When an Industry is Full of Crap, What Do you Do?

Just recently I have had quite a few people pop up in my network who have become self-proclaimed self-help gurus.  One of the things about my industry and the “life coaching”, “motivational speaking”, or “super duper person” industries is that you can seriously be completely full of it, and odds are that someone is going to decide to pay you because they can’t figure stuff out for themselves.  The funny thing is, knowing these people personally or having worked with them in the past, I can clearly state that the biography that they put up on the internet omits a few personal details or greatly embellishes others to the point where they look like amazing superstars who run the world.  The only problem I have with it is that these people typically are completely misrepresenting themselves, or at least the people they were before they became these amazing people (last month).

Many people don’t have the motivation to do things like exercise, and that is one of the reasons that my industry exists.  Just like we hate doing our taxes and hire accountants or hire mechanics to change our oil.  This is a cost and benefit relationship.  When people hire me for my services, I not only take the guess work out of their exercise routine, I try to make sure they are getting the most effective workout that they can for that time.  However, I’d like to think that if I then went home to my couch, ate Cheetos and never worked out at all then I would feel like a big fat hypocrite.  I’m usually pretty clear with people when they ask me if I’m qualified to teach x thing because I have either done it before to others or myself – with success.  I told a prospective client that I wasn’t sure if I could help them just last week because I wasn’t the best person qualified to do what they wanted me to do and referred them to someone else.  That’s a little thing called integrity.  I know what I’m good at, and I also know there are better people out there at doing certain things than me.  Probably lots of them.

However, as I have written before what amazes me is people who financially commit to something like a trainer, life coach or nutrition “guru” without any research.  Does your coach have proven results over time?  Have they been in an industry for long enough to have a few hundred or thousand hours of experience practicing?  There’s a reason even plumbers, welders and car mechanics have to go through years of apprenticeship and can’t just fly into business.  Unfortunately not every industry requires this, and these are the one you have to watch out for even more if you are thinking about hiring someone in them.  If you are silly enough to sign up with someone for a service just because they “have massive PMA” or “are an awesome person” then you’re probably going to get exactly what you expect – a really positive person, but does that mean they can actually help you?  I get that people have to start somewhere and need to get clients and get experience, but when they start out misrepresenting themselves right off of the starting gun then that is very telling in my opinion.  Did they start off small and work their way up, or did they suddenly declare that they are an amazing person and start talking about books and giving advice they never followed themselves until they had their epiphany?

This is called an unregulated industry.  Doctors, lawyers and other professionals have to go through extensive schooling, rigourous exams and usually a period of gaining enough experience at low level activities before they can even take their exams.  But trainers, life coaches and other health gurus don’t – and they can still fundamentally affect how you live your life and even hurt you badly.  I can direct you to a web site where after 150 multiple choice questions and paying $200 you can also become a certified personal trainer right now.  And life coaches don’t even have to do that – they just declare that’s what they are and I’m so awesome that people should pay me to organize their lives.  I have a friend who is a psychotherapist and she had to spend five YEARS underneath another therapist (after already having a Masters Degree) before she was allowed to go into private practice.  In my opinion, this should be the way the PT industry is organized as well but it never will be as long as people continue to pay good money for people in these industries who have no education or experience.

So here’s what I’m asking you to do – vet your professionals.  Carefully.  Ask for references.  Validate what they put on their web sites.  See if they practice what they preach and have for a period of time.  And don’t commit to anything long term until they have proven that they can do what they told you they can.  Make sure results are tangible and quantitative, not just smoke and mirrors like “you’re going to feel great!”.  Don’t hire someone because they are a “good person” or they “give you a good deal”.  And here’s my message to anyone starting out – come back to me in a couple of years and show me several people you have helped get to where they want to be.  That should be the minimum amount of time required investing in a new profession to start to get decent at it.  Show me education you have taken to further your credentials.  Show me that you yourself practice what you preach.  Because if you’re a personal trainer who smokes, a positivity guru who was a complete negative person until a few months ago or a life coach who can’t organize their own life then you have a lot of stuff you need to work on.

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