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From finance to the gym: how one alum found her home at SoulCycle

Stanford grad reflects on an unexpected career switch

(HELEN CHAO) / The Stanford Daily

As she watched her instructor perform interpretive dance with an electric candle to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” Mary Kate “MK” Hurlbutt ’10 M.A. ’11 knew she had found her people at SoulCycle. It wasn’t until two years after taking this first class in July 2012, however, that Hurlbutt joined the ranks of instructors at the indoor cycling studio.

SoulCycle is a 45-minute indoor cycling class offering a blend of cardio, strength training and choreography. In her years attending classes as a rider, Hurlbutt was often told by the different friends who accompanied her that she would make a perfect instructor. She dismissed the thought, yet the possibility lingered in the back of her head.

At the time, Hurlbutt thought her future was already clear: apply to business school and ready herself for the daily conversations with startup founders and venture capitalists. After graduating Stanford with a B.A. in history and a M.A. in communications, a sudden career switch from finance to SoulCycle instructor wasn’t in line with Hurlbutt’s original plan.

Yet watching her brother’s senior comedy sketch show, Hurlbutt noticed the way he was lit-up on stage. He was in his element — doing what he loved to do. And frankly, she felt a little envious.

“I realized I missed feeling that way every day,” Hurlbutt said. “I missed being able to use my talents and passions, and sort of had this breakdown of ‘Oh my god, what am I doing.’”

Determinedly, she took the post-show epiphany to heart. In the span of several weeks, Hurlbutt informed friends and family that she wanted to become a SoulCycle instructor. The tone of responses she received ranged, but the emotions were essentially the same — supportive and encouraging. “Go get ’em, kiddo,” her dad said, after she successfully answered his laundry list of questions.

In retrospect, MK says that SoulCycle wasn’t a complete deviation from her career in finance. Sure, entrepreneurs were replaced by sweaty riders furiously biking and preppy pencil skirts were traded in for spandex and athleisure. Yet, she saw both types of clients were people that she invested time and effort in.

Within a 45-minute class, Hurlbutt says she must cultivate a connection between her and the riders. She surveys the room and extrapolates a sense of what they need and what she is capable of giving.

“My joke is like whenever I’m correcting anyone’s form or anything, I’m like, ‘I’m not saying you’re wrong, I just want to keep you safe,” Hurlbutt said. “‘Because I want you to keep soul cycling with me till we’re both 105 years old.’”

Hurlbutt will also create energetic, themed playlists for each session and encourage the riders to keep up their stamina.

“The beautiful thing about SoulCycle is that I’m challenging my brain in other ways, and I’m solving like a different type of puzzle,” Hurlbutt said. “I think that sort of the key when you’re looking for what you want to do as a career, finding the type of puzzle you like to solve.”

It’s an ever-changing puzzle she’s been solving for the past three years. Each class is a different composition of human beings, and thus every class a new experience.

“To be in that room where all you see is unconditional support … all you see are people of diverse backgrounds coming together and being there for each other and creating this sense of community and spirit,” Hurlbutt said. “I’m so lucky that that I get to experience that every day.”

Like Hurlbutt, SoulCycle Field Marketing Manager Ashley Holmes cherishes the relationships SoulCycle fosters. Even when she was just a rider, Holmes already noticed and appreciated the genuine camaraderie amongst the staff and clients, which ultimately attracted her to SoulCycle.

While she was taking weekly classes, one of Holmes’s instructors mentioned that it had been a big change for them as a 30-year-old  an age Holmes herself was rapidly approaching  to switch careers and work at SoulCycle. Inspired, Holmes decided to pursue a career at SoulCycle, and like Hurlbutt, she took the leap onto a path she had never expected.

As a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Holmes didn’t necessarily have experience in the fitness industry. However, abilities and concepts can transfer over, and in a similar manner to Hurlbutt’s investment in her two types of clients, riders and entrepreneurs, Holmes’ past management and hospitality experience in retail is still relevant to her career at SoulCycle.

“It might be really scary, to take a leap and take a job that might pay you a little bit less or might be totally out of your comfort zone,” Holmes said. “[But] if you feel that that’s the thing you’re supposed to do, do it because you’re going to be so much happier even if you fail in that job, than if you stayed on the job that made you unhappy.”

Like Hurlbutt, Holmes believes there’s a need to lead a career one feels passion and dedication for.

“Your job takes up so much of your life,” Holmes said. “And for many people, it can become their life. And if you’re not happy in it every single day, that’s going to take a toll on you, whether it’s physically or emotionally or mentally.”

Hurlbutt shares similar advice with the students from Stanford who attend her classes. Around graduation time, she’ll emphasize it’s okay not to have everything figured out, and occasionally, a few riders will reach out to Hurlbutt with their own questions afterward.

For Assistant Studio Manager Maggie Moe, this passion is SoulCycle, which she considers the healthiest addiction she’s ever had. As first a rider, Moe had attended classes in Pasadena and Washington D.C. After SoulCycle opened at the Stanford Shopping Center, right down the street from her home, she decided to apply for a job. As Moe was struggling with health issues, working in a cubicle simply wasn’t going to cut it. At SoulCycle, Moe is on her feet, on time and in focus — practically 10 hours a day. She urges people to discover their “own” SoulCycle as a way to channel their anger, sadness or depression.

Moe considers cycling sessions as a kind of healing and catharsis for both the instructors and riders. Similar to Moe, Hurlbutt considers each class a kind of “reset” and replenishment of endorphins for the students, especially during dead week or finals. There’s people walking in for different reasons, Hurlbutt says, but hopefully walking out feeling a little bit better than when they walked in.

Reflecting on her experiences, Hurlbutt realized that what one studies in college may not be pursued in the future, but she considers this perfectly okay. Ironically, she claims it’s the experience outside the classroom she truly treasured from her time at Stanford. Hurlbutt developed connections with different people from diverse backgrounds at Stanford— coincidence or not, it’s a distinct echo of her current career.

 

Contact Helen Chao at helenwchao123 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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