Episode 16: Jackelyn Ho | The Motivational Warrior

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.



IV. Jackelyn's Online Fitness Magazine, Fiterazzi


Lynne: Jackelyn has an adventurous and enterprising spirit so it’s no surprise that she decided to fuse her love of writing and fitness together to create an online fitness magazine. She started it with her sister Cassey. They called it Fiterazzi.


Jackelyn: Originally Cassie and I started Fiterazzi together and it was a super awesome venture. Then she would have ideas and I'd have ideas and we'd kind of butt heads. We kind of hit a point where we decided that maybe we shouldn't work together.


So, amazingly she just handed it over to me. It was scary. The initial vision was to have a fitness magazine focused on positive body image. All the magazines that were out would have headlines like "Lose 10 pounds in 10 days" or "How to get rid of your side jigglys".


I wanted to write about positive things and talk about food and nutrition and fitness without making it feel so shameful. We had writers from all over the world who would submit stuff. I would edit it, put it up and we would have these monthly releases.


We were not really making money. I think we had a couple of brand deals that came through once but they were not what brand deals are today. This is like a long time ago. This was back when brands were like,"What? Influencer? Magazine? I'm not going to pay you"


Lynne: Brand partnerships then were never quite worth the squeeze. Jackelyn recalls one of her first brand deals in 2014.


Jackelyn: We did a workout around the city thing with a workout in five or six iconic San Francisco locations. It was a full workout series in each one. This was probably like two weeks of work for $750.



Lynne: At the time, Jackelyn was running everything solo. Monetization was really hard. She didn’t have funds to hire anyone, so she did everything from marketing to sales to editing and social media herself.


Lynne: Lucia, we know how that goes, right?


Lucia: Yeah, being a solo entrepreneur is the hardest thing. A lot of entrepreneurs fail because they don't have a partner. So, what happened to Fiterazzi?


Lynne: It still gained a following and made strides in advancing the message of positive body image. It even attracted the attention of an online health and wellness company called Spright. Spright was a bit different but it had a similar premise in wanting to provide educational health content.


When Spright offered to buy her company  - in classic Silicon Valley fashion - Jackelyn wasn’t really sure what to do.


Jackelyn: I wasn't making much money and I was doing this thing that I was really passionate about but it was just me at home working from home. I'd still be in my PJs, it was cold in San Francisco. I was excited, but...


I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. I think just trusting that process was probably the biggest lesson for me.


LG: Ultimately, Jackelyn’s goal was always to deliver good health stories which was in line with Spright’s mission. She was also extremely burnt out as a one-woman shop. The way she saw it: she could continue doing what she loved at Spright, with a stronger platform and more resources behind her. So, she agreed to sell Fiterazzi and go work for Spright  as an Associate Editor.


But after a year, the company ended up shifting away from editorial.


Jackelyn: .I loved my co-workers. It was a great team. They pivoted a couple too many times where editorial wasn't the focus anymore and they ended up letting me go after a year.


That was a weird moment for me because I had worked on Fiterazzi for so long and it was mine and my sister's baby.


So I had this second coming when I was like, "Okay, what am I going to do?" And then that's when I was like, you know what? I can open a gym. Let's go back to my fitness roots.


Lynne: Opening a gym requires a lot of upfront cost, so Jackelyn ping-ponged back & forth with the idea for three years - pushing the idea along while continuing to teach 10 classes a week. She also started work as a digital marketing manager for a legal software company called Legalnet to pay the bills. She actually met her current boss in her kickboxing class; he and his wife were regular students in her class! Goes to show you never know who you’ll meet.



Ultimately because of the prohibitive costs of opening a gym, she nixed the idea. But it’s since been reborn as a new concept called Arrival Fitness.


Jackelyn: My vision for Arrival Fitness is to bring exciting fitness experiences to work. A lot of corporate wellness programs will do a 10-week slim down and say let's all lose weight together.


I guess this falls back to why I started Fiterazzi - I've never wanted fitness to be about weight loss. I know for a lot of people it has to be. But I also think there's a way to approach it where it doesn't have to be so much of, "How many miles did I run? How much calories did I eat? How much weight have I lost?"




Sometimes you can love fitness just by feeling good, because you danced or you did a push-up and there's so much more value in that. I'm the happiest when I'm teaching to group of people who want to be taught to.


I've done my fair share of really snobby classes. When I started teaching at workplaces, I was like this is exactly what I've been looking for.


My time is spread now doing half digital marketing and the other half working on Arrival Fitness and teaching my classes. It's taken me a long time to get to this point but I finally feel like I have the spread that keeps me happy and sustainable. Arrival Fitness is still growing. We're still super new but I get excited about it's growth.

V. Thoughts on Social Media and True Health


Lynne: One thing’s for sure: Jackelyn’s goal isn’t to become another fitness influencer. She doesn’t even consider herself to be an influencer, even though she has a sizable following at over 42K. She's also worked with big brands, most recently Toyota and TJ Maxx.


