Why Fitness Entrepreneur Jonathan Goodman Chose a Life of Exploration Over a Bigger Business — and How It Paid Off
In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Jonathan Goodman, founder of the Personal Trainer Development Center, a remote education company for fitness professionals. It was condensed by The Oracles.
What was a defining moment early in your life?
Jonathan Goodman: School was a struggle for me. I felt smart and understood the material, but my grades didn’t reflect this. Until I traveled to England the summer before my final year of high school, I wasn’t interested in English. I didn’t read much, never wrote anything outside of school, and shuddered at the prospect of conjugating verbs.
That trip changed my life. Seeing Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theatre in London and presenting my final project in front of Warwick Castle ignited my love for literature. My teacher encouraged us to discover our creative side. It didn’t matter that we completed assignments randomly set down by a board of education. What mattered was that we created. That has forever embedded in me the love of creation for the sake of it. I also learned the power of travel and experience.
What is one of your proudest moments?
Jonathan Goodman: For the past seven years, I've spent several months living abroad each year. I’ve lived in 10 countries for at least a month, most recently Mexico, Greece, and Montenegro. Bringing my wife, Alison, and 2-year-old, Calvin, on these adventures is my proudest achievement. To be able to grow my company while going on grand adventures is priceless.
I’m proud because it’s taken sacrifice. I could have moved to New York City and grown a much bigger company. But I recognized what I wanted early in my career and pursued it, rather than getting wrapped up in what I’m “supposed” to want. Comparison is no joke.
What are the core values that guide your business, and why did you pick them?
Jonathan Goodman: Family and exploration. I stay focused on what’s important in business: enjoying life, for our customers and our team. Yes, we want to make great things and do great work. But if we can’t have great family lives at the same time, it’s not worth it.
I don’t plan to stop working or exit the business. I’m having too much fun exploring all our opportunities and projects. Some days are harder than others, but the joy lies in the process. To enjoy the process, I need to explore. We all do.
What did you learn from your favorite mentor?
Jonathan Goodman: When I was 29, I was making a great deal of money, but my relationships and quality of life suffered. So, I sought answers at an event called Mastermind Talks, where I befriended Dandapani, an entrepreneur, Hindu priest, and former monk.
I asked him: “How do I know how much is too much?” He told me that as long as I had time and energy to do the work I’m meant to, there’s no such thing as “too much” money or a company that’s “too big.” But the minute that this takes away from what energizes me, it’s too much. After that conversation, I taught myself when to say yes and how to say no confidently.
What was your biggest challenge starting in business? How did you overcome it?
Jonathan Goodman: My biggest challenge is still ongoing: surrounding myself with people who amplify and support me instead of people who are just like me. I love to create new things, but running and growing what we already have doesn’t challenge me enough. I have to hire and work with people who do that.
I work through this by looking at operations as a project because projects excite me. I can’t run the day-to-day operations, but I can dive into projects for a short period to get others to. Then I never have to think about it again.
How do you define great leadership?
Jonathan Goodman: Showing by example. It doesn’t matter what you do; what matters is how you go about your day. People aren’t stupid. Paying lip service to principles like abundance, family values, or travel is worse than not talking about them at all.
I strive to be a good leader by showing my team that it’s okay to shut off and enjoy family time and that we should go out of our way to support others doing great work. The world is big, magical, and diverse. Let’s get out there and explore it.
How do you hire top talent?
Jonathan Goodman: Skills are commoditized. I find skills easy to hire for. What’s hard is knowing the precise combination of skills you need for a role.
In my company, we don’t need skills as much as we need people with good enough skills to be dangerous. We hire managers who know enough about a wide variety of roles and showcase an aptitude for project management. To find them, we’ve had luck looking to evolving industries like publishing, where many top people have managed big projects with big deadlines.
What’s your daily routine for success?
Jonathan Goodman: To ensure consistent momentum, I establish processes to prepare my work environment. Every day, I aim to spend at least 30 minutes moving my business forward. As long as I’m focused, that’s enough time to get quality work done.
Those 30 minutes always happen first thing in the morning, when I have no distractions, because I wake up before my wife and son. While the coffee kettle boils, I turn on my old laptop with no internet connection, which I use to write, and cue my iPod with guitar instrumentals. I pre-prepare any reference materials I need, with the program or document I’m working on already open on my computer.
What are you working on right now?
Jonathan Goodman: Producing less and building stronger partnerships to grow what we already have. The fitness industry is fractured, and I want to work with brilliant partners to bring it together. When that happens, we all win — but someone has to take the first step.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Jonathan Goodman: I don’t want to be known for the work I’ve produced, but for how I’ve produced it. I hope that how I’ve gone about my business day-to-day inspires others to create.
In just nine years, I’ve gone from being a personal trainer in a Toronto boutique gym to someone who has published over a million words, written 11 books, and created the world-leading certification for my field. Our materials are used by trainers in the U.S., colleges in Canada, mentorships in Norway, certifications in India, and everywhere in between.
I’ve done all this without outside support or funding and without a publisher. It happened from the bottom up, step by step, day by day, starting in a one-bedroom apartment at night after long days with clients in the gym. I hope this inspires others to create something too. Yes, it’s hard sometimes. But it’s fun.
The words and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee alone. What worked for them may not work for everyone. Any claims in this article have not been independently verified.