The Action-Before-Reward Guy

I used to be a reward-before-action guy.

This was never more evident than trying to get my advertising career started right after college.

My approach was simple. I had completed a somewhat-related undergraduate degree at a fairly well regarded University so, clearly, all I needed to do was put in an application, show up to the interview wearing clean clothes and, Blamo!, I’ve taken my first step to being CCO of a major agency within five, six years tops.


But, as anyone who has tried to get their first job with very few skills and no relevant experience in a competitive field can attest, it doesn’t really work out that way. Landing that first gig is a challenging-at-best, soul-sucking-at-worst experience that takes time, patience and persistence.


So, as any good recent grad who was back to living with his parents would do, I just sat on my ass and waited.


It’s not that I didn’t submit my resume, meet with recruiters or blindly reach out to agencies. I certainly did all that. And I was more than willing to work hard.


You wanted me to work nights and weekends? Sure.


Pay me a starting salary? Makes sense.

Do the grunt work and take on the projects no one else wants? No problem.


I was desperate to get a job and start working. But, for some reason, I was either unwilling or the thought never occurred to me that I should continue working on making myself a better and more attractive candidate.


Maybe take some classes to improve my design skills. Or spend a few hours each day working on my portfolio. Or even obtain a better understanding of basic computer programs as that is probably what I’d be doing my first couple of years on the job as a creative assistant.

Nope. Fuck that.

I was a college graduate. It was the agency’s job to teach me that stuff. And pay me while I was learning.

The word ‘entitled’ gets thrown around a lot these days, but it’s probably the best way to describe my behavior. It’s not like I was an asshole or a brat about it. I was a nice guy who was willing to learn and work hard. But I really thought that my future employer should be willing to meet me halfway at the very least.


It took me a bit over a year to find that first job. And I started as a temp, filling entry level roles while full-timers were on vacation or permanent staff was being recruited.

I did what could be termed as “okay” in my advertising career. I eventually temped for a creative group as an assistant and was diligent enough to get offered the position on a permanent basis. But even though I was well-liked and did my job, I wasn’t quick to move up the ladder. Others who started after me were getting promoted to art directors and copywriters while I was still filing my boss’s expense reports from a desk in a hallway.


I eventually left that job to be a writer in the direct mail department at another agency. Essentially the equivalent of getting more playing time, but down in the minor leagues. I did work my way back into general advertising at a third agency doing work that you probably never noticed and certainly don’t remember.


Let’s shoot 15 years ahead.


I decided after a middling-at-best career as an ad guy that I was going to follow my passion of being a personal trainer. And while I’d already clearly proven that I’m not the most savvy job seeker to ever roam the planet, I am good at learning from the past. This time I was going to do things differently.


I started by buying some text books and studying daily for certification exams. I reached out to any fitness pro that would talk to me just to pick their brain. I was gaining some practical experience by training family members and friends who had seen my own transformation and were willing to be my guinea pigs while I trained them for free.


In researching a continuing education opportunity, I came across a gym that looked exactly like the place I wanted to build my career. I emailed the training manager, but I didn’t ask for a job.


“There’s no reason for you to hire me,” I explained after telling him a bit more about my background.


“I’ve been in situations where people ask for jobs they aren’t qualified for and I’m not going to do that. I just want the opportunity to be in the environment and learn. I’ll work the front desk or clean up the gym or whatever else you need. I’m not looking for money. I’m looking for a chance.”


I’ve told this story before so I won’t bore you with it again. Of how this email led to a meeting with the owner of the gym which led me to being an unpaid intern, to a full time trainer, to director of training operations, to website content writer, fitness magazine advisory board member, two-time book author, international presenter and co-owner of my own fitness facility.


My work ethic didn’t change. Neither did my personality. I was still the same willing person who achingly wanted that first advertising job after college. Besides maybe a bit of maturity, the only thing that changed was my approach.


My willingness to switch from a reward-before-action guy to an action-before-reward guy.


I’m contractually obligated to at least make an attempt to bring these blogs back around to training-specific advice, and in this case that’s a pretty easy task.


While it’s both expected and necessary to have goals as part of your training expectations, your main focus should be on your actions, not on the rewards that those actions will yield.


Quite honestly, it is much easier to focus on the actions you can control – showing up to every session, training with focus and enthusiasm, incorporating your coaches feedback, establishing good nutrition habits – than it is to worry about how much weight is on the bar when you squat, what place you came in at the race or what the scale is telling you.


Measurables are important, but they don’t tell the whole story.


Don’t train solely for performance. Train to reaffirm your identity and belief in who you are and who you want to be.


Continue to take action. The rewards are inevitable.