My first two years after leaving the military (2012-2014) were very interesting years. My goals getting out of the service revolved heavily around eventually opening my own strength and conditioning facility and competing in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). Being free from the restrictions of being a service member was supposed to be this dream come true. The uniforms, shaving daily, having to get permission to go out of town on the weekend, saluting people you don’t even know, room checks for cleanliness and on and on. Some people really enjoy all the structure. It saves people’s lives to be honest. While I respect and appreciate that some people need discipline imposed upon them, I didn’t (and don’t) have that problem. I’ve been exercising self-discipline as far back as I can remember. To have another grown man come into my living space to make sure I made my bed was ridiculous to me. I’m a grown ass man! I was very excited and happy to be done when I got out. The first couple months were somewhat surreal. Almost 6 years of a rigid military environment and now being free to do as I pleased without having to answer to people was euphoric… for a little bit.
I started working at a gym and teaching group classes immediately. Pretty early on I began to realize that my perceptions about client/customer motivation to change their own bodies was inflated. That was 6 years ago when I began training people. Today, I can see the value of engaging clients and beginning to recognize how certain psychological patterns were undermining their progress. I couldn’t see that then. All I saw was the fact that I was trying to help people get healthy, customers were supposedly paying the gym to get healthy, and yet, people very rarely followed through on any advice that I had to offer. I thought, “What the hell is going on here?!” This post isn’t about physical health but I was utterly confused at the thought that people were paying for guidance that they weren’t using. I never had a trainer or mentor to guide me through the weightloss process (Thank God for books and the internet). It was a huge let down. Nevertheless, I knew that prevention was the answer to people’s health struggles. I persisted. It was challenging. I had to put on a smile many early mornings when I didn’t want to be there. It’s difficult to teach people when you realize they don’t really want to learn. This is what I was talking about in the last post with the ‘fix me’ mentality. The scary thing about this realization at the time was the fact that I couldn’t come up with anything else that I was remotely interested in professionally. Helping people get healthy was ‘the thing’ since I had walked away from the engineering world. If fitness wasn’t going to work, then what was I going to do with myself?
I kept working and I kept trying to figure out how to motivate clients and make the process more palatable for people. I was barely making any money. I was always walking on a tightrope financially. Just barely paying my bills. Unable to travel anywhere. For a time, I slept on the floor of my apartment. My goal was saving money. Not because I’m cheap. I knew that every dollar I saved meant that I could work at the gym that much longer. The more time at the gym meant the more time I could spend learning the business and learning how to help clients solve their problems. I took some flack for my frugal living. I had a brief, intense relationship with a woman who told me explicitly that my limited financial capacity was part of why she didn’t want to continue. She was wanted a family and I couldn’t take care of one. She was absolutely correct and totally justified in wanting to start a family. That was a priority for her. This reality absolutely broke my heart.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. I had fallen for this woman hard and to have her reject me because of my inability to provide was not only unrequited love but it was also a massive blow to my ego. As an American man, former Green Beret, combat veteran, former Engineer, etc. It was crushing to have a woman I cared about so much, reject me for my inability to provide. It was a choice I was making for the sake of helping others but that didn’t redeem the condition of my limited finances. I was so tempted to go run out and join the Police Department or Fire Department (Jobs I more than qualify for) just to have the financial stability to get her to stay. She was the first woman I had dated in 6 or 7 years at that point. Since a failed engagement before I joined the Army, I hadn’t so much as emailed with a woman. I had so much hope for this relationship and we had so much chemistry. It was crazy intoxicating. She bailed.
