By Sarah Koszyk
Own your own personal training gym with an entire team of personal trainers working for you. Yes, it is possible. Read on to find out how Billy Polson is living his dream job while owning his own personal training company.
What attracted you to the field of fitness and exercise?
Fitness was something that I loved and feared as a child. Luckily my parents
let me try tons of different sports and there were several that were a great
fit for me: competitive swimming since 5, middle/high school soccer, college
cheerleading. But there were also sports that no matter how hard I tried, I
sucked at them! Altogether everyone – BASKETBALL! Ugh! I was horrible… I am
mildly less horrible now. And of course I hit puberty early and was the tall
guy for a year or so, and naturally that would mean that Billy liked hoops,
right? Just to clarify to all parents out there, NO it really doesn’t. Annual
basketball tryouts became a HUGE dread for me. I can still remember the stomach
cramps I had doing ball control drills through folding chairs in the old elementary
school gym in front of all the rec league coaches. I am totally serious when
I say that I was horrible! Anyway, other than basketball, athletics were usually
very fun for me and I continued to consistently try new sports throughout college
and after graduation. Receiving a BS in Statistics, trust me that a career in
sports was the last option in my head. There really were not personal trainers
at that time and I couldn’t imagine a life in polyester shorts as a PE coach.
So I did the sensible thing and started computer programming for work and luckily
my job moved me to the most amazing athletic and outdoor city of San Francisco!
I was living an incredibly healthy and active life but then sitting behind a
computer and desk all day… for 7 years…. I was bored out of my mind with
the work and knew I needed more out of life! So I took a self assessment course
and the results over-whelmingly said, ‘You love fitness and health, you are
good at it, DO WHAT YOU LOVE and the money will come.’ So I started studying
and received my personal training certification. I soon began training and it
has been the most incredible decision of my life. I get to work with people
really wanting to make changes in their lives and walk with them down these
amazing paths on rewarding journeys and I feel so fortunate to do what I love
and teach people every day! I also get to help tons of people with fears and
insecurities around exercise and fitness. Just like the basketball phobias I
had as a kid, there are so many people with fears of being the last one picked,
shirts and skins, climbing that damn rope in PE class, getting low scores on
that horribly designed Presidential Fitness Test! These are the folks I love
to work with and watch them discover the athlete they have had inside this whole
What is your job title and what company you are with now?
Fitness Performance and Lifestyle Coach. I’m the Founder and Owner of DIAKADI
Fitness and Performance in San Francisco (My husband Mike Clausen is my co-owner
and business partner).
What’s a typical (or not so typical) day-in-the-work-life for you?
Mike and I get up every morning at 5:40 am and have a full meal for breakfast
(lately we have been having a slice of meat loaf, arugula (grown in our garden)
salad with avocado and brown rice for breakfast) before seeing our first client
at 7a. I usually work with 4 clients for an hour each before lunch time. Midday
I usually have a 3 hour break where I eat lunch (my latest favorite lunch is
a grapefruit, spinach and avocado salad with grilled fresh salmon from The Plant
Cafe in downtown SF – check it out!) and then workout. Currently my workouts
have been what I call a ‘functional beach’ workout- a perfect mix of some functional
movements for summer sports (swimming, kite surfing, biking) and some body building
to look good on the beach. Then each afternoon is a little different for me.
2 days a week I have 4 more hours of clients in the afternoon. 2 days a week
I have a study session with another trainer for practicing neuro-muscular manual
therapy and then write for the DIAKADI blog. And then this summer I have started
spending one afternoon a week learning to kitesurf. For me it is all about balance.
I love doing LOTS of things, so I am careful to make time for these things in
my life. Mike and I come home, water our garden and have a healthy dinner (luckily
we have an amazing organic chef service for clients at DIAKADI, so we get to
take advantage of that for our dinners in the evenings). And then after dinner
we may watch a little TV or take a walk around the neighborhood. And around
9p we get in bed and read before lights out around 940p. Currently Mike is reading
a book about the San Francisco 1904 Earthquake and I am finishing Tina Fey’s
auto-biography and started an amazing book called ‘Learning to Breath’ by Alison
How did you get your current job in fitness and exercise?
