Michelle Schulp: I also just tried to find things that gave me joy. As much as exercise can give you joy, because I’m not going to lie, I’m not inherently in love with exercising, and I do it every day. I don’t want you to feel like you have to love it either if you’re trying to do it, it just has to be something that you want more than the alternative.
Joe Casabona: You just heard from Michelle Schulp. Michelle is a fantastic web designer in the WordPress space. You may have seen her work, which includes the WordPress hierarchy chart. Recently she launched a new initiative talking about fitness and freelancing. Last week we touched a bit on mental health with the Allie Nimmons episode, this week we’re going to dive into physical health, especially when running your own business. This is another episode where I open up a little bit more than I’m used to, talking about my own journey to become healthier and my pitfalls, especially. Michelle offers some fantastic advice on what you can do and the mindset that you should take when approaching getting healthier. We’ll get into all of that in a minute, but first a word from our sponsors.
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Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is my good friend Michelle Schulp, the designer, developer, founder, main person at Marktime Media and Fitness & Freelance. Michelle, how are you today?
Michelle: I’m doing well. How are you?
Joe: I’m fantastic. You live in what I think is like the middle of the country.
Michelle: The upper part of the middle, yes.
Joe: Yes. So I’m sure the weather is generally worse for you than it is for me, but it’s finally becoming nicer as we record this.
Michelle: As of right now it’s beautiful and sunny outside, and here I am sitting inside with you, so that goes to show.
Joe: It’s about the same for me. Of course, I have terrible allergies, and so I’m taking respite inside my air-conditioned house until everything is fully in bloom, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to talk about you and everything that you do and build, so why don’t we start off with who you are and what you do?
Michelle: Sure. My background, I am a designer and developer, and I have been independent for the last 10 years. Prior to that I worked at a small agency, but one of the things that that’s not– Obviously I’ve been able to do a lot of interesting work, a lot of existing clients, I’ve been able to travel and I’ve been able to speak, I’ve been able to help organize events, I’ve gotten really involved in the community. But one of the things that has been in the background of all this that was very important didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the technical part of my job, but it had everything to do with everything else in life. Noticing that all of my peers and myself included were very sedentary, we were eating a lot of crappy food, and the lifestyle promotes that. Because at conferences it’s all snacks and junk food and late nights out at the bars, and lots of coffee and glorifying the Mountain Dew-Doritos life. As I was growing in my career, as I was growing in my background, I was also noticing all of these other patterns happening in mine and other people’s lives. That’s what got me to where I am now.
Joe: Very cool. I should say that I was very big into the Mountain Dew-Doritos life in high school and college, and now that I’m an adult and a lot more sedentary– Less sedentary than I was two years ago before my daughter was born, but I don’t think I can drink Mountain Dew anymore. I used to drink it by the two-liter bottle. Now I’m– It’s too sugary.
Michelle: Fun fact. When I was in high school pretty much every day for breakfast during second-period math class one year, I would eat Cheez-Its and a can of Coke. I remember we were learning about multi-variable functions or something, and I remember that it got so bad that when I was taking a test later on that topic, it was like “You know what I want right now? Cheez-Its and a can of Coke.” So I feel you on the lifestyle. I was pretty hard into that too.
Joe: It’s super easy too. In grad school I would drink a Full Throttle, like those giant cans of Full Throttle, it’s Coke’s energy drink. In between our break, I would get it before class, and then I would drink it at the break because our class was 7 to 10 PM, and that’s a very long time, and I can’t stay awake for that amount of time. I would chug a Full Throttle. It was rough, and it was a rough life. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only person who has noticed this, you’ve obviously noticed it and taken action. Your background is in design and development, and you are– I think your designs are awesome. I think they’re fantastic. Would you say you’re more of a designer or more of a developer, or do you do both nowadays?
Michelle: I’d say probably visual UX strategy straddles that pretty well because I do design, but I would say I’m not necessarily going to win a design show award. I’m not doing fancy groundbreaking design that other designers are going to be impressed with, and I’m not doing complicated backend development that other developers are going to be impressed with. So basically what I’m doing is I’m solving some problems, and I’m doing functional visual design, strategy based user experience, and then semantic front end development.
