If you have a steady job, keeping it is the safest thing you can do. Going after something you’re passionate about is risky. There are a number of aspects of your life put at risk: finance, emotion, and reputation to name a few. If you are going to leave behind the standard career path, these are the risks you assume. That is the dominant narrative anyway.
Before becoming a full-time fitness coach, I worked as a university administrator. I had a good job title at a respectable institution, a team of employees reporting to me, and a decent salary with a robust benefits package. I had been promoted a number of times and my boss had talked to me about taking the next step in the universe of higher education administration. I was safe.
I wanted none of it. I remember consciously telling myself to respond diplomatically to the possibility of advancing further in the system. My inner voice was screaming “No!” While the next step up would clearly distinguish me as someone with a bright career, my insides recoiled at the notion of taking one more step down that path. That said, I didn’t know what to do. I had carved out a nice piece of territory for myself in the system and couldn’t rightly just give it up. That would be too risky.
While I had looked at postings on HigherEdJobs.com, I knew that moving to another university system would not help me. My skills and qualifications would lead me to the same type of role in a different setting. Maybe a bump in pay or more prestigious institution, but the nature of my work and my daily life’s dynamics would not change.
For quite some time I had held onto the clandestine notion that I could change lives and become a fitness coach. Years prior, I had gotten certified to coach and did so on the weekends as a part-time passion project. It gave me a way to further cultivate my love of fitness and nourish my desire to connect with and help people. There were a number of full-time fitness coaches at the gym where I coached. While I could fantasize about joining their ranks, I didn’t know if I could make the same sort of living working in fitness. Additionally, I worried about whether my passion for fitness would endure if it became my full-time job, not just a hobby. Lastly, what if I couldn’t measure up to the standard of a full-time fitness coach? I knew enough to know that the job demanded a lot of personality in addition to skill and knowledge. What if I tried and failed? My reputation would be forever stained as someone on a successful track who gave it up to fail. Also, again, it’s worth repeating, what about the money?
None of those risks were present in my university job. I had financial security, personal validation as a successful professional, and respect of people around me. If I left my administrative job, I would either make a living coaching or fail fantastically have no way to support myself. There was a lot of risk in leaving. The risk analysis that kept me in my administrative job looked a little like this:
|Stay in Job||Leave and Fail||Leave and “Works”|
|Finance||Low Risk (Felt satisfied)||High Risk (Worst case)||Medium Risk (could I make enough money?)|
|Emotion||Medium Risk (Felt unsatisfied)||High Risk (Would be ashamed)||Medium Risk (would I still feel the same about fitness?)|
|Reputation||Low Risk (Felt respected)||High Risk (Would be viewed as failure by both administrative and fitness professionals)||Medium Risk (Would people respect me as a fitness coach in the same way as a university administrator?)|
However, I was miserable in the day to day of my administrative job. The prospect of progressing deeper into that world filled me with dread. That dread was a key component to the reappraisal of my situation’s risk analysis. What if I stay in higher education administration for the next thirty years and felt that dread every single day? What if I lived my whole life with contempt for what I had to do to make a living? Conversely, what if I could earn a living doing something I loved? What if I enjoyed the place where I went to work? What I was risking by staying was a lifetime of unfulfilling work.
I also began to reexamine the prospect of what it would look like to fail at being a full-time coach. If that was the case, what would I do? Well, I would probably go back to some form of administrative work. I would apply for jobs and have years of experience advancing within a certain field. I would have to explain a gap in my resume, but I would be able to say that the reason I had the gap was because I took a shot at what I was passionate about. Would people really hold that against me? I certainly wouldn’t look down on anyone who took a shot at something special or different.
Lastly, I looked at the financial risk with a bit more of a realistic lens. Working in higher education is not the most lucrative field. While I was content with my salary, I was in no way wealthy. Additionally, as I stated, at the gym where I coached part-time, there were a number of full-time coaches. While they didn’t seem wealthy, they were also clearly making a living and had been sustaining themselves in that profession for years.
My newly thought out risk analysis looked more like this:
|Stay in Job||Leave and Fail||Leave and Works|
|Finance||Low Risk||Medium Risk (Would take a hit, but could resume career track)||Low Risk (I knew fitness coaches making a living)|
|Emotion||Very High Risk (A lifetime of dissatisfaction)||Low Risk (Would be unfortunate to fail, but I would have an answer)||Low Risk (Even if passion waned, it would be more enjoyable than a cubicle)|
|Reputation||Low Risk||Low Risk (Few people judge someone for taking a shot at something special)||Low Risk (I would be a person serving others in a field I enjoyed)|
It became clear that despite what one may initially think, the riskiest prospect was staying in my current line of work. I would be risking an entire lifetime of fulfilling and enjoyable work. Though there was the possibility of failure of making it as a full-time fitness coach, I could still resume my conventional career. That’s the thing about the conventional path, it’s pretty widely available. If I were to leave and it worked out, I had the highest possible benefits: having a career I loved and a workplace I was happy to go to every day.
As it worked out, I left the administrative job and started coaching. The life of a fitness professional has not been without challenges in the emotional, reputational, or financial realms, but I have not regretted that decision for one second. It baffles me that I was kept in a line of work I found unsatisfying so long out of fear of losing something. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. There is a false sense of fear that you will be risking too much by pursuing a passion. However, if you are in a job you dislike, you are already in the worst case scenario. We spend too much of our time at work for it to not be something that we feel a calling for. An accurate risk assessment proves not that you should value stability over fulfillment, but that you should seek out meaning and settle for stability in a worst case scenario. We are taught that stability and safety are of the highest value, but this is inaccurate. Meaning, passion, and purpose are the highest ideals. Stability should only be sought in a worst case scenario.