How Giving Back Can Serve as the Guiding Force for Your Brand and Business
From corporate boardrooms and the pages of Forbes, to coworking spaces and community meet-ups, there’s a movement taking place all over the world and it’s shaping the way brands and businesses operate across all industries, including within fitness and wellness. The term social good, which generally refers to an action that benefits society, has become a central topic of conversation in the business world, and with plenty of good reason.
While words like philanthropy and charity are also used to describe such altruistic actions, the use of the phrases “social good” and “common good” reflect the shared passion among people to come together in an effort to make a more meaningful impact, both locally and globally. Fueled by a desire for greater transparency and truth, people gravitate to, and subsequently do business with, individuals and brands with which they resonate on a deeper level. People don’t want to feel as though they are being pressured, persuaded or sold; rather, people want to feel valued, moved and truly connected to, and a part of something much greater than themselves.
No matter how big or small your business or current reach might be, cultivating your personal brand as a health and fitness professional is a crucial aspect of establishing, growing and maintaining your presence in the industry. Speaking from my own journey as well as from the work that I do guiding other likeminded professionals who are exploring their unique identities, a brand is much more than attempting to create an image of how you would like others to perceive you, your products and your services. In fact, the cornerstones of a successful brand lie in authentically embracing and fully embodying who you truly are and the unique gifts that you have to offer. In its deepest sense, your brand is a genuine reflection of your innate passions and personal and professional calling, and it is something that should be wholeheartedly seen and felt by the world.
DISCOVER YOUR CALLING BY EXPLORING YOUR EXPERIENCES
Knowing what truly speaks to your heart is essential, not only for guiding the development of your brand and the future vision of your business, but also for setting the foundation for a rewarding career and a life of meaningful service. Identifying a cause that profoundly moves you requires a process of personal exploration and deep reflection. It is through this “inner work” that you will begin to discover your mission, demonstrating a mindful awareness for your calling and path, shares Lawrence Biscontini, mindful movement specialist and international author based in Greece and Puerto Rico.
“Everyone has an issue, concern or cause deep inside,” says Biscontini. “Finding what it is and pursuing it, and creating synergy between your career and your cause is paramount to being authentic to your message and your mission.” As part of your own exploration into a cause that connects with you, you may choose to start by reflecting on past experiences, such as something that has directly affected you or a family member. In the case of Biscontini, as a former student of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, it only seemed fitting that he would give back to the people who played such a critical role in shaping the person and professional that he is today.
“Being that these Sisters have taught me so much, including how to sing, write, think and meditate, as I now share with others, I feel that giving back is only a natural chain of events,” shares Biscontini. Because the Sisters in this order take a vow of poverty, they cannot own anything in their own name nor can they ask for things they need, leaving them to rely 100% on the generosity of others. As such, Biscontini chooses to donate 80% of all proceeds generated from purchases on his website, including all fitCamps, consulting and mentoring, to benefit the Sisters of Saint Joseph, whose outreach work includes clothing the homeless and feeding the hungry in their community between Philadelphia and New York City.
In my case, it was the unexpected passing of my sister from a heroin overdose stemming from an addiction to prescription pain medication following a physical injury that ultimately shifted the course of my professional work. My personal mission became to champion for a more holistic approach to health and wellness, with a focus on bringing forth a more integrated approach to healthcare and self-care that takes into account physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. To support this cause, I offer weekly donation-based oceanfront yoga classes for any and all members of my local community. Through this endeavor, which I began by establishing a relationship with a local hotel that provides the venue for our classes, 100% of the proceeds from each class are donated to various San Diego-based non-profit organizations, such as Natural High, whose mission is to inspire and empower youth to find their natural high and to develop the skills and courage to live life well without the need to turn to drugs or alcohol.
For June Kahn, founder of June Kahn Bodyworks, LLC, and owner of Center Your Body Pilates in Louisville, Colo., it was her personal battle with cancer that strengthened her dedication to, and passion for, helping others move, which she has been doing as a fitness and Pilates educator for more than 30 years. “During my own cancer recovery through chemotherapy, it was moving every day that enabled me to continue my life as normally as possible,” shares Kahn. “It was that experience that propelled me to create my mission—#MovementHeals—and to offer Pilates-based apparatus classes geared toward cancer patients and/or survivors.” The classes are called “Pilates with Heart: Movement for Cancer Patients and Survivors” and focus on enhancing range of motion and functional strength, as well as providing emotional support. While many classes are free, some are fee-based, and Kahn is committed to ensuring that everyone who would benefit from the classes has access to them.
