Success is a Moving Target: Build Accordingly
"That's just the way it is, Things will never be the same, That's just the way it is" - Tupac
For some reason, we think that our success can be mapped out at the beginning of the journey, as though we have been thrust into a familiar movie script, and all we have to do is show up to make it happen.
We don't consider the twists and turns. The uncertainties...the changes in the world, and the changes in ourselves.
This article, my "Guess Who's Back" piece, is an exploration of our definition of success, its fickle nature, and how we must be malleable and not rigid, if we wish to achieve it. The point of this entire article (besides reintroducing myself to the fitness article scene) - is to demonstrate that success changes us, or more importantly -
WE change and our vision/definition of success must adapt to match our orientation.
Beyond the intro, I'll share a concise summary of the last decade of my life and career, at least the parts that matter to this message, and relate those moments back to the idea of success.
I can assure that my definition of success has shifted over the years in many ways, but not in the linear way that most would expect. In fact, part of this article contemplates the potential circular nature of success....or dare I say..."The Circle of Life".
The Need for Flexibility in Fitness
No, not that flexibility...although having the ability to relax and elongate muscle fibers in response to demands is a physical attribute worth attaining...
I'm referring to career, and life, flexibility. More specifically, I like the term malleability, from metallurgy, the science of bending metals.
A highly malleable metal is one that can change form and shape, whereas a low malleability rating would define a rigid, unbreakable material.
Fitness professionals, now, more than ever, need to challenge themselves to develop skill sets adjacent to training. They must learn business, and marketing, and develop their presence on camera and in front of crowds. Everyone on Earth should take some pride in their written and spoken language.
Without these skills, a fitness professional can't adapt to a changing environment, such as having their entire business shift online, or needing to rely on writing skills and leadership qualities to land them a position off the floor. Without adjacent skills, or as Pat Flynn calls it, "Skill Stacking" - a fitness professional can only train or coach.
This trap, one that provides only a few roads, or definitions, to success. Without adequate abilities in other aspects of their lives a trainer can only define, and achieve, success as it pertains to their fitness business - AKA training clients.*
*To be absurdly clear - this statement acknowledges that there are individuals in this industry for which the maintaining of their book of clients is enough. You are amazing for your dedication to your craft.
But, when you want more...
When you need more out of your career...
You don't have the ammo, or "Career Capital" as Cal Newport calls it, then you can't make leaps into other adventures and you can't advance your definition of success.
You could have the map to the top of the mountain, but lack the tools to get there...
Don't Successful People Plan Everything?
While having a "clear vision" of who you want to be in ten years makes for a great capstone essay during your Senior Year of University, it is a completely unrealistic and absurd request when we consider the twists and turns of life.
I mean, seriously, did anyone reading this have Global Pandemic, Political Unrest, and Tom Brady leaving the Patriots on their 2020 Bingo Card?
Of course not, because we know that life on a macro scale is impossible to predict. Yet, for some reason - we think we can "think" and "plan" our way to a specific point in the distant future...as though are near-term willpower has the ability to stretch into the ether.
Sure, our willpower, fortitude and ability to consider the future can help us be successful.
A Navy Seal thinks of the ceremony on the other side of Hell Week, a segment of BUDs, while living a life of "wet and sandy" in Coronado, California.
A mother thinks of the joy of holding her newborn baby when the sleep is lost and the nausea unbearable.
A client toughs through another workout from their trainer knowing that they need to do this one, and the next one, to get the results they paid for.
But by-in-large, our ability to project success outwards beyond an intimate amount of time is severely limited. For this reason, we must forego the idea that we can absolutely control our own destiny and specifically identify our future.
We must be comfortable with the variability of life and retain a flexible definition of success, yet, never compromise our morals, ethics, and desire to push ourselves to new limits.
It is the idea that we must not worry about what the top of the mountain looks like, or concern ourselves with charting the perfect path prior to the climb. Instead, we must commit completely to the idea of completing the climb with integrity.
More importantly, we have to understand this:
"The Best Route up a Mountain is NEVER in a straight line"
And with that as my jump off, I'd like to share my personal journey as proof of concept for such a statement. For me, my deeply seeded desire to make a big impact, to be out in front of people, and to push myself to be above average at a variety of skills has never changed.
It is a lot of words, but I promise it isn't self-serving, or designed for anything other than to provide the only experience I can authentically bring to this takeaway...my own.
Growing up, my father was in the military and my mother was a job-by-job worker who helped pay the bills, but predominantly served as the rock in our family. I grew up watching my dad go to war for the US Air Force, and my mother holding down the fort. Like most American military families, we didn't have a lot but I never went without.
