In my article last week “The Artist - Part 1” I spoke about my decision to leave personal training to help the artist get their word out. I also spoke about my troubles keeping my health in check dealing with stress, anxiety, and poor sleep habits. The support was overwhelming but also made me realize that a lot of fitness professionals struggle with the same issues. One of the conversations I had with Spencer Bell really jumped out at me so I asked him to write down his thoughts to share. The below is what he came up with and damn is it ever powerful. Enjoy and be sure to join the conversation in the comments section below. -Jon
What started as a brief email consult with Jon about his recent turbulence which he wrote about in “The Artist – Part 1” resulted in this small piece. First of all, I should preface this by saying, in large, bold print that I am in no way, shape or form an expert, but rather an inquisitive mind. This is an issue that I want to spark some discussion about.
So you’re a personal trainer – a master of biomechanics. You eat, breathe, and live for the human body. You know your stuff inside and out and your passion in infectious. You work non-stop because you love it and that’s your life. You’ve helped your clients so much in their lives, whether it’s the guy rehabbing a creaky back for his weekend golf games, the young woman looking to regain that flat stomach after a pregnancy, or that young ace looking for an edge in his or her quest for the pros. The drive to help people keeps you going when your alarm clock goes off at 5am and the reward is the journey itself.
The ability to transform another person’s life is undoubtedly a gift, yet there are hurdles to overcome. At no time in history has our knowledge of the human body been as great as it is currently, and at no time has there been greater access to information. Information flows free — more than you’ll ever use. This leads us to the inevitable question, “how much is too much?”
As a professional trainer, you rely on your knowledge of the body to help your clients. As your knowledge foundation grows, so does your client base and your range of services, and the cycle continues. Your passion causes you to constantly be neck-deep in the literature and exercise magazines 24/7.
This is fine in high school or college/university when you’re learning everything for the first time, are generally unattached and have few responsibilities outside the occasional kegger or football game. Certain aspects of life outside of that bubble; a girlfriend or boyfriend, a child, a sick parent, or something else which throws a wrench into your daily routine.
The first reaction may be to simply delay:
“I’ll see you on the weekend, but I have to finish this first, which is very important.”
But there’s only 24 hours in a day, and when Thing 1 ends there’s always Thing 2 starting right up, leaving you smack dab in the same predicament. The second reaction may be more personal:
“If they can’t understand why this is so important to me then maybe I need to re-evaluate my friends.”
Of course, sometimes that’s true and you do need to evaluate who you surround yourself with and their motivations/goals, but most of the time it’s not. Eventually your friends (outside of the fitness and healthcare world) may finally reach you again and pull you back to reality a bit, forcing you to chill out, take in some fresh air for a few weeks and work “normal hours.” But this can lead to professional complacency and before you know it, the gym across the street is stealing your clients with the newest program that you’ve never even heard of. None of this spells “healthy lifestyle”.
Not Just Fitness
This is an issue in all professions, but I would argue is much more pronounced in the healthcare field. Your professional life depends on you knowing the latest techniques, diagnoses, technology, and programs. More importantly, and setting you apart from arguably every other industry, your clients depend on your knowledge and trust your judgements completely for decisions that have a huge impact on their health. That’s a lot of pressure facing you! The struggle is balancing making time for personal relationships and “me time”.
How do you balance these things? How do you maintain professional excellence and a life?
There seems to be many in healthcare that prefer to either trudge forward on the path to burnout or settle for professional mediocrity, neither path leading to the fulfillment and happiness that you prescribe your clients. The irony speaks for itself. People that do what they love to help others often do so at the cost of their own health and well-being.
Stress levels, divorce rates, substance abuse, and various other factors are all higher in the medical community. Recent data suggests 14% of male physicians and 25% of female physicians struggle with alcohol abuse1– well above the norm – just to name one. As people involved with healthcare, we always preach to put physical and mental health at the top of the list, and everything else will follow; yet we struggle to follow our own advice sometimes, due to a fear of losing relevance, missing out on new information, or just being unsure of what else to do.
Many people will tell you to leave your work on your desk and walk away. That’s easy enough when you’re pushing paper in a cubicle, but when you’re emotionally and physically invested in your work – as most healthcare professionals tend to be – it’s not so easy (and I’m not convinced it’s the right approach anyways).
