I watched an interview with Jimmy Buffet the other day and the interviewer asked him if he missed performing in front of a crowd. He politely said, “Well, yes, sure I do.” They cut to a classic Parrott Head scene, thousands of Buffet fans singing Margaritaville and having the time of their lives while he clapped and sang and played guitar front and center at a concert sometime pre-Covid.
Do you miss teaching? someone asked me recently. And like Jimmy, I smiled and said, “Yes, I do.” But inside, I felt like I imagined Jimmy Buffet felt, an almost incomprehension of the question. Miss the crowds? Miss teaching? Miss the thing that I hands down love doing the most? The thing that helps define me, motivate me, gives purpose and organization to my days, my weeks, my life, my everything? I wish it felt as manageable as missing something. I am LOST without it.
Like so many of you, my primary connection to other indoor cycling instructors these days is virtual. I follow all the popular cycling sites, people, and businesses on Facebook and Instagram. Despite their newfound knowledge of Canva and Instagram Story’s coolest features, the posts have an unsettling sameness. Veteran fitness businesses and instructors are scrambling to pivot, to go from years, and sometimes decades, of operating one way to a new way that requires skills, time and money that many don’t have. Fairly new players are trying to read what’s needed at this inflection point and modify their strategies. Coming soon! their posts promise – everything you’ll need in this new reality! As a community of fitness professionals, we are all trying to process what has happened, and is happening, to our industry and respond to what our members, clients and participants need and, equally important, what we need.
It’s rough to say the least. Boutique studio owners who poured their savings, time and endless energy into a dream, are closing for good. Those who are hanging in are borrowing money to pump thousands of dollars into “Covid-safe neutralizers” like air filtering systems and special Covid-killer products. Do they work? We’ll find out. Instructors, with no place to teach, are also pumping money into equipment – microphones, sound systems, lighting – to create the quality experience their clubs once provided. Will it take? Will we succeed? We simply don’t know.
But here we are.
On the upside, the sheer determination displayed by so many instructors, club owners and others who serve our industry, to find a way to shift, adapt and for some, thrive, is crazy inspiring. On the downside, the pace of change, the bombardment of information, often conflicting, on how to go digital, how to reopen, how to teach outside, rebrand, rethink, reimagine, reset – is exhausting. We watch online seminars on the do’s and don’t’s, the how-to’s, the what to buy and what to avoid. But then our Instagram feed shows dozens of instructors from all over the world teaching classes using royalty music. But wait, isn’t that illegal? Won’t the video get taken down, the instructor potentially fined? The logistics alone can wear you out. Will this microphone work with that receiver? Which indoor cycling bike should I buy? Should we be wearing masks? Which masks are the best? How much should I charge for a digital class? And why the hell didn’t I buy Zoom stock last summer??
If only we could read the future. There are some no-brainers, like digital classes are here to stay. Just ask Peloton founder John Foley who is now worth nearly a half-billion dollars. But who fits into that world, and how, is not so clear.
Sure, there are a lot of advantages to digital fitness for both the instructor and the clients, but there’s also a great deal of loss. Ninety-nine percent of us are not Peloton, or Mirror, or any other deep pocket, marketing savvy, instructor superstar stacked business owner. Most of us, just five months ago, were driving to local gyms before the sun came up or after the sun went down, in our sort-of-cool workout clothes, sometimes already exhausted from other jobs or the four classes we already taught or took, and gave every ounce of energy, creativity, knowledge and passion to the equally dedicated, determined participants who showed up to be with us, to do that magical thing we did together, day after day, week after week. We were together; not six feet apart, not wearing masks that hide our beautiful faces, not worried that choosing a healthy workout could potentially kill us. We weren’t images on a Zoom screen with the mute button on. We were live, in person, close, connected. The way humans are meant to be.
Will we get back to that place that is starting to seem like a distant memory? Maybe. But we know from experience, you can never really “go back.” Sometimes I picture those scenes from apocalyptic-themed movies where the earth is decimated, smoldering ash and crumbled buildings everywhere, and when it seems like the worst of whatever disaster is over, people emerge slowly, cautiously out of the rubble, dazed and unsure. They realize their world as they knew it is gone. So they rebuild. Reinvent. Refuel. And they do it together.
Will that be us? I say, hell yes, it sure will be. Jimmy Buffet will sing in front of big crowds again. And you and I will be teaching, in-person, indoors, without masks, and hugging those people we love so dearly once again. Most probably, not any time soon. But someday.
Until then, be part of that rebuild – whatever that looks like for you. Do what you can, when you can, and don’t feel bad about those days when you’re just super sad that what you love doing may not be coming back – in the form you knew it – anytime soon.
Stay hopeful. Stay motivated. Stay flexible and creative. Stay safe. And, yes, absolutely – stay awesome. Because you are.
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