The Integrity of Integrity

Russell walked into the gym handsome and charming and armed with a British accent.

I disliked him right away.

I tend to appreciate people who are a bit more rough around the edges. Plus I’ve never met anyone who exuded all of these beautiful attributes who wasn’t, to some degree, full of shit. Maybe I was just being sour grapes but I was convinced I was onto something with this snap judgment.

My instincts proved correct.

Russell was the creator, owner and lead instructor of a at-the-time trendy and exclusive group fitness offering that started in the UK and was so popular – the waiting list of pre-qualified candidates was growing by the week – that he was looking to expand it internationally.

The owner of the facility that I was working for at the time agreed to rent out the facility on a Saturday afternoon so Russell could test the NYC waters but, truth be told, based on the name alone (which I will not reveal here but would never fly in our current, more socially-aware climate) I was not looking forward to witnessing.

The program brokered directly to the fears and insecurities that plague many young women leading to an unrealistic at best, harmful and unhealthy at worst approach to fitness.

Conversely I had just written an article called “Get Strong, Girlfriend” for an online fitness publication which, I hoped, advocated for the benefits of honest-to-goodness strength training for women which (this is now a bit hard to believe) at the time went against the grain but was getting a lot of shares and traction, nonetheless.

So you’ll have to pardon me for having my sensibilities a bit rocked. Here I was, part of the management team at a gym that put a high, high value on the scientific methods and integrity of properly executed training programs that was also willing to sell out to something I perceived as buzzy bullshit.

The day before the class, Russell came in to train and I caught him out of the corner of my eye as I worked with a client.

There he was performing some good looking deadlifts. His overhead pressing strength was actually impressive. He finished up with some solid sprint intervals on the self-powered treadmill.

Maybe I got it wrong and this dude wasn’t so bad after all! He was basically programming and executing his training in a way that was very much in alignment in what we would do ourselves.

I had hope.

Unfortunately, the next day, that hope immediately faded as twenty young women eagerly filled the gym wearing the most beautifully put together athleisure I had ever seen and commenced, under Russell’s leadership, to perform the most ridiculous, ineffective and, quite honestly, embarrassing exercise program that I have, to this day, ever witnessed.

And given that I have probably spent about 100,000 hours of my life in a gym (I actually just did the math to get to this number. Terrifying.) that’s saying a lot. I will spare you the details, but it was bad. Perhaps the only positive things I can say about it was a) it was definitely high energy and b) no one seemed at any risk of getting hurt.

Surely Russell was a charlatan praying on the insecurities and miseducation of young women and this makes him a piece of shit.

But, however, to me, he wasn’t the villain of the story.

The villain was my gym.

Going against everything we had claimed to believe in, every process and procedure and demand for continuing education we put on our staff, the entire ethos that was the bedrock of the brand had been thrown out the window. And for what?

I had felt betrayed.

For nearly a decade I had loved everything we stood for. I was a champion for the product. No one was happier to start work at 5:30AM and straighten up the gym at nine at night than I was.

But that Saturday afternoon was the moment I fell out of love.

(OK, I’m being a bit dramatic here. There were probably some other things going on as well. In fact, I know there were. But you get the point.)

In your life as a business owner, spouse, friend, employee, trainee and every other role you play and hat you wear, you will make mistakes. You’ll get things wrong. You’ll look back at some decisions you made or things you said and shudder with the memory of the embarrassment.

That’s normal. And people will forgive you. Even if you are slow to forgive yourself.

But the hardest thing to come back from is a lack of integrity or authenticity.

Because when everything else gets stripped away, being true to who you are and what you believe may be the only thing that truly follows you for the rest of your life.

So don’t just do it for the money. Don’t say something you don’t believe. Don’t short reps just because no one else is counting.

Make it your personal mission to act out of integrity in everything you do.

You owe it to yourself.

And, at the risk of overstepping my bounds, you owe it to us.