I had a really positive talk with one of my interns the other day and I wanted to share some of that with you.
Our intern, let’s call him Kyle, is a 22 year old male with a pretty decent athletic background. He is finishing his degree in exercise science at the end of his internship, and like everyone, he is worried and anxious about the future.
Kyle has been an average intern for me. He is capable of running groups, kids seem to respond well to him, but he is still in the “fake til you make it stage” where he isn’t really sure why he is doing certain exercises and instead is just going through the motions. This is an important stage in an intern’s career, I don’t expect them to come in and be experts on day one, but I do expect them to take advantage of our staff and the resources we provide to help them become better educated coaches.
I sat down with Kyle, and I could tell right away he was a little anxious. I asked him what was on his mind, and a flood of anxiety and worry came pouring out. Like every pending graduate, he was worried about his future. Career, money, opportunities. Kyle wanted to know where he was supposed to go from here, and whether we would have work for him. All fair concerns and questions, but after letting Kyle blow off a little steam, I had to interject with a little reality check.
The sad reality is, your degree is worthless and your opportunities and career are going to be what you make of them. I want you to believe that I am not being cynical, I am trying to be a realist here, for many many people out there, an exercise science degree is the fast track to a low ceilinged career in personal training or some boring job in a hospital doing cardiac rehab. \
I say this from experience. I have a BS in Kinesiology, and an MS in Exercise Science. I loved school. I love learning. I think the human body is an amazing machine. I think there are people out there learning incredible things about the human body and people out there doing incredible things with their bodies. I have a ton of respect for the work they do, but those people are few and far between.
I graduated from a Big Ten school with a 170 people earning the same degree as me that semester. About 150 said their plans were to go to physical therapy school. I would wager about 1/3 of them got accepted. Those were never my intentions, and I am grateful for the opportunities I had to work in college strength and conditioning. I am grateful for the position I am in now, managing a facility working with lots of different athletes. But another reality check, for as long as you rely on providing a service for income, you have to provide that service for ever. Fitness is a tough world. It is hard to put the energy and enthusiasm in hour after hour, day after day.
I go home and I am exhausted. I ask myself, how much longer can I do this? And I really don’t know. I know I can do it til 40. But after that, then what? Am I just supposed to seamlessly slide into another career?
The Good Side
Kyle’s eyes burned holes in the floor. I realized I had dropped a cynic bomb on him, and that wasn’t fair. So I tried to also explain to him, “Kyle, I said there are people out there doing great things with that degree, it is just up to you whether you will be one of them.”
There are opportunities out there, but you certainly can’t expect to go to a job fair and just land a nice 50k job doing what you want like make of your friend with business/accounting/finance degrees. That is not how this field works. The people I know that have fulfilling careers with their exercise science degrees are the ones hustling and creating opportunities for themselves. They are educating themselves every day, making themselves experts in their fields. They are connecting with other professionals and finding best practices.
I gave Kyle a check list of 3 things I wanted to make sure he got done in the next 6 months.
#1. Get certified. This is a cloudy subject for me, but no matter how you feel, a professional certification is a necessity. It is important to get certified to give yourself some credibility and also have access to liability insurance. However, I don’t feel that any organization I have been certified through has ever done anything to help me as a professional. For the most part, they are faceless money making machines. I don’t really want to get into that right now, just find a decent one and do it.
#2. Connect. Reach out and connect with at least 3 professionals in the field you want to work in. Want to work in college athletics, start sending some emails and trying to do some volunteer work. Want to work in academics, better find some of those .edu addresses. Make yourself available. Be polite and professional. Express interest. Ask questions. But most of all, listen, observe, and connect.
#3. Continue your education. You have to make a serious commitment to continuing your education even though there is no curriculum to follow. You are not being handed a syllabus every few months telling you what to accomplish. Find good books and actually read them. If you are not a book learner, play to your strengths, there are some awesome DVD and online series out there to check out. You need to invest time and energy into making yourself a better coach. You need to make yourself an expert in your field.
I have been telling my interns for years that there are thr
ee important qualities they need to express every day. Work ethic, enthusiasm, and initiative. I believe that if you can work on those three things and put everything you’ve got into them, every day. You will find success in what you are doing.
For all you young graduates out there trying to make it. Go through your mental check list. Are you working as hard as you can? Are you enthusiastic about your work? Are you getting the job done, or are you waiting to be told what to do?