Episode 16: The personal trainer who was told he’d never run again and proved them wrong – with Oliver Johnston

Former lawyer turned fitness coach Oliver Johnston explains how he went from being told after a serious car crash that he would never run again to successfully completing a 10k run within two years and qualifying as a physical trainer.

Today’s guest

Oliver Johnston of OWJ Health and Fitness

Website: OWJ Health and Fitness

Facebook: Oliver Johnston

LinkedIn: Oliver Johnston

YouTube: Hysterie of Art

Oliver committed himself to life-long health, fitness and personal training following his gruelling recovery and rehabilitation from a serious road traffic accident in 2011 on the journey home from an athletics road race in Spain.  Oliver spent over six months in hospital and went from being unable to sit, stand or walk, with a prognosis that he would not run again, to rebuilding his body and mind and again participating in demanding endurance sports activities.

Oliver’s personal training is inclusive and open to all.  The focus is on assisting and motivating all people, and especially those with particular health conditions or new to exercise programmes, to achieve their health and fitness goals, and adhere to beneficial, enjoyable exercise habits.

Having followed a path of complete and comprehensive rehabilitation from a de-conditioned, non-functional physical state to being athletically able and a personal trainer, Oliver wants to share his understanding, belief and motivation with anybody else inspired by or committed to a similar journey.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • Why it’s worth taking a “gap year” later on in life 
  • The value of education for education’s sake
  • Looking at what you can do, not what you can’t do
  • Whether it makes sense to look to and plan too far into the future
  • If you’re making that big an effort in something outside of work, why not make it  your daily life?
  • That you’re responsible for your own happiness

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

  • Quote: you cannot always control the situation in which you find yourself but you can control your response to it

To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.

Episode 16: The personal trainer who was told he’d never run again and proved them wrong - with Oliver Johnston

Jeremy Cline
How often do you hear someone tell you that life isn't a rehearsal? Sometimes you hear a story which reminds you that even though it might be a cliche, it's also really true. And my guest this episode has just such a story. I'm Jeremy Cline. And this is Change Work Life.

Hello, and welcome to Change Work Life, the show that's all about beating those Sunday evening blues and looking forward to Monday morning. My guest on the show this week is Oliver Johnston. Olly is a fitness coach who started out life as a lawyer with a big city firm. We're going to hear how he'd already done a fair bit of thinking and contemplation about the shape of his career. But then he had a life-changing car accident which really brought everything into sharp relief. So let's listen to Olly's story. Hi Olly, welcome to the show.

Oliver Johnston
Good morning Jeremy.

Jeremy Cline
So to begin with, can you introduce yourself and tell everyone a bit about what you do?

Oliver Johnston
Sure. My name is Oliver Johnston. I'm a personal trainer and specialist exercise instructor. I also practice group fitness instruction, so group exercise classes. I do that both on a contracted self-employed freelance basis at the gyms, but also privately off my own bat organised by myself. So quite a wide ranging spectrum of exercise and fitness activity.

Jeremy Cline
You and I met when we were at university studying Law. And I know that you, at least then, went on to practice law - so why did you start off with a law degree out of interest? Because I was kind of reflecting on this before our conversation, and kind of thinking did I do it because I wanted to be a lawyer or did I do because I kind of thought it was going to be a really interesting subject? Looking back on it I'm not sure that I found it... yeah it was kind of interesting, but not like 'wow this is brilliant' - so what started you doing a degree in law?

Oliver Johnston
That could be a whole days' worth of conversation just on whether law's interesting I suppose... but I'm much more near the latter with you - my A-levels were certainly not geared towards Law as such, I did two modern languages - French, German - and Chemistry, and Chemistry was by far the most interesting A-level. I just really understood it. Didn't really know as such what you could do with those A-Levels going on to university - obviously languages or chemistry is an option. But those weren't really something that I felt would give me the challenge and future perspective that I wanted from my degree, at least not alone. So Law didn't have any specific A-level requirements, and you know it's likely to be a sufficiently challenging degree. So I applied at various universities for law with the language - that way I could continue my interest in languages and also extend my university career by another year without having to make a decision on what to do after that. So that was certainly an excellent decision to include the year abroad on to the degree so that's where studying law came from. Just to touch on your last point, I did actually find the study of law, not all of it equally interesting, but some of it is phenomenally interesting. And if you get stuck into a particular subject that was as stimulating as any other study that I've done in my life, so I don't regret at all during the law degree.