In 2003, Mike and I were both personal trainers in a small basement training
facility for independent trainers in SF. The gym was great for beginners but
there was definitely a ceiling on how far you could advance your business as
well as your clients there. (Literally and figuratively.) The ceiling was so
low in the basement gym that clients could not even jump rope!) So I spent 2003
writing the business plan for DIAKADI, looking for a space, and gathering my
resources so that in April of 2004 we opened DIAKADI. People always ask me what
was the toughest part of opening a business and I always say right off, ‘finding
the right space’. We bid on several spaces before finally getting the amazing
space we are in now. And the bidding game was incredibly stressful, filled with
the highs of getting excited about a space and the lows of getting shot down
by the landlord before having to go out again and find a new space to get excited
about. Every time I would get turned down on a space I would go and get a chocolate
milk shake and cry to let it all out. (Yes! Trainers can drink a milk shake
every now and then when it is vital to our survival and coping!) And then the
next day I would be out searching for the next perfect space again. But it was
all meant to be, 2 of the spaces we bid on would have been horrible mistakes
and the business could have really suffered. And the space we have now is simply
incredible. It is a 9000 square foot, open loft style space with floor to ceiling
warehouse windows and an incredible feel and flow to it. It is inspirational
home to both our trainers and clients.
What skills were you born with and what skills have you learned along the
Man, who can say where we gain our skills? I would say the most valuable skills
I learned as a child were to be confident in exactly who I am and to have compassion,
humility and understanding for the people around me. I was lucky to have parents
who taught me these ideas as well as gaining some incredible insight into the
world as a camper and a camp counselor for an amazing youth summer camp called
Camp Kanata in NC. These basic ideas are create a strong foundation for any
direction you head in life. In athletics, your confidence will give you the
strength to try different activities, discovering which fit you best. In business,
humility and compassion will make you a caring, connected leader, while confidence
will give you the drive to surpass limits and excel!
What advice do you have for others wanting to be just as successful and
fulfilled as you?
There are several mantras that I live by and I feel like each of them has helped
lead me to where I am today: – ‘Do It All and Do It Hard’ – This is actually
the start of where the name DIAKADI came from. (DIAKADI is an acronym for ‘Do
It All and Kick Ass Doing It’.) For me, I am a 7 on the Enneagram chart. For
those of you who have no idea what that means, a Enneagram 7 is someone who
wants to experience everything this life has to offer. I mean heck, WHY NOT?
I had to know what it felt like to jump out of a plane, so I jumped out of one!
I needed to know what my mental and emotional experience would be if I spent
4 days in silent meditation so I went to Spirit Rock in Marin and discovered
a completely new level to the power of quiet. And I had to know what I looked
like with a mohawk. So the day before Thanksgiving in 2001, when I was meeting
Mike’s parents and extended family for the first time, oh yes, I got a mohawk.
(I told them it was in honor of my Dad’s Cherokee tribe and that each year my
Dad and I would give one another mohawks before we sat down to our Thanksgiving
meal.) So if there are curious thoughts in your head about a new career, a new
sport, a new relationship, or even a new haircut – then take the plunge and
feel the experience. The day we stop trying new things is the day we give up
and throw in the towel. – ‘Never make any decision based on fear.’ – This one
actually ties a lot into the idea above. Do not let fear run your life, let
confidence run it. I was scared as heck to walk away from a safe (read ‘boring
as he’ll) career of computer programming and begin working for myself as a personal
trainer, but I did my research and planning and figured out a way to be smart
about the change and it was a decision that improved my life in every way. (And
funny enough the ‘safe’ company I was doing computer programming for crashed
a few years later due to unfair customer market practices. Things that make
you go hmmm.) The one thing I see people most frequently do in fear is staying
in relationships that you are unhappy in and scared to leave. We all deserve
to be happy, loved, respected and safe. And none of us needs a relationship
to find these things. Find all of these things within yourself and your relationships
If you could be paid for your job with something other than a paycheck,
what would it be?
Time off and travel expenses! I am a Type 7, a ‘Do It All, Kick Ass Doing It’
guy, and that includes seeing as much of the world as possible, experiencing
different cultures, being the minority whenever possible, doing crazy outrageous
things just so you have the story to tell and laugh about later! Things to do
and people to see! All tickets on Virgin Airlines please!