As 2015 winds to a close, it’s time to reflect on who we are and what we’re doing in this world, but sadly, it’s easy to get discouraged. Our culture puts physical training and education at the bottom of just about every hierarchy. In schools and universities, we’re at the bottom of the academic totem pole. In gyms and clinics, we’re constantly under pressure, our jobs vulnerable to the youngsters who’re willing to work for free to get started in the business.
Consequently, many of us are struggling to make a living. Clients cancel at the drop of the hat, people come and go and it’s almost impossible to maintain a consistent income. And unless you live in an affluent area, there’s almost no chance that you can attract enough clients to make it all work. The great recession of 2008 reverberates throughout the economy and physical training is considered an optional luxury.
Even worse, marketing experts pressure us to create a hyper-convenient drop-in culture, one that's antithetical to a process that demands raw physical effort, consistency and commitment. Driven by the false promise of easy progress and magical results, our vital work gets re-cast as a vanity project. No matter our emphasis on functional training, vitality or integration with the natural world, we’re pigeon-holed as weight-loss coaches and sex-beauty facilitators. This, so the story goes, is what sells. This, so the story goes, is what people want.
These slings and arrows threaten to bring us down. So we revise our websites, lower our prices, get the word out and bang the promotional drum a little harder. But for many, nothing changes; clients fade away and physical education gets the axe. It’s easy to loose heart.
But all these negatives aside, it’s essential to remember that we are doing profoundly important work. It’s not because we’re helping affluent people lose a few pounds or increase their VO2max. It’s really because we’re getting people back in touch with their physical identity, their animal nature and the natural world. This is far more important than weight loss, athletic conditioning and “elite fitness.” What we’re doing is keeping people alive and awake to the innate intelligence in their bodies and their life support systems. In this respect, we literally have one of the most important jobs on the planet.
By helping people re-discover their bodies, we give them the vitality they need to navigate the almost impossible demands of the modern world. Our efforts make them more resilient in the face of chronic stress. Healthy people make better decisions, decisions that have far-reaching consequences. Our efforts–particularly in leading outdoor exercise–help people feel and appreciate the life-sustaining power of the natural world. Our efforts–particularly in leading group exercise–help people interact with one another in a powerfully authentic way. No other profession offers such promise. No other profession is so primal or so influential. We get to the root of the human experience; we work with people where it matters most.
Of course, to fulfill this promise, we must keep our focus and resist the call of cheap marketing, vanity and glossy magazine covers. Our highest purpose is to promote the welfare of “the long body” (the body+habitat+tribe). We are uniquely positioned to do this. By working with raw physical movement, especially outdoors and with groups, we lead people into a primal understanding of who they are. We wake people up to the folly of their sedentary, aphysical ways. We show them the way back to their physical identity and the systems that sustain their lives.
It may be hubris to suppose that ours is the most important profession on the planet right now, but such a claim is not a stretch. We are doing vital, exceptionally meaningful work. You may not be earning the salary that you deserve and you may be dismayed to see other, less noble pursuits getting the lion’s share of the action, but you are on the right path. Stick with the body, with nature and tribe. You’re making an enormous difference.