Thus, as I came of age...my dad's voice was in my ears:
"Have a paycheck that supports your family hit your account every two weeks, live right by God and those you love, and do whatever it is you do...correctly".
And so, whether I was doing hydroseeding, selling shoes, selling supplements for GNC, selling a Rainbow vacuum cleaner, or doing my college-course work...by 18 I was fully committed to doing things to the best of my ability, having a savings account worth more than my debts and trying to be a good human.
I attended a small junior college, Cecil College, and left with a 4.0 if I remember correctly (could have been a 3.8 if I'm being 100% honest) en route to the University of Maryland.
During this time I:
Earned the right to manage my own GNC location for 6 months prior to UMD (at 18 years old)
Righted my academic ship (High School GPA 2.3) and got into my dream school.
Fell in love with working out, the Bodybuilding.com forums, and Pre-Workout powder
Success was: Get grades, have a good life, lift and look good naked, and make some money by working my ass off at whatever job I held. Also...found my future profession via a hobby and love of exercise.
Let's just call this what this is...I was a student at the University of Maryland, studying Kinesiology and partying. I played Call of Duty and Beer Pong, got good grades, and worked out a lot.
I became a certified Personal Trainer though (ISSA), got hired at a franchise location of Gold's Gym in Greenbelt, and was training clients my senior year. Those early sessions were straight out of MuscleMag though....
I graduated UMD, barely made any money training, and applied to become a Capital Police Officer, a PG Country Police officer, and contacted a Marine recruiter as pressure from my parents, and my debt, mounted.
I was ready to look at training as a wash...a career not worth pursuing...just to get that stable paycheck again. And while I believe I would have made a fair, honorable, and good LEO, I'm sure glad I decided to apply at The Sports Club/LA in Washington D.C.
During this time, I'd say I probably felt the least successful in my life:
I graduated UMD (That was a big deal in my family, and my life)
I got hired by a big time Health Club brand
Success was: Graduate and get a job that meant I could live on my own. Grow the Fuck up and stop wearing Halloween costumes like "dick in a box".
Until about 23, I had a slowly building business, was a bit of a flirt, and had a ton of immaturity to iron out. I overslept meetings, was late to a few clients, and almost got fired for being kind of a turd of a human.
Success was defined by how I looked without clothes on and how big my social circle was. I did care about my craft, and did achieve a few certifications (CSCS and USAW1), but I had not yet decided if being a great trainer was my goal.
But, then at the age of 25 years old - Men's Health hosted a reality show that scoured the nation for trainers who'd look great, and talk well, on camera. Auditioning was recommended to me by my then Fitness Manager, and the next evolution of Kevin was born.
After failing to win a DVD contract and the prestige of Men's Health behind my name, I was compelled into a major growth phase in my career. I started this very site, began writing articles for PTontheNet and The Personal Trainer Development Center, and looked for every opportunity to get back on camera I could find - I was hooked on personal development, writing, and the media.
I did local morning shows a few times, was asked for quotes on Barack Obama's workout form from The Washington Post, and built a persona for myself that was as big as a Macy's Day float. I acted in independent movies, was an extra in major Hollywood productions, and was probably in the most conditioned shape of my life.
The playboy side of me had ceased to exist as I was in a serious relationship at the time, and by-in-large I was still going out, but not as frequently as in years past. Yet, after a painful breakup and a three-week stint with zero sobriety...I found myself at a crossroads in life.
Note for clarity - at this point Sports Club/LA had been purchased by EQUINOX - thus providing a wealth of growth opportunities within the brand for me.
I had seen success through the lens of my visibility, the size of my ego, and the way I looked (especially compared to others).
Within 5 years:
I serviced about 6 thousand sessions for two brands
Was on Reality TV, featured in major magazines and TV, did a few movies
Paid off my student debt and afforded my own apartment in D.C.
Built my website, writing brand and public persona
Success was: Be Seen, Be Heard, Everywhere...all the time. Be a sex symbol and omnipresent and be loud, VERY LOUD. Also, don't stop working your ass off and building your writing craft.
From 25-27 I was trapped in a persona partially created by one of the most unique and coolest opportunities a fitness professional could have.
It had built me.
I had become a Master Instructor for EQUINOX, thus putting me in the lead to teach my region the curriculum of the in-house education, EFTI.
I had TV hits, writing opportunities, and an E-Book that helped thousands, the MOST popular group fitness class in my region, and I became a spin instructor because "Fuck it, let's drop dope music
while wearing tights and see who wants to go out for drinks with the instructor"...