Jeremy Cline
And I think that came out with the fact that you ended up with a First didn't you?

Oliver Johnston
Yes. A First and - might as well throw it in there! - a couple of the prizes along the way. And I was thinking in my own head about criminal law being phenomenally interesting. I never had any idea of practising in the criminal sphere - but criminal law, I could still pick up the book and find from both a lawyer and a lay perspective, the criminal law pretty interesting. And I think that was reflected in picking up the prize in my final year for criminal law. I'm sure it was a good couple of papers in the exam - but it's more reflective of the fact that I actually enjoyed the subject matter and really, really enjoyed getting stuck into it. And I think whether it's law and the other subjects we're going to maybe touch on today, whether it's law or anything else - if you're interested in it and you get stuck into it, you're likely to be pretty good at it.

Jeremy Cline
You went on to work for a city law firm didn't you, so you didn't become a criminal lawyer. Is that right?

Oliver Johnston
Yes, I mean the criminal law never entered my mind. Although given that you make your applications - as you'll be aware - around the end or even before then, depending on your vacation schemes if you do them end of your second year, beginning of your third year - you've probably not quite got that breadth of understanding and knowledge of what's out there. You're still pretty green in terms of what the real world of legal work might comprise. But yes, I applied to a number of city firms and accepted an offer to join a then mid-sized - in terms of London City practice at any rate - UK-only firm. So yeah, that was my trajectory.

Jeremy Cline
We'll come on to talk about what happened in 2011. But just the timeline in terms of making this shift - in 2011 you had this serious accident, quite life-changing accident - so we'll come on to talk a little bit about that - but were you already looking at making a shift out of law at that point? Was it going through your mind? Was this the catalyst? Was this the thing that made you think actually no - after this, I'm not going to go back to law? How does it all fit together?

Oliver Johnston
I was probably largely out of private legal practice by then. I left my city employer formally at the beginning of 2008. I don't regret city practice at all. It's phenomenally interesting, and particularly leaving university... and the interesting question is you asked why did I choose law after A-levels - perhaps the more interesting question is why did I choose to go into law after studying law at University. At least I was, in one sense, teed up for that - but that doesn't make it necessarily an inevitable career path. But I knew at the time I needed to do something else. There's still potentially a long career in whatever I chose ahead of me. And there were other things that I felt I needed to have a go at before I settled down into doing any one thing, if indeed that's what people so much do these days. So I'd left at the beginning of 2008 and spent much of that year doing largely my own thing - varied interests including voluntary charitable work and travelling, obviously from my background, with the A-levels, the degree with the language, very interested in other cultural exposures and approaches and so I indulged myself in that for a year before really thinking again about what it might be that I would want to do for the next coming years, the next stage in my career.

Jeremy Cline
So is this effectively like a gap year after you tried out work for a few years?

Oliver Johnston
I have to differentiate it from other gap years!

Jeremy Cline
Its not like when you're between A-levels and degree kind of gap year - when you're 18 and you go to India and that sort of thing!

Oliver Johnston
No! [Laughs] You could argue how much difference is there at the end of the day! I did also take as large a gap as I could between leaving university and joining the city firm for again that reason - there are only certain times or opportunities perhaps that present themselves to do certain things or to be able to take advantage of them. Definitely don't want youth to be wasted on the young, and there's certainly experiences I can have when I'm older doing other things, but some of the if you like more cliched traditional things - just going out and finding your way around a little bit more, to my mind you probably do with a lot more vigour when you're more youthful. But I spent some time coaching football in South African townships and working for charities in the UK just on a very basic volunteer level. And then also on the Camino de Santiago - the Catholic pilgrimage in northern Spain, undertook that and ended up working as a hospital warden and attendant in one of the pilgrims hostels, so it's like just doing things again that float my boat, although you'll notice that there is a sporting and physical activity thread running through them.

Jeremy Cline
What were you thinking when you made that decision to leave the law? How difficult decision was it? Had you gone in thinking yes, this is my career? Were you thinking well, I'll give it a go, just see how it pans out? When you came to decide to leave, was there part of you that thought 'I've gone through this whole process, I've done a law degree, I've gone to law school, I've got my training contract, I've become a qualified lawyer with a top well-respected city law firm' - was there part of you that kind of thought it wasn't sensible to throw that all away, so to speak?

