I was reflecting back on an earlier career yesterday, back when I was a personal trainer in the early 90’s. Although my passion at the time was working with athletes and people in post-cardiac rehab, unfortunately those populations often found the cost of personal training prohibitive, so they were but a small fraction of my clientele. The mainstay of my clients were instead attractive, usually married women without paid professions, who had the time and money for a certain amount of personal indulgence. In other words, they had the time and income to work out at any point during the day. They opted for a personal trainer instead of just going to the gym, playing tennis or whatever else they could have done.
Typically, I would meet them at the gym or arrive at their homes around the periphery of the “working” day, and we would have our workout sessions. Depending on the client, we would workout together, or if at a gym, I was a companion, and sometimes just a repository of gossip, but whichever it was, I was responsible for ensuring that the momentum of the workout was maintained. I directed them from machine to machine, from rep to rep — to the floor for abs, to the treadmill for cardio — documenting, counting and prodding.
“Ten, eleven, twelve…thirteen, fourteen…. come on, just one more… and fifteen! Awesome! Okay, let’s take a break from that and do some push-ups…”.
I found the whole experience sort of tiresome, and knew that I wasn’t providing anything like what I could considering my background, education and experience. Plus, I didn’t much like training people, wasn’t overly imaginative and in my heart had very little compassion for why these healthy, pretty ladies needed me. But despite my lack of understanding, they were extremely happy and steadfast in their employ of my services. Apparently, that service was something that was so important to my clients that they paid me exceptionally well, three and four times a week and to a one, never stopped using my services until I left the business.
Of course, I saw it solely from my own perspective. I’ve never really had trouble motivating myself to workout. It’s one area, where I have very reliable willpower and discipline, and I cannot imagine paying for a trainer unless I wanted to learn a specific new skill: boxing, martial arts, or a vast improvement in my freestyle swimming. In the last twenty years I have, however, discovered many areas in my own life where I am less reliable. Less reliable to make the sales call, or confront the uncomfortable project or get started on a new book, cleaning out the garage, investing in a 401K, buying insurance and so on. And that has made me compassionate for what I really provided those clients of mine all those years ago.
When I showed up, I was the wall between their commitment and everything else they did instead. There would be no coffee-drinking or idle chit chat when I was there. I wasn’t their friend and wasn’t there to hangout. Once they were with me for the appointed time frame, there was no latitude about what they would spend that hour doing. It was going to be a workout. If I arrived at a home and the client wasn’t ready, she got ready. If she was drinking coffee and on the phone, she put the coffee down, hung up the phone and laced up her trainers –pronto. In those days there was no Facebook, but I can easily imagine that today, were I still a trainer, I would often be interrupting a Facebook session, or a texting dialogue. But the distractions are not the point. The point is the focus and action.
Now, as I look at life, sometimes the greatest impact I can have on my clients, is to be the wall that won’t let them out of their own commitment. To be the one that shows up so they start writing, or get on the phone, or meet their trainer or weigh themselves. The person whose simple presence means there will be no more delay, no more distraction, no more avoidance. That service, however seemingly absurd, is precious. I know, because I have my own walls who stop me in my evasion tracks and get me to work. Who is your wall? What gets you to focus and take the most important action?
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