I have a confession to make.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and I’m a bit ashamed to admit it…
I can’t stomach the CrossFit Kool-Aid.
For the past few years, I’ve never felt like I quite belonged. I tried to follow suit with what other gym owners were doing, but a lot of it never made a whole lot of sense to me.
To me, the Kool-Aid always tasted like cough syrup.
Let me explain.
I read something the other day where a gym owner was talking about “people over profits” as one of her tenets as a gym owner. She talked about paying her staff’s living wages from a retirement account on certain months when they were down on money, and I was dumbfounded.
Your finances are in a state of disarray…. and you’re proudly sharing this?
Don’t get me wrong. We’ve all fallen on hard times. I don’t and wouldn’t fault anyone for that.
However, sacrifice at the expense of your personal welfare is not a virtue.
Make more, spend less, pull from your gym’s savings account, whatever you have to do, but pulling from retirement funds to pay your staff is poor decision-making.
I couldn’t even get past the decisions they had to make to even be in that position. I envisioned a crowd of jubilant gym owners on the other side of the paragraph, cheering “Yes! Sacrifice! Get ’em girl! The world is yours!” But I was stuck, unable to move past the profound lack of logic underpinning the mantra, “people over profits.”
It sounds nice, right? “People over profits.” But is it realistic?
When you’re running a business, you’re delicately balancing the need to provide for yourself and provide for others. If you’re lucky, you can do those things simultaneously, but as a gym owner, you will inevitably run into situations where you have to choose between the integrity of the gym or an individual’s wants and needs.
“People over profits” is a dangerous value to claim.
That means in any situation where you are faced with two decisions, one to take care of individual people or one to take care of the gym (and yourself), you will always put individuals above the health of the gym or your personal finances.
In the Navy, there was an aphorism we learned that was meant to clarify the order of our priorities, “ship, shipmate, self.” Although the antiquated interpretation was to always put the ship before your shipmate and your shipmate before your self, in leadership circles, we’d often discuss the fallacy of this order.
In an organization, much like CrossFit, where its leaders are burned out, sleep-deprived, and operating in a compromised capacity, it became very clear that the more sensible approach was to take care of yourself in order to effectively provide for your shipmates and for the ship at large.
I firmly believe it’s the same way in the fitness industry.
Taking care of yourself does not mean you are a selfish misanthrope.
And unfortunately, the people-centric values people hold onto dearly are often the same values that put them under in the end.
Some people will claim “money doesn’t matter,” using their life savings to create a communal utopia where everyone is entitled to a discount, left to wonder in the end why they could never manage to keep their gym up and running.
I guess electricity doesn’t run on love like we thought it did.
This pervasive martyrdom is dangerous.
On the surface it’s a lifestyle and brand we want to buy into and espouse, but in reality, we don’t fully understand the depth of the personal sacrifices we have to make to be the martyrs we adore. We uphold this self-sacrifice, proudly grit our teeth through it, as if gym ownership is one, long WOD.
No matter what your financial situation is, it’s not always a monetary sacrifice we make when we put others before ourselves.
Oftentimes, it’s a spiritual and emotional degradation over time that causes us to burn out.
Athletes may compare Fran times, but gym owners compare how big their hearts are, sharing how much they’re willing to sacrifice for everyone else. And as off-putting as this is, this isn’t even my biggest problem with the hollow chest-thumping.
Celebrating these narratives of endless self-sacrifice is hypocritical of us and insidious for any gym owner paying attention.
When our members come to us and complain about not having enough time to come into the gym, what do we tell them?
“You have to make yourself a priority! Your health and well-being are important, and putting yourself first allows you to be your best self to those around you.”
But we don’t even follow our own advice!
We’re exempt. We make sacrifices for those we advise not to make sacrifices.
Would we ever tell our members to work longer hours and stop coming to the gym? NO!
But us? We can’t help but put everyone first. It’s part of the job.
That’s a lazy, cowardly lie.
It’s lazy because it’s harder to make time for yourself than not to.
It’s cowardly because it takes courage to put yourself first.
And any gym owner who looks to us for an example of how to properly run a gym sees us juggling multiple jobs, opening the gym when it’s dark, closing the gym when it’s dark, and gritting our teeth through the barrage of turnover.
We no longer resemble the beacon of happiness and self-actualization we came into this endeavor looking to become.
What would it look like if we, as gym owners, put ourselves first?
Would that make us the devil?
Because to me, that would be a gym owner who had it figured out. That life right there would make being a gym owner awfully worth it.
You mean I could wake up to a job I enjoy, set healthy boundaries, make money for myself, be around people I liked, and I could take regular vacations without negative repercussions?
Man…. isn’t that the dream, though?
I remember seeing a post on Instagram last year from a gym owner giving a shout out to another business owner who was out there with her guys, doing the exact same work they were. Right there in the trenches. Wouldn’t tell her employees to do something she wouldn’t do herself, and do it she did. Her and Rosie the Riveter, out there flexing on ’em.
Hmm… Doesn’t she have a business to run, or something?
Because if she did, I wouldn’t blame her.
When I run into gym owners who boast the years they’ve spent holding down multiple jobs, I feel myself recoiling from the conversation, slowly stepping away from the madness that people continue to maintain, convincing themselves this WOD of a life they’ve created is something that makes them happy.
Because, after years of being in this game… wouldn’t you rather be proud of making a living off of one job, the one right here at your gym, than barely sustaining yourself from two or three?
The biggest obstacle we face in the CrossFit community and fitness industry at large is that we believe hard work pays off.
This is the main life lesson that has set us apart from others who haven’t been successful in the fitness industry: we worked hard for this body and it paid off. We worked hard to overcome challenges and it always, always paid off.
We know nothing but hard work, but it’s us, the ones who come across CrossFit and find it “addicting,” who are really sick, deep down.
We don’t often stop to ask ourselves if that hard work is worth it, or if there’s a better way to do it. We just feel the accomplishment that comes with doing the miserable, doing the impossible, as the rest of our priorities fall by the wayside, our commitment to hard work never faltering.
Many of us have probably heard the Henry Ford story, rehashed over the years, where when asked a list of general knowledge questions about his company, he said,
“If I should really want to answer the foolish question you have just asked, or any of the other questions you have been asking me, let me remind you that I have a row of electric push-buttons on my desk, and by pushing the right button, I can summon to my aid men who can answer any question I desire to ask concerning the business to which I am devoting most of my efforts. Now, will you kindly tell me, why I should clutter up my mind with general knowledge, for the purpose of being able to answer questions, when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?”
We all applaud this story. In theory.
“Yeah! That’s a real CEO right there. He knows how to run his business properly!”
Then we go back to trying to be the best coach in the gym.
This hypocrisy has got to stop. As gym owners, business owners, leaders of a community, and leaders of our own lives, we have to exemplify the model of holistic health that we espouse.
We must practice what we preach.
We must create a gym that makes us happy and rejuvenates us.
We must pay ourselves, without needing another job to subsidize our standard living.
We must take time for ourselves, to recharge, to getaway, to do whatever the hell else we want with it.
We must say “yes” to the people who make our community come alive.
We must learn to say “no” to those who don’t.
We must give others purpose at the gym to do what we can’t or won’t.
We must ask ourselves what life we truly envision having, take the steps necessary to live that life, and learn to live it bravely.
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