Oliver Johnston
I think that's a common perception. And hopefully we'll come back to whether or not it's throwing it away. It certainly isn't. I mean, I believe in education for education's sake - there are plenty of other courses and learning I've done that have no relevance at all to either law or what I'm doing now, and I feel better and enriched for them. And doing law generally, both as a degree because of the way that it makes you work with and analyse language, how it helps you to become a better thinker in terms of arguing, structuring thoughts, putting arguments together, and also then the practice of law where you get that much more certainly in the city business commercial element, and you have to balance that with actually making something useful and commercial happen for your clients. Those are truly valuable skills. And as with anything else, if you work hard at them, you can develop them into something useful that you can bring into other spheres. And we'll maybe come on to that in the context of what I do now. But I didn't go in to law - and I think it would be naive in your early 20s or so to be thinking like that - that this is absolutely definitely what I'm going to do for the next 30, 40 years of your life and perhaps great if it works out that way - I didn't go in thinking it wouldn't, but that didn't mean that I didn't think that other things might also open themselves to me. It's a window into the world to do that kind of job. The number and variation in the clients that you get exposed to also presents many opportunities - and you and I will both have many friends who have gone on from working in city practice or other law firms as a stepping stone to working for clients or in different industries, but still using heavily if not the legal skills of the lawyer then the legal skills of a commercial setting for their present work. And so there was a certain amount of that in the background, but I quite like novelty - new challenges. During the training contract you get two years - and certainly where I was - a constant rigorous challenge, the ability to do different things fairly regularly. That's partly why I chose the firm that I worked for. I didn't change the firm that I worked for while I was in the city. There was no reason to, I enjoyed the way that they operated - that's why I chose them. You were constantly getting challenged, doing new practice areas every six months or so if you're in a rotational seat, or on a much more regular basis where I was. When you qualify, it's then a little bit different. You obviously get to choose - you hope - your specialisation, how you develop your practice to a degree, and there's still much learning going on there. But as my flatmate at the time put it when we were talking about partnership and whether it especially floated our boat, that going for partnership is a little bit like a pie-eating contest where first prize is more pie, you eat as much of it as you can - and to prove that you're worthy of it, you get to partnership and you have to keep on stuffing your face to prove that it wasn't a fluke in the first place! And the challenge rather, if that was a challenge, as opposed to an aspiration, lost its lustre once you realised you'd had plenty of pie, I suppose, in my case. I realised this at the time, but I know it better now - I felt a little bit as though I'd stopped learning. There's always more to learn, but I was very capable, able to do what I needed - and I was just doing plenty of it and getting given plenty of it. And I didn't particularly want to be defined by late nights reading 150 page documents that largely all contain the same same text, and having the same discussions about them. And you could always come back to that, and to be fair to my firm they were totally excellent and supportive in that decision and also later on in the year when after if you like the sabbatical activities, we picked up that conversation. So the firm could not have been more supportive and helpful with that.

Jeremy Cline
So let's come back to the the end of your gap year, your 2008 time off. As you got to the end of that period - first of all, what did you do at the end of that year? What was the next step for you? And how did you choose what your next step was going to be?

Oliver Johnston
I'd like to say I'd had much more of a clear epiphany moment and that there was a choice! I think it was more a choice or a case of knowing what I didn't really want to do, and the time away had helped to crystallise that decision. I'd agreed with my head of practice in the finance department that we would be in touch when I got back from my various activities, and although at that point in 2008, generally the city wasn't - and the economy wasn't - in such a good place, and there were definitely constraints on headcount. And definitely, with the investment banks, which you know, in a banking practice is key from a client point of view - were shedding numbers. It was the year of some of the big failures at the time. And when I spoke to my head of practice, quite simply, 'If you want your old office back, you can have it back' - which is a fantastic support to know that you are welcome to step back in, and that's how well regarded you are, and it speaks highly to both the firm and the head of the practice. At the time a good friend of mine was going out with a few others to establish an office in Dubai for the firm - being a worldwide firm - would I want to go there and be part of the initial banking finance practice set up. Likewise I'd been offered before going on the sabbatical - if it changed my mind - the opportunity to go and work in Moscow at the time. And I appreciate the firm tapping into my interest in keeping things fresh, experiencing new locations, travel if you like - so I can't speak highly enough of the firm and its approach to try to make things work - sure for them, but also for me - and to to keep me interested, stimulated, engaged and hopefully happy at the firm if I were there.

Jeremy Cline
So what did you do though?

