Jera Foster-Fell didn’t build her successful fitness brand overnight—it took some hiccups for the Soul Cycle instructor, blogger, and beloved IG influencer to get where she is today.
Years ago, after moving across the country and going through a breakup, Jera decided to start a new fitness routine. She created an Instagram account to document her progress and connect with other women doing the regimen. In mere weeks, her account had amassed a following of thousands, and within six months of beginning the program, Jera quit her full-time job to pursue fitness and social media full-time.
If it’s not clear, Jera pursues her passions with everything she’s got, and we can’t wait to see what she does in 2019. Below, she shares what fuels her.
You got into wellness after working full-time as a graphic designer in Boston for five years. Tell us what inspired you to start Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide workouts.
In early 2015, I was in a really dark place of my life. I had been working at a terrible job at a startup as a graphic designer. I was working 7 days a week for no money and was stressed to the point where I had a bald patch on my head from hair falling out. On top of that, my long term, four year relationship had recently ended. I had no friends. And I was suffering from social anxiety. There was nothing good happening in my life personally or professionally.
Around this time, I had been following a fitness account, @kaylaitsines, for about a year. She had a workout program called BBG, aka Bikini Body Guide, and I had always admired the transformation photos of the women that she posted. One morning I woke up and I thought, “Damn Jera, you have to do something to turn your life around. You need to create some sort of positivity for yourself.” So despite having done zero physical activity for the last few years, I bought the twelve week program, went to the gym, and I began day one, week one.
That same day, I created my Instagram account simply as a tool hold myself accountable, and very quickly, some crazy things began to happen. I was sticking to the BBG guide, and it felt incredible to have a physical outlet and do finally do something that was just for me. Through my Insta account, I started to virtually connect with other women doing the guide, and creating friendships. I had been desperately lacking female connection for several years, so this was huge for me. And lastly, out of nowhere, I started to gain a following. Within three months, I had 10k followers. It was completely mind boggling, but extremely exciting. I finally felt excited, happy, and passionate about something for the first time in years.
You started an Instagram account to track your BBG progress. How did using Instagram for your training help you stay on track?
The biggest part to staying on track when I initially started BBG was the online community. It was so reassuring to know that there were other women no only doing the the same program as I was, but women literally on the same day/week. We would message each other post workout to say good job, or talk about how hard the burpees were, or talk about how sore we were. There was a camaraderie that blossomed, and it was a really special thing. For the first time in awhile, I didn’t feel alone.
When did you know it was time to quit your full-time job and go freelance with fitness and social media, and what advice would you give to women who don’t know if it’s the right time to make the leap?
I left my office job as a graphic designer and started to work as a freelance designer towards the end of 2015, about six months after I created my Instagram account. I made that transition because I needed to create time, space, and energy to work on this new passion of mine. I loved fitness. I love social media. My following was growing. Though I wasn’t 100% sure about what I would do, I knew that I could do something special with all of these elements. I ended up exploring a lot over the two years that followed. I got my NASM personal training certification, I became a SoulCycle instructor, and continued to grow my following and brand. Fast forward to the present, I’m a full time influencer, and my emphasis is less on fitness these days and more on lifestyle. I talk about everything from mental health, break ups, career changes, and body positivity. My goal is to create a space where women feel seen and heard, and feel comfortable talking about topics that aren’t always the easiest to open up about.
When it comes to making the leap, I think there are a few things that one needs to take into consideration. First things first, everyone’s least favorite topic to talk about, money. Before leaving your full time job, you need to make sure your financially stable for at least a few months with money that you’ve saved up. And perhaps that means making a decision to temporarily move in with your parents, or a roommate- you make it work however you can. Second, before making the full leap from one career to the next, I would suggest starting your new gig as a side hustle. Sean Wes has an awesome book called “The Overlap Technique”, which is all about starting a business while working a full time job. Lastly, consider how you feel and truly listen to your gut. If you feel stuck, frustrated, or passionless about your current position, but there’s something else that tugging at your heart strings, listen to that regardless of how scary it is to acknowledge. It’s terrifying to make a change, but we have to take risks and get outside our comfort zone to grow and succeed.
Where does your passion/drive come from?
I’ve always held myself to a really high standard. I’ve always been a really hard worker. I’ve also always been creative and curious. So these elements blended together drive me. I think being stuck in that really dark place a few years ago really dulled me down though. Once I was able to crawl out of that hole, I think I have this added motivation of never wanting to allow myself to get back there. I work every day to create a life for myself that’s full of passion and happiness. Obviously not everyday is full of roses and puppies, but I do my best!