During that period I was the busiest I'd ever been as a trainer too...rendering nearly ten-thousand training sessions in 4 years between my business at EQUINOX and private clients.
Thankfully, I also met my wife, found a great therapist, and made it out the other side.
Success was: Don't lose sight of myself, let go of my need to impress, do a lot of sessions and make a lot of money, meet my future wife, and learn what I COULDN"T be if I wanted to be successful.
The other side of 30 (until now)
As I neared 30, and recovered from the persona I had built for myself, I realized that I didn't need to be bigger than life, or fake, to have people like me. I just needed to be myself and it truly was enough.
My writing changed, and Day by Day, my first paperback, was written. On December 18th 2018 it hit Amazon with Jonathan Goodman's blessing in my foreword. That book was more than just a book...it was stepping into a new idea of success.
It co-launched with an app, The Daily Trainer, which never really took off because we didn't know what to do with it once it was built...but we spent over 10k...so cool?
Yet, it was this act that helped me realize: maybe the camera and the abs and selling sex wasn't my way to bigger things.
I am a teacher, an instructor, a person who grows others. It obviously worked as a trainer...so why couldn't I expand into the teacher role...making it less about me and more about those I'm teaching/working with. So I dove head first into the next phase of my pursuit of success.
I continued as an Equinox Master Instructor, and was fortunate enough to speak at a few NSCA Coach's Conferences, became a mainstay in the SCW MANIA Conference schedule, and built a network of FRIENDS who used to be my fitness idols. I built a network that trusts me and looks out for me just as I do them.
I've written articles for the NSCA PT Quarterly, some of my friends and fellow trainer's sites, more for T-Nation, PTontheNet, and The PTDC...and grew into a person who put out thoughtful content...and not just a trainer who rendered sessions.
But I was done being a full-time trainer.
After twenty-thousand hours on the floor I needed a break. I began to feel that training wasn't enough to feel successful. I needed more responsibility...and I needed a job title that made me feel important, if I'm being honest.
Which lead to leaving EQUINOX and taking a corporate role at The St. James - an up and coming mega-brand in the fitness, sports, and active-entertainment space. As Director of Product Development I've created all of our group classes, built our in-house trainer education, streamlined many of our products...and more.
I've trained a few clients, taught lectures to the team, and even got back on the spin bike. I even hosted a few conferences, certifications, and the like for them. But by in large...I've been in the back, or at home during COVID, building in the background.
The man behind the curtain...
Then, I was contacted by Dr. John Rusin and the PPSC - "The Pain Free Performance Specialist Certification" and asked to join the team as a Master Instructor. I've traveled and taught almost a dozen locations and certified hundreds of new coaches.
I've been to Reno, Seattle, Cincinnati, and even got to teach my own team at The St. James (among other DC pros).
And it has elevated me to a new place as a teacher and leader. It has reconnected me with the "spotlight" after almost two years out of it. And my, oh my, have I come full circle...
I want to be out front again, my definition of success morphing back into being out there, teaching coaches, training clients, but doing it at a higher level, and yet also having time behind the scenes to craft BIGGER projects. Yep, I miss the training floor a lot.
I just completed a 151 page textbook, and 8-hour certification for SCW - The Functional Performance Coach. I'll grow with the PPSC, and other opportunities, all while committing to the renewal of The St. James in a post-COVID world. I'm going to take on more personal clients, definitely teach more group fitness when that's cool again...
I'll be resurrecting my personal writing career, social media posting, and other projects that I willingly put on the back-burner as I fulfilled the duties of my contract with TSJ. I'll be back out front, with a more complete story to tell, and with more context and more to offer.
Because these things matter again. Because once again my definition of success shifted...
Now, Success is:
Taking care of my wife and building our financial security, our home, and future family
Making sure that I do honest work to the best of my ability
Pushing myself to learn new things and expand my skills
Making the world a better place in only a way that I can...laughter, joy, and teaching
Take care of my whole health, even if it means above 10% body fat, but I will be here for the long haul, without injury or pain.
And I'm only 32...who knows where the future takes this story and how my definition of success changes going forward. But I will say this...
Success is a moving target. It is something that adapts just as we have come to expect the human body to adapt. It hypertrophies and atrophies just like a muscle, and shifts leftwards and rightwards as though it is a flag in the wind.
And that's how it is supposed to be. Time passes, people change, and success adapts.
Who you will be tomorrow is a product of your efforts today...but those efforts are always done in the context of yesterday.
So, reflect, project, and act on a weekly basis. Be malleable.