Oliver Johnston
What did I do?! Oh you want me to answer the question!

Jeremy Cline
Did you take them up on that offer? I mean did you feel that you had to take them up on that offer given that they were being so accommodating? Actually let's start with what you did do.

Oliver Johnston
What I did do was decide not to do that. The conversation was useful because for me it crystallised... you know, a hard discussion to have with yourself - but that's not what I wanted to do. And I realised, in the time I'd spent away, I didn't miss doing what I did. That didn't mean that I knew what I wanted to do but I wasn't going to improve my current life or situation by doing something I didn't want to do. There's no point trying to strong arm my will into doing that for the sake of doing it just because it's a good offer. I had to understand why I think I needed to take some time away from that environment and not allow the time away to make me think that actually things would necessarily be different in terms of how I personally got value and fulfilment from the work that I did. So no I didn't take them up on the offer, but I had to have that conversation to be able to make that decision.

Jeremy Cline
So what did you do?

Oliver Johnston
In the immediate few months, the short-term, not a lot - I focused more on thinking about what it was I did want to do. It's something I'd thought about at qualification. I didn't necessarily want to qualify - not so much at that firm - but into city practice. I'd enjoyed my two years training. Did I want to continue as a lawyer? I wasn't sure about that. And I think probably like a lot of people looked around elsewhere. And it's worth saying that I'm not immune to the charms of a lovely lady, and that while I was in Spain, I had met a girl and we were in a relationship. And so having a girlfriend in Spain also meant that what I chose to do would, at least in the immediate term, somehow have to factor that in because that's the way of life and you know, you do want on many levels, those things to work. So there were other factors to consider in choosing what I did in the future, but without knowing exactly what they were, in 2009 I started applying variously looking at roles in civil service, government, commerce as well where if not in-house roles, looking for more organisational management roles. I definitely - for all my ability with the black letter law - I'm not somebody that enjoys being stuck away in a back room with the statutes and only wheeled out when a technical point needs to be explained. I did enjoy the full breadth of commercial practice and very much the client facing aspects of it. Not everybody does. But then law firms are made up of people with different skills in different quantities. And for me, I think part of the problem was that I was largely very good at a lot of the skills, so you got asked to do a lot of the things across a lot of the ranges. And I enjoyed that. But to keep that going requires keeping too many balls and plates spinning. And so it gave me an opportunity to think about which bits did I really, really enjoy? And a lot of that was organisational and client-facing work. So I looked for those kinds of roles in the kinds of institutions that would understand what I'd done. So banks were an obvious category there as well.

Jeremy Cline
And so was this something that you were able to work out for yourself? Or did you have any sort of guidance, whether it's through books or coaching or anything like that? Because I know a lot of people sort of think, 'yeah, but what do I actually like?' and it's actually really hard and sometimes people need someone else looking in to help work that out. Was that the case with you? Or is this something that you were able to pull out for yourself?

Oliver Johnston
I think on a very general level, and I'm sure I've done some of this intuitively, or maybe even committed some of it to paper while I was still working London, just chatting with friends and flatmates - you end up teasing out for yourself, or listing what it is I enjoy. What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? If I had to choose the core skills I wanted to use most what are they? So I had a good idea. I think I just didn't know really the best home for them. And I wouldn't say there was any one particular book or insight that led me to that. But hopefully as you age, you're able to understand yourself better in that way.

Jeremy Cline
You've identified that there are aspects of the job - the law job - that you liked, and not others. And those kind of led you to civil service, management, that sort of thing. How did you get from there to personal training?

Oliver Johnston
I suppose it was an itch I always needed to scratch. I'd always had an interest in sport, fitness, activity, and I'm sure going back to university days - I recall happily spending a day off lectures with you and our friends I think up at Manchester just playing sports all day and going out on Canal Street in the evening. Any opportunity to get away from from the lectures and the learning to play sport, so it is a bonus. And while in London, I had taken the opportunity to go to the course provider that I ultimately did my qualification with in London and see what their setup there was like, because that was one of the options for if you like my my break - I could do the personal training qualification just because it's always interested me and it might be an opportunity if that's something I wanted to develop also down in London. Ultimately, I went in a different direction before doing that but it wasn't as though this was something that hadn't been there in my mind. And I suppose there is invariably that certain appreciation of how radical a change it is. Certainly you're actually practising law and then you go straight into doing something like that. I know a few others who have done that. It's not wrong at all, it's just that it's such a big, big shift I think it maybe requires an awful lot of planning or commitment rather than taking a number of steps or tacking and jiving your way to it as a sailing boat perhaps does. So I spent a couple of years working for myself as a basically a corporate affairs consultant, drawing heavily on my legal expertise and using that in a local company with various of its corporate affairs and legal matters. And then - this was teed up earlier by you - I was in Spain with my girlfriend in 2011, and I was involved then in a very serious traffic accident that resulted in me being in hospital for over half a year, so six, seven and a half months before even then being able to commence rehabilitation and get back to any normal type of physical functioning. And the idea then of being a personal trainer, or even someone who goes for a jog around the park was just fanciful, but it meant that there was such a dislocation and hiatus in whatever I was doing - not just career, everything else. I've spent six months of my life staring up at a white ceiling. There's plenty of opportunity then to distil further what do you want to do and if you can do it, where are you going to take your career, and your working life forwards.

