were cooler.
I have some recollection of her spitting in my eyeball, pushing me, stealing my toys and Barbies or whatever normally sisters do. But we've always been really close and I think that amplified as we got older. We could understand each other more.
Lynne: Jackelyn is also very close to her Mom, who came here on a boat as a refugee of the Vietnam War. It’s a long and rather heartbreaking tale but long story short: Jackelyn’s Mom and two of her brothers escaped Vietnam and made it to Canada in her early 20s, but their third and youngest brother got left behind in Vietnam.
Jackelyn: Life just played out so differently because you have my mom and her brother who ended up living a life in Canada and the US. Then the other brother who could have lived a similar life stayed in Vietnam and he's still alive but life just is so different. It's weird how it all turns out, like I could have been born in Vietnam to not been born at all.
Lynne: This fact is not lost on Jackelyn. She thinks about how lucky she is to be here in the US with all the sacrifices her Mom. It inevitably shaped the way she thought about career.
Jackelyn: My Mom is the strongest woman I know. Our relationship as we got older, got tougher. At some point the dynamic of the child wanting to do what they really want to do versus the parent saying, "I came over here on a boat for you, so you must be successful and success means doctor lawyer etc." hit. We hit that point when I was probably 15, 16 and that's when things kind of shifted a little bit.
II. Lessons in Persistence
Lynne: Jackelyn initially wanted to be a lawyer. But it was around high school that Jackelyn began to see that what she really enjoyed was writing.
Jackelyn: I had a really great English teacher sophomore year of high school who pulled it out of me that I could write. There was something about writing that hit me so deep. Every time I wrote it felt like part of me was being released. I can't really voice these words well but somehow when I write it, it's so gut-wrenching.
Some of my best written stuff when I was a kid was all about boys, like XYZ doesn't like me. Why doesn't he like me? And then I'll go into this deep love story of how much it pains my heart every time he doesn't reply to my AIM message and I just love him so much. They're actually like little novels. I'm very proud of them.
Jackelyn didn’t see herself becoming a novelist but she saw journalism - specifically TV journalism - as a happy bridge between the writing she loved to do and a more professional, established career.
Jackelyn: I think in high school, I thought it was a good mixture of of smarts and glamour. I get to be on TV, but I also get to be doing this very intellectual thing like deliver the news.
That's when I found AAJA, the Asian American Journalists Association. They had this thing called J Camp, which was journalism camp for high school kids. Some people do band camp, I did J camp.
Lynne: Quick shout-out to AAJA: as the name suggests, it’s a membership org for Asian American journalists. They run a gamut of workshops and programs to help advance greater diversity in newsrooms, and ensure fair & accurate coverage of communities of color.
Jackelyn and I both participated in a program called VOICES when we were college students back in Summer 2010. It’s like a college version of the journalism camp that Jackelyn attended in high school. We were set up at AAJA’s national convention in a newsroom, assigned daily stories to cover, and trained in multimedia & reporting skills. VOICES gave us mentors, resources, training, and lots of connections to help us launch our reporting careers. It’s a solid program and I’d highly recommend it if you’re a college student who is serious about getting into journalism.
Back to Jackelyn - she was serious about becoming a news anchor. She applied to a bunch of out of state colleges, since she was intent on leaving California. Her eye was specifically on Ithaca College‘s well-regarded journalism program. But out-of-state tuition was expensive, so she needed a scholarship to help offset the costs.
Jackelyn: I applied to 55 scholarships. One particular scholarship I remember - at this point, out of the 55 I'd gotten nos from like 30 or 40 of them.
I remember filling out one last application. It was a Saturday and I asked my Dad before we went out if we could stop by the post office to mail out this last scholarship. By this point, he had seen me get all these rejections and he was like, "Why do you keep sending in these scholarship applications? It's not like you're getting any of them."
And I remember I was so mad. I was so mad he had said that because I was trying. I was trying to get into college and not have to pay too much, so I was hurt by that comment. I almost threw the application away but I was like, no. I'm going to submit this.
A couple weeks go by after I had submitted that application and I get an email that I had gotten accepted. And this was the one scholarship that I got out of the 55. It turned out to be a $20,000 scholarship from CNN. At the time I was like, Oh my gosh. I can do this.
I can choose my own path. I can tell my parents no and make this happen. That was the moment I knew that I could make my own decisions.
Lynne: Making your own decisions also means owning the outcome. After receiving that scholarship, Jackelyn went to San Francisco State University where she studied Broadcast Journalism. Mid-way through the program though, she realized that news maybe wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do.