Joe: Nice. I’ll add the caveat as a guy who has his Masters in software engineering and knows a lot of developers, is nobody is ever going to impress the developer except for the developer himself or herself. “Why would you do it that way when you could do it this way?” “They both work reasonably well, so I did it this way.” “No, my way is better.”
Michelle: That’s why we have the internet.
Joe: Yeah, exactly. When I had to defend my master’s thesis, I got ripped apart for this one area. My friends came to it, and they were like, “Why were they so mean to you?” I’m like “A little they had to be, and a little hubris that comes with being a software engineer.” I like the way that you described what you do. This new website that you’ve launched, fitnessandfreelance.com is a relatively new endeavor. Marktime Media is your freelance arm, that’s where you do client work through. Then Fitness & Freelance is this whole other endeavor, can you tell us a little bit about this based on what– You’ve noticed the poor lifestyle stuff that came with the territory of our career, and then you decided to launch this website?
Michelle: Sure. I didn’t do this on purpose, so a lot of it, like a lot of our journeys, is partly curated and partly falling into a situation. In my case, maybe 5 or 6 years ago I decided I could just let myself go, or I could now while I’m young start building good habits that will be easier to maintain later than it is to try to start when I’m older and more beat up. It was very much a personal journey, and I started doing a lot of research into dietary systems and different exercise systems, etc. But it was all very internal and very personal. Maybe 3 or 4 years ago, I started incorporating that into my life to the point where other people started noticing. Because I became that person that would start doing workouts in the middle of the field at a WordCamp, or in the speaker room, or talk about leaving a party early to go workout, or having long conversations over meals about what we’re eating and different stuff. It wound up that this personal thing that I was doing for me wound up being this thing that I talked about with a lot of people and people started associating me with it. They’d be like “You’re the workout person.” Which was hilarious based on my previous recounts of my life. This is not inherent to who I am as I was growing up. I started thinking about a year or so ago, “I’m doing this. I’m spending hours of my day dedicated to this. I’ve done all this research. I know all these things and people are always asking me questions. I should put something together.” It was really important to me to be different than– There’s infinite resources out there for learning about fitness, about health, about anything. It was important to me to not evangelize. That’s the thing, how do you know somebody is involved in whatever fitness trend? They’ll tell you. That’s a thing. I didn’t want to be that person, because what I also understand about my life is that I do come from a place of privilege. I work in the tech industry. Hashtag privilege right there. We have a lot of opportunities afforded to us and a lot of flexibility. I’m a Caucasian, and I’m from upper-ish middle class. I don’t know what the qualification is, whatever. But I have a lot of time and resources available to me. I wanted to be able to share my story. I wanted to be able to help people, but I also didn’t want to be like “I can do this, so you can too.” I wanted it to be a lot more inclusive than that. That was the struggle and getting started with this, is figuring out how to tell that story without evangelizing, without telling people what they should be doing. But just saying “Here’s something I’m doing and it’s working for me, and here’s why. Maybe this could help you?”
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Joe: We were both at WordCamp Miami back in March, I thought your talk had some of the most actionable advice because it wasn’t just like “You need to wake up at 5:30 in the morning.” You know all those people who are like “If you wake up at 4 AM, you’re going to be so much more productive.” You did that, but you didn’t say, “You need to do that.” You didn’t say I’m on this– I don’t even know what diet/eating methodology you use, but you didn’t mention it during your talk. You were just like, “Here’s some things. Here are small changes, some of these you can choose to make, some of them you don’t. It’s all about you.” I think you do that well, and it got me a little bit more energized. I think later that day I was going to drink a Coke and I decided not to because of your talk. I think you do that well. I did have a question about this, and I think the first time I noticed your dedication to this type of new lifestyle we were at some WordCamp. We tend to go to a lot of the same WordCamps, and you started working out in the speaker green room.
Michelle: That was at WordCamp DC, I think.
