Kelley Watson: “Believe in yourself”

Believe in yourself. Know that hard times bring out inner strength you didn’t even know you had. My breast cancer journey led me to specialize my Pilates practice in post-operative, restorative breast cancer remediation. My expertise with breast cancer clients led me to a position with a Bermuda wellness studio where I trained the Bermuda […]

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Believe in yourself. Know that hard times bring out inner strength you didn’t even know you had. My breast cancer journey led me to specialize my Pilates practice in post-operative, restorative breast cancer remediation. My expertise with breast cancer clients led me to a position with a Bermuda wellness studio where I trained the Bermuda Police Service. My work with BPS leveraged my qualifications to my current Pilates job in Naples, which I love.


As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley Watson.

Kelley Watson is a Pilates instructor and business owner specializing her practice in restorative, post-operative, movement, particularly for sister breast cancer survivors. She has lived all over the United States earning master’s degrees and modeling and acting for television and independent films. She raised a family in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, IL where both her and her husband lost jobs, suffered major illnesses and watched their home move into pre-foreclosure, their lives weeks from literally being kicked to the curb. Kelley now lives in Naples, FL with her current husband, two new rescue cats, three old kayaks, and a mango tree.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path

GRIT: (grit noun [U] (COURAGE) courage and determinationdespitedifficulty. (Cambridge Dictionary)

GRIT: (noun)firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

GRIT: (noun) doing what must be done. (Kelley Watson).

Over one year, during 2009–2010, in the thick of the Great Recession, I lost my job, started a business, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband lost his commodities trader job and the family’s health insurance. A client filed a lawsuit against him, prompting SEC investigation, commensurate legal fees, and temporary loss of trading licenses. Later Rich was exonerated. The same year Rich was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease. Our insurance company refused to pay those claims as well. We ended up on Medicaid. Rich Ubered and Lyfted, but I was the main support for the family. Rich became suicidal. He took out a 100,000 dollars home equity line of credit without my knowledge and when we couldn’t pay the note, our three-story, five- bedroom, Tudor home went into pre-foreclosure. We free-fell a zillion rungs down the socioeconomic ladder to teeter on the brink of homeless. I moved to Bermuda.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I had no choice. I had two kids, Son Patrick, 13, and daughter Catherine, 11 ½ , to raise. In the choke-hold of job loss, medical expenses, and age discrimination, there was no room for self-pity. My children were, and still are, my rock, my motivation, my salvation. I had to raise them.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

I never gave up. I knew my situation was temporary and that we all would get through it. I set goals like: (a) Beat breast cancer; and (b) Raise my children, and I never stopped working toward those ends. It takes a lot less energy to look forward than to turn around and look back. Hockey legend Wayne Gretsky once said: I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been. And that was my living attitude. The bank could take my house, but not my brain, or my bond with my children. Corporate Bottom Line vs. Maternal Bottomless Love. No contest.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. You are your own best asset. Learn how to up-skill or re-skill. At the age of 53 I started a modeling career which segued into independent film roles and appearances on network television. I have always loved radio, and had experience hosting on air shows. I am consistently told I have a beautiful voice. One summer I took voice acting classes in Chicago, cut a demo CD, and sent it to agents. A year went by, and nothing. I returned to the studio and recorded another, a better demo, and sent it to agents. Then I got the nicest rejection letters: “We like your sound but we have talent who already sound like you. Please resubmit in 3–4 months”. Awesome!
    Then Chicago-based DeSanti Talent called me. They had just purchased an agency, and were moving file cabinets when my demo flew out of a drawer! They listened to it and signed me. With DeSanti representing me I was able to access national casting sites like Casting Networks, Inc., Actors Access, Inc. and Backstage, Inc. I now had an ‘in” to “The Biz”.
    My big break came when I submitted to a Danish reality show entitled “Denmark Adventure” where Americans spend summer in Denmark to find their Danish family.” I qualified. I am part Viking, part English, 100% Imperialist; so genetically predisposed for Grit. My “Denmark Adventure” submission photo launched my modeling career which catapulted into film and television work. My master’s degree is in public administration (MPA). Go figure.
  2. Believe in yourself. Know that hard times bring out inner strength you didn’t even know you had. My breast cancer journey led me to specialize my Pilates practice in post-operative, restorative breast cancer remediation. My expertise with breast cancer clients led me to a position with a Bermuda wellness studio where I trained the Bermuda Police Service. My work with BPS leveraged my qualifications to my current Pilates job in Naples, which I love.
  3. Believe in the Law of Inspired Action. The Law of Inspired Action, one of the 12 Spiritual Laws, states that we must actively pursue our goals and take inspired steps toward the thing we want. I wanted to get us out of poverty so badly that I worked three jobs and skipped dinner for years. It won’t hurt you to be hungry. Hunger is motivating. It took my moving to Bermuda, my daughter’s senior year of high school, to get my husband motivated. It worked. He listed the house. I returned to the States to sign the paperwork for the sale, literally weeks before a date in Probate.
  4. Work hard. I routinely left my house at 7:00 AM, taught at my nearby studio, commuted to teach at inner-city University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and then commuted to teach at a south loop studio until 9:00 PM. I returned, through the violent gang-infested west side, home at 10:00 PM. The next day I started the process all over again, squeezing in auditions and bookings where I could. I coached skating. Still. It wasn’t enough. Then I started a second master’s degree — this one in public health (MPH) which was stupid because I had aged out of the job market.
  5. Stay strong. There were times when I didn’t think I was going to make it. One time I broke down in the checkout line at Trader’s Joe’s and had an impromptu intervention. I spent way too much on the third floor with my books and three rescue cats. Then I thought of my teenage children and pulled myself together. I thought of how I had to be an example for them; to stay strong, to be resilient, to be a role model and hide my anger and angst.
    There is no honor in being poor. It sucks. It means being on Medicaid and waiting three weeks to get a cast for a broken foot, or waiting three months for a place on the University of Illinois at Chicago Dental School wait list. Or skipping dinner for three years. Won’t hurt you to be hungry, my dad always said. I told my children, if we do lose the house, it’s not where you are, but who you are; the world can’t take what you hold inside.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

