Book and Street Smarts
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. But trust me, it’s nothing as profound as the Governator’s recent admission that he fathered a love child with a household staff member more than ten years ago. Oh man, I did not see that coming. Although, when you think about it, now we know why he was always smoking cigars; each one could have been celebrating the birth of another secret child. HA! Get it?
Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah, my little secret. So, uh, yeah here it is:….I was never an avid reader growing up. See? I told you it wasn’t anything to write home about.
When I was younger, “reading” to me was anxiously awaiting my Sports Illustrated to arrive in the mail every week, or reading the back of a cereal box as I ate breakfast every morning before school. That was about the extent of it.
I remember my 11th grade English teacher, Ms. Hurst, making us read Macbeth for a month, and it was absolute torture. Fast forward to college, in my first semester, I had to take an Introduction to Novels class, and the first book on the list was Madame Bovary. I never wanted to fall on a chainsaw so much in my life. How I made it through that class – with a B no less – was a miracle.
Admittedly, once I started taking courses that were more relevant to my chosen profession, I didn’t consider reading as much of a chore. Call me crazy, but for a meathead such as myself, reading about the differences between type I and type II muscle fibers was a heckuva lot more entertaining than George Orwell’s 1984.
All the same, it wasn’t until 2003 that I started reading for enjoyment. Without getting into the particulars (a certain girl essentially took my heart, poured gasoline on it, set it on fire, then proceeded to stab it repeatedly with a steak knife. I’m over it, though), by happenstance I came across the Modern Library’s list of The Top 100 Novels, and I decided right then and there that I was going to spend my summer putting a dent into it.
And a Nerd is Born
From there, I was hooked. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I must have read 15-20 novels that year alone. Vonnegut, Hemmingway, Steinbeck, you name a classic, I probably read it. I read in my apartment, on random benches throughout my hometown, and I’d even spend my Sunday afternoons at the local Borders reading, oftentimes finishing entire books without paying for them. You could say I was sticking it to the man.
To this day, I’m still working my way through that same list. As it stands right now, I’m reading The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (# 19 on the list – I’m not reading them in order). And by now, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with anything related to fitness.
Well, the other day my good friend, Bret Contreras, wrote something on his blog asking the question: “Why are so many fitness professionals reading books on motivation?”
These days all sorts of coaches are reading motivational and inspirational books. I’m more interested in reading books and journal articles on Strength & Conditioning or Physical Therapy. Don’t trainers and coaches realize how much knowledge is out there and how little the average person knows? Are we so unmotivated that we have to constantly read books to keep us focused?
To his credit, Bret did go on to say that it’s important to be reading two books at once: one that’s scientific and related to your field (in this case, strength and conditioning), and one that’s for pleasure or personal growth. And I agree 100%.
Thing is, though, many fitness professionals (especially those just entering the field) miss the boat entirely, and tend to fall into one extreme or the other.
On one hand, you have those who read anything and everything related to strength and conditioning, physical therapy, corrective exercise, nutrition, so on and so forth. And that’s it. They read blogs (hopefully this one), articles, watch webinars, and consider Science and Practice of Strength Training their holy bible.
That is all well and good – and I applaud that. But at the same time, if you have the personality and communication skills of a water heater, and aren’t able to articulate those skills to quantifiable results with a real, live person then what good does it do? And this isn’t even scratching the surface as far the pyschology of training. That is, motivating someone to do what you want them to do.
Conversely, there are plenty of internet gurus out there who couldn’t tell you the difference between external and internal impingement of the shoulder; yet, can sell ice to an Eskimo. Sadly, many coming into the field are far too concerned with making a quick buck than actually putting out quality information, or actually making an effort of knowing what the hell they’re talking about.
And, while it really has nothing to do with the conversation at hand: I’m always fascinated by these trainers who look like they couldn’t punch their way through a wet paper towel, trying to sell their latest e-book on how to get jacked and swole.
It’s analogous to the health teacher whom you catch lighting up a cigarette in their car, or the accountant who files for bankruptcy. Integrity has it’s worth.
Anyways, I guess all I’m really trying to say is that 1) I was a complete tool back in 2003, and 2) you need to find a balance of both book smarts and street smarts to be successful in this industry. For every book you read by Gray Cook or Mike Boyle, pick up another one by Dan Ariely or Malcolm Gladwell
In today’s day and age, learning how to market one’s self is – for better or worse – a growing requirement in the field. Learning how to “sell” yourself and attract (and maintain) clients is an integral part of success in today’s digital world.
By the same token, it’s kind of important to know what the hell you’re talking about, too. And, it probably wouldn’t hurt to read a classic here and there as well. Just sayin…..