Saying goodbye to Gold’s: Lessons from managing in the fitness industry

Today is my final day working with the amazing team at Gold's Gym here in the Syracuse area; while we are two clubs, most of my time has been at the Dewitt location, where I joined as a member in 2005, before I went to work there in September of 2010.

I've worked with some weirdos in my time, but never a collection of eclectic, hard-working, smart people who are really good at their jobs like the folks who have been there for all (or, in some cases, most) of my tenure there.

I learned some valuable lessons there. Here are some that I think would be valuable for you, too.

Separate the personal from the professional. I've worked with some people who, shall we say, are not oh so operationally sound. As operations manager, you can see how that would create more work for me, and really, who has time for more work? But I can still really enjoy them as people. That's new to me.

Describe the why. If you show people why an objective is where it is, or show them why a process is designed for a particular workflow, it's amazing how quickly they'll catch on. Simply describing the what and the how allows too much room for error, and people will keep making the mistakes. Once you describe the why, people tend to get it, and, by targeting the why, they can offer alternative solutions that will be a better fit for your processes than they otherwise would be.

Maintain boundaries. So. Difficult. I was promoted to a management position during my tenure, which means that I went from working with a bunch of people to managing them. Yes, I was still working with them, but you have to draw new lines around friendships and be able to wield some authority or nothing gets done. Bonus points if you can do it without making people think you're a jackass.

Other boundaries you need to draw include when you're actually working. It's so easy to plop down in front of a computer and check your email, and the next thing you know you've spent three hours of your personal time at work, without being in the office. Want to burn out? It's an easy way.

To work with people, spend time listening and observing. I've worked with a wide variety of people who have a wide variety of things going on. With their brains (from body image to severe diagnoses of some mental illnesses), with their bodies (thyroid issues, knee issues, shoulder issues), with their families (kids in the hospital, severely overweight spouses who won't come to the gym even to walk, cousins who won't talk to the family); the list goes on. We don't always get to choose who our coworkers and customers are, but if you listen to them, you'll appreciate them for all that they are. And they'll appreciate you, too.

Most of the decisions you make are, in fact, yours. You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that people have all manner of excuses for not coming to the gym, or for not eating right, and then having the gall to complain about the consequences. I'm not saying all the decisions they make are easy, and some of the peripheral consequences of some decisions are uncomfortable, but there's science at play in a lot of what we want. We know how to get there. You have to make the decision, and then you have to commit.

Learn. When I went to Gold's in September of 2010, I expected it would be a short-term position to get me through a short rough patch. I didn't want to short-change the company that had taken me on, of course, so I learned a lot about fitness and nutrition, followed trends, checked out niches, and self-experimented with various diets, supplements and exercise routines. It's been invaluable personally, and I think the gym benefited, as well.

Enjoy what you enjoy. The worst thing I heard in the fitness industry over the course of my tenure at Gold's came from a 40-ish year old bodybuilder. I saw him eating a giant vat of cold oatmeal. I told him where the microwave was, and he told me, "I don't eat for taste anymore." OK, I understand the occasional snack just to fill you up, but I can't imagine what it's like to not enjoy your food. I get that ultimately, food is fuel, but I can't imagine discarding the sensual aspect of eating.

Leave things better than you found them. I didn't hit every objective put forth for me. Not even close. But I think I helped get the club a little closer to where it wants to be from a business perspective.

As I head back into the news industry, I'll be returning to use the club as a member. I can't wait to see where it goes from here!

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Stuff to help you start writing. Plus: Doing the work.

You may have noticed some all-of-a-sudden increased blogging around these parts the past few weeks.

That's in no small part due to a couple of non-fiction books by Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and others. Those books are Do the Work and Turning Pro. They're about getting over whatever the things are that are telling you to go do anything else but your art, and then further, finishing your project and trying to sell it, even if it's not particularly sellable.

What's a rejection letter or 20 among friends? Or enemies, for that matter? At least a rejection letter means you tried, which puts you ahead of most other people.

Pressfield, by the way, also writes a weekly column about writing called Writing Wednesdays.

Clearly, I've been doing a lot of the first part – the sitting down and writing.

And to tell you the truth, I may take more of this advice as I go forward, and even if I write five or eight or ten blog posts in a week, I'll go down to publishing two or three times a week, giving myself time to edit and even giving myself a day off here and there.

The second bit of Pressfield's advice has been on submitting your finished work.

It's easy to hit "Publish" on a blog. I paid for my own URL and for my hosting plan (it's really a nominal fee, why wouldn't I?), but you don't even have to do that. You can just set it up for free. You don't even have to tell anybody.

But I'm going to get back into submitting work. At least one piece a month, and my first piece has a submission deadline of August 1, which is a w eek from tomorrow.

Which means I'd better getting to the editing-for-awesome piece of it.

I'll be taking many of my submission ideas from some of Hope Clark's newsletters. She writes at Funds for Writers, and I highly recommend that if you need a contest (genre or literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, whatever), you start subscribing to her newsletters.

