Finding Harmony in Your Fitness Community
Take a second and think about the other Pilates and/or Gyrotonic® trainers in your area, that is if you’re lucky enough to have a community in your town bigger than just you. What thoughts or feelings come to mind? Do you see a network of likeminded, supportive individuals, happy to participate in other local studios’ courses and events? Excited to meet for coffee and chat about the business, or get together to exchange movement ideas?
I hope you do. But after years of listening to the woes of many of my colleagues in the industry it’s clear that’s not always the case. I’ve heard stories of behaviors among movement professionals and studio owners that range from rude, such as deliberately not inviting trainers from a particular studio to participate in workshops with visiting Master Trainers, to outrageous attempts to undermine a “competing” studio’s business.
But why? I remember one case I saw years ago in my own community, involving a business conflict and deceit between two colleagues. I was friendly with both and was hearing the story from both sides (I won’t mention any details as I don’t want to poke at those old, healed-over wounds, if anyone familiar with the incident reads this). It became clear that one individual was facing a great financial stress and had begun acting out of desperation.
I recall realizing that it’s really easy to be a good person when all is going well, but what’s really telling is how we behave when it all hits the proverbial fan. And somehow I’d inadvertently stepped, or been pulled, into the middle of this mess that risked damaging my professional relationships and reputation. I was disappointed in my colleague’s behavior and decided to take it as a valuable lesson.
This industry can be tough. It can be tough financially, emotionally, and in terms of work load. It’s easy to see other trainers or other studios and think things are easier for them, which can cause resentment, with in turn can break down what otherwise might have been productive, supportive relationships.
It’s also not that hard for us to build each other up. We just have to put some awareness and intention to it. It may involve shaking off some perceived slights or reframing our views on certain situations, but with practice I’m pretty sure it will get easier.
Whether you think of your community as just your local area, or have a global network of colleagues with whom you regularly interact, here is a starting point for rebuilding good connections, or maintaining the good relationships you may already have:
Don’t gossip. It’s perfectly fine to check in on the wellbeing of friends and colleagues, as long as our intentions are positive. This is how we’ll know if we need to extend some support, or if there’s something important happening in the community. But as soon as the conversation turns judgmental or begins rehashing personal details that aren’t really our business, that’s stepped over the line. If gossiping is a habit it might be a challenge at first to stop, but after you catch yourself a few times it’ll get easier. If you find yourself in mid- gossip with a colleague or client, stop yourself and say “but now I’m gossiping” and bring up a different subject. Not only does this act as a reset for our own behavior, but also can nudge the person with who the conversation turned gossipy toward more awareness of their own habits. And remember, if you’re gossiping to a friend, colleague, or client about others, it won’t take her long to realize you’re probably gossiping about her as well.
“Eyes on your own page” Most of us have at one time or another found ourselves when hearing about other trainers’ continuing education pursuits, studio expansions, or forays into new teaching modalities, comparing ourselves and our career paths to those of others. I’ve spoken to a few trainers who seem so fixated on what another trainer is doing, and who immediately sign up for the same courses in order to “keep up” with that other trainer. What I tell them is to “keep their eyes on their own page”, meaning, focus on your own work, not on the work others are doing.
We should pursue the courses and career paths that are inspiring and that are useful for us as individuals. If you make choices about what courses to take, or what classes to offer at your studio based on the choices others have made then you’re not being true to your own self. Decisions made out of a sense of competition or envy will always be reactive decisions. It seems to me much more productive to make proactive decisions to carve out the career path that’s just right for you. While its good to have a sense of the direction the industry is taking and to learn from observing others’ choices to some extent, these should just be points of reference along the way of our own paths. Work on growing as the best “you” you can be and you’ll be much more successful than attempting to be the best ‘someone else’.
Be ware of FOMO when you see social media posts of what seems like ALL of your colleagues enjoying some exciting course in some beautiful location. You probably have a limited education and travel budget for the year and you need to make your choices based on your needs, not on what your colleagues have chosen.
Reach out. Invite studio owners and trainers from around your community to courses and events at your studio. Connect on social media. Go for coffee or a glass of wine with another trainer in the community with whom your paths rarely cross. Offer your honest support to a studio owner or trainer who may be going through a personal or health crisis. Often times the strains of envy or competitiveness obscure the truth that these others in our community have so much in common with us and could be great allies in a not-always-easy industry if we open ourselves to that possibility.
Participate. Likewise, if you’re invited to an event at another studio you should go. I know you’re busy, but try your best to make it. Turn up for studio openings, workshops, or social events. Go with your best attitude, open mind, and on your best behavior. Understand this event is about the studio or trainer who is hosting or presenting, and don’t try to bring too much attention or limelight to yourself or your business. Do not hand out business cards. Just go and be authentically supportive of the event itself. You’ll most likely learn something and will probably gain some trust and respect from your colleagues.
Empathize. When we look at those in our community as competition we may not see them as the good, talented, hardworking people that they most likely are. Keep in mind, whatever challenges you face in this line of work they're probably facing as well. It’s important to understand that everyone has their own challenges that we don’t necessarily see from the outside. When it looks like someone’s business is going great and everything seems easy for them, that’s probably not entirely the case. And because we most likely have a lot in common with these other community members empathy should be pretty easy if we give it a try.
I know I can sound a bit overly rosy about our capacity for harmony and in my faith in fellow humans. I understand that there are difficult personalities out there. There may be people who will never be open to you or your attempts at building bridges. Some may see you as competition and feel threatened by your talents, or even just your existence as a trainer in their community. I acknowledge that. But I still feel it’s worth leaving the door open. One day they may be ready to soften and accept some of your gestures of kindness. If not there’s very little lost, and if so the entire community gains.