Do you train or teach at different locations and find that one always drains you? Do you work long hours or during time frames that don’t provide enough reward for the effort? Have you wanted to make career changes but been scared to do so?

It may be time for a spring-cleaning. Just as spring-cleaning your house means getting rid of dirt and clutter, spring-cleaning your career means pruning out what doesn’t work. As a master Fitness By Phone® coach, I learned that pruning means “to do less and accomplish more, cutting out the parts of your life that are not serving you, at least not enough to [let you] lead the life you really want.”

Getting rid of parts of your career that are weighing you down can benefit you as much as superduper, seasonal house-cleanings. Discover how spring-cleaning has helped other fitness pros and how you can make changes in your own career.

My Story

It was spring 2000. For several years, I had been teaching a high-low dance class on Thursday nights at a health club 9 miles from my home. It wasn’t a bad group of folks who took my class. It wasn’t a bad facility, either. My loyal regulars were happy and appreciative, the facility was a well-run place and I enjoyed teaching. But every Thursday, I drove 30 minutes across town, instructed the class for 1 hour and drove 30 minutes back home—all for just $28.

One day, as I was suiting up, “Cherie,” the group fitness director, asked how I was doing. I found myself saying, “I’m really burned out, Cherie. I think I need to take a sabbatical from teaching this class.” I had no idea those words were going to come tumbling out of my mouth, but there they were! Although I surprised both of us, I didn’t regret saying them.

It was apparent that the cons of continuing to teach that class outweighed the pros: I was spending valuable time and gas money to get there, I was paid far less than I was at other facilities and, possibly worst of all, my shoulder hurt. The tendonitis and impingement I had battled for years flared up like clockwork every Thursday after teaching the class. I frequently found myself daydreaming about how I could spend Thursday evenings more productively or joyfully: I could coach three clients in the same amount of time and make 14 times more money; I could write up a storm; I could do another kind of workout that didn’t aggravate my shoulder; or I could even take the night off and relax with my husband!

It was time for a good spring-cleaning. Once I had decided to drop the class, I felt great! Cherie was very understanding, we found someone to replace me, my wonderful students gave me farewell cards and gifts, my shoulder became “quieter,” and I discovered that after you cut the old, bedraggled limbs off your tree, life not only goes on but usually flourishes.

Cleaning Out More. Once we’ve cleared away the deadwood from our fitness careers and experienced what life is like without it, we often wonder how we ever lived with it in the first place. A short time after I pruned the Thursday night class out of my schedule, my 60-year-old client “Susan” inspired me to do some more schedule trimming. During one of her sessions, she casually said that in the wintertime, she doesn’t schedule anything in the evenings, because she doesn’t like to be out on the icy roads after dark.

Susan’s commitment to herself sparked a possibility that had never occurred to me: What if I further pruned my own schedule by not working in the evenings? Up to that point, I had always worked mornings and evenings because both were prime revenue times for personal training. But burning the candle at both ends for many years had taken a toll on me.

Not accepting new clients in the evenings was a scary prospect but also an exciting one. Scary because I feared my income would plummet, and exciting because I could finally live a normal married life and be at home with my husband in the evenings.

I grabbed my pruning shears and made the first cut. I told the next new client who contacted me for fitness coaching that I had only morning and afternoon slots available. “That’s fine,” she said. “I often work late, so I couldn’t do an evening appointment, either.”

Amazing how things fall into place when you listen to your gut instinct! As time passed and clients rotated into and out of my schedule, I gradually freed up more evenings until I had just one standing appointment left in my nighttime schedule. My other clients had moved over to daytime hours or were no longer working with me. In 2005, that “last holdout” client retired from his job and was delighted when I suggested we switch our session to the late morning, taking advantage of his wide-open schedule. It had taken me a couple of years to bring my plan to full fruition, but once it was done, I felt light as a feather!

Margie’s Story

Cutting that fitness class out of my schedule may have been a big deal for me, but it was a small cleaning job compared with the landscape overhaul that some fitness professionals perform on their careers.

“Margie” was working for a small, private gym and trying to build her own fitness coaching practice when she sought the help of Casey Truffo, owner of Have a Wealthy Practice in California. People hire Truffo, who is also a licensed psychotherapist, to help them sort through the “clutter” that is preventing them from having the kind of practice they really want.

Hired as a personal trainer, Margie seemed to be given all the discounted-rate clients and was getting only a portion of the revenue earned from them. Then she was put on front-desk duty, answering phones. Nine months into the job, she was expected to do menial work such as bank runs and other errands. She was feeling angry, discouraged and taken advantage of by her employers.

Truffo has a golden rule: “Any work you do should bring you joy and/or money.” It does not have to bring you both, but if it’s not giving you either, you have a problem. Margie’s work was providing her little money and no joy. The more she was made to perform menial tasks, the less confident she felt about charging clients full price in her budding private practice.

To begin cleaning up her problem, Margie learned to “rise above” the daily angst that her job at the gym had caused her and chose not to take the situation personally anymore. She came to regard the job as temporary work that brought her some money. Meanwhile, she focused on boosting her private practice, which gave her joy.

Margie politely refused to do any more errands for the gym owners, fearing she might be fired. Eventually she was, but she immediately picked up part-time work in a nicer gym that paid her double, allowing Margie to spend time and money continuing to build her private practice.

Acting in Spite of Fears

The results of spring-cleaning your career aren’t always rosy. Truffo warns that “sometimes . . . fears are real,” and you need an action plan to handle any negative outcomes before taking action. Change may bring up fear and sadness. If fear comes up or you become very emotional while spring-cleaning your career, try to remember that although the territory you’re entering is unfamiliar, you’re moving in a better direction.

Despite the thorny brambles we usually tangle with in order to clean up (and clean out) our careers, most people who act do not regret it. In fact, they feel relieved about finally shaping the time and content of their careers to align better with what truly brings them joy—and money!

Tiffany Crate, MS

Tiffany Crate, MS, has more than 20 years of experience as a fitness and lifestyle coach. She holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and is regularly quoted for her fitness expertise and insight. She is known for her enthusiastic and comedic presentation style. In addition, IDEA Fitness Journal named Tiffany an Outstanding Member in 2006.
Certification: ACE

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