Joe: Yes. I thought that was super– I don’t want to work out in front of anybody. Nobody needs to see that. I thought that was interesting that it was so important to work out. Was it at a specific time, or just that you hadn’t done it that day?
Michelle: It was mostly trying to fit it into the day because that was prior to my being capable of getting up at 5 AM thing that I started this past year, which is awful and great. I needed to find a way to fit something in. I started traveling with resistance bands and stuff, so to paint the picture for people that are listening I wasn’t getting ridiculously sweaty and gross and horrible, but I brought a change of clothes.
Joe: You weren’t doing CrossFit in the middle of–
Michelle: No, I brought a change of clothes, and I was doing a series of bodyweight and calisthenic exercises that get my heart rate up, do some resistance training stuff. Funny story too, I have a couple of different airport workout routines that I do. It is a thing, and if you travel with me, I’m probably going to be working out for at least 10 to 20 minutes in the middle of the airport. We’re just sitting there at the gate waiting and doing nothing. I could sit there and stare at my phone, slouched over like a lump, which is great. Or I could get on the floor and do like 400 ab exercises. You definitely have to be the kind of person that either doesn’t care what people think, or pretends not to care what people think when you do that because everybody loves to stare at you and comment on it. Mostly they’re all like “I’d look like that if I did that too.” I’m like, “Yeah.” The whole get comfortable being uncomfortable thing is definitely a big part of all of it.
Joe: That’s super interesting for a couple of reasons. I love “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” I’m writing that down in my notes, so that’ll probably be the quote tweet that I send out. I love that because you’re right, even though I’ve got TSA precheck, I always need to get to the airport two hours before my flight. Just because I don’t want to be in a situation where I miss my flight. Usually, with TSA precheck, I am checked in and through security in 10 minutes. Now I have an hour and a half before I board or whatever. I feel gross the whole time I’m at the airport too, and I don’t feel like there’s any really good healthy food options at the airport. I find salad in most places that don’t specialize in making salads suspect. I feel like doing something like that would make me feel a little bit better because by the time I’m off the plane I’m a sweaty disgusting mess and I have done nothing. I might as well be a sweaty disgusting mess and have done something.
Michelle: Even if you’re not going to be like me and literally do crunches on the floor, if you’re at an airport you’re usually carrying some extra stuff with you. Whether you checked a bag, but you have your carry on, or whatever, just walking around extra with some extra weight that you’re carrying around is a good way to get your heart rate up. Airports are big, and there’s lots of space to walk around. Especially if you’re at Atlanta or something. Take one lap of the terminal, and you’re good.
Joe: To that end, there’s also lots of corners. There’s lots of places that are hidden away in most of the airports I’ve been to. Especially if it’s early in the morning or late at night, which is generally when I like to fly. Generally, when I choose to fly to make the most of wherever I am. It’s not like you have to work out right next to the bar, where everybody is. You can find a place where you can do some exercises. That’s cool. Why don’t we, since we are now about halfway through, let’s get to the title question. I’ve got two facets of this. How did you– I’ll let you answer the way that you think is best. How did you build your workout routine, or how can one build out their own fitness routine? Then, how did you build the website?
Michelle: The first part of the story, how did I build where I’m at, in terms of my routine. Definitely over years of trying a bunch of things and research and stuff. I’ve been a tangential beach body person since college. I never got involved in the MLM side of it, but I’ve been doing the workouts. To me, it was about finding the thing that I enjoyed. I tried group classes, and I found that I did not enjoy them. Some people need that because they love the collaboration and the being around each other and pushing each other. For me, I like to be inside my own head when I work out, and so the group classes didn’t fit. Video classes were a great alternative to that for me, and that worked, but for some people that doesn’t. I had some sessions in the past with personal trainers and stuff, so I learned a lot about good form, which enabled me to be able to do stuff like build a weightlifting routine for myself that I could do. I also tried to find things that gave me joy. As much as exercise can give you joy, because I’m not going to lie, I’m not inherently in love with exercising, and I do it every day. I don’t want you to feel like you have to love it either if you’re trying to do it. It just has to be something that you want more than the alternative. I ride my bike when it’s warm out, and there’s lots of biking here in Minneapolis. I go on lots walks during the day if I’m at an office job, I’ll go on a walk during lunch. I get up in the morning, and I do weightlifting. When I travel, I do different bodyweight stuff. It’s basically been a matter of constantly doing research and constantly learning. Same thing on the diet side, I’m roughly in the paleo-school, but I believe everybody needs to find a diet that works for them. The best way to do that is to write things down. Write down how it makes you feel and then experiment from there. Use the scientific method on yourself. Do something, and then change one variable, and then see if it’s different. That’s fun. I think it’s fun because I’m a nerd. It is fun to be able to experiment a little bit on yourself and see what makes you feel good, what doesn’t, what impacts something else. That’s what it’s all been, and that’s what it’s going to keep being. There’s a lot more experimentation I need to do going forward.
