Choosing a career in fitness can be a daunting task for new and even experienced health and exercise professionals. Because of the many subdisciplines and specialties that make up the fitness and health industry, it can be difficult to make a decision.
Below is a detailed 5-step plan that you can use to identify your best path and continue to develop your skills to serve your clients. Let’s first acknowledge that a “career path” isn’t a straight line. It is largely amorphous at the beginning, but it will naturally shape as you gain experience, knowledge, and skills.
A career path is a combination of all the positions and jobs you have over time. It is possible to rise in administrative or higher-level positions, or to take up similar jobs or positions at different companies.
A Personal Look at One Way
To make this more real and personal, I’ll give you an example of my career path.
It all started in 2003, after I received my bachelor’s degree in exercise science. My first NCCA-accredited 2004 certification was granted and I began personal training, which I still love. I was able to apply for graduate school and received my master’s degree in kinesiology/health. I was a National Institutes of Health grant clinical research manager while in graduate school.
After that experience, my role was as an exercise physiologist/fitness center coordinator at an outpatient clinic for physical therapy. My job experiences and knowledge gained led me to feel drawn to teaching and writing, while also serving others. I decided to take a leap of faith and accept a position as chair in the health and human performance department and an instructor in higher education. After almost 10 year of service in this role, I continued my education and earned a doctorate and more certifications. Although it is not in my “core science” field, I chose to pursue this degree because I love teaching and the desire to be the best teacher I can be.
Flashing forward, I’m still an exercise science faculty member (and adjunct at other institutions). My interests have expanded and I now get to do what I love and am called to do. Teaching, writing, presenting and serving as an instructor and subject matter expert in the area of health and fitness, including providing virtual personal training and coaching for health and nutrition, as well mentoring new health- and exercise professionals.
Sounds like a lot, right? If you’re reading this and you are overwhelmed by what I shared, remember this: I have almost a 20-year career path in the making. My journey began with the first step.
A 5-step Process
Step 1: Self-evaluation
This step provides a necessary opportunity to self-reflect, which is a process critical to developing insight and recognition of those values we most need to fill our “occupational wellness” bucket.
If you’re just starting out after completing a certificate or graduation, it is common to look for an entry-level job in order to build experience. There may be many options depending on where you live. This part of the process is about creating a vision for moving forward and not trying to land your dream job immediately. This stage is the start of your strategic plan.
At this stage, ask yourself the following questions.
- What brings me joy and/or what energizes me?
- What aspects of a job are important to me?
- How do I define success?
- What motivates you to get up in the morning and start your day? What is my source of excitement?
What do I consider to be an energy drain?
What is my passion?
Once you answer these questions, you will have a better idea of what you need and what you desire. This will help you to envision where you want your career to take you.
Step 2: Destination Evaluation
This step is all about exploring what roles, locations and environments meet the “bucket list” characteristics identified in step 1. This step reminds you that there is no perfect job. There are ups and downs, but it is part of the journey.
Here’s where you can brainstorm roles and possibilities that you are interested in exploring at a deeper level. Make a mind map. Draw a circle on a piece of paper with your title (e.g. kinesiology), degree, career interest (e.g. group fitness) and certification (e.g. certified health coach). You can then identify the environment that will employ you, conduct research on salary surveys, and Bureau of Labor Statistics data search job boards on agency websites.
It is useful to consider your destination in 5-year increments. This helps you plan for growth and allows you to set incremental goals toward your “dream.”
Step 3: Knowledge Versus Interests
At this step, we need to make the distinction between knowledge and interests. Knowledge refers to the concepts, theories and principles you are familiar with. Interests are your hobbies and interests. This step will allow you to summarize your knowledge in bullet points. If you’re a certified personal coach, for example, you may know about methods of training and conditioning as well as movement assessment and screening. You also have a good understanding of safe and effective program design.
While these are areas that you already know and understand, there may be topics you’re interested in such as prenatal exercise program design or behavior change. Continue the exercise above, but now you can summarize your interests in bullet points.
This will allow you to bridge the gap between your knowledge and your interests.
Step 4: The Gap
This step involves an in-depth examination of the gap between your knowledge and interest. You may be able to know something about program design but not how it can be applied in a clinical setting or with special populations. Although you may have some knowledge about program design, it is not applicable to all people. There is a gap that you must fill.
This step will help you identify the areas that you are interested in learning more about. It also tells you whether you should pursue additional education, training, or specialty-accredited certifications from NCCA.
Your knowledge and interests will expand as you gain more experience and learn more. It is normal to have overlaps. It is important to decide on your next learning area. Keep in mind your clients and ask “What can I do to serve their interests at the highest
Further level?” This is the perfect time to seek out a mentor to guide you.
Step 5: Next Steps
The fifth step is where you outline your action plan. This is where you outline your action plan. You are now ready to identify the next five steps or actions that will help you create the career path that you desire.
Set small, achievable goals or steps, just like you would with a client. Don’t try to achieve all of your dreams now. It takes patience and guidance, along with a lot of mistakes and guidance to build a career. You will be more successful and happier if you are thoughtful and deliberate about your career path.
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