Jeremy Cline
At the time of the accident, you're doing your sort of corporate affairs business and still doing the health stuff, the fitness stuff, the races and all that stuff on the side. And you mention on your website that after the accident, I mean, you were told that - well, what were you told, that you were never going to walk again, that you're never going to be able to do exercise again? What were the doctors telling you?

Oliver Johnston
Well first of all, it was just good to live again - it was a brush with death on about three counts. And at first I personally didn't know whether I would walk again - you look down at your legs and just see that they're twisted in every which way and this is in hospital and pinned together. But certainly as the treatment and physical recovery progressed to the point of being able to to leave hospital and at least start to live vaguely independently - again, the rehabilitation consultant said you're not going to run again, as in literally you can or you could run after a fashion, but the condition of your legs, your joints, the ones that have been most severely affected is so bad that its much more akin to that of an aged person 20, 30 years older than you, that it just makes no sense to do it - it would cause you too much damage and pain. So, yes, it does rather put a big stop on many of the activities that I enjoyed before. So there is perhaps a certain irony that I spend more time doing physical activity now than I did before an accident that deprived me of the ability to do physical activity.

Jeremy Cline
What was your internal reaction when the specialist told you this? Presumably it wasn't one of just acceptance.

Oliver Johnston
No. It was very much one of certainly sort of anger. But anger's not particularly helpful - frustration and definitely upset is something I remember well from the day coming back to my girlfriend's flat and throwing my crutches on the bed because it felt like a lot of the work I'd been doing - I thought if I just throw myself into this - which would still continue, I was still in the foothills of recovery here, but that it was surely going to be a case of so long as I put the work in, commit myself to the recovery, I will get back to where I was before. I hadn't lost a limb. If I'd lost my foot or leg below the knee, well, you have definitely have to reassess reappraise there. But everything was still joined in the right places. Surely all I had to do was work hard and I could get back to being fully functioning as I was before. This was like being told that you can work your socks off, do everything you think you can do, but even if you can do it, then you shouldn't do it. And when you think about how vital running is to many activities - it felt like it was a large chunk of what I enjoyed being being taken away and deprived from me. So that internal reaction was pretty negative.

Jeremy Cline
It wasn't either being told that you couldn't do this or that you couldn't get to a stage where you would be able to do but that you shouldn't?

Oliver Johnston
It was definitely shouldn't, but there was something of I think... being assessed with gait strength reaction to walking that the shouldn't came from couldn't. If you can't do it properly, the consequences of doing it again to be that much more damaging - and that's true, I know that for myself for the last number of of years being in that situation. But by comparison my girlfriend who was also in the crash and suffered similar but less severe injuries, she was told - because we were under the treatment of the same consultant - that later in the year if she wanted to she could expect to be back in a race that we'd participated in the year before. So it wasn't some Doomsayer saying to everybody who's had some serious leg injuries, you're not going to do this. It was very much a word of warning. And it has been repeated by him since. So I don't think it was just an off the cuff comment

Jeremy Cline
You don't strike me as someone who is particularly reckless. You think about things, you make sure that you're doing what's right for you. So my guess is that you didn't think 'I'm going to do this anyway and hang the consequences even if it causes me more damage further down the line'. Can you talk about how you planned your rehabilitation, so that you could do what you've been told that you couldn't or shouldn't, but in such a way that you weren't then going to cause yourself a bigger mischief down the road?

