When Unemployment Becomes Self-Employment, The Story of Lacee Lazoff
Stride: You grew up as a violinist. What was that like?
Lacee: My grandpa introduced me to the violin, and I started playing and did really well. I ended up playing for two high school orchestras – I was the nerd kid they would bus (on my own school bus) to the other high school to play [laughs].
Stride: You were about to pursue music in college and then changed your mind. What happened?
Lacee: I was 18 and all ready to study music at University of Oregon. Suddenly, I had this feeling you don’t actually want to do this! I saw my path leading to being a violin teacher, and I didn’t want that. Last minute, I decided to stay in Portland and pursue a business major.
Stride: Ultimately, your pivot away from music led you to the athletic industry?
Lacee: Yeah. My senior year, I went to a gym in Canada and all these girls were wearing Lululemon. I asked what it was, and they looked at me like I was an insane person [laughs]. I bought a few things, and everyone at school loved it. My last year at Portland State, I basically became a Lululemon bootlegger – anytime I went to Canada, I would bring clothes back for my friends. That’s how it started.
Stride: Which led you to working for Lululemon for the next 10 years?
Lacee: Right before I graduated, Lululemon opened a store in Portland, only the fifth U.S. store. They were still this really weird yoga/hippie company, and I applied and got a job. Once I finished school, I thought time to get a real job, time to get out of retail. I had this weird thing with retail which was completely ego-driven, like I was too smart for retail. I was one of those people.
But I stayed on and the owner offered me a grass-roots marketing job. A year later, I took over as the assistant store manager, and three months after that – in a happenstance moment – the store manager moved to Boston. I took over the store and ran with it for the next three years. It was such a fast-growth company, I was truly riding the wave.
Stride: So how did you end up in New York City?
Lacee: I always had New York in my sights – I hadn’t traveled much yet, and I knew I wanted to spend a year there and see what the heck would happen. Eventually, Lululemon offered me a role in New York, so I sold everything I owned, packed up a couple suitcases, and came out here. After two years managing the highest grossing store in the U.S. (at that time), I traveled all over the eastern U.S. and Europe opening pop-up shops. Finally, I managed all the Lululemon stores in New Jersey.
I remember the day, it was about nine years into working for Lululemon… I was on the train, reverse commuting from the city, when I had the thought, I love the people I work with, the company’s awesome, but I’m not inspired. It had grown into a retail animal, and I was managing a checklist. It didn’t feel like the right thing anymore.
Stride: So that was your “ah-ha” moment. What did you do about it?
Lacee: I was contacted by a digital spin bike start-up. I love the start-up phase of a company, so I decided to take the leap. Only five months later I was let go! It was a jaw on the table moment… I literally had car keys in my hand, ready to visit one of our pop-up shops, and the CEO just flat out let me go.
Stride: Oh jeez, how did you recover from that?
Lacee: This was just last September. I remember thinking oh my god, what am I going to do? I didn’t want to be back in retail. Turns out my best friend is a personal trainer, and I’ve always trained people on the side, so she put the bug in my ear. She was having a baby and told me, “I’m not going to come back full time, so I can pass you a few clients.” I was also interviewing with Warby Parker – I had 10 interviews all the way to CEO – but they hired an internal candidate. That was a big “it wasn’t meant to be” moment.
Stride: Did you really want that Warby job?
Lacee: I didn’t, and that was a big realization – I was going after these things for the wrong reasons. Applying for these jobs was all about ego. I would’ve never openly admitted that I valued myself based on my job, or how much money I made, but I realized when those things were gone, I cared too much about what people thought. I had these kind of thoughts – “If I talk to a stranger, will they think I’m an idiot if I’m a personal trainer?” I realized NO, that’s just holding you back, that’s your own stuff, it doesn’t matter what people think. Working through all that was pretty heart-opening.
Stride: Many people who want change get stuck at the “what do I do next?” moment and don’t make it through. How did you commit to personal training?
Lacee: I relied on my people who could steer me in the right direction. Normally, I would say look inside Lacee, but I was at a brick wall. I scheduled sit-down coffees and phone calls with my best people and asked them, “You know my strengths, what paths do you see me going down?” These conversations gave me confidence that my passions really were my passions, and I began believing I could make them into an income.
Stride: Most freelance careers require getting clients, and that’s another roadblock for people starting out. How did you get clients?
Lacee: Starting out, my best friend passed me a client, and from there, I reached out to my network again. It took getting up everyday and talking to people, being vulnerable and not being afraid to tell people what I’m doing and ask for help. Teaching at a studio helps because people take my classes and then hire me.
Stride: People get stuck on “the money isn’t there immediately” with freelancing. How did you make it work financially?
Lacee: That’s the part where I was peeing my pants a little bit [laughs]. When I lost my job, I planned everything out and became really frugal. I could make it six months, but after that I needed a steady income. I wrote down (with coaching from my friends in the industry) how much my going rate would be, and how many clients/group fitness classes I would need to stay afloat. I’m still working on financial stability [laughs], but I’m about 75% comfortable. Mainly, I just haven’t been able to save as much, and I’m comfortable with that for right now. If I’m in the same spot a year from now, I’ll have to reevaluate my strategy.
Stride: What’s been the hardest part of the transition so far?
Lacee: Honestly, not being 100% sure of my career trajectory from here. I’m 31, and I don’t know yet what this is going to blossom into. I’m such a future-thinker, so that’s nerve racking. I’m working on being okay with that – not needing this to be anything more right now… it’s still so new, and I’m taking a step forward every day.
Stride: What’s the least attractive part about being a freelancer?
Lacee: One that’s tough for me is the loneliness aspect. I love working with a team and seeing a project from beginning to end. I’m an extrovert, and I miss the long-term relationships that develop by being in an office. As a freelancer I get to work with a lot of different people, but my community is constantly shifting [laughs].
Stride: As a fitness & wellness thinker, what’s your take on our biggest health risk as a country?
Lacee: Oh my god. Education and access to healthy food – I see a huge disparity in who has access to what. You go to Whole Foods here and it’s mostly white people. I probably see an extreme version in New York, but I’ve heard the same problem other places. There are whole communities that don’t have access to vegetables – that’s a really big problem. Also, addictions to sugar and processed foods. People walk around in a haze all day with those substances in their system.
Stride: How did you find Stride?
Lacee: When I was unemployed and seeking inspiration, a friend of mine turned me onto Rich Roll, so I started listening to his podcast. He said, “My family uses Stride,” and I thought anything Rich Roll does, I will do! If he uses this company, I’m going to use them for my health insurance.
Stride: What’s your #1 piece of advice for people thinking about taking the leap to an independent lifestyle?
Lacee: I would call myself a risk-taker, but I’ve always been a calculated risk-taker, not a reckless one. By calculating risk, you can alleviate so much anxiety. There shouldn’t be this crazy pressure to quit your job tomorrow and throw yourself into the coals. For me, it happened without my control, which was good because I had saved money and wasn’t in an unstable place. If you want a change, give yourself a timeline and enroll someone to hold you accountable. Don’t keep your idea to yourself, and don’t do the am I good enough? thing. It’s hard to open that door to someone, but I’m so glad I did.