Joe: Absolutely, I like that too, because as you alluded to earlier, people would be like “I do this, and this is the best one.” Everybody leaves off the caveat, “That works for me.” My wife and I have successfully done a Whole 30 two or three times now successfully, where we did it for 30 days, and we saw measurable gains or losses depending on what you’re measuring. I felt better, and I lost weight, it was wonderful. We’ve both realized that’s not sustainable for us, or maybe for anybody. I think the diet just straight up says like “You’re going to do this for 30 days, maybe 45. Then you’re going to want to reintroduce certain things.” We like that, and it’s worked for us in the past, but it’s not something we’ve been able to fully integrate. Now we’re trying this like paleo-ish, we’re not strictly following paleo, but the snacks that we eat are all paleo snacks instead of getting a pint of ice cream. We make these key lime paleo bars which are crazy delicious, so I think you’re absolutely right. You’ve got to find something that works for you. In the summer, I do a two-mile walk every morning. Hopefully, before my daughter wakes up. Only when my wife is home, so if my daughter does wake up before I get back someone’s there for her, but that worked especially well for me in the summer. In the winter, it’s a little bit harder. I like experiment and write it down because then you get to see exactly what is working for you, how you felt in the moment vs. what you think you felt a month later.
Michelle: Yeah, exactly. In terms of the website, being a WordPress person, I built it in WordPress using the same custom base theme that I use for all of my client work. It’s always interesting when I am building something to use as the administrator, as opposed to building it to hand over. I deliberately chose for all of my internal pages to 100% use Gutenberg so that I can make myself use it. Make myself eat the community dog food. I can use it then to teach myself how to work with that from an administrative perspective, and maybe more from a developer perspective as well. Also in terms of the website another thing that I’m trying to build around, aside from just the tooling that I used to build it, it’s pretty standard stack WordPress. I’m also trying to build community around it. I’ve had a lot of conversations with other people in the WordPress space that I know are going on their own fitness journey, and there are several people that I’m friends with that have done a lot of things. [Mark Benzageen, Mike Hale, Shada], they’ve all done these things, and they’re talking about it. I ultimately want it to be not just me talking about stuff I do, but a place to showcase a lot of different community members stories. Because they all come from different backgrounds and have a different story and are at a different place in their life, and if someone can’t relate to me, the 30-something white female in a city, maybe they can relate to somebody else who’s in an entirely different place. The more stories we share, the more we can normalize all of these things, the more we get it out in the open, the more we talk about the successes and the struggles. I think the better off the whole community will be.
Joe: I love that. You named a lot of really cool people there, too. I haven’t talked to [Shada]– This is just a sidebar for everybody listening. I haven’t talked to [Shada] in a while, so I hope she’s doing well.
Michelle: She seems happy with her latest venture.
Joe: Good, excellent. I will link to [Shada’s] Instagram in the show notes for this, so you can see what she is up to.
Michelle: It’s very beautiful.
Joe: It is, it’s fantastic. I like that because I think with the way that people do social media, they’ll show the before and after pic. “I lost 50 pounds doing this over the last however many months.” You only see the before, and after, you don’t see what happens in between, and you don’t see what happens after. If I’m going to be true to myself, I’m going to post the before, and the after, and then the after-after where I fell off, and I gained 20 of those pounds back. That’s not the things that people want to highlight, but talking about the struggles– Part of the reason I started this show is because you want to hear the failures along with the good because you hear the success story and then you set a unreasonably high bar for yourself.