The writing is mostly done already, so I'm down to the editing piece.

Come join my FIT-traxx class!

Beginning next week, I'll be coaching a great program called FIT-traxx.

The gym brought the program in at the beginning of the year, and after taking a class, I liked it so much I wanted to coach it. So I am.

I'm leading a demo class tonight at 5pm at the Dewitt Gold's Gym. You don't need to be a member to participate. Show up a few minutes early to sign a waiver and stretch. My class will be Tuesday and Thursday mornings before work (5:45am).

For the price, you really can't beat this program. You get four weeks of trainer-assisted workouts, nutrition advice, and homework for the days when you're not in the class. You also get my email address so we can chat about what you're eating and your workouts and how things are going and any other advice you might want.

I can't talk about price here; you can email me (that's my work email) for some details, but the demo comes with a coupon, and we'll talk about costs there. The two- and three-times-per-week programs come with a money back guarantee, and people who take the program three times a week are losing four inches in the month.

You also get full use of the gym for five weeks (it's a four-week program with a week for make-up classes).

There's also a demo at 8am Saturday, which will be led by Austin, who heads the program here.

Let me know if you have questions. I'd love to see some people I know from the community in my class! [I'll also take music suggestions to heart, and there won't be any John Denver!]

Selling for your conscience instead of money

I met with some friends over brunch this weekend to discuss a website. She does handmade knitwear and has a large collection of vintage clothing that she wants to unload; he's money-conscious as they head into retirement, as you'd imagine anyone would responsibly be.

My goal, since they're friends, I want to keep them that way, and I want to make sure that as I do work for them I don't come to resent them for utilizing my time and energy, was to find an affordable solution that really made sense.

So I sold them an Etsy.com shop. Which, of course, is free. They bought brunch, and I'll be over their house for a couple of hours showing them how to set up the Etsy shop while we nibble on stuff, and they're going to have at it for a few months to see how it does for them.

If it doesn't work out over the next five months or so, we'll take another look and they won't have lost anything. I'm sure they'll have questions, and I'm sure I'll spend a few minutes here and there answering emails. But at least for now, they'll have a self-driven solution, and I won't have to feel bad every time I see them that I'm taking money out of their pockets.

How do you sell to people who need your services, but whom you also want in your life?

Freelancer’s Lament: Be Clear With Deadlines

I put a fair number of proposals out there. Knowing that many come back for negotiation, others come back for long-term discussion, and some just don't come back, it does take a fair bit of planning ahead and organization.

I woke up this morning (August 30) to a query email that said the full text to be proofread was 10,000 words (that's about 40 double-spaced pages, so a large-ish document but not huge), that the site was due to be online September 1, and the entire project had to be completed September 10.

There are two different dates in that email. They are nine days apart, but more importantly, they are between two and 11 days from now. If the deadline is in two days, that's fine – but it makes me think you're very close to hiring me and I want that copy now. It's one thing to want a quick turnaround; it's another to want a rushed job that will read like a rushed job because you didn't give me enough time to do it.

If, on the other hand, you want that job done on September 10, I can wait a couple of days for the copy, and I don't have to worry about pushing a couple of things off – or whether I'm going to take the time out to run to my local coffee shop before it closes at 9 p.m. or whether I'm going to make coffee at the house.

But now I'm stuck emailing back and forth, and if I find out that the deadline is two days, we've had to spend time on basic communication when I could have been actually doing the work.

The moral of this story: If you're hiring a freelancer, know when you need the job done, and communicate that to the person who's going to do the job. It's one of those things that's fundamental to you being happy with the job, and it's one of the things that's fundamental to the freelancer being able to do the job to your satisfaction. Yours isn't the only project that person has in the pipeline – think about what you're paying her and how much you would need to pay your bills – so if your project is to get done on your time line, it's important that you clearly communicate it.

Photo by Martin Kingsley.

The White Board Resignation: Would You Hire ‘Jenny’?

Update, 7 a.m.: We learned this morning that the white board resignation was, indeed, a hoax. But because the viral campaign has some actual discussion value, I'm going to leave this post as I wrote it.

You may have seen the series of photos yesterday of "Jenny" quitting her job via white board and email. If not, take some time to scroll through the whole thing.

We might find this an attempt at Internet celebrity. I'm running on the assumption it's not (see note above: it is). I'm also running on the assumption that she'll be out there looking for jobs, and that she's recognizable and Google-able. So. If her resume came across your desk, would you hire her? Some things stand out to me on both sides of the argument.

Pro: Creativity. That's the obvious one. Not only is it a creative resignation, she put some time into it, which bodes well in a project-focused environment.

Con: Self-awareness. My guess is, without knowing the office situation, anybody who's worked with Spencer for several years and has seen his assistants come and go, probably knows there was a pattern of chauvinism, and may have warned her subtly. Either way, she made it two years before she knew where she really stood in her boss's eyes.