You’ve been open about your history with social anxiety. How has taking charge of your mental health affected your career?
This topic is immensely important to me. Thanks to social media, I think mental health becoming less taboo to talk about, but it’s still something that needs to be openly discussed.
When I was around 24, after having a heart to heart conversation with my mom, I came to realize that I had an issue that need professional help addressing. I didn’t know it had a name at the time, but I was suffering from social anxiety. I would absolutely dread all kinds of social situations whether it was work or personal. I would get a rush of anxiety, and start to sweat from my face, which ultimately lead me to avoiding social gatherings if possible. Once I realized that it was a real problem, I ended up seeking out the help of a therapist specializing in social anxiety, and saw him for about a year. It was absolutely life-changing. I learned how to manage my anxiety and not let it control my life.
Another thing that was immensely helpful with working on my mental health was my year long journey to becoming a SoulCycle instructor, and then actually instructing for about a year and half. It’s a long story, but to put it succinctly, the journey was transformational. I had to face fears and doubts every day, and prove to myself that I truly am strong enough mentally, physically, and emotionally. And on top of all that, it really helped with my fear of public speaking!
Addressing my social anxiety head on with the help of a professional, and then tackling my fears and fighting for my dream through my SoulCycle journey were both two indispensable experiences that shaped me into the woman that I am today.
What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?
My community is incredibly important to me. I always love hearing from everyone through comments and DMs. I think I feel the most fulfilled when I hear about individual experiences that my followers have had and positive changes that they’ve made due to things that I’ve said or content that I’ve created.
Sometimes it can be really simple, like someone reaching out saying that they’re drinking more water because of me, or that they didn’t press snooze that morning because of me. Or even that I made them smile or laugh on a bad day because of something that I said on my stories.
But then there are the deeper moments. I’ve had women reach out to me to tell me that they started to go to therapy because I’ve been so open about my mental health challenges. Recently I’ve had a lot of women message me to let them know that I’ve helped them feel so much more comfortable in their bodies, and more confident in their everyday life.
Knowing that I’ve had a positive effect on someone, regardless of how big or small, is indescribable.
Whose career really inspires you?
Top of mind right now is Jenna Kutcher. I originally found her when I discovered her podcast, The Goal Digger Podcast. I am totally in awe of her! She’s a photographer, educator, entrepreneur, among many other roles. She started off a few years ago by buying a $300 camera off of Craigslist, and from that moment, hustled her butt off to become a successful wedding photographer, and she’s transitioned to becoming a resource for others to grow passionate and profitable business through her podcast, free resources, and online courses. She built and seven figure business from the ground up. She is amazing!
In a world where likes and follower counts are so coveted, how do you stay authentic and true to yourself/your brand?
In this day and age, we’re constantly judged by numbers, especially when it comes to social media. But all of these elements are outward facing statistics. Yeah, I won’t lie. Of course I want to continue to grow my following and have good engagement on Instagram for both personal reasons, and because it’s my business. When it comes down to it though, I have to ask myself, what am I doing with those numbers? If there’s no purpose behind getting likes and followers besides the vanity of it, then you’re in it for the wrong reason.
The goal of my Instagram account, and the goal of my brand on a larger level, is to empower women to feel confident and get out of their comfort zone. I do that simply by sharing about me and my life. I stay authentic by speaking about what I’m currently going through and experiencing, whether it’s good or whether it’s shitty. Over the last three and a half years, I’ve learned that opening up and being vulnerable with my community is when the true connection occurs.
When it comes down to it, the numbers are fine, but it’s the moments that people feel seen, heard, and connected that make me feel the most successful.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find new roads + switch gears to find success?
Hitting a bump in one’s career can be incredibly tough within the moment; however, looking back now at the rough patches I’ve been through, I’ve realized that those tough moments have shaped me in such a positive way. I’ve found that being told “no” is actually a really special opportunity. If you want something, and you’re told “no” and just give up right away, then it’s likely you didn’t really want whatever you were working towards that much to begin with. But if you’re told no, and then find it within yourself to pick up the pieces and keep fighting, then you clearly have the drive to really go for your dream.
It’s all about shifting your perspective to understand that hurdles are part of the process, being told no is inevitable, and that challenges when working on your passion are ultimately what’s going to make you stronger.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
I absolutely adore this quote. It’s so powerful. I love it because it acknowledges that fear is part of the process. We don’t need to be fearless in order to pursue what we’re passionate about. Instead, we can use our fear as a tool to help drive us forward, instead of something that holds us back.