4 Fitness Career Lessons From Reading Harry Potter
For years I consumed every business, personal development, marketing, and training book I could find. It felt like a mandatory quest toward career success. Many earlier books shaped my philosophies and trained important skills. Books like Essentialism, Linchpin, Extreme Ownership, and The Obstacle Is The Way inspired a philosophy of ownership, accountability, effort, and focus. These also fuelled an obsession with consuming everything I could absorb. A few years later I found myself quitting half read books as it became harder to find ground breaking ideas. The books either rehashed the same message or provided such incrementally minuscule value they were no longer worth the time. As the compulsion to read every business book abated I was ready to explore something different. I gave myself permission to turn off the quest to make everything about creating or consuming career capital. It was time to explore the world of Hogwarts.
Until fall of 2019 I had never read the Harry Potter series, nor seen the movies. As one of the most culturally relevant intellectual properties of this generation, I said I would eventually read them or binge watch all 8 movies. I wasn’t drawn to them just felt it was something I was supposed to do. Probably why I delayed the effort. A conversation with Jordan Syatt, a known Potter super fan and coach who weaves Harry imagery and lore into his content, inspired my decision to explore this world.
This isn’t a list of fables from the books, like “Don’t be an angsty teenager” as Harry gets more than a little angry and annoying in Order of the Phoenix. Instead I’ve compiled a series of important takeaways for fitness professionals from the experience reading the series.
Develop a Broad Base of Knowledge and Interests to Connect With Others
Our lives often revolve around fitness. Trainers gather online to discuss or argue over training and nutrition. We forget how the rest of humanity treats fitness as a piece of a larger life puzzle, if at all. They’re not interested in the latest research on muscle hypertrophy nor the scientific validity of intermittent fasting. They care about how their experience within fitness feels. Part of this experience is their relationship with you. Often they keep coming back not out of the love for planks and lunges but because they value and enjoy the time you share. One of the best ways to enhance your shared time is to be an interesting person with a broad array of interests and life experiences. Especially when you have common interests.
Many of my clients have read Harry Potter with a few being die hard fans. They’re enjoying my progress through the books and brighten as they’re reminded of the antics of the Weasley twins. Each have their favourite books and moments in the series.
I share many interests with my clients. After we have nailed down the essentials of their training and nutrition we have lots to talk about. Every session requires teaching and maintenance, but there is almost always plenty of time to explore mutual joys, preferable to dead silence between sets. A few of my clients love World of Warcraft and we bond over my old addiction as I remember it fondly though wouldn’t dare again immerse myself in this time sink. Our shared knowledge of pro sports, books, and travel fuels endless conversation. I also love learning about their careers and cultures, as many are originally from other countries.
Intertwine your interests within your personal brand. Your social media doesn’t need to be technical and robotic. Potential followers and clients are looking not just for knowledge but for someone relatable. Robbie Farlow bonds with followers and attracts clients with his love of all things nerd culture. Dr. Spencer Nadolsky drives home unfortunate truths about health and nutrition with pop culturally relevant memes. Pro wrestling fans who got hurt mimicking the stunts at home will love Dean Somerset as he teaches them to rehab. Meanwhile people seeking practical nutrition knowledge who also happen to be Hary Potter fans will love and connect with Jordan Syatt. You’ll be more interesting to the people who share your joys.
For 8 years and seasons of Game of Thrones, trainers and clients who shared this interest had endless discussion fodder, especially the dumpster fire that was Season 8. Now Star Wars has dropped The Mandalorian and endless Baby Yoda memes on us while The Witcher ramps up on Netflix and promises a GoT like run. Though it isn’t mandatory you immerse yourself in each, consider the potential to connect with clients and followers over these popular series as added incentive to indulge your personal time on what you might otherwise discard as mindless television.
2) Learn to Turn Off Career Development and Enjoy Personal Time.
All the above being said, enjoying books, movies, or other forms of consumable pop culture shouldn’t be a pragmatic endeavour. Some of us are terrible at stepping outside our work to relax. Learn to foster hobbies separate from fitness. When asked “what do you do outside work?” and the only response is “workout” consider diversifying your recreation. It’s easy to be consumed with pressure to learn everything about training, pressure to create content to keep up with the most prolific of our industry, all while coaching full time. This doesn’t leave much room for sleep, social life, or hobbies. Achieving a healthy balance of career and leisure may be critical to longevity in our world. I know this because I struggled mightily with understanding and implementing these changes myself.
Have fun without an agenda. I began the Harry Potter series when I knew my interest had peaked to the point I was reading them for my own enjoyment. Then I found ways to weave the books into my career in authentic ways as a bonus.
One of the best ways to create more leisure time away from work is to be more efficient with work time. Take note of how much time we lose scrolling social media when we could be studying or creating. Learn to triage the most essential educational needs to progress your skills and career. Curb the compulsion for endless information consumption and time block for idea and information creation. Be strategic in allotting time for both pursuits and don’t let consuming ideas become a socially acceptable and emotionally soothing form of procrastination. I’ve fleshed our this topic thoroughly in the article Content 101: Create More and Consume Less.