Michelle: Exactly. I’m actually about to publish this week a long recap post on the results of religiously tracking every single thing I ate for an entire year. That is, as of Saturday this week, that we’re talking. That will be 365 days of not missing a single thing. There is a lot to unpack about that. I’m doing a scientific method-style write up about it. That’ll be hopefully eye-opening for people in good and bad ways about what that does.
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Joe: I want to touch on your WordCamp Miami talk a little bit. I tried to find my notes, but I think I wrote it down in a paper notebook that I always have on me except for this very moment. I’m going to ask you the trade secret later, but what’s some actionable advice that you usually give to people who are like “You seem to be crushing it with the fitness stuff. What can I do? I’m a overweight 30-something year old man with a kid. It’s hard for me to wake up at 5:30 in the morning and workout.” What do you recommend for people in those situations? I know you had really good actionable advice in that talk.
Michelle: Sure. I do have a corresponding blog post that outlines all the stuff in that talk if people want to read it and they don’t like watching stuff– I’m one of those people too, so that’s there. I would say for people that don’t know how to get started, and it just feels overwhelming and insurmountable, I’m already– I just can’t. It’s simple, but not easy. The best way to start is to start. Any small change is still a change. If we’re talking the scientific method, you only want to change one or two things at a time and see how that makes you feel. If you’re completely sedentary, adding in daily movement in terms of walking is great. You don’t have to jump right into 5 AM 60 minute workouts seven days a week like I do, that would be a terrible idea, I would not recommend it. If you’re used to eating whatever you want and not thinking about the nutritional content or whether it’s going to make you feel good later, swap out. I think one of one of the big things I mentioned in my talk was “Eat the rainbow.” It’s hard to think about eating healthy, but you can think about eating a whole bunch of different colors. As long as those colors are coming from natural sources. We’re not talking a bowl of Skittles.
Joe: Eat the rainbow, not taste the rainbow.
Michelle: Correct. If your plate has a lot of different colors on it, you’re probably getting a variety of nutrients. We could talk about dialing in different– You don’t have to go all the way to the level of where I am, where I’m looking at macronutrients and blah blah blah. Even just starting with “Is my plate kind of beige, or can I add some reds and greens to that?” That’s a great way to get started. It’s really just incremental change and not necessarily focusing on numbers or aesthetics, but focusing internally on how you feel. Because the other stuff will reflect how you feel.
Joe: I love that. That reminds me of the book Atomic Habits, which I read at the end of 2018. He basically says the same thing. He’s like “Don’t go change everything today because you will fail.” But if you make these small changes, instead of I don’t know– Instead of texting somebody downstairs to get something for you, walk downstairs and get it yourself. That’s some movement that you get in the day. You make these smaller changes first, I think that’s just fantastic advice. I had another thought which completely escaped me, but I found the blog post, and I will link that. The other thought I had was, “Don’t do the stuff that you’re doing today.” You weren’t doing the stuff that you are doing today when you first started. It’s like people who look at like Lindsey Vonn, and they’re like “I want to ski like that.” Lindsey Vonn skis like that because she was doing the pizza, french fry thing when she was two years old. Don’t compare yourself with somebody who’s a lot farther in the journey than you are. Start where you are and like you said, see how it makes you feel. If eating a whole pint of ice cream makes you feel like garbage in the middle of the night, speaking from personal experience, then don’t eat a whole pint of ice cream the night before and you’ll feel better. Cool. This is great. As we’re winding down, I know you mentioned a couple of plans for the future and that you want to try to build a community around this website fitnessandfreelance.com, which I will also link in the show notes. What are some other plans for the future, as far as your own fitness journey and this website goes for you?
