If I have learned anything at all about the nature of personal trainers during my many years in the fitness industry, it is that those of us who choose to stick with it for the long haul do so because it is our unmistakable passion, from which there is happily no escape. What we do is directly connected to that inner calling we sense deep within our souls, that prompts and directs us to follow our particular path in life. It is this passion, or as I now refer to it, personal fire, that must sometimes be fanned in order to continue burning brightly, or it may flicker and eventually die out. I will pose a question in this month's article purposely designed to provoke thoughtful self-conversation about your career, and if necessary, motivate you to take steps to either re-ignite your personal fire, or fan that flickering flame to help you cast the brightest possible light on your career.

This is a business best suited for those who are able to: 1) wake up each day inspired by the idea and goal of making a positive difference in peoples' lives; 2) give of themselves in a very personal, meaningful, and real way; and 3) develop a very high level of self-discipline and maintain consistency day in and day out. If you believe that you possess these traits, then my question to you is this: Are you progressing along an established career path, or are you satisfied to remain in your current position indefinitely?

Every trainer's personal situation is unique, just like a client's. But, there are some definite characteristics and patterns among those trainers who are the most successful, that if made your own, will allow you to go beyond any mere mediocre level of success. For example, those individuals who are actively pursuing a career do not count the number of hours on a new weekly schedule, because they know building a career takes an investment of time greater than 40 hours per week. If you find yourself unhappy while counting the number of hours on your schedule, it may be that you don’t have the mindset or stamina to build your career beyond where it is now.

Success doesn't just happen; it is achieved through the deliberate execution of a purposefully designed plan containing multiple factors focusing on hard work over an extended period of time. Career-minded individuals are always searching for ways to improve themselves and their job performance. As trainers, they find productive ways to stay busy between clients, create solutions to issues that arise, and are always the ones who ask the question, what's next? Trainers or interns who are not motivated toward a higher level of success will be content with resting on their proverbial laurels during breaks, and will rarely go above and beyond their listed scope of job duties or expectations. They are the ones who prefer to follow the leader instead of taking the initiative to learn new skills or lend a hand unless they are specifically asked. Owners and managers take notice of the differences between these two types of trainers because of the impact it has on their business and its bottom line. As a result, they will be more willing to mentor and assist your success if they see you taking steps to fan your flame.

All of us have heard the old adage, "you only get one chance to make a first impression." In the health and fitness industry, we know this to be especially true. It is heavily vested in appearance because, as everyone will admit, a healthy and fit body does have a better, more attractive appearance. Therefore, as trainers, we need to pay particular attention to our grooming and physical appearance. The overall impression you give your colleagues, clients and even strangers says a great deal about your potential level of success. Our body language, facial expressions, posture and even the way we carry ourselves does say a lot about us. I know how hard it can be to be "on" from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. five or six days a week, but that's the industry. We are working before the rest of the world goes to work and still working when the rest of the world is done. As a professional, I feel it is important to remember that anyone, at any time, could be watching you and asking themselves if you would be a good trainer for them, or, in the case of another trainer, asking themselves if they would pay to attend a conference where you were teaching. If a prospective client or trainer doesn't believe you have anything new or of value to teach them because you haven't set a good example or impression, then you need to examine what you are doing wrong and find a way to correct it. For example, if you are overly tired or stressed out and you believe it shows then my recommendation is that you take some time off during your day and remove yourself from your facility. Sometimes, a simple change of scenery can give you a much needed attitude adjustment. Although it is important to remain honest and real, it is just as important to protect your ability to foster a positive image.

Successful trainers that have gone on to become managers or owners have higher expectations than non-trainer managers and owners. This is because they understand the business from the ground up and know exactly what it takes to run a successful training business filled with happy, healthy, fit clients. Over the years, I have worked with and managed people from many different backgrounds with varying personality types, capabilities, work ethics and commitment levels. I have found that most people do unfortunately lack the foresight to plan their work well and are willing to sit back and let others do things for them. From middle management to ownership, I have always expected a lot from my subordinates because I was always willing to give the same amount, or more, under the same circumstances. When given the proper motivation and guidance, including a concrete plan of action, I discovered that many times a subordinate would willingly respond by stepping up to the plate. By taking the initiative to anticipate the needs of your client, colleagues and facility, you can often place yourself in a flattering position by meeting and/or exceeding expectations. Remember, it is the unmet expectations that lead managers or owners to disappointment; and disappointment leads to resentment; and resentment leads to terminations.

Another positive action that career-minded individuals take is to always look for ways to improve their skill set that will lead to improved performance and greater success. Continuing education is the key to improving your skill set. Whether you are reading about the latest technological or scientific advances in fitness training, taking an additional class at your local college, or attending a local, national or international conference led by respected industry leaders, acquiring new and/or additional knowledge is always appropriate and will increase your ability to rise to the level of success you deserve.

Now as a business owner, who is vested 100% in the success of my training facility, I am therefore acutely aware of those who surround me on a daily basis and their impact upon my business. This is a unique industry that provides unparalleled opportunities - from the fascinating transformation and amazing impact we have on our clients' lives to the incredible like-minded trainers we meet world-wide through our common goal of bettering the lives of people everywhere. I want and need trainers working for me who are cut from the same cloth and who share the same beliefs and vision for our industry; trainers who will put forth the extra effort for their clients, for me, and for their own success because they know that success breeds more success. Sometimes the long hours at work and the personal sacrifices we make to grow our careers can feel overwhelming, even to the point where we may question our decision to continue. Even then, I always know in my heart that my job as a personal trainer is unlike any other and there is no other way I could achieve such tremendous fulfillment or be able to impact peoples' lives in such a positive manner every single day!

Our industry needs fitness professionals who are always learning, exceeding expectations and have the foresight to see beyond the gym walls. Please remember, it is not the number of hours you put in that will ensure your success. Rather, it is the quality of care you use to flame your personal fire that will matter the most. It is up to you to decide where you fit in, so choose: flicker or flame?

Valorie Ness, BS, CES, CPT is an internationally sought after exercise physiologist, personal trainer and educator. She is the co-founder and CEO of Catalyst Fitness. In addition to numerous local awards Valorie is the 2013 PFP Trainer of the Year and the recipient of the 2009 Business of the Year in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. She is a Master Trainer for ACE, IndoBoard, and SURGE. More information can be found by visiting her website at www.catalystfitness.com