I owe my success in part to my late mother’s twin, my Aunt Chris, and her second husband, my step uncle Bernie, who consider my children their grandchildren and would hang the moon for them.

Auntie cared for our kids through my breast cancer ordeal: through the seven core needle biopsies, the multiple MRIs and the lumpectomy surgery. My kids were so scared. Up until then I had been an athlete, entrepreneur, and provider, and it unhinged them to see me compromised. Insurance paid 80% after a five figure deductible. I would like to tell the misogynistic insurance company fucks that breast cancer affects not just the woman, but her whole family. There are real people behind those actuary tables that make them so much money. Were it not for Chris and Bernie subsidizing occasional Pea Pod delivery, buying new school clothes, and expensing their hockey, all to foster and secure a sense of normalcy, of stability, of equality among their privileged peers. We had to keep up appearances.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Imagine a day when you were unable to do normal activities: drive your car, shop for groceries, get coffee out of the cupboard, brush your hair, wash a load of laundry, kick a soccer ball to your kid, or pick up a grandbaby or walk your dog. That is every day for most of my clients. I fix people. I restore strength to muscles, bring flexibility to ligaments, increase range of motion to joints, and build balance.

When I have had a bad day, and we all have them, I remember a Bermuda police officer client with a hip injury thanking me for helping him reach his goal: of dancing with his bride at his wedding.

My work is fulfilling and gratifying. I am blessed to have found my calling.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am writing my memoir: “Downwardly Mobile or DOMO Drama” that tells the story of my family’s degeneration form upper crust to underbelly of society.

“DOMO Drama” is a timely, relatable, roller-coaster ride of a story that will resonate with every father who has lost a job, with every mother who has juggled career, appearance, and children, and with every American who viscerally believed in the American Dream, and found the patina of that promise to have faded. As America becomes more divided, as income stratification broadens, and as a greater subset of the population feels socially and financially disenfranchised, I think there is a deep rooted anger, and a ground swelling of frustration toward a non-representative government and a toxic capitalism. One can do everything right and still get screwed in the end.

Here is an equation for Jerome Powell and his crony economic advisors:

(MB) (0) + (0) (EO>50) = 0

Where MB = Medical Bills and EO = Employment Opportunity over Age 50

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Invest in human capital. Weave the First Law of Spirituality, The Law of Divine Oneness, into the fabric of your corporate culture: everything in our universe is interconnected, every choice, word, desire and belief you have will also have an impact on the world and on the people in your life. Be a good person. Don’t cheat your most senior, loyal, and highest ranking revenue producer out of commission. Recognize the talents and skills of your employees and nurture them. Your employees, your talent, your team members, are individuals, not numbers. They are not just a line item on a tax return.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am an avid proponent of the environment, but Greta Thornburg, has beaten me to a Green Movement.

I do, however, have a few ideas for health care reform:

  1. Allow the deductible to rollover, not start over, every year. Once the deductible is reached, it is reached. Period. The meter doesn’t reset to zero every year.
  2. Require transparency in costs. If health care is a market good, and is publicly traded, then why

Don’t consumers know the cost of those goods? It doesn’t make sense. We are blindly paying.

  1. Require those with behavioral-based high risk conditions to pay an increase in premiums commensurate with the increase in services for their condition.
  2. According to the CDC: “…….most chronic diseases can be prevented by eating well, being physically active, avoiding tobacco and excessive drinking, and getting regular health screenings. “ and that chronic illnesses are he leading causes of death and disability, and the leading drivers of the country’s 3.5 Trillion in health care costs. Sixty percent of American adults have at least one chronic disease and 40% have at least two or more. Why don’t we create disincentives to chronic conditions? (Sources: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/pdf/infographics/chronic-disease-H.pdfand .

I propose the “Movement for Provider Accountability and Personal Responsibility.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

  • Wayne Gretsky , Canadian NHL ice hockey player

99, Edmonton Oilers, Centerman, 1979–1999.

Don’t be afraid to take chances, to ask questions, to fail. Forge ahead, one foot in front of the other despite setbacks. Life lessons from skating: Fall. Get up. A metaphor for life.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am not on social media except for Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kelleywatson708

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Thank you

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