Jackelyn: I think I knew that hard news wasn't for me because I was really bad at the newspaper tests. I couldn't really write a good lead. Your mind has to be wired for 30 second spots. You kind of have to detach from any emotion and especially in this day and age, when a lot of the stories are really sad that's hard for me because I like to feel happier and deliver good news.
That's when I had this realization of, "What am I going to do now that I told my parents that I'm not going to listen to you and instead do journalism? And then, I'm not going to do journalism. I'll figure this out."
Lynne: Despite her change of heart, Jackelyn doesn’t discount those journalism years. Life is sometimes just a process of elimination. You have to go through experiences to know what it is you don’t want.
Jackelyn: I still always look back to that moment and think,
It's okay to not be right but it's not okay to not at least try. It's okay that I didn't do journalism, but what matters is that I didn't stop myself when someone was like, "Why are you doing that?" And I think that was the ultimate lesson.
III. Transitioning Into Fitness
Lynne: Jackelyn still had to figure out what she was going to do next. She graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and like many of us before entering the real world asked, “What now?”
Jackelyn: We have this degree in communication & journalism and can theoretically do so much. You could go into marketing. You could actually become a writer; you could do hard news. You could do XYZ.
When that moment came and I decided to not do hard news anymore, I was really scared because I didn't know what I was good at.
I kept wishing that I did something like kinesiology because I love fitness. It's a hard science degree. I could take that somewhere. With journalism, I was like is this too fluffy? Yet if I don't do journalism, what am I good at?
Lynne: One thing that had always been part of Jackelyn’s life was physical activity. She’d been groomed for tennis since she was young and played tennis competitively on her high school’s varsity team.
Jackelyn: Our dad made us play tennis and I say made us, because he really made us. It was a forced thing. We played tennis from 4 to 18 years old. I was like Varsity Captain, MVP and then once I graduated high school, I was like, I never want to touch a tennis racket again. My dad was a really tough coach. Our high school coach was also pretty rough. I remember sometimes during games, he would throw chairs. It was crazy and to this day, all sports feel competitive
Once I finished tennis, I was like, alright what's next? My sister took me to the gym. We took a kickboxing class and that sold it for me.
Lynne: There was something about the energy of the kickboxing class that resonated much more with Jackelyn than the tennis court.
Jackelyn: When I'm in a kickboxing class, it feels so positive and the energy from everyone in the room is just so radiant. On the tennis court, it's actually a competition like no matter who's on the other side. You're just trying to beat them. Even if you're like rallying, in the back of your mind, you're still thinking that you need to win this point and they need to not hit the ball back to me.
In group fitness, you're just competing with yourself from yesterday or the week before. It's this evolution and to me, that felt so much happier.
Lynne: So, Jackelyn followed her bliss.
Jackelyn: That very first class we took I loved the instructor so much. I went up to him afterwards and I asked him where he got his music from. He said, "Well, you're pretty good. Do you want to teach?" And I was like, "Uh, yeah!" And so he became my mentor. He would stay with me every Tuesday after class, me and my sister, sometimes just me, in this big group fitness room. He'd be like, "Ok, this is how you cue. This is how you choreograph. This is how you teach a class," and he really did it just out of the goodness of his heart. He was the leader of all the kickboxing instructors in that area.
Probably three months later, I got certified to teach kickboxing. But I couldn't teach yet because I was still under 18 and 24 Hour Fitness wouldn't hire me yet. So on midnight of my 18th birthday, I applied to teach and I got accepted. I probably taught like a month later.
It was so scary that I literally peed in my pants in my first class teaching. And this was before dry fit.
Lynne: Jackelyn calls it her Fergie moment...in ode to that time Fergie was so amped up that she accidentally peed herself on stage at a Black Eyed Peas concert. Despite it, teaching that class was an exhilarating experience for Jackelyn. And she wanted more.
Jackelyn: So then I just started teaching classes like 10-15 times a week to make money. It was really tiring. At that time, my parents were like what are you doing? Like actually, what are you doing? Because I was making I don't know, $10K a year. And still now, like eight nine years later, I'm still not making like craz amounts of money, but I'm so happy.
That foundation really helped me understand that I may not be a millionaire but at least I'm building the foundation to do something that I'll be proud of. I knew that when I was teaching fitness classes, I was really happy and that led me to everything else.
Lynne: Jackelyn prioritized learning in order to set a good foundation for herself. She wanted to be a well-rounded fitness instructor so she diversified her own fitness offerings.
Jackelyn: I wanted to learn it all.
I was really trying to approach fitness in a holistic way. What would the average person be doing in their own workout?
They would make it really hard some days. They would do strength some other days, and then they would cool down with yoga. If I want to be an all-encompassing instructor, I wanted to learn it all.