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Aliya Schneider / Senior Staff Photographer

The biggest fault in the American education system today is that schools don’t breed creativity or teach kids to follow their dreams. Instead, students grow up thinking that they must have a high GPA, get a prestigious college degree, and then land a high-paying corporate job to be successful. I, however, have always dreamt of being my own boss, living life on my own terms, and doing what makes me happy—even if it doesn’t follow the typical trajectory.

Growing up, football was my sport of choice; in my first year of high school, lifting weights had just been a hobby meant to help me become a Division I football player someday. Then, in July 2015, I received an offer to play football at Columbia University. I was ecstatic—my dream was finally coming true.

Fast-forward to fall of sophomore year on the Columbia football team. I had begun to feel like football was not my calling in life. I realized I had almost no potential to play in the NFL and my emotional attachment to the sport had waned.

But I was nervous to quit football, because I felt like I would lose a key part of my identity. What would my parents think, who loved coming to my games and had invested time and money into my career? What would my teammates and friends think? I had so much anxiety regarding how others would react until I came to a realization: It’s my life and my choice. Regardless of my hesitancy to quit football, deep down inside I knew I wanted to start lifting weights more seriously. Knowing this, my mind was set—I was going to chase my dream.

Winter break of my sophomore year was a turning point in my life. Not only did I quit football, but I also thought about what I wanted to do with my life. For years, I had been inspired by fitness influencers such as Christian Guzman and Steve Cook and thought to myself—if these guys can make a living from fitness, why can’t I? I knew I had a strong work ethic, enjoyed helping people, and was extremely passionate about lifting. After some thought, I decided to create my brand, design my logo, and plan the launch of my fitness page.

Stepping away from a sport I loved and becoming a fitness entrepreneur has not beeneasy: I’ve had to build my social media audience on Instagram from scratch and create a business model to monetize my operations. I work with individuals through online coaching, one-on-one personal training, and custom training/nutrition programs, all while maintaining my strict training and nutrition regimen to become an elite bodybuilder myself. On top of all this, I also had to take a full course load at one of the most rigorous schools in the country. My goal in the fitness industry is to become a transformation specialist and to instill mental and physical confidence in every one of my clients.

If I have learned anything from my first year of pursuing my love for fitness, it is this: Some lessons cannot be learned in a textbook or through a college course. When this is the case, you must take matters into your own hands. Of course, I am still serious about my education at Columbia and believe that a traditional education is an important foundation for everybody. Nonetheless, I envision my career path to be atypical in comparison to those of my fellow Lions. While some of my classmates might desire to enter the high ranks of the corporate environment, I have my eyes set on being a fitness influencer, entrepreneur, and professional bodybuilder.

Coming from a prestigious school such as Columbia, some may laugh at these goals, and that’s fine. Being a bodybuilder or fitness influencer is inherently surrounded by stigmas, and I accept that. To the average observer, being a bodybuilder means you are a “meathead”, a freak, on steroids, or all of the above. In reality, it is quite the opposite. I, and many others, preach that you can achieve your desired look without performance-enhancing drugs. On top of that, the people I have met in the fitness industry are some of the most inspiring and driven people I have ever known.

Above all, don’t be afraid to take your first step, whatever it may be, and don’t getcaught up in society’s expectations if something is not your true passion. Adding to that, someone who is afraid to take a stab at their dreams will always think “What if?” and make excuses for why their dreams were not possible. Even though I’m proud of how far I’ve come in one year, I’m not yet satisfied. This year is going to be the best year of my life, and I strongly encourage you to follow your own passion, just as I have done. Following my dreams has transformed my confidence, mindset, and outlook on life.

The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in political science. He is a former Columbia football player and aspiring fitness entrepreneur. If you would like to learn more about him and/or his journey, send him a DM on his Instagram @ivy_aesthetics.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

football entrepreneurship fitness athletics
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