Guard against work encroaching on personal time by setting boundaries. Studies have shown productivity drops off past a certain number of working hours per week, meaning all that pressure to work is offering minor incremental benefit at best, and burning you out at worst. The pace is unsustainable and we’re blinded by survivorship bias. We see the few examples of grind culture success but not the bodies along the way.
We would also benefit from learning to say no to requests for our time beyond what aligns with our core focus personally and professionally. It’s tempting to say yes to ever opportunity and request, but these often eat up our personal time to recharge and steal our focus away from high priority tasks geared toward advancing our most essential career goals. Guard your time and emotional energy as you practice saying no. Though you fear people will be angry or dislike you, they instead learn to value your time more. Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism is essential reading on this topic.
My career as a fitness professional is central to my identity. Many trainers feel the same. We don’t collect our paycheck, go home at 5 pm shutting off work while waiting for the weekend. We do risk being so immersed in our career we struggle to develop passions and interests outside of work.
I used to struggle to turn off the career identity and enjoying leisure pursuits. I put pressure on myself to always be using my time productively and it backfired. I would procrastinate during my late evenings by scrolling social media instead of studying. I neither spent the time learning nor creating career content. I also stopped watching tv shows and movies I enjoyed. I stopped video games. Despite all this I wasted more time, possibly rebelling against the pressure to do too much. I now give myself permission to enjoy leisure pursuits unrelated to fitness. Not only has this enriched my life, its made me more productive with my work time.
Listening to Harry Potter audiobooks let me jump off the personal development hamster wheel. I gave myself permission to use my time for something beside career hustle. I recently finished The Witcher series and now onto the books. I’ve enjoyed the video game The Outer Worlds (think Fallout meets Firefly). All the while my work productivity and quality career development have improved.
3) Read Varied Literature to be a Better Writer.
In his recent article 4 Ways to Become a Better Fitness Writer Tony Gentilcore beats me to highlighting the benefits of exposing yourself to a wide variety of literature and writing styles. Your writing will improve as you experience great writing. Sure, read about being a better writer but go beyond. Read classic literature, biographies, professional development, business and sales, popular fiction, and anything you feel adds value to your writing.
Harry Potter is one of the most read series in human history. JK Rowling puts on a master class in character and world building. I don’t believe I’ve ever despised a literary character as much as Delores Umbridge while I found a genuine fondest for Professor Snape. Popular books are popular for a reason. Readers are attracted to the storytelling, characters, and something about the world within.
Exposing yourself to diverse literature means absorbing and using a broader vocabulary, array of phrases, and styles. You guard against being cliche and insulate against rigid thinking. Some writers box themselves into an echo chamber of preferred ideas and ideologies. Though this attracts like minded individuals, you risk becoming intolerant to different ideas and perspectives.
You don’t try to memorize everything you read. Those who argue you need to absorb everything in a book miss the point of reading. This is rhetoric espoused by those who don’t read enough and secretly resent those who do. They try to argue how it's useless to quickly read a lot of books or listen to audiobooks when the underlying issue is their own discomfort with not reading and their irritation with being reminded. Ignore them. Ideas settle into your mind through exposing yourself to more. Some will overtly resonate, while others bubble to the surface in subtle unplanned ways later on. Combined with more writing practice, reading more will show up in better word selection and more engaging writing. If something is really valuable you can always return to it when needed and study it closely.
4) Expose Yourself to Attention Catching Ideas
Many fitness professionals seek brand growth and following through content creation. They engage on social media in the hopes of gaining followers and potential clients. Experiencing and studying popular books and movies is one of the best ways to refine social media and content to gain attention and go viral.
I struggle to think of another book series as popular and culturally ubiquitous as Harry Potter. The Hunger Games and the deluge of similar post Potter teen adventure fiction turned movies never quite reached the universal appeal and stretched into an adult audience the same way. One might argue Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray are the Nickelback to Potter’s Pink Floyd, but a lot of people are still buying these books/albums. Don’t discount the value in understanding why people consume popular products, even if we don’t see them as traditionally high quality. Apply those lessons within your attempts to build following.
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings plus Hobbit books may be closest in universal appeal as the spiritual ancestor of the Potter series. Both are also classic hero’s journeys, along with similarly popular intellectual property Star Wars. Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Obi-Wan Kenobi are the same character archetype.
The hero’s journey template employs the human desire for familiarity. Many successful books and movies follow a familiar and proven design. The same holds true for music. Most popular music holds similar construction and dynamic. The book Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller details how to incorporate class hero’s journey concepts into your brand.
Understanding of what compels people to consume popular books, movies, shows, and video games advances your own work developing popular and potentially viral ideas. The books Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Health and Contagious by Jonah Berger excavate the principles of creating attention catching ideas and how those ideas spread through sharing. They combine for great reading to enhance your skill at creating engaging and sharable content.
I don’t see any of this as groundbreaking stuff. More a practical reminder of the value of setting boundaries on personal time.We can then draw from the shared treasure trove of personal enjoyments within our professional interactions. If not Harry Potter then The Witcher, Game of Thrones, death metal, NFL football, Counter-Strike, or whatever common ground you share. Meanwhile exposing yourself to a variety of literature and popular intellectual property will make you a better writer and expose you to what makes engaging content. Give yourself permission to turn off pressure to always be productive while using your work and play time to their fullest.