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Conversations with the Inspiring Jackie “JQ” Stanczyk

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jackie “JQ” Stanczyk.

Jackie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in a small town 40 miles west of Chicago. I first began modeling at age 16, while I was a young rebellious high school student with a wild streak and a hatred for boredom. I remember skipping school to take the train downtown and shoot my first portfolio. I fell in love with modeling and wanted to pursue it full-time until I realized the financial struggle in doing so. I could have continued to live with my mom in our small town to alleviate the pressure of landing paid gigs, but I knew I wasn’t going to live up to my full potential if I didn’t get out of the very place holding me back. I began working three jobs, so I could afford to move myself to the city. At age 19, I dropped out of community college and got my first apartment in Chicago. I hustled to pay bills and submerged myself into any work I could find.

For years I squeezed in casting calls and photo shoots in between serving tables in the Gold Coast, bartending in River North, running an after school program for the Boys and Girls Club on the West Side, to making protein shakes at an Xsport Fitness in Old Town. You name it, I did it. At Xsport, I discovered my passion for the fitness industry and worked my way up to Assistant Operations Manager. From growing up playing sports, I felt like my true self in the gym but felt capped in my position. I eventually quit to pursue modeling full-time and take college courses at Roosevelt University. I didn’t have a long-term goal or a strategic plan for success. My entire existence was fueled by the need to survive and the fire inside me to just keep going and make a name for myself – in whatever shape or form that looked like.

In early 2016, I was offered the opportunity to work one day a week in an hourly position at Chicago’s most elite gym, East Bank Club. Between freelance modeling, bartending, and running an after-school program, I had no time to pick up another job but my gut and my love for the fitness industry drove me to do so anyway. I first began working four hours a week at East Bank Club’s Reservations Desk. Within six months I worked my way up to Assistant Club Manager. After a year of waking up at 3:30 am and working 12 hour days, I was then promoted to Operations Manager. It is in this role that I am learning how to run and operate the highest grossing private health Club in the world.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No part of my journey has been defined as smooth. I went to rehab at the same time, I began modeling. My mom’s house was foreclosed at the same time I moved to the city. I was scammed by a photographer who owed me thousands of dollars for a gig and I wasn’t able to pay my rent. I wasn’t taken seriously by men in the gym because I was a woman and half their age. I would work 18 hour days at Xsport and still struggle to pay my bills. I had to drop out of school for the second time because I couldn’t afford the tuition at Roosevelt University. There were so many sleepless nights that led to early mornings, where I would stare in the mirror and wonder when a big break would come. But I knew that one day my relentlessness would pay off.

The most important piece of advice I can give is to never settle for an opportunity that you are not passionate about, only because it provides financial security. If you follow your passions and put in the work, you will be able to create a career out of what you love. I also encourage you to stop allowing your self-defined limitations to hold you back from progression. I was “too short” for the modeling industry, “not college educated enough” for Management in the fitness industry, “too young” to be an Operations Manager. All of these limitations could have held me back, but I refused to allow them to. I believe it is very important to find what it is that you believe is preventing you from success, and aggressively defy it.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I am currently a freelance model and the Operations Manager of East Bank Club. I am actively working to redefine society’s expectation of what it means to be a woman. The expectation is that we must either play the role of beauty or of brain – it has always been a struggle to be taken seriously and respected as both. I spend most of my time wearing business suits, sitting in meetings where I am the youngest person, discussing strategies, policies, procedures, and innovative ideas for the company. But then, when I am in front of a camera, I take on another persona. I embrace and own sexiness and I try to exude fierceness. Whether I am in high-end fashion, streetwear or half-naked, I’m wearing confidence. Often, we feel we have to tone down our beauty and mute our womanhood in order to be taken seriously as a professional. Why can’t I have a goal to be both a CEO and on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Society tells us we can’t have it all, that we can’t be it all, but my brand as a woman is to defy that expectation.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
It’s 2018 and the percentage of female CEO’s is less than five percent, according to Forbes – that alone speaks volumes to the barriers on female leadership. The reason for this is not that we are less capable or less ambitious than our male counter parts, it’s that society’s gender roles are archaic and therefore opportunity is scarce. I recently read a study that concluded gender roles have been nearly stagnate in our society for 30 years, meaning, that we have been allowed into the workforce but women are still perceived as the weaker being whose main purpose is to create and raise a family and fulfill men’s needs. There are deeply ingrained misogynistic views in every facet of society, especially business. The smallest but common example I’ve personally encountered is the misconception that women lead with emotion over logic and therefore are poor decision makers and lousy innovators. Because I am a woman, passion and conviction are often misinterpreted as being emotional. My mentor is a woman who has been in the fitness industry for over twenty years. She is constantly teaching me how to communicate more articulately, concise, and purposeful in order to be taken seriously in a male-dominate industry.

Contact Info:

  • Email:
  • Instagram: @thejqstanczyk

Image Credit:

Will G. MacNeil, Billy Pissios, Vic Fuentes, The Ox Project, Jack Soltysik, and Cloe Doherty

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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