There is a dirty little secret about doing what you love, in my case working in sports and athletics, that no one ever talks about. I’d like to say it’s performance enhancing drugs but that would be too simple. The secret is what it does to your soul. Working as a strength coach or in any sort of athlete support system, especially in college athletics as I have learned, will suck your soul out backwards through a straw. Why do we still do it? I don’t know. Why do you still go to that job you hate doing but you committed to doing it when you left college? Asking that kind of question is pointless and unnecessary. We do it because we love it and we had the foolish notion of being able to pay our bills doing something we love. Some of that “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” bullshit. Do what you love and you’ll overdose on it like a hit of cocaine straight to the system. Snort it up, coach, it’s only gonna kill you faster if you do.
Throwback to one fateful college day when I realized that Organic Chemistry, while fascinating and extremely challenging, was not the route I wanted to take. Buh-bye pre-med major and notions of being a pediatrician. Hello to “I want to be a strength coach. What do I do to make that happen?” Three more years of college and two more years of being a personal trainer and I got my chance in the private sector. Hooray! Dream job part 1 is in the bag!
Coach, lift, coach, sleep, repeat. Eating was somewhere in there. Scraping by on the bare minimum and asking my parents to help pay some bills was most decidedly in the mix as well. And then the fun hit. The private sector is a tricky devil and sometimes business isn’t great. Enter the sideways slide into the partner company to work as a physical therapy aide while still getting to coach on occasion. Five rough and rugged years later I had learned a tremendous amount regarding workplace injuries and rehab. Give me a week of practice and I could probably still teach you how to lift properly using my very rudimentary, slang-infused physical therapy Spanish that I learned from all of the manual laborers I worked with over the years.
Suddenly a twinkle emerges on the horizon; I can go back to the original company and do a bit of both coaching and physical therapy aide. Praise some higher being in the sky. Charging valiantly towards that twinkle on my noble steed of hope, I learn none too quickly that the private sector is still a tricky devil and that being a physical therapy aide is not my life’s calling. It’s not even a whisper really. Nonetheless I settle in as we all do when faced with limited options and no idea where to go in the future. Snuggled in the comfort of being employed and having a roof over my head.
Then destiny stepped in! Or more likely the eight-ish years of networking and paying the proverbial dues waved at me and said, “Psssst! Here’s an opportunity of a lifetime!” The previous twinkle I had seen on the horizon was completely overshadowed and obliterated by the blazing comet of the “JOB YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING TOWARDS YOUR WHOLE LIFE!” Catchy right? Dream job part 2, the new and improved version.
Well that networking paid off and I landed the holiest of the holy grail dream jobs I could possibly have ever asked. It was so glorious that it had never even occurred to me that I could negotiate a salary. The offering price was already well above what kept a roof over my head and the benefits, ohhhh those sweet benefits! Not since I had stopped believing in Santa had magic seemed so real!
And the magic was real. For many many years it was real. But every circus has it’s darkside behind the flashing lights and sweet scents of cotton candy. The darkside was long hours for long weeks that stretched into long months and eventually very long years. The comet started to fade, leaving in its wake bits of rubble and ash but I told myself I still loved it just the same. The days were so long that one day seemed as though it were two, which made weeks feel more like months. The sparkles of appreciation for the time spent making someone else’s life just a bit better became the salvation. The “if I can change just one life out of hundreds then it will have all been worth it” mentality was a band-aid.
The reality was one of sacrifice. Sacrificing one life and its mental well-being in the hopes that one little fishy in the pond would see the benefit and swim towards a better life because you were there to make the difference. (Incidentally, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s definition of success is still one of my favorites.) And those little flashes of life where a kid came back and said, “Hey, you made all the difference in my time there. Thank you.” Those will always be my most cherished memories because it’s hard not to feel good when someone goes out of their way to tell you that you, YOU, made a bit of difference to them no matter how small or short of a time you were with them. Those are indeed the moments you live for and work for.
While those are moments you live for, they are not moments you can live off. They may feed you sweet little Pop Rocks of pure happiness but in the long run if doing what you love is also strangling the life out of you, what do you have left to give in the end? It’s a tough pill to swallow to realize that you have given something so much of your “all” that you have nothing left for yourself. It’s a bad carousel ride to hop on yet myself and many many colleagues will take that trip for years hoping it’ll be different or will pay off in unknown dividends.
For some that dream job never fades. It has held its luster and continues to illuminate their skies. But for many others, speaking quite personally here, it was the dream job that nearly broke their spirit. The love for the job was finally overwhelmed by the loss of the spirit. Very few understand what it’s like to love something so much that you begin to hate it because of what is has taken from you to get there. It’s devastating to realize what you have lost and will continue to lose if you carry on down the same path for something you still love so dearly.
And now where do I find myself? Technically unemployed after quitting THE dream job. Being a “mature student” and back in school for a master’s degree because education seemed like a good idea and doing it overseas to actually have a life was an even more brilliant idea. Will I pay for it, literally and metaphorically, in the end? Probably because that sweet little loan baby is already accruing interest and I’m not even done with school yet. But people keep telling me that they can never take away your education. They most certainly can’t take away my will to keep trucking along and taking leaps in life. Sometimes the fall hurts; the sudden stop at the bottom is a real bitch. But taking chances seems like a better option than to continue on the same carousel of discontent. Do I still love coaching? Hell yeah I do. Do I regret a single bit of my journey? Not in the least. I am still beyond grateful for the people I have met, the mentors who have given me their time, the lessons I’ve learned, and the people who have trusted me with their well-being. Will I still continue to coach and educate others and do that thing that I love in some capacity somewhere in this wide world? Of course I will. I’m in for the journey even if the destination changes from time to time.