Ten Life Lessons (That Totally Apply to Fitness) That I Learned Pursuing a Career in Opera

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One of the few times you’ll see me in red. Me as Giulietta, a courtesan, in The Tales of Hoffmann. Courtesan equals a fancy way of saying prostitute.

Many of you know that in my last life I was an opera singer. La-LAAAA! Ahem.

Here are ten lessons I learned that stuck with me, and carry over into my life as a fitness business owner and enthusiast:

1. The road is pocked with failures but the ultimate failure is in stopping the journey. In other words, expect to fall on your face, get up, brush the dirt off your Lycra and get moving again. What’s the alternative?

2. There is always someone better than you. You have to get used to the fact—for the sake of your ego and sanity—that there are people out there who will always beat you at whatever game you love to play, whether its singing, being beautiful, rich, fit or strong. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can get out of your own way and focus on what’s truly important: your personal journey.

3. The best, most challenging opponent is yourself. In other words, compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to some other person. Compete with yourself!

4. Comparing yourself to anyone else is always a losing game. You have no idea where another person came from, what they had to overcome to get to where they are, or what drives them, let alone how much of their success is a simple fact of their genetics or something they worked 10,000 hours to achieve.

5. The journey only ends when you die. You think there’s an end in sight, and like the horizon in the distance, from where you stand, it appears to be true. But as soon as you reach that distant point, there’s another horizon just out of your reach. Maybe you’ve finally lost those twenty pounds but now realize how amazing a set of sculpted shoulders would be. Or you nailed a set of ten perfect military pushups when someone suggests going for twenty. Or doing them with one arm. You go from the end of one path to the bright new beginning of another.

Post-concert in 2002 with my former voice teacher, Sheila Fiumarello. I miss you, Sheila! RIP.

My inspiration: Post-concert in 2002 with my former voice teacher, Sheila Fiumarello. I know she’s making raviolis in heaven and teaching the angels vocal placement.

6. Inspiration is everything and nothing. Days where you can’t wait to tackle your chosen discipline, be it starting a new aria or heading to boot camp, are luxurious and filled with an energy that flows like a river. But what about those days where all you want to do is hide in bed with every Mad Men episode available on Net Flix? You make yourself get up and do that thing you promised you would and afterwards you feel just as accomplished as you would—maybe more—than if you’d been psyched to do it in the first place.

7. Be open to all possibilities. I remember times when the least likely suspects could help me move my singing career forward. Remaining open to possibilities you can’t imagine keeps you supple, flexible and ready for success. How does this apply to fitness? Maybe it means joining a Muck Fest team when you’re usually the type to exercise solo, or finding a pal in your boot camp class who you can socialize with in the off hours and help boost your motivation to exercise more than you might otherwise. It might even mean visiting a sick relative who’s suffering the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle and realizing how determined you are to never let such an outcome befall you.

8. Keep it real. The finest artists in the world express themselves in such a true, real way that their work can’t help but resonate with a captivated audience. There’s no contrivance, no false chords, words or strokes. This truth is what makes the art relevant. The same goes for your health and fitness journey. If any advice or method ever rings untrue, is it worth your time and money? Be true to yourself. Get quiet and listen to your inner wisdom. Great things can happen then. Keeping it real can also apply to your workout regimen. Real food + real heart-pounding sweat = real results!

Graz, Austria. Keepin' it real and havin' fun with my La Bohème buddies.

Graz, Austria. Keepin’ it real and havin’ fun with my La Bohème buddies.

9. Learn from your mistakes. In fact, embrace your mistakes. Look at every one as a gift that allows you to grow stronger and more capable and more successful. Challenge yourself to illuminate your blind spots, especially if you seem to make the same mistake over and over and find that it holds you back from achieving your goals.

10. Consistency is key. I started taking voice lessons one month before my 16th birthday. My first voice teacher, Gigi Morrison, imparted some sage advice at my first lesson (I still quote her to this day when talking with clients). “Practice everyday, even if only for 20 minutes. It’s better to do a daily 20 minute practice than to do a 2-hour practice marathon once a week”. When it comes to learning an instrument (PS – your voice is an instrument) or learning a language or getting fit, you must commit to a process AND you must commit to that process on a near daily basis in some form. You’re not going to tackle “Stridono lassù” or gain fluency in German by practicing once a week. Likewise, you’re not going to achieve your “beach body” or rock out 20 strict plank push-ups by only attending boot camp once a week…every 3 weeks. Just saying’.

Bonus: Self-pity takes you nowhere but down. That audition I screwed up, the sleep I wished I’d gotten more of, the many times I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw did NOTHING to boost my spirit, confidence, or bring me closer to success. We are all mistake makers, all fallible, imperfect, and so very human. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can treat ourselves with kindness and move on.

So those are my 10 (or 11) lessons. Hopefully they help you on your fitness journey.

Somehow life brought me to this...

Somehow life brought me to this…


  1. Beth on April 23, 2014 at 8:07 am

    This is fantastic advice, Michelle. And wonderfully written. Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. Danielle on April 23, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Just what I needed today…Thanks!!

    • michelle on April 23, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      My pleasure, Danni!

  3. Alisa on April 25, 2014 at 5:50 am

    Great advice and also wonderful to see how stunning and talented you were and still are!

  4. Nicole on April 25, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Hi Michelle! Wow thank you for these encouraging words! I needed to hear this. I’ve always admired your determination and drive. It was great seeing all your beautiful pictures.

    • michelle on May 14, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      That means a lot coming from you, Nicole! Back atcha with the admiration!

  5. Katie S. on April 25, 2014 at 6:22 am

    Thanks for sharing. Great pictures!

  6. elise a. miller on April 25, 2014 at 6:51 am

    those pics of you are amazing and so wonderful to see! great post. was the dose of kindness and wisdom i needed.

    • michelle on May 14, 2014 at 3:26 pm


  7. Wendy Ross on April 25, 2014 at 8:30 am

    I echo everyone else….wonderful story, photos and advice… much needed today!

    • michelle on May 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      Glad you liked it, Wendy.

  8. Andrea A on April 25, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Love this post! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience!

  9. Rachel Dalinka on April 26, 2014 at 7:16 am

    Wonderful advice, given with a clear voice within a very relatable story. Thank you for these reminders Michelle! I am so glad I found you all those years ago. It has been wonderful to watch your journey as a business woman and a mother. You are an inspiration! Much love and respect!

    • michelle on May 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      Aww! Thanks, Rachel!