Four Tips for Professional and Personal Evolution
Writer's Note: This piece was originally intended to address concerns specific to my industry as a fitness and yoga teacher. However, the ideas and concepts expressed are so far reaching and applicable to any business or trade, that I thought it worthwhile to share with all. Whether an architect, banker, bus boy, or doctor - we all must evolve.
It could be argued that from the moment we enter this world, that is man’s primary goal. In order to survive, we must, in the most simplistic ways, evolve. However, beyond mere survival, evolution is also necessary to thrive. Whether we seek to progress in the realm of spirituality, personal relationships or career - we must evolve. If we don’t, we run the risk of letting our past dictate our future. It seems we live in a society where many often feel ‘stuck’ in their career, in a relationship, in their life. We hear it all the time - I’m stuck in a rut.
For us fitness and health professionals, this is the kiss of death, as we are, most likely, creative creatures. Not only that, like it or not, we are actually responsible for helping others evolve. That’s a big responsibility. One we can’t assume unless we are on the path of evolution ourselves. So how do we continue to grow both inside and outside the studio and inspire others to do the same? To become not only teachers, but leaders?
Thanks to shows like the Biggest Loser and our culture’s increased focus on weight, health and appearance, for better or for worse, the fitness business is booming. Maybe too quickly. Everyone is looking for the next big product or program that will have consumers jumping on the workout bandwagon, pumping out infomercials, new ‘systems’ and workout modalities faster than the next HIIT class can hit the schedule. In response, to meet demand, numerous specialty instructor training programs have sprouted up.
A new generation of instructors is rising up who need to do little more than memorize and regurgitate a set of pre-designed moves, a playlist and a couple of left and right cues. Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the ‘education’ in fitness education. We are no longer being taught how to lead, but how to follow. In a few days almost anyone can become an instructor of something. I do understand everyone has to start somewhere. But the question is, “What’s next?”
Evolving requires us to answer that question. Every moment you are given a choice. Right or left? Fast food or fresh vegetables? Spinning or yoga?
The good news is, most of us are probably not teaching fitness to get rich. While I don’t believe we have to struggle, for most of us, the financial reward is not the reason we bust-butt jetting from class to class, trying to make new playlists in between. Otherwise, your next choice would likely be ‘I’m out.’ So how do we move beyond our initial group fitness certification to becoming an educator who can lead, inspire and ultimately, truly thrive in this community and in life?
For me, personal evolution depends on the 4 C’s.
Question what others are doing and why. Take interest in the work of your colleagues and be inquisitive. Even if you have no desire to teach yoga, try some classes and get uncomfortable. I’ll often take the class of someone I respect and admire even if I don’t totally love, or better yet, am terrible at, the format. No matter what the exercise, a good instructor emanates a contagious passion. Their light inspires every student in the studio and the effects often last far beyond the hour workout or class. And remember, inspiration isn’t always found in the gym. It’s sparked by being curious about others and the world in which we live. Ask someone you admire to coffee and find out what makes him or her tick. Don’t ever lose a child-like sense of the world. It may take you in a direction you previously never considered.
This step may actually require stepping away from the group fitness studio. I know after leading 20 classes a week, your teaching can feel very stale. If you have to do one more lunge or scream one more ‘C’mon!’ you may weep. You’re exhausted, crushed and tapped out. Be careful, because this is the danger zone where we become stagnant and worse yet, apathetic. This happens in all industries. Recognize when this sort of exhaustion kicks in and take a break to refill the well, or as Julia Cameron calls it in her popular book, The Artist’s Way, “prime the pump.” Engage in activities other than your chosen profession. Get outside. Do something different. Just because you love fitness it doesn’t mean you have to eat, sleep and breathe it. This will fuel the creative fires and help re-ignite inspiration. There are hundreds of instructors out there. What distinguishes you from the others? You’re ability to create, be fresh, think differently and bring your own unique voice to every step touch.
This part may be the most challenging for those of us always on the go. It requires getting quiet, listening to that inner voice and doing another “C”: reflective contemplation. Become aware of where you are and where you’d like to go. Look at the choices you’ve made until this point and discern if similar decisions will lead you to where you want to be. And be honest with yourself. If you’re in this business to simply be on the next reality show, you may want to re-evaluate. Know what drives and excites you and be true to that. If you’re not too jazzed about anything right now or you feel bored teaching, go back to #1 or #2. But also be willing to explore something else if fitness is no longer your gig. While I love the occasional spin class, and believe I could do a good job leading one, I know after about a month of it, I’d probably be ripping my hair out. On the other hand, I can’t get my hands on enough books, texts and teachings of Yoga. Any time I question whether I am evolving in the direction I’m meant to, all I have to do is look at what’s on my nightstand.
Consciousness can lead to clarity. Personally, I know it’s time to move on in my own career, but right now, I am still unsure where I need to go. It is this time, more than ever, I need to force myself to be still and listen. For it is only in the silence we see clearly.
Last but not least, let us not forget why we choose this as a profession. You care about others. You want to help others succeed. You bask in the light of others’ victories and guide them through failures big and small. Don’t forget to shine some of that light of compassion on yourself. Take care of yourself and no matter how tired you get or how frustrated you may become, remember why you show up day after day. Ultimately, you want to see others thrive. And I wish the same for you. May you continue to evolve and thrive.