Jackelyn: My mission and philosophy is that I never want to add noise where noise is not needed. So if you look at my Instagram or any of my social feeds, I have no posting schedule. I don't post every day at 8 a.m. I don't have a color theme. I don't only post about fitness.


If I don't have anything interesting to share or say, I'm just not going to share it. I'll share things that have been hard. It's been a hard couple of months. I had appendicitis, broke a finger, pulled a tendon - it's been very tough for me physically. I'll share that it's hard and I'm okay with it.


Lynne: The hustle is still very real but things are a lot more manageable compared to her early days working on the magazine. Jackelyn's advice for people like her who are managing multiple projects is financial prudence!  


Jackelyn: My biggest piece of advice is to save money where you can because every little bit counts.



Stop buying coffees every morning. Stop buying avocado toast. Just buy your Trader Joe's, make it last for as long as you can and that will really help build the sustainability.


I look back on what I used to eat and do and it was so minimal.


In terms of freelance gigs, I've done so many gigs that I didn't really want to do for not enough money. In terms of that, try to negotiate your way where you can be sustainable and let the other party know that this is your rent. This is your food money. Have those honest conversations with your clients. There's going to be days when your freelance gigs are so much, you just want to drown. And there will be days when it's dry. I think appreciating both spectrums of that really puts it into perspective.


Lynne: I couldn’t help but ask Jackelyn about what her relationship is like with her sister Cassey. Cassey has graced the cover of Health magazine and is arguably one of the most influential fitness personalities out there. Jackelyn is a force of her own but I wondered if she ever fell into the comparison trap.



Jackelyn: There are moments where I wish I could be as successful but keep in mind that she's four and a half years older than me. She's gone through her own trials and tribulations. I think it's now gotten to a point where I'm comfortable with what I'm doing and she's amazing at what she's doing.


The fact that we're both doing what we authentically love to do makes it so there's no need to compare, you know?




It could look like we're doing similar things and that she has a big brand and my brand is a baby but it doesn't even bother me. I honestly think in the early 20s I would have been super bothered by it. But now I just am so grateful to have found something that I really love to do that I don't even have time to think about it anymore.


Lynne: These days, Jackelyn will also go to her sister for business-related advice and they’ll do collaborations together!


Jackelyn: We recently did a Puppies and Planks Festival where my sister had a fitness festival for humans and dogs. There we were able to collaborate as businesses. I had a booth for my business and she had her thing going on. That was really cool to see too.


I think I run my business a little bit slower only because I can't work as fast as she does. When she has an idea, she's going going going and sometimes I need to take a breath and think through whether something is a good idea. And she's like "Who cares if it's a good idea? Let's do it!" So that's how we differ but I think when we come together, it's such a perfect balance.


If I had a message for my sister right now, I would just tell her I love her and that I'm so so proud of everything she does.



Lucia: That's so sweet. I’m an only child and I always wanted an older brother or sister to hang out with. To hear that Jackelyn and Cassey have such a close relationship is really heartwarming.


So what’s next for Jackelyn? How does she define success?


Lynne: Her answer is appropriately millennial mixed with a dose of reality.


Jackelyn: The cheesy answer is that success is based on your happiness, but sometimes you can be happy and then get evicted because you couldn't pay rent and then that's not happy anymore. So there's this weird medium between doing what you love but also being sustainable.


You're going to have to make sacrifices and do jobs you don't want to do. That's the harsh reality of it.


Happiness is when you can find that side hustle, that thing where you can let go of the pent-up energy and creativity you have boiling inside of you and feed that.


So to me, happiness is self-defined but it's being able to find the balance between sustainability and following your dreams.


Lucia: There’s a saying that you should find 3 hobbies you love: one to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to be creative. It sounds like Jackelyn finally found a good balance for herself. It took a while though - it took her nine years. And that's the final piece we often forget: patience.


Lynne: Patience for sure. Jackelyn will be the first to admit that she doesn’t have it all figured out yet. But until then she’s going to keep moving and working towards her own health vision.



Jackelyn: True health is when you can feel freedom in your movement and eating. I think everyone goes through a different journey. You may need to monitor what you eat or really hit some goals with your health, but sometimes it gets too stressful. So to me, true health is when you can find the balance between all of that and say, I really have to be strict Monday through Friday because I need to shape up for a triathlon but if you need a bite of cheesecake, it's okay to have a bite and hop back on tomorrow.


Lynne: In that vein, Jackelyn and I took a piece of her own advice and we got some cheesecake to end our conversation.


Cheers!

Listen to Jackelyn's full episode on Anchor, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts!

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Rock The Boat is a podcast elevating the stories of Asian leaders, founders, and pioneers in their fields. Through candid and thoughtful conversation, the host Lucia Liu uncover stories of their upbringing, Asian identity, and the movements they've built. 

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