What’s Your Definition of Success
The question is not whether sacrifices need to be made to be successful (defining success in the traditional sense). That’s not up for debate (see: any billionaire’s memoire). The question is rather how to sacrifice things efficiently and still live well? How do you practise what you preach and still maintain your professional edge? How do you get time for your own workouts when you have 10, 14, even 16 hours of face time per day with clients? How do you fit in time to cook dinner for your girlfriend when you need to finish writing a program (or maybe she’d rather go out instead…)? How do you make time to watch your daughter’s baseball game when you need to master that new technique?
How do you do all of these personal things consistently (once a week? twice? once a month? Is it fair to even put a limit?) while maintaining an up-to-date professional skillset and knowledge base, and still squeeze in a cheeky beer for yourself now and then?
I haven’t the least idea. I’ve been down the same path, obsessing over that last bit of unlearned knowledge or the next phase of a design plan. I’ve experienced burnout and come back around by getting back to basics and re-establishing my desire to help people. It was a slow turnaround and a path I’d like to avoid re-visiting.
Ultimately, it’s imperative to “know thyself”; your strengths, but most importantly your weaknesses. Bad at keeping a schedule? Hire an assistant; set annoying alarm clocks to remind you of things; buy a calendar; find an associate with a similar personality and compare notes.
You need to self-assess and recognize when you need a change or a breather – nobody will tell you (and you wouldn’t listen anyways). If you aren’t happy, you can’t help anyone and I am a huge believer in the importance of self-criticism (in moderation). I bring up these thoughts not in a negative light, but more to bring voices to the discussion, especially in today’s fast-paced world of constant information. How do successful people cope? Many people balance their commitments very well, while others balance them poorly but still find themselves moving along happily, which is fine as well. There’s no right answer, but there are certainly different strategies and I’d love to hear some.
Everyone has their different ways of balancing life’s professional side. As an ex-athlete and current grad student I don’t pretend to have any specific answers that will rewrite history. Here’s some things that have helped me:
5 Ways to Balance Work and Life
1. You will never know everything. Aim to be the best at your specific niche in the field, and know who to refer to when you’re out of your element. Knowing pales in comparison to knowing where to find. And there’s nothing wrong with coming back tomorrow.
2. Turn off your phone. Don’t put it on vibrate, mentally counting the incoming texts to return after that lunch date ends. Shut it down. Power off. No calls, texts, emails, tweets, or posts. Get some fresh air. For a minute. A night. A weekend. Nobody will ever miss you THAT much, you’re simply not that important! Sometimes you get so wrapped up in what you’re working on that you forget you’re actually chatting with a beautiful girl. Pay attention… she just said her name again and you missed it! Dammit.
3. Laugh at yourself. You’re not as smart as you think and you will say stupid things. Deal with it. You can learn from your own mistakes (you will make a lot) and it makes it easier than steadfastly defending your idiocy.
4. Switch it up! Try something new at least twice a month, if not more. You’re in the gym/clinic/lab all day, why not go see a play? Spend a weekend away? Try a new restaurant? Discover a new band? Or, if you really want a challenge, find a modern artist that actually plays their own instruments! (insert angry criticism here). A little culture expands and challenges the other side of the brain and helps you to re-focus on the task at hand.
- SIDE NOTE: Various universities, especially in the UK, have faculty dinners which forbid you to sit with colleagues from your own department – a bi-weekly cross-discplinary social mixer of sorts. This forces electrical engineers to socialize with artists, geographers with musicians, and so on in an effort to open the mind to outside opinions and a whole other world of thought. I think it’s a fantastic idea.
And of course, The Golden Rule (pun intended): 5. Nothing beats a cold beer on a hot day with a good buddy. Make it happen.
How do you deal with the pressures? Comment below and share with anybody who may benefit from reading / sharing their thoughts.
About the Author
Spencer Bell has a background in and maintains a strong passion for the field of rehabilitation science, while currently undertaking a masters degree in biomedical engineering to further explore the healthcare field.
Photo credits: Sunrise in America dollen anieto2k