Overcoming career plateaus as a fitness professional

Plateaus in a career are as common as fitness plateaus our clients experience. These “lulls” are neither good nor bad but are rather clues to the need for change. Do you need a change? Sometime to shake-up the status quo? Here are some ways to address and overcome a professional plateau. Imagine you’re driving down a road and you make an unintended turn or underestimate the distance to your destination. What do you (or in today’s world, your GPS navigation system) do? Recalculate the route. The same is true for the career paths we take. Sometimes we have to recalculate the route to get to where we are meant to be. It might include going left when nothing goes right. It might include a complete U-turn to backtrack. This doesn’t mean career failure. It does mean a chance for thoughtful reflection and to make career revisions where necessary.

Step 1 – Reflection

Overcoming the career doldrums is a process not a series of isolated events. There’s a necessary first step to take if you want to get to where you need to be. Start by asking yourself these 5 reflective questions:
  1. Why do I feel stagnate or stuck? What’s changed? What’s stayed the same?
  2. Have I met my early career goals? If not, why? What are the barriers?
  3. What do I need to feel refreshed?
  4. Am I boxing in my talents? In what ways can I expand or grow?
  5. What do I want to learn? Is there a niche I can manifest?
By asking yourself these questions and journaling your responses, you begin to dust off the bigger picture and illuminate a different path. Sometimes we feel stuck and we don’t know why because we don’t take the time to ask that very question. Other times we feel stuck because we’ve isolated ourselves to a single environment or dimension of the industry. For others it might be because a new goal hasn’t been set and, therefore, no plan to advance or grow has been crafted.

Step 2 – Skills Assessment

After asking and answering these questions, conduct a skills assessment. What skills do you currently have in your toolbox? What skills do you want to hone or develop? This will direct your educational efforts that will add to your toolbox and help you develop additional expertise in your field.

Step 3 – Identifying the Where

Where do you want to go in your fitness career? Do you see management opportunities in your future? Do you want to become a national speaker? Do you want to be known for your sophisticated knowledge and application of anatomical and biomechanical principals? The boundaries are limitless, but you must identify where you want to go before you start the journey onward.

Step 4 – Identifying the How

The how is likely more important than the where because the “how” is actionable and includes steps to help you navigate the new path. Think of the “how” as the mile markers along a road trip – they represent the smaller goals you need to achieve. Let’s consider an example. If you want to become a premier writer for the fitness industry, you have to start writing and sharpening those skills (that’s one piece of the how – one mile marker). You could begin a blog (a second mile marker) to get your work, your ideas, and your voice out there. You also need to craft some topic pitches (a third mile marker) to blogs, organizations, magazines, and journals. You might even purchase some resources (eBooks or manuals) for aspiring writers (a fourth mile marker), etc. These are all purposeful and actionable tasks.

Step 5 – Moving On (or Up)

This is where your journey begins – you’ve recalculated your route and have some plans to move forward or up – whichever direction suits you. Step 5 may also require or benefit from mentorship or business/career coaching. Connect with industry leaders and those individuals you look up to who can provide some valuable guidance. Set small, achievable goals that lead to your overall long-term goal. Establish a goal achievement monitoring system such as a planner or calendar that allows you to reflect on your daily, weekly, and monthly progress. Make revisions where necessary and celebrate your wins (the passing of each mile marker). If you asked a fair number of professionals, you may find yourself surprised at the number of individuals who have felt the “slump” or tasted the staleness of a career. It happens. And it’s ok that it does. You will eventually find your footing once again and redefine your purpose, so don’t throw in the towel. Keep journeying forward.