Pro: Willingness to learn from the bottom up. Jenny wanted to be a broker, so she came on as a broker's assistant to learn the business. She wasn't so arrogant in her job search to try to start higher than her abilities, and she apparently determined the path she would need to take to get where she wanted to be.

Con: Willingness to let the behavior cycle without her. Rather than go to HR with a harassment claim, Jenny called Spencer out in such a way that she probably can't file a claim now. Which means that anyone who hasn't seen her resignation or who doesn't connect it to her company, or who doesn't necessarily believe a clearly disgruntled employee, will sign on as Spencer's next assistant, and the cycle of chauvinism will continue. Her boss was doing something potentially illegal that will likely affect other people in the future – if she had gone through the proper reporting procedure, she would help others who might work for Spencer. There's a selfishness there I'm not crazy about as a potential employer.

Pro: Strong use of available tools. Spencer put monitoring software on the network. Jenny used it in a way not prescribed by her boss. Two thumbs up.

Con: The wardrobe change. I get that it's the throwing off of the business casual and the throwing on of the casual – the change from from the worker to the customer. Very artsy. But there's something about Jenny shucking the glasses and coming out from behind the white board on the first shot that screams to me, "I'm gonna do the talk show circuit for this!" Not crazy about the move.

I'm glad Jenny got out of a bad situation. I'm also glad that she recognized there were no bridges she needed to worry about burning, so it didn't matter how she did it. Whether or not I'd want her on my team in a work environment would strongly depend on what business I was in and what dynamics I hoped for within my team.

Your Take: Places to bring colleagues and clients

My post on places to bring colleagues and clients got a bunch of reaction on LinkedIn. I said Freedom of Espresso in Franklin Square, Edward Thomas, Alto Cinco, Al's and Burnet Park.

Here was the LinkedIn response. [Note: After I created this post, more comments were added, so they didn't make it. Be sure to check out the Linked Syracuse group for more!]

Links to some of these places:

Century Club
Empire
Kitty Hoynes
The Mission
L'Adour
Dinosaur
Heid's
Onondaga Lake Park
Tin Pan Galley [Warning: Music auto-plays]

Your Take: Bars to work at

My bars to work from were the Blue Tusk, Al's, Empire, the Limerick and Suds.

Bob has some great ideas, too. Not sure how comfortable I'd be bringing my laptop to Dino, but I like Bull & Bear as a spot, and Alto Cinco is a nice spot.

In comments, Greg added Clark's, which I wish had more electricity, but I'm still down.

Your Take: Coffee Shops to Work From

The brief 5 places... series received a bunch of feedback. Wow! So now we're going to do your takes for the next few days.

My 5 coffee shops to work from were Recess, Kubal, Funk N Waffles, and two Freedom of Espresso stores.

On LinkedIn, Jill hadn't previously heard of Kubal, and Bob pointed out that it's really small. Glenn suggested the Route 57 Starbucks:

Other places that came up in comments:

Sugarpearl
Strong Hearts
Second Story
• Freedom of Espresso's other two locations
• The cafe at Syracuse University's Bird Library

5 Places to Bring Colleagues and Clients in the Syracuse Area

After my post last week about coffee shops to work at in the Syracuse area, Jill asked if I'd write a post about places to bring colleagues and clients:

So here we are.

1. Freedom of Espresso, Franklin Square. OK, this was on my coffee shop list, too, but that makes sense, right? I sort of use it as an office sometimes, and this Freedom store is convenient to downtown, but outside of the bustle. And did I mention there's a hot dog cart across the street at lunch time? Well, when the weather supports it, anyway.

2. Alto Cinco. Alto Cinco, for you non-Spanish speakers out there, translates literally to "high five." If you need another reason to bring a client or colleague, try it yourself first. The atmosphere is cozy (they've avoided expansion though they could easily fill a room three times that size), the food is really good, and if you need a wine recommendation, they're right there for you. Bonus: It's across the street from Recess so you can grab some joe or hot chocolate on your way out. No wifi at the restaurant, but it's a good spot for a meeting anyway.

3. Edward Thomas Cigar. OK, this is kind of a boys' club. As in I'm not really sure they'd know how to react if a woman walked in (any volunteers?). But Edward Thomas's new digs are pretty sweet. Most of the space is now members-only; really a ploy to let people bring in some booze. There's a non-member smoking lounge with a big TV. There's no alcohol allowed and the wifi is weak back there. The rest of the place, however, has a strong wifi signal and members can bring a cocktail and a guest or two. The space includes a large room with a dozen flat panel TVs and leather recliners; computer carrels; a conference room; a poker room; and a more open room with one of those coffee tables with a top that lifts toward you.

4. Al's Wine & Whiskey. Al's made my bars to work from post last week. Pull up one of the couches, or take over the pool table in the back room. If you tip your bartender, s/he might even surrender the back room remote control.

5. Burnet Park. Again, no wifi, but Burnet Park has a zoo, a golf course, a pool, a skating rink, a basketball court and softball fields, in addition to some open space. And if you feel the need for food and drink, both Nibsy's and Coleman's are within a few blocks.