A few weeks ago, I received arguably the most hilarious email that I’ve ever read from a reader of mine. Rather than summarize it, I’ve screenshotted it here for you below:
I asked him for his permission to answer his questions in the form of a post since I think there are a lot of young aspiring entrepreneurs (especially those still in college) who could stand to benefit from my reply. Here’s his situation in a nutshell:
- fulltime college student
- aspiring fitness entrepreneur
- hustling his butt off, but maybe finding himself overwhelmed with juggling school and trying to pursue his budding career
With that out of the way, I’ll answer his questions one at a time.
How did you manage to cultivate your network, knowledge, and general skillz as a personal trainer while storming your way through Stanford?
Truth be told, I didn’t really begin making moves on my fitness career until my senior year of college. At that point, I was still figuring out what it was that I wanted to do for a living, and I’d just gotten done running myself exhausted bouncing around from marketing to finance to journalism to film.
I remembered that a photographer (Mike Byerly, for the curious among you) that I’d worked with earlier that spring had mentioned a fitness entrepreneurial conference called the FMI, so I took a leap of faith and flew down to LA for a weekend. I had no idea what I was doing, no clue how to make my first step. All I knew was that I loved fitness and I wanted to be more than just some pretty face that strutted around for looks.
At the FMI, I learned the basics of what I needed to know to make a name for myself in the industry, and when I came back, I got straight to work.
And then I got really excited over the two small steps that I’d taken. And then… I started to Tweet sporadically and post on my Facebook page every few days. If you look at my Twitter account, you’ll see the first few people that I followed.
So I was following the right crowd for sure, and I was reading a lot of well-respected fitness professionals’ blogs pretty obsessively by that point.
Being a senior and all (and I’m not recommending that you do this by any means), I had grown pretty comfortable in the academic environment and had taken up the not-so-great habit of scrolling through other people’s blogs while sitting in lecture. Again, I don’t recommend this. But you might be doing this already anyway.
Education is key. Especially in the fitness industry, in which what we know to be the truth is changing very rapidly what with scientific studies and other findings, it’s imperative to keep up with the literature to stay relevant.
With that said, here are some people you should be keeping up with if you’re not already:
Sohee Lee (shameless plug)
Dr. Layne Norton
Dr. Stuart Phillips
Jen Comas Keck
And some other people who I highly respect in the field of psychology, entrepreneurism, and/or lifestyle habits:
I hope you are reading like a fiend. If not every day, then most days. Keep up with the content of everyone listed above, plus get your hands on as many books as you can.
Some training books that I recommend (in no particular order):
Precision Nutrition’s Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition – Dr. John Berardi
The Power of Habit – Charlies Duhigg
The Willpower Instinct – Dr. Kelly McGonigal
Motivational Interviewing in Health Care – Stephen Rollnick, William Miller, and Christopher Butler
Linchpin – Seth Godin
The Invisible Gorilla – Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Dr. Robert Cialdini
Choose Yourself – James Altucher
These lists are by no means comprehensive, but they’re a start.
Again, I cannot emphasize enough: make sure you are reading like a maniac.
That takes care of the knowledge part.
As far as networking, put yourself out there. Your reaching out to me like you did is a prime example of that. I’ll never forget who you are because of your email to me. And while one point of contact may just put you as a blip in my mind, if you continue to doing what you’re doing, your name will spread.
Cold-calling is very old-fashioned, but for the most part, it still works. Don’t be afraid to send a fitness professional an email, either to tell them you admire their work or to ask a quick question.
When I was first getting started (and who am I kidding? I’m still just getting started), I made it a point to go out of my way to reach out to people that I looked up to. Within a few months, I was able to meet Leo Babauta, Dan John, and almost Alan Aragon (we couldn’t find a day and time that worked well for both of us).
Was it scary? Oh hell yes. As a classic introvert, I was petrified. But it was simultaneously exhilarating because I knew that that was exactly what I needed to do to make moves in the industry.
I hope you have a Twitter account by now. If not, what are you waiting for? You should be Tweeting at other fitness professionals pretty regularly, either sharing their content or initiating conversation with them.
On Facebook, start a Facebook page if you haven’t already. Add other fitness professionals as friends. Get to know them (just not in a creepy way).
Attend fitness events. Seminars. Introduce yourself to others, learn from the best in the industry. Check out Perform Better and Strong First to start.
General skillz. This one takes the longest time, and to be honest, I know nothing compared to a lot of other people. If you want to hone your skills as a personal trainer, get out there and coach people!
Try to always surround yourself with people who are better at what you do. Learn how to assess clients, and then learn how to write effective training programs accordingly.
You’ll learn a lot through simple trial and error, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn from other people’s mistakes also.
Ask questions, poke around.
[Tweet “Find your niche. Because the truth is, you can’t be great at absolutely everything.”]
Do you like to train Olympic lifters? Powerlifters? General fat-loss clients? Rehab?
Or perhaps your interest is more in the nutrition side of things. If that’s the case, you should be chasing people like Alan Aragon and Layne Norton.
Whatever it is, find your specific area and practice like crazy. The sooner you start, the better.
[Tweet ““If it’s important, do it everyday. If it’s not, then don’t do it at all.” – Dan John”]
How much has your degree helped you in the training world since?
This one’s a really interesting question because I think a lot of people are under the misconception that I learned most of what I know about fitness through my Stanford education.
It’s true but it’s also not at all true.
Yes, I majored in human biology. Yes, I completed most of the premed courses (before jumping ship). Yes, I took Human Nutrition and Human Physiology and all of those kinesiology courses. And they helped me out, of course. But not in the way that you may think.
More than those specific courses, it was everything else that has carried over into the real world.
For one, the PWR1 (Program in Writing and Rhetoric) class I took my freshman year really pushed me as a writer. I probably spent about 100 hours working on one paper on a topic that really gave me a headache. From that, I learned to persevere through difficult tasks.
My sophomore year, I took the HumBio core (a requirement for all aspiring HumBio majors) and the level of daily dedication and commitment required to ace the course was incredibly high. From that, I picked up the most effective strategies for learning and absorbing huge amounts of information at any one time. I also fine-tuned my analytic and reasoning skills.
Junior year was a time of real struggle. The courses I was taking on were becoming increasingly difficult, my relationship at the time was strained, and I was having a quarter-life crisis as I fought through depression and wrestled with what I wanted to do with my life. That was when I learned that no matter what, I had to follow my heart. And that no matter how bad things got, I’d always make it out in the end.
Senior year, I learned how to do well in classes without really trying while clicking around on other people’s fitness blogs.
Kidding about that last part. (Or am I?)
It wasn’t the facts and little tidbits of knowledge I acquired during my four years there. It wasn’t about that at all.
All in all, the most valuable takeaways from my time at Stanford were the life skills. As an academic, I came away armed with the tools I needed to make myself stand out. As an entrepreneur, I was surrounding by budding startups in the Silicon Valley, and I drew inspiration from that. As a student at a liberal school, I learned to question the status quo and stand up for myself.
Does having a Stanford degree make me more “legit”? Maybe. But honestly, all my having gotten into Stanford (and made it out with a B.A.) says is that I was really, really, really good at high school. And I was pretty good at college, too.
Never rest on your laurels. A college education only gets you so far.
Do I think that my time there was invaluable and I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today without it? Absolutely.
But would I have been fine? I have no doubt about that.