Oliver Johnston
I think the immediate rehabilitation had less of a focus on trying to get back to being able to do what I'd been told I couldn't do. And first and foremost, I couldn't walk without crutches - at this point, I couldn't walk normally and I'd only just stopped using a wheelchair. So the much more immediate concerns were just to get as much form and function back. You're such a long way, even if I'd been told 'Yes, you can do that' to actually being able to do that, that there were many other things to concentrate on in the near term. Just from a strength and conditioning point of view, the amount of muscle wastage and function that gets lost just lying in a bed is immense. The entire fitness in the entire body just goes into into the abyss at that point after that long out of action. And we're not just talking legs, upper body - the heart and the lungs have taken severe beatings in the consequence of the accident, and you're not doing any fitness based activities after that. I had a very close shave, and the first stage is to be able to get back to living again. Forget sport - I mean, we're thinking about being able to get yourself independently to the bathroom for a shower or to be able to go independently to a supermarket and do some shopping or stand up and do some cooking. Those were things which in the first couple of years were very difficult because I simply couldn't stand or sit for long enough to do either of them. And so the idea of going on to specifically running and running based activity was a long way off. And bear in mind that also what I do isn't purely focused around what the legs can do when in a running action. There's there's a lot more to it than that. And it's a focus for lots of people to remind them we're looking at what you can do not what you can't do. Most people can't do something or simply don't like doing something - that's no excuse for doing nothing.

Jeremy Cline
How does your recovery take you from being able to do these day to day things to being able to do more physical activity - running exercise, that sort of thing - to deciding that you are going to start teaching this?

Oliver Johnston
It's almost two different processes. The doing more physical activity is a natural progression from an improvement in the recovery and testing myself really whether or not I can do these things again. I think you'll recall, I took part in a 10k race, my home 10k race in 2013. And the performance was far from spectacular and it completely - trust me in terms of physical demands and not having really trained to run or do that kind of distance at all during my rehabilitation, but gradually building in some running action back into my my recovery - it was all about showing that at the end of the day, I could still do that. Almost prove the consultant wrong and still throw in a half decent time by comparison to too many recreational runners. And it's not something I've too oft repeated since. Bearing in mind the whole recovery and rehabilitation procedure was some three years long, really to the point where I could feel as though I could move on from having to get myself better to do something with the competition that I'd got myself back into. And there'd been plenty of time not least staring at the ceiling, the hospital bed where you think, well, I've had a very close shave here - it's clean-shaved as it is. There are certain things I can't do with my life now. And you know, if I'd stayed in the law and that accident had happened on the way back home one weekend, for example - I would be in a position where potentially I couldn't do then some of the activities that I'd done, if you like, in my sabbatical year, because of the physical injuries and limitations that I'd sustained and you do realise that things can be taken from you in the most unforeseen instant and I suppose as they say in the Shawshank Redemption, you've got to get busy living. And so if there was one thing that had floated my boat, in terms of what would I really enthusiastically like to do, I kept coming back to this idea that I enjoyed the idea of personal training and instructing physical activity and exercise. And having spent that long in gyms and other recovery, rehabilitation institutions and situations, learned that much about it, about myself - it felt now like I had a really good understanding that this would be something I could be successful at, that I could enjoy, and also had the opportunity of almost having a clean slate because like it or not, and I did apply again to many of the same kinds of roles that I'd looked at when leaving the law, after three years, pretty much out from doing anything because you have to get yourself back into a situation where physically you could cope with a working day. But if you throw yourself back into it too early, you simply couldn't do the working day and you'd be denying yourself the physical condition to lead the rest of your life. Quite rightly, companies would look at your CV and go, but you've not really done any of this for the last couple of years. And it doesn't matter you know, because I can see it from their point of view - doesn't matter your ability or perceived skills and even if you'd like to get an opportunity to showcase what you can do, there are likely in the world several other candidates who can show 'well, I have actually been doing this for the last couple of years' and that's a more safe, less risky option for the for the employer. So I was in a bit of a situation where - the CV and recent working experience being non-existent - I didn't really have any traction with the types of organisations that I needed to try to get myself in front of. Some, but not enough. You've got this time at the moment where I could do the personal trainer qualification, enjoy it for what it is, even if I never did anything else with it. So I very much saw it as a bit of a holiday, a bit of a treat at the end of three years of the recovery rehabilitation process without any particular thought that I would definitely make a business or career of it. I didn't want to put that kind of pressure on myself, nor did I need to. I just needed to do something that would would make me feel as though the whole recovery process was useful, beneficial and do something for myself.

