In honor of Women’s History Month and the launch of Vital Proteins new Collagen Water™, we’re kicking off a weekly series on Lively called “How I Uncap My Potential,” where we feature amazing women doing incredible things in their field. Today, we’re spotlighting Life Fitness Master Trainer Michele Sotak. Learn about how she went from working as a marketing manager in the spirits industry to becoming a sought-after personal trainer. Plus, find out the advice she'd give those who want to follow in her footsteps. (Spoiler: Her nuggets of wisdom are real good.)
Lively: Thanks so much for chatting with us! We’d love to hear more about your fitness journey.
Michele Sotak: My fitness journey began 10 years ago when I started my own business in private personal training after leaving a corporate job in the liquor industry as a marketing manager for high-end spirit brands. I realized the liquor industry wasn’t fulfilling and decided to turn my passion and gift for fitness into a career; it was a good decision. In the last decade, I’ve trained a wide range of people, including major pro athletes like Alex Rodriguez, women competing in bikini fitness competitions, and a 92-year-old active senior citizen. I became a Master Trainer for Life Fitness and have been a part of fun fitness modeling projects (most recently a commercial for GNC’s Let’s Keep Pushing campaign). I put my undergrad minor in Communications & Journalism to good use by becoming a contributor to my favorite fitness magazines, such as Muscle & Fitness and Oxygen, as a writer and fitness expert. I’ve also been partnering up with top notch health and wellness brands, including Vital Proteins, along with several brands based in Los Angeles. I love that I can partake in avenues within the fitness industry to reach people in different ways, whether it be in fitness and wellness motivation, or the technical side of it.
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L: When did you first become interested in fitness?
MS: I first became interested in fitness as a kid and was always very athletic. I grew up playing soccer and was active in dance. I also played kickball with friends on the block, roller-skated, took gymnastics classes – you name it, I was nonstop! Gym was my favorite class in elementary school and I was usually the first girl to finish the one-mile race or the one who completed the most push-ups. Fast forward to high school where I became co-captain for the varsity soccer team and received an award for Outstanding PE Leader senior year, realizing I didn’t just have a skill for physical fitness, but I was also a leader. It wasn’t until a few years after graduating college that I realized my talent was a gift that I should do something with. Right before leaving my corporate job, I played on the LFL Chicago Bliss professional football team in 2009 while obtaining my strength and conditioning personal training certification. A year later in 2010, I became the official team trainer for the Chicago Bliss team, trained private clients, and then things took off in a positive direction.
L: What has been the most rewarding experience in your career so far?
MS: The most rewarding experience so far has been working with college students. As a Master Trainer with Life Fitness, the global leader in exercise equipment, my favorite part of the role has been traveling the U.S. and teaching continuing education workshops and meeting like-minded fitness individuals from all over the country. Specifically, working with college students at universities and college campuses has been the most notable. Not just teaching them about our products, but on training technique, creating experiences and journeys with their clients. Some of the campuses I’ve been fortunate enough to teach include Notre Dame, Loyola, Northwestern, UIC, and University of Michigan, among others. There is something about the enthusiasm and healthy eagerness that you get from students – a.k.a. the future of fitness – that has been very fulfilling to me. I enjoy giving back by handing down what I know, and what I wish I would’ve known back then.
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L: Do you have any advice for someone who's just starting their fitness journey?
MS: This is the advice I share with the college students: Have some big picture goals and work backwards by breaking them down into smaller goals month by month, week by week, and day by day. I don’t know if it’s the writer in me, but I have a bunch of notepads just writing thoughts down and organizing them into different to-do lists supporting the goal. Text notes and goals to yourself. Find a system that works for you and keep it visible.
Dream big but have patience, work hard, and keep trying. If you are doing everything right, you should expect failure to happen. But don’t fear failure. It’s the only way to get to your big picture goals. It will take time and you will have to go out of your comfort zone to reach goals. You will fail 9 times out of 10, but if you do 10 times the amount of work and not give up in the face of rejection, you’ll get there. Doors don’t always open because it’s either not your door or you’re not ready for it. So time will tell. Nobody wants to wait, but that waiting time serves a purpose and is a privilege. It’s a time of refinement to develop skills and character required for your goal. Character consists of what you do on the third or fourth tries. True failure is not trying. Most importantly, you have to fail in order to practice being brave. Problems create courage and wisdom. Just like in a good workout, the goal is failure.
You’ll find in your journey that some people won’t pull through for you or support you. Don’t get discouraged and don’t be like them. Those are the golden lessons. The right people will help you. Find mentors and positive role models.
Above all, do everything with integrity. If you are a good person – I mean a true person of quality – the road won’t be easy, but it will be more rewarding. The actual job, prize, and trophy fades but people remember your character. When you reach a goal, you’re not going to feel good about it if you didn’t go about it the right way. Keep your foot on the pedal, with dignity. In this world today, you’ll be tested. Keep applying the golden rule.
L: How do you "Uncap Your Potential"?
MS: Be obsessed! I mean, in a healthy way of course. Show up to every moment like you are meant to be there. Be obsessed with succeeding. But you don’t have to master success right away. Master the day. Every single day.
Here’s another important thing that professionals deal with on a daily basis, no matter what stage she is in her career. You can be at the top of your game but will still have bad days. It’s human nature to feel discouraged, angry, confused, envious, or sad. Those are all valid feelings, but they’re useless. What you do with those feelings is what is most important. The action you take is what really matters. I limit my time on social media if I find myself comparing. My spiritual coach, Father Cameli once told me, “You can’t go forward by looking sideways.” Also, keep the faith. Fitness and faith have never failed me.
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L: How does Vital Proteins help you feel your best?
MS: Vital Proteins helps me feel more vibrant from the inside out. My complexion is glowing and my hair has also reaped big benefits. Since I started taking Vital Proteins every day for 8 months, my hair looks fuller than ever. My favorite product is the Collagen Beauty Glow. In addition to collagen, it contains probiotics, hyaluronic acid (which moisturizes my skin), biotin, and vitamin C. The Collagen Beauty Glow is literally part of my beauty routine. I think the Tropical Hibiscus flavor tastes like a healthy and light version of bubble gum. I usually add a scoop of it to my water for an instant refresher. My second favorite product is the Dark Chocolate Blackberry Collagen Peptides which I add to my coffee or protein shake. It’s delicious and I feel radiant after having it!