How to Pick a Mentor

I have had short stints as a personal trainer in a couple of commercial gyms. Most personal trainers are naturally athletic people. Not to say they didn’t work hard or were not disciplined, but they had years and years of experience with playing sports or being active in other ways. I found that my clients always complimented me on how well I was able to break down different lifts and a framework for building fitness into their everyday lives. At first I thought it was because I am a teacher by trade (although that definitely helps). Then I realized that I was different as compared to most personal trainers: I had to learn it all myself. 

Growing up, my parents had me playing all types of sports. But I was never very good. I was always middle of the pack at school mile runs and I never particularly excelled at anything physically. I have been underweight, overweight, skinny, fat, muscular, skinny-fat, and any other body type you can think of. Because of this, I know what it feels like and what it takes to start a fitness journey from ground zero. When choosing a teacher, choose someone who has experiences similar to yours. That way they can guide you through the process knowing what big challenges and opportunities lie on the path of your success journey. 

The Natural and Unconscious Competence

Imagine you want to become president of the United States. Would you ask George W. Bush or Barack Obama for advice? I would suggest you ask Barack Obama. Why? Because he likely started from where you are. No particular advantages, but a desire to work hard and be president. What about George W. Bush? He would give well meaning advice, but none of that takes away from the fact that he was groomed from a young age for the presidency. His dad was a president. He likely learned so many small lessons he didn’t even know he was learning, had so many advantages that others could only dream of, and had a support system to help him along the way. 

I say that to say naturals are what we call unconsciously competent. Meaning they know how to achieve results, and they aren’t thinking about it. It just happens. Now of course they are following the same rules that guarantee success for anyone, but they didn’t learn them by themselves. Let’s say you find a trainer. He was captain of the football team and then played intramural flag football as an adult. Sure, he can be a great trainer, but he may have trouble helping someone starting from square one because he has never been there. Conversely, think of Linda. Linda was my mentor for a while at one of the gyms I worked at. Linda was 50 years old and only got into fitness at the age of forty after her sister had gotten sick. Linda is now fit and healthy. She knows what it’s like to start at square one. No athletic history. Her parents weren’t athletes. She was self made. This made her not only relatable, but very proficient at explaining what it takes to get from point A to point B. 

So the next time you are looking for a personal trainer, a teacher of some sort, or a mentor, remember that the people who can help you the most are usually the people who achieved success from ground zero. 

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