Jeremy Cline
So when did you decide that you were going to make a career and make a business of it?

Oliver Johnston
Interestingly, I'll give credit to a friend of mine, Vicki Bonaccorso, who herself - very inspirational - suffers from incomplete paralysis but pretty much every day still goes to the gym to work every bit as hard as she can to keep and maintain as much mobility and function for herself. Her injury condition developed around the same time as my incapacitation and so we spent a lot of time together recovering in the gym, good friends, and she pretty much said after I'd got these qualifications and was looking at what to do with them, 'Well, I think you're going to have to set it up yourself' - and I hadn't seriously considered independently trying to make my own way as a personal trainer. But whether it was the spark of light or more the challenge 'Well, okay, see what you can do with it' - either way, it kind of worked and from late 2016, early 2017, I immersed myself in thinking, well, if I'm going to do this, you've then got all of the business aspects to look at... How am I going to try to structure it? What am I? How do I want to promote, publish what I do? Who am I trying to attract? What's my target market? And so very much became a business operation rather than a Personal Training and Fitness operation. But that's where it started

Jeremy Cline
Going on to the business side and your decision to actually not just to do it, but to make a living from it. I mean, it sounds like from what you just said that actually you thrived a bit on that. And it wasn't a case of, well, I want to do it, oh, I've got to try and make a living from it - and that being sort of something that held you back, but it sounds like actually that was something that you really got your teeth into. So how you were going to make it into a business and something that would support you.

Oliver Johnston
I think that's right. I think having identified which aspects as well within legal practice I enjoyed - and I certainly enjoyed the client fronting aspects, the business development aspects, every bit as much as some of the black letter law aspects. If I'm looking at organisational business development type roles as well - well, this is my opportunity to do it for myself and if, as with anything - anybody who says 'Well, if you think you can do it, well show me. Go off and do it, don't just talk about it.' And it was also an opportunity inadvertently to put into action in a slightly altered form the business plan which my excellent training provider had required us to put together as part of the qualification and assessment process. I did have some ideas I'd already cast my mind to and now it was a case of well if those were at least halfway sincere now is the point to try to demonstrate that and put it all together. So absolutely I did. Everything has been largely created from scratch - how do I want to present myself? How do I want to market myself? Who are the people that I'm looking at? Why am I looking at them? What do I want them to see in me? What do I want to resonate with them? I appreciate I come from a very different background. I'm a fair bit older than most personal trainers coming into the industry, fitness instructors - and not many come from a professional qualification background. I can't think of too many around here. There are a couple of exceptions. So it's a different proposition and you got to work out whether or not a sustainable business opportunity exists for that kind of person doing that kind of thing.

Jeremy Cline
With that in mind, where do you see your future in this?

Oliver Johnston
Way too big a question, Jeremy! Again, it's a bit cliched. Given what what happened, you can't take too much for granted. And quite literally, you could get run over by a bus tomorrow. And I've enjoyed what I've done and there's still more more work to be done. I still really enjoy the learning - each year I'm adding new qualifications, new opportunities. There are not many instructors I know of around here who teach such a breadth, for example, of group exercise classes across a whole range of disciplines. Genuinely I find what I do passionately interesting and so long as there's always the interest to develop my skills and learn new things I'm going to continue to be enthused by this and provide hopefully an excellent first class service for my clients because that enthusiasm with learning and developing new skills means hopefully that then also in a one to one personal training situation, my clients are benefiting from that great expertise, knowledge, range of skills, innovation, novelty with their training, and it means that it keeps them enthused and on track with their health and fitness objectives. I think longer term, there are not many group exercise instructors who say in 20 years time from here, are still knocking out hardcore spin classes or throwing kettlebells around too much - so it's it's a long way off to think about that. But in the shorter term, it's a lot more about thinking who the people are who do what I, I do in terms of my clients, what else would it be that interests them. So for example, doing at the moment, boxercise boxing classes, we just started doing some some kick, knee strike type work. So I look at doing a formal kickboxercise qualification shortly to to add to that, and that adds novelty in another string to my bow and so long as that kind of learning keeps going forwards, then it's going to continue to be a really interesting, stimulating occupation.

Jeremy Cline
So do you feel like you have found more of a calling than you did when when you were in the law?

