In most epic stories featuring a protagonist winning the day, the story follows a fairly predictable path, first outlined in ancient mythology but later quantified by Joseph Campbell in his “Hero’s Journey” concept. Essentially, the steps of the journey take the hero from their initial state, through some trials and tribulations, challenges that seem unsurmountable, and potential failiure. Along the way, they achieve some new information or skills, previously not available, and maybe delivered by way of a sage advisor or new view of a situation, which allows the hero to overcome their challenge. They win the day, and fist pump their awesomeness all over the place.
Concepts like the monomyth also fit into the basic narrative outline of introduction – rising action – climax – falling action – exodus/outro featured in most literary works. Some expand certain sections or condense others, much like how in Game of Thrones the timeframe from the climax to completion of the series was about an episode or two, but the rising action took about 4 or 5 seasons to come to fruition. The exact timelines don’t actually matter, but the flow and systematized approach to the story is the main points to consider.
So here’s a quick story to put myself into the hero’s shoes.
In 2007, life was going pretty well. I was at the top of my game professionally, had just raised my rates, and was training a full roster of clients. My then-girlfriend (now wife) and I had just bought a house together, she was working full time, and we were able to start putting money into renovations and building the home we wanted, however modest it may have been.
Then, an unfortunate series of events occurred.
First, the worldwide economy began to collapse, pushed under by the collapse of sub-prime mortgages that created a massive default of lending, and many European nations hitting a debt ceiling causing defaults that further hurt the worldwide economy. Closer to home, the price of oil went from close to $100 a barrel to under 60 in a matter of weeks, crushing a lot of investments in oil projects, and causing a massive stress on the Edmonton market. This resulted in a lot of people being laid off, losing possible disposable income that they could put towards training.
Next, the gym I was working in had a lease issue and was forced to change locations. For 6 months, they operated out of a temporary location that was about 1/10th the size of the previous location while the new club was being built out. This small space was less than appealing for many of my clients, so I saw that burgeoning client roster cut in half almost over night with the combination of economic job losses plus location change.
Then, my then-girlfriend lost her job, and we were down from 2 stable incomes to half of one in a matter of weeks, all with a new mortgage on a house that needed repairs.
There were many sleepless nights wondering what to do, how to entice clients to continue training in a less than optimal scenario, and wondering when life would get back to normal. Sound familiar?
This time lead to a few changes in how I operated. First, I knew training clients in a prohibitively small space would be harder than possible. How could I get clients out of the gym, but still get in a solid workout? We were fortunately close to a very expansive river valley, and Edmonton can boast the largest urban greenspace of any metropolitan region in North America, so taking clients into the river valley for a sort of boot camp workout would be a great option.
This also gave me the chance of pulling back a lot of clients who couldn’t afford one on one training, but still wanted a workout. By the end of the summer of 2008 I had over 20 people running to the stairs and through the river valley twice a week, supplementing my income and helping me continue to pay the bills.
Second, I knew I needed to find a way of diversifying my offerings to give some possible ways to shift my business should another economic downturn happen, another facility shift, closure, or me deciding to move out from under the corporate gym umbrella ever happened. Ideally something that wasn’t constrained to local fluctuations, and could take advantage of worldwide exposures. That’s when I started this website, a Youtube channel, and started to put together resources for digital products. I knew nothing of how to do any of these, but the time I had available allowed me to learn bits and pieces, plus trial and error gave real-time lessons in what to do and what not to do.
These two business related changes allowed me to stay afloat until the new club was built, the economy started to recover, and my in-person clients started to return for training. I was able to expand my website income, digital product library, and even included things like live events and semi-private coaching to help further diversify offerings for income potential while also giving options that could help weather any future storms.
One option that also came out of no where was offering consults or assessments via video conferencing such as Skype or Zoom. I started doing this about 6 years ago, when the technology was limited and spotty at best. Each month I was working with roughly 2-3 people from different parts of the world, and it was a pretty cool way to offer a service not constrained by geography. I never thought it would be such a big educational tool or growth opportunity until now, where pretty much all of my in person sessions are conducted virtually through some form of video conferencing or another.
Looking at the world today, we can see a parallel to the story of surviving 2008, plus the Hero’s Journey as a whole. We have a massive challenge facing the entire world, with a big change or series of changes creating huge stressors to everyone, trainers included.
Essentially, we’re in act 3 of our own Hero’s Journey.
The big challenge now is how will we cope, adapt, grow, or survive.
It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be immediate, or even immediately obvious how you will survive or succeed. I know it’s been a challenge for me, and I’d built systems for stuff like this, without knowing what this would actually look like or do. It still sucks, and it’s still hard.
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Everyone deals with trauma in different ways. Some turn in to themselves more, shutting the world out. Some reach for substances to numb their senses. Others may find something external to focus on, like exercise or some other thing they can control, maybe even obsessively. For the past month with the world entirely shut down, I’ve managed to get in only 3 workouts, today being one of them. It’s not for a lack of a gym, as I have a pretty sweet set up in my basement. It’s not for a lack of time, or a lack of knowledge of how to do it. It’s just been the absolute last thing I’ve wanted to do. Between training clients, online programs, adjusting to life and work from home, I’m sure there are many opportunities to do something physical, but nope. I know I’m not alone in this. If your job is now from home, kids have home schooling, or if you lost your job or worse a loved one, this has been a cataclysmic shift, and change is traumatic. There’s no one way to deal with it best, just ways that work for you, and are ideally healthy versus self destructive. Hopefully you’re taking care of all of Maslows Needs hierarchy, and only then can you think of digging into Blooms taxonomy. My only advice: don’t pressure yourself to get into better shape, write a novel, finish a course, or start a new industry a la Uber or AirBnB from your kitchen table if you aren’t ready to do it. That will just layer guilt on top of trauma. We’ll get through this. Give yourself a break, breathe, and when you’re ready, the world will be there for you. Time to max out on my warm up.
As I write this, some locations around the world are beginning to ease restrictions, some are considering timelines for easing them, and some are hoping to be able to plan something in the near future. What happens next is unknowable. Maybe gyms will be closed until October, maybe longer. Maybe they don’t open up again. We’re all in the same boat as to not knowing what the future will bring, so we’re all trying to adapt and progress where possible, but still facing a very real foe.
Our Act 3 may take a long time, but we will get through, and then the new ways of life will provide some very real skills that will help us move forward, or at the very least give pause to understand what’s important and necessary versus what’s a nice to have but not as nearly needed as we would have thought. Maybe this will help to reduce waste, create new efficiencies, cut emissions, improve savings strategies, and make societies function together more effectively than before. Who knows.
Regardless of how, this will be a way to tell our own Hero’s Journey, how we survived challenges and found success while escaping the belly of the whale, all while becoming the master of our own two worlds as we cross the return threshold.
Let’s make our stories worth telling. The acts don’t need to be grand or earth-rattling. Sometimes small steps can take small beings to Mordor. One step at a time, moving forward at the pace that makes sense for you and your environment, and gets you to the other side of your story.