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From Corporate Marketing to Personal Training: The Ordinary Tale of an Extraordinary Career Change

My mission is to help people identify and pursue work they love. Many of us dream about breaking free from our office cubicles, but find the “golden handcuffs” — the corporate promises of health insurance and a 401k— can keep us stuck in lackluster jobs and careers.

We get conflicting messages about making career changes. On one hand, we hear: “Follow your passion and the money will come.” But there’s also the viewpoint, “Passion doesn’t pay the bills.”

In 2018, I want to bring you stories of ordinary people who have made the leap from being stuck in a career to creating a life of meaning and purpose. Rather than the stories that assume mythic proportions of people who are “crushing it,” I want to tell the stories of the multitude of ordinary people doing the extraordinary: making their dreams come true, whatever that dream means to them.

I hope you find inspiration in this story of Geoff Bergman, who made the switch from a corporate marketing career to becoming a personal trainer and fitness teacher. Look for more stories in future blog posts. (If you know someone who has made a dramatic career change, please email me. I’d love to interview them.)

The story

Geoff Bergman used to have a really long job title: Direct-to-Consumer Marketing and Merchandising Analyst and Circulation Manager. It was nearly as long as the miles he ran. As a lifelong runner, he was always interested in health and training for injury prevention, and the science behind it.

For the record, Geoff didn’t set out to become a personal trainer and fitness instructor. His initial plan was to continue working at his marketing job and do personal training on the side. As he continued his career, however, his position became more specialized and he had less direct contact with his consumer market. While he loved the people he worked with, he longed to do something that mattered to someone, where he could make an immediate impact and be part of a community. Like many of us, he desired to help and change lives.

He could’ve stayed at the marketing job, collecting a paycheck and training on the side, but one conversation with his mother changed everything. In his words …

The biggest inspiration for me to fully pursue training and fitness instruction came from an experience my mom had at her local gym. She was getting a free assessment and the young woman helping her sat her at a machine and had her try it out and there was way too much weight on there.

My mom couldn't move it and the trainer flat out laughed at her. Maybe out of embarrassment or inexperience or something, but it wasn't what my mom needed just starting out. She called me and told me about how humiliated she felt. Something clicked for me at that moment while consoling my mom (who has since returned to the gym) almost an anger or passion deep inside. A voice inside me was yelling, "Nobody does that to MY mom!"

No fooling, from that moment on, I charged forward knowing that I was going to go out and become the best instructor possible to make sure no one EVER had that same experience on their fitness journey.

How did you make it happen? How long did it take?

After committing to a new career in personal training and fitness, Geoff got certified as a personal trainer about a year before he left the marketing position, slowly building a client base by word of mouth.

But that wasn’t all.

He wasn’t content with just being a personal trainer. When he decided to make fitness his career rather than a side job, he went through Portland Community College’s (PCC) Fitness Technology (now Exercise Science) program so that he could learn as much as possible. After he got certified, he continued to work in the lab through the PCC program to gain even more practical training.

What about that whole “money thing”?

The number one fear I hear from people is: “I can’t go after my dreams because I have bills to pay. I don’t want to start over. I can’t afford to change industries.”

Geoff admits that deciding to go back to school full-time and living on one income (his wife’s) made him feel guilty because he wasn’t contributing to his partnership with his wife.

Fortunately, she was supportive and saw his career transition as being the greatest contribution to their future. She wanted him to pursue something that would make him happy every day. While the year he was in school was a lean one, they made it work.

While many people thought he was stupid for not having a job set up before he left the marketing job, Geoff knew it wasn’t fair to his employer or himself to stay there to collect a paycheck. He just couldn't stay there when he knew he wanted something else.

It turned out to be a smart move.

His work with PCC culminated in an internship with Portland Parks & Rec, which led to subbing classes and personal training at the Southwest Community Center. He also started a second job instructing boot camps and small group instruction with Fulcrum Fitness. By the end of his third year, he was offered a full-time position on the leadership team at Mt. Scott Community Center while also instructing over a dozen classes and working with many diverse individual clients.


He got a full-time job with benefits doing what he loves—because he committed and made it happen.

And the clincher? He’s earning more money now than when he was working in his corporate marketing job.

If you could do it all over again…would you?

Without a doubt. Even when his corporate bosses heard he was leaving and offered him $15,000 over his current salary to stay. The extra money didn’t matter; it couldn’t change what he wasn’t getting out of his career.

“I've never had so much fun or love for anything work related. Most days it doesn't feel like work. The fitness industry, my co-workers, and mostly the community of patrons are the best. It's truly something that makes me happy every single day. I look forward to being at work every morning, even at 5:30 a.m.

This job is as important for my heart and mind as it is for the people I work with or serve. I feel like I'm reaching more people than I ever thought possible when I started.”

If you are interested in working with Geoff, you can contact him directly.


Geoff’s advice for people who want to make a career change:

  1. Change is possible.

  2. You have to identify what you want and go get it, even if by little steps at a time. Plot out a plan—it keeps things moving forward.

  3. Network. Talk to people in a career that really interests you about how they got where they are.

  4. Someone once told me in regard to any career path "surround yourself with people who are extraordinary". I suppose I went looking for the extraordinary people.

  5. Take care of those things you have control over. Everything else is just waiting on someone else. Don't let that frustrate you.

  6. Staying positive and being confident in your own abilities and talents and maintaining forward momentum on your journey.

  7. Remember why you wanted to leave in the first place. Focus on what you really want.

  8. The extra money wasn't going to change what I wasn't getting out of that career.


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