Of course, I met her at the gym. When she ended it, she stopped coming and every day I went to work at the gym, I was reminded of her and I was reminded of my apparent inadequacy. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to clients talk about going on vacations, buying houses, getting new cars, getting married, having kids etc. Or even little things like going to the movies, going to a restaurant to eat, buying new clothes, having health insurance etc. I couldn’t do any of this. I was broke, my heart was broken, and professionally, I wasn’t finding much joy or meaning in training people. Depression settled in pretty heavy during this time period. My self-worth was pretty deflated. Here’s the interesting thing to think about. Very few people keyed in on it at the gym. I did everything I could to come to work with a good attitude and still show up ready to give my all to the clients, even if they weren’t giving their all to themselves. This time is a perfect example of the 300% Rule in play. I chose to work at the gym. I chose to risk my heart in the relationship. 100% Ownership – I can choose my response to the heartbreak in each scenario. Yes, I was depressed but giving my 100% Effort in the moment meant that I had to dig up a good attitude for my clients, even when I was crushed on the inside. It was incredibly difficult.
People loved the way I taught and till this day people tell me about how they had no idea I was depressed. I just decided to hold on. I was learning something extremely important about people at the gym and I needed to give it time to play out. The key was not letting the frustration with clients, my finances, and romance take me off course. It would have been so easy to just bail and go Police or Fire. I calculated it recently and a years salary of a first year Firefighter is almost the equivalent of what I made in the last 6 years combined. This almost brought me to tears. In that first two years I spent many weekends solo in my apartment, I wasn’t able to travel home to Alabama to see my family, I didn’t have health insurance, and I was always tense about approaching women because I barely had any money to go on a date (It would be too hard of a blow to get dropped because of finances again). Pursuing your passion wholeheartedly is a hell of a thing. It’s a Dog Fight!
I was also tempted to move away from Tacoma at times. “Maybe this city isn’t for me.” “Maybe in Seattle people are more likely to appreciate me as a trainer.” “Maybe I should move back home for a while. I can help my parents take care of the house and reduce my expenses.” These thoughts ran through my mind when I was feeling especially isolated and lonely. Another thought was, “Maybe I should go back to School? Maybe Physical Therapy. I love the Musculoskeletal system.” Whenever I thought these things I would always end on a few points:
- You want to move away because you’re feeling isolated. Maybe it takes time to build meaningful relationships with people in any given city. If you run you’ll lose the two years you’ve established in Tacoma.
- Being a trainer has shown me some significant things about human psychology and in particular human motivations. Maybe, being a trainer is not what you should ultimately be doing. Maybe there is some value in your other life experiences that could help people out. Give yourself some time to figure out what that other thing is.
- Being a trainer at a local gym has shown me what it takes to run a gym. Seems like my supervisors spend more time working on the building, accounting, marketing etc. than actually getting to teach people. Owning a gym isn’t the glorious dream you thought it was.
- The things I’ve learned about people in this real world environment are far more valuable than any University Education I could have gotten. While I’ve had to make some serious sacrifices in comfort relative to others, I haven’t had to pay a dime for this education!
I started my first blog back in 2013. It was my second year at the gym. That blog was similar to this one in the sense that it was about life in general. Back then it would take me 3 weeks to kick out a 1000 word post. Today I can produce a 1500 word post in a couple hours. My ability to communicate the patterns of life that I lay out before you today, came from the fact that I didn’t run when the process of the gym got hard. I stayed the course with the gym for as long as I could and that let me learn some intensely valuable lessons about humanity. I didn’t blame my misery on the gym, or my clients, or the woman. I made a choice and I needed to do the hard work on myself to get to a place of fulfillment.
I hear people struggling in life and one of the things I watch people do is blame the city that ther in. “This place doesn’t have what I need!” How often do we say to ourselves, “Maybe my surroundings don’t need to change. Maybe I need to change?” I learned because I stayed the course that first two years. I also needed to go through some major overhauling on my own life. We’ll talk about that in the next post. For now, think about this: You can run from your problems, but maybe your problems stem from your mentality towards life. You can’t run from yourself. The same character flaws you have in one place, are going to be the same in another place, until you do the deep personal work to fix them. Maybe the circumstances don’t need to change. Maybe we need to change.
More on this deep personal work in Part 2 next week.