“If price is an issue, I will work with the individual to create a plan that works for them,” says Kahn. “We also offer donation-based classes, which helps offset the costs, as many individuals donate more than needed, which, in turn, helps the next individual.” Kahn received referrals from a wellness clinic where she works one day a week, and she also markets locally with a small business network. Additionally, as a cancer survivor herself, she also receives leads from her physician network as well as through word of mouth. “The process of coming into contact with people who had some experience or impact with cancer, either with a loved one or themselves, happened naturally and progressively,” notes Kahn. “To have the opportunity to work with them is a gift, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.”
EMPOWER PEOPLE TO UNLOCK THEIR POTENTIAL WITH A PURPOSE
In addition to reflecting on your own experiences, another facet of exploring your cause and personal mission is to examine what it is that you aspire to help others experience or achieve. For Jacque Crockford, ACE exercise physiology content manager and certified strength and conditioning specialist, coaching endurance events has always held a special place in her heart because of the grit and determination it takes the cross the finish line. This is something she knows firsthand, from competing in her first race at the age of 16, to completing an Ironman in 2015. “I enjoy watching people accomplish feats that they once though impossible, and I take pride in being part of an athlete’s individual growth, both physically and mentally,” shares Crockford. “Triathlons are about being comfortable with being uncomfortable, and if I can help someone push through an uncomfortable part of a training session, they will be more successful in their race and, ultimately, in life.”
As part of her passion for helping others achieve their goals, Crockford began coaching with Team in Training (TNT)—a subsidiary of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). Doing so has added a new dimension of meaning to her work with endurance athletes, as the individuals who are on her team are people who have been affected by blood cancer and are on a personal mission to beat it by training for an endurance event. Helping others unlock their potential while serving a greater purpose has inspired Crockford more than anything else in her life, as week after week she has the opportunity to witness the progress that each athletes makes in overcoming their personal fears and doubts, and finding out just what they are truly capable of accomplishing.
“I have met countless TNT athletes who are themselves cancer survivors, spouses of cancer victims, or parents of child cancer patients who are fighting for their lives,” says Crockford. “When a training session or a race is a challenge, it is always an inspiration to think about those people who are going through cancer treatment and to know that no triathlon will ever be harder than beating cancer. With this in mind, we push on.” While Crockford is paid a small stipend for her work coaching groups in the sport of triathlon, which includes everything from leading track workouts to being on safety patrol during open water swims, each season she hosts a fundraising event in which 100% of the proceeds raised from the group-based workout she leads are donated directly to support the work of LLS in the global fight against blood cancer.
INSPIRE AND ELEVATE FUTURE AND FELLOW PROFESSIONALS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
To make an even greater impact in the world, another component to consider as you identify your personal mission is how you can support and mentor other fitness and wellness professionals who possess a similar passion for helping others live happier, healthier, more fulfilling lives. In New Delhi, India, for example, ACE Certified Professional and 2015 AFC Personal Trainer of the Year Vipin Chandran, founded Human in Motion (HIM) fitness group. After retiring from the Indian Airforce, Chandran made it his mission to help underprivileged aspiring fitness and wellness professionals by providing a four-month educational program to assist them with preparing for accredited, internationally recognized certification exams, something which he offers completely free of charge.
“In India, fitness and wellness is an emerging industry and there is a demand for qualified fitness professionals,” says Chandran. “However, trainers do not enjoy the same respect and recognition as other professionals, due to the lack of quality education provided. I have been witnessing this since the late 1990s and wanted to change the way society viewed fitness and wellness pros.” The mission of HIM fitness group is to make “edutainers for wellness success with social conscience,” and Chandran is committed to engaging and educating non-certified trainers in India, helping to transform them into certified professionals and valuable assets within India’s wellness industry. Chandran, who holds multiple NCCA-accredited certifications as well as a bachelor’s degree in physical education, has made a conscious decision to help elevate the fitness and wellness industry in India.
