Because I grew up a “Navy brat,” I had to move around fairly often as a kid. Adulthood brought with it a few more moves as I navigated college and marriage. When I had my children and we’d finally settled into an area where most of our extended family also lived, I thought we were there to stay. I taught fitness classes regularly and helped to supervise the group fitness program. I had several personal training clients and led monthly fitness instructor certification courses. I even presented at the state fitness symposium. I had a well-established reputation in the local fitness industry, and I was comfortable in my career.
And then my husband got a job opportunity we just couldn’t pass up. After 11 years of residential stability, the longest stretch of time I’d achieved in my life, we moved across the country, leaving behind family, friends and that feeling of security that comes from knowing an area and having your place within it.
At some point—because of your career, your spouse’s career, military orders or even just the need for adventure or change—you may find yourself having to relocate. Moving, whether by choice or necessity, is physically, mentally and emotionally stressful. It entails job hunting and building your presence from scratch in a new community. Here are three key steps to surviving the transition.
1. Be Proactive
Before you make the move, scope out the area, if possible. Get to know the towns, neighborhoods and different fitness facilities. Consider the type of workplace that attracts you. Do you prefer big-box gyms or local community centers? Do you favor smaller studios or corporate facilities? Does your new area have other types of fitness facilities that you’ve never considered before? Most health clubs offer a free trial class or even a free week. Take advantage of this to test classes, meet instructors and talk to patrons. Get a feel for the “vibe” and decide if it’s a place you could see yourself working at and enjoying.
“The number-one key for me was trying out a lot of gyms and studios before I applied,” says Lauren George, a Pilates instructor who moved from Florida to Austin, Texas. “I think to really thrive as an instructor, you have to be in a positive environment.” Even though you might feel desperate to find a job, the last thing you want is to end up at a place you dislike. If you try out a fitness facility that you enjoy, introduce yourself to the group fitness supervisor. Be warm, friendly and communicative. This first impression may land you a job before you even have a new address!
Be sure to ask about average or starting pay, as well as benefits. Some facilities might reimburse you a certain amount of money for continuing education, while others won’t. Some might provide free daycare even when you’re not working, or there may be discounts on kids’ classes. Note the pros and cons of each facility you’re interested in. If you know you’ll need to work at multiple places to pick up a strong teaching schedule, ask about each facility’s competition policy. Some may require you to sign a contract stating that you won’t instruct at neighboring facilities. Be well-informed before applying for jobs, and remember: The highest-paying facility might not be the best fit.
2. Be Patient, Willing and Humble
Once you’ve done your homework and applied at the facility of your choice, getting hired may take time. Even if you
hired right away, you may not get on the group fitness schedule for a while, no matter how many classes you taught at your previous job. You may have to wait for the next season to start; for an instructor to move or give up a class; or for management to add a new class.
“You can’t go in with an attitude of entitlement because of your experience or how many students you previously packed your classes with,” says Gwenda Hansen, a military wife and master trainer for CIZE™ LIVE. “You are now, no matter what, at the bottom of the totem pole. You sub and wait for an opening.” It can be difficult to wait, especially since moving usually comes with a lot of expenses, and a regular paycheck would be a nice luxury. But if you’re patient and willing to sub, patrons will get to know you more quickly, as will other instructors. It won’t take long for word to spread about the great new sub, as long as you use your subbing opportunities wisely and showcase your talent.
At the same time, you need to be humble. Katie Seier, a Turbo Kick®, PiYo™ and Insanity® instructor, moved from town to town in North Dakota before ending up in Minnesota. She knew she had to prove herself but stay humble every time she was hired at a new facility. “You need to check your ego at the door,” she says. “Respect the members and start from the ground up again. You have to earn respect and trust. Get to know them, and introduce yourself to participants.”
Be especially humble with fellow instructors and your supervisor. Whatever previous experience you’ve had, you don’t want to tell your new supervisor how to run things! Every town is different, and every facility is different. While 9:00 pm classes may work well in a college town, 10:00 am classes may be busier in an area with more retirees. While Zumba® might be all the rage in one city, Spinning® or TRX® could prove more popular in another. Learn about the demographics of your new facility, and if you do offer suggestions, be sure you are catering to your new facility’s clientele.
3. Be Adaptable and Positive
Moving is all about change, and change can be hard. But the more adaptable you are, the better the move will go. The same holds true for getting a new group fitness instructing position. If your new facility offers a format you don’t teach, look into getting certified. Some facilities prefer specific brands of certifications or run their own, so you may have to recertify in a modality you’ve already been teaching for years. Again, be humble, swallow your pride and get the new certification, even if you’re a master trainer for another brand!
The policy at my new facility prevents me from being a personal trainer there. It may be inconvenient, but I have chosen to adapt, be positive and do more in-home and online training. If your new facility doesn’t have some equipment you’re accustomed to, modify your classes or ask your supervisor if there is money in the budget to purchase your favorite pieces. Again, be careful not to offend anyone. Perhaps your new professional home lacks the sound system your previous facility had. You can complain, or you can adapt. On the flip side, perhaps you’re being introduced to new equipment you’ve never used before. Don’t be shy about asking your supervisor or a colleague to show you the best ways to use it in class. Instead of being embarrassed, take this chance to expand your knowledge and show that you are quick to learn and apply your new skills.
Sometimes the changes from your previous facility can be drastic, and you may feel overwhelmed or discouraged; however, do your best to stay positive. Even if you miss your old friends and former facility, focus on making new friendships. Be positive about your new town, your current facility and supervisor, and the class members you’re meeting now. I found that starting over was exactly what I needed to recharge and reenergize my teaching after many years in the industry. Relocating is challenging, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to expand your reach and inspire more people to fitness! Embrace the change with passion and excitement. Be proactive, patient, willing, humble, adaptable and positive, and this might turn out to be the best move of your life!