Michelle: I feel that right now, I’m very much at a crossroads. I’ve been doing this thing for a year, this personal experiment that was supposed to last three months and went a whole year. I feel like I’m at a crossroads, trying to define where all that’s at. I feel like the next step is going to be more holistic. I feel like I’ve got my habits down pretty well, I go through all the right motions, I eat the right food, I work out, I do my work, I try to go to bed a reasonable hour. I do all these things. Then doing the work inside myself to make sure that it’s all coming from a healthy place mentally, rather than just doing healthy actions but still feeling terrible. That’s probably the future of that. I think that is also another great thing that the tech community has been very much in need of, and a lot of people are doing some great stuff in the mental health space as well. Incorporating that holistic physical plus mental health thing is a great place for the message to go.
Joe: Yeah, that’s awesome. I will get more personal than I normally get ever. In the times that I’ve worked out, like “I’m going to go to the gym and work hard.” We’re always following some– Usually with my love life because my love life was terrible before I met my wife. I would face rejection from somebody I was in love with, and then that would follow three months of working out hard. I think, “Am I doing these healthy actions to be healthy, or for some other reason?” I was working out for the wrong reason. I was like, “I am mentally in pain, and so I want to put my body through this physical toughness.” Of course, that doesn’t last. I’m happily married with a fantastic daughter, so that driver is no longer there for me. If I do it right, it will never be there for the rest of my life. That’s another great piece of advice. Put these habits in place, then take a big-picture look at “Why am I doing this?” I love that. Let’s wrap up then with my favorite question, which is, “Do you have any trade secrets for us?”
Michelle: I do. The trade secret to doing this successfully is this, “Remember that every moment is a choice. You can make any of the choices, and all you have to do is fully own that choice. It doesn’t mean that if you make a particular choice or not, that you are good or bad, or otherwise.” If you choose to get up at 5 AM and work out, you made that choice. If you choose to get some extra sleep because you feel exhausted, you made that choice. If you choose to eat a cupcake at your friend’s birthday party, make that choice. Don’t feel like you’re bad. Don’t berate yourself. Don’t say, “You shouldn’t have done something.” Fully embrace whatever choice it is that you made and the results of that choice, that’s the only way that we can do this and still feel good about ourselves and still have joy because we get one life. It’s not just about beating our bodies into submission to be perfect. You can’t take it with you, so be purposeful with your choices and own them, embrace them, enjoy them.
Joe: That’s excellent advice, something I will definitely have to remember. I do beat myself up when I eat too much. Usually, if it’s early in the day, I’m like, “This whole day is gone, so I’m going to eat like crap the whole day.” If I remember every moment is a choice, I made a bad choice for breakfast, let’s make a better choice for lunch. Well Michelle, thanks so much for your time today. I appreciate it. Where can people find you?
Michelle: I am @marktimemedia pretty much everywhere on the internet, so anywhere you go I’ll probably be there. Then fitnessandfreelance.com, if you would like to follow along or contribute to this community resource about fitness journeys in the creative and tech space.
Joe: I will link that and everything we talked about in the show notes. Michelle, thanks so much again. I appreciate it.
Michelle: Thank you.
Joe: Thanks so much to Michelle for joining me today. I loved all of her advice. Honestly, it’s something that we don’t often talk about on this show, and I often don’t talk about in public spaces. I’ll talk to my wife about it, but I love her trade secret, “Remember that every moment is a choice.” I like that because often what I’ll do is I will make a bad choice and then I’ll think “My whole day is ruined, so I’m just going to eat whatever I want.” If I have a bad breakfast, with this advice, I can say, “I can at least recover for lunch.” Again, thanks to Michelle. Definitely check out all of her resources that will be linked in the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it/129. Thanks again to our sponsors, Ahoy! Pantheon and Creator Courses. Their support is what makes this show happen. I want to thank you for listening, and I do want to ask you a question of the week. That question of the week is, “What big takeaway did you get from this show? How are you going to try to be healthier? What encouraging advice did you get from Michelle?” Let me know, either on Twitter at @jcasabona or by emailing me at Joe@HowIBuilt.it. That’s it for this episode if you liked it, please share with somebody who you think needs to hear this message. Until next time, get out there and build something.