“It’s very easy for qualified and experienced fitness and wellness pros to blame and make fun of unqualified trainers without fully understanding their situation,” notes Chandran. “Instead of complaining or putting others down, I choose to approach them and share my professional knowledge in order to make a positive impact in their lives, and in the lives of the people they serve in the community.” Biscontini has also made mentoring the next generation of fitness and wellness professionals a core aspect of his brand and business after having to discover his own path in the industry based on trial and error.
“Years ago, very few people opened doors for me in fitness,” shares Biscontini. “I decided very early on that when I found others who spoke my message, I would always try to pay the wisdom forward and help others advance without quite as many tears as I had to shed on my own.” Biscontini not only offers a sliding scale for all consulting and mentoring services based on need, income and length of time in the industry, he also provides one full year of pro-bono mentoring for all SCW and AFC Fitness Idol winners to assist them with breaking into the industry. “I love that I have never had to say no to anyone based on financial inequality,” notes Biscontini. “Because I offer sliding scales for people and businesses based on what they can afford, ultimately everyone wins.
REFLECT ON WHAT BEING OF SERVICE GENUINELY MEANS TO YOU
At the end of the day, Kahn says that the work that she does is not all about money and material things—it’s about empowering others with knowledge about creating a healthy lifestyle for themselves and their family, something that she feels the entire industry has a responsibility to do. “I truly believe that we rise by helping others,” says Kahn. “When I am giving back to my community and positively impacting lives, it comes back to my business tenfold. I want to be recognized for what I can do to benefit the entire community, as I feel I am becoming a role model for many, and I want to—and need to—live up to that.”
Part of giving back and serving as a role model to others involves continuing to deepen one’s own knowledge and skills in the field. Both Kahn and Chandran acknowledge that serving others motivates and inspires them to become better professionals and to continue their own learning. “Professionally I have been challenged to upgrade my knowledge and to sharpen my professional skillset,” says Chandran. “I choose to contribute with no expectation when it comes to providing free services to others, as personally, I get a great sense of happiness and satisfaction when I see students achieve their goals.”
While it’s important to stay clear on why it is that you choose to do what you do, Biscontini notes that there’s a special kind of recognition and connection that comes from creating synergy with a cause. “The attention one gets by giving from a place of love will always outweigh the social attention one could get from using a public relations agency to try to buy notoriety and publicity,” shares Biscontini. However, with any type of recognition, it’s not uncommon to encounter individuals who may question the intentions behind your mission and your authenticity. In such instances, Biscontini suggests inviting individuals to explore what it is that speaks to their soul so that you can continue to focus on your purpose and path.
“If the world and your cause are benefiting from your involvement, then there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” says Biscontini. “The world needs so much healing that there’s really no time to question why someone is trying to feed the poor or shelter the homeless.” So, rather than worrying about what people might think or say, take Crockford’s advice and get out and start giving back—just don’t overthink it too much. “If you’re passionate about health and fitness, there are endless opportunities to make a difference by sharing your passion with others,” notes Crockford. “Not only will you be positively impacting the health and lives of those you come in contact with, those people will positively affect their immediate circle and so on. If we keep expanding this circle, our world will inherently become a healthier, stronger and kinder place.”
While any type of action that seeks to serve the greater good is a powerful step in the right direction, Biscontini encourages professionals to think outside the box when it comes to serving your chosen cause. “Doing a special cycle event for a club and its members is one thing,” says Biscontini, “but doing it where the mission and message spread beyond the walls [of the facility], and where some aspect of community reaps an additional benefit illustrates what the true definition of wellness is to me.”
Author: Jessica Matthews - Health and Fitness Expert
Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT500 is faculty in kinesiology and integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University and professor of yoga studies at MiraCosta College, where she helps to grow and mentor the next generation of health and wellness professionals. A dynamic speaker, respected educator, fitness industry veteran and featured wellness expert, Jessica is a trusted and recognized go-to media resource, regularly contributing to numerous publications and outlines on topics ranging from fitness and yoga, to health coaching and career development. Additionally, she serves as ACE’s senior advisor for health and fitness education, and is the lead editor and author of the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Handbook: The Professional’s Guide to Creating Memorable Movement Experiences. You can connect with her at www.jessica-matthews.com, @fitexpertjess (Twitter and Instagram) and www.facebook.com/fitexpertjess.