I transferred from Indiana University of Pennsylvania to West Chester University after my sophomore year. My best friend that went with me to Indiana joined the Army, I had a girl back home, and there was a new martial arts facility that opened up reasonably close to my parents house. At the time I was very heavy into mixed martial arts. The two years I spent at Indiana University of Pennsylvania I competed with the grappling club, and joined a local MMA gym in Indiana, PA. Aside from studying and taking part in the typical college scene I spent the majority of my time in the gym. The owner of the facility at home stressed to me that he was looking for instructors. He offered me a free membership in exchange for my coaching, and told me that if I stuck with it eventually I could work my way into a paid position.
I started out by coaching one grappling class and a fit boxing class three days a week. I did some minor landscaping work on the side, but spent most of my time even when not coaching at the gym. As the membership base and interest grew, the owner asked me if I could possibly start opening up for him in the morning to hold down the fort while he was out seeing in-home clients. Money was still off of the table but I was learning, and I was learning a lot. Without hesitation I agreed and started opening up Monday through Friday at 6am. I was now fully emerged, coaching anywhere between 4-5 hours a day, training multiple hours a day, and staying at the facility in between classes in case potential members stopped in.
Convincing my parents that it was a smart idea to spend 10 plus hours a day at a job with no income was hard to say the least. Often times I would even lie and tell them he was paying me when in fact he wasn’t. The only time I saw any money that summer was when my car broke down and I had no choice but to ask for money so that I could continue to get to and from the gym. I was doing something I loved every single day, and learning invaluable lessons from professional fighters and coaches. At one point there were professional Muay Thai fighters that flew in from Thailand to train with us. Getting a chance to spar and learn from people who did this for a living coming straight from the motherland of our sport was intimidating but an experience I could not pass up.
I developed a multitude of relationships with clientele and other coaches, learned about marketing tactics, picked up new skill sets that I could apply to my arsenal as a coach, and got a taste of what it was like run a fitness business. I was 20 years old, and expanding my horizon in the fitness industry as well as building relationships proved to be far superior over making $9 an hour at a typical summer job like many of my friends. I am 28 now, and I still carry many of those lessons with me today. I have now been a business owner for over 5 years, and credit much of my willingness to dive in head first during our start up days to my experiences that summer.
Stop worrying about a savings account when you are barely out of your teenage years, stop worrying about having the newest technology and the nicest clothes. Go find something that you love to do, and devote your time, even if it means for free. Gary Vaynerchuk said in one of his podcasts, “most successful people once worked for someone in their field they looked up to for free”, and it’s true. If you want to do something you love, chances are there are other people who want the same thing. Screw money, earn lessons, you will keep those for a lifetime.