Oliver Johnston
Intuitively, I never get up and don't look forward to what I do. I think I enjoy that the pressure that's placed on me is placed purely by me on me. And that's a big difference. There's a lot more that's scary about it because there's the insecurity that goes certainly with running your own business and being dependent purely on other people, which I suppose is a lot closer to partners in the law firm as opposed to being simply an employed solicitor within a law firm because I didn't stay in the law long enough to see whether taking partnership was going to then be formally offered on the table. So that's not something I've had to experience in the law. As a product of the the trauma that occurred in 2011 - the opportunity to completely reassess that life is short - you do not get to go around again. And you look at what I did outside of the law as my own personal interests, which did include some fairly crazy attempts to fit marathons and triathlons in around legal practice and the like - you think well if you're making that big an efforts with it you should almost make that your daily life and I'm certain that that's how it's turned out. I've got a fairly full programme during the weekdays, there's a lot of work people don't see that goes on outside of it. Hopefully I can come good at that - the administration, organisation work because of the skills and abilities that professional practice taught me and that I can come across as credible, professional, expert in what I do, and it's thanks to my grounding with my degree and legal practice that that dovetails nicely then with what is a very strong personal interest.

Jeremy Cline
Fantastic. Well, I can't think of a better place to leave your story. It's been a wonderful tale and an incredible journey. So thank you so much sharing it with us. Looking back on your journey, can you point to any one or two resources that have really helped you whether there was a book or a quote or a course or just something which you kind of think, yeah, this was really useful, and if it was useful for me, it will be useful for others?

Oliver Johnston
I'd like to say that it would be nice if there was one particular resource or quote - I've an either healthy or unhealthy interest depending on how you see it in various books of that genre, but that a number of quotes or ideas have helped me along the way. There's one in particular that you cannot always control the situation in which you find yourself, but you can control your response to it. And that's resonated very much with me when I was in the hospital and helped give me the motivation to make the most of a very, very dismal situation. And I think maybe more it's a case of internalising that than rather than having to tell yourself it and that ultimately at the end of the day, you're responsible for your own happiness, nobody else is. Everybody else has got their own lives and their own their own happiness to organise. If something isn't working for you, then you do one way or another need to make that change whether it's a small change or a bigger change, and I think I just spend a lot more time as well thinking in a much more considered way about how I feel about things before I do them. And maybe it's the benefit of more age and maturity, just being able to reflect a little bit more, a little bit more surely and with a little bit better self-analysis at why you do things and where you want to take things rather than rushing blindly headlong into things, as maybe you do through your 20s.

Jeremy Cline
Completely. Couldn't agree more. Where can people go if they want to get in contact with you or find out a bit more about what you do?

Oliver Johnston
That'd be delightful. I have my website owjfitness.co.uk. There's a short description of the the history the background that we've discussed today, as well as a full explanation of what I do, where I do it, how I approach it, and there is a contact form on that page where people can email me or get in touch by telephone and I'm more than happy to field enquiries related more to this discussion and whether or not people want to throw the can around for an hour and enjoy a heavy physical workout - so they're more than welcome to do that.

Jeremy Cline
Brilliant. I'll link to all of that in the show notes. Olly this has been a really, really fascinating conversation. So thank you so much for your time.

Oliver Johnston
No trouble at all. Jeremy, thank you.

Jeremy Cline
Wow, what a story. You know, when I first reached out to Olly, I knew he'd moved from a career as a lawyer to the fitness space. But I hadn't known about the accident and the journey that Olly had been on to become a fitness coach. It reminds us that it's very easy just to become settled to think that things will get better in a few years time - just got to put the effort in now. Okay, so maybe we're not enjoying things so much at the moment, but there's an end-goal we can see that in a few years' time everything is going to be a lot better. But Olly's story really shows that we just might not make it that far, we can't rely that we're necessarily going to be around long enough for things to improve far off in the future. And it kind of gets you thinking, are you prepared to take that risk? To risk years of unhappiness now for what you think is going to be greater happiness in the future? Or is it really time now to start doing the stuff which we enjoy now or that we're actually finding fulfilling now and not wait for this mystical far off day when things are just going to get better? This is the last episode of 2019 and I hope that you've really enjoyed the holiday season, that you've had some time to relax that you've seen friends family and you know, just had a chance to pause and reflect and, you know, now's a good time to start thinking, How do you feel on a Sunday evening? Are the Sunday evening blues a thing for you? Maybe have the stories you've heard so far on the podcast given you some food for thought, perhaps got you to start thinking that perhaps now might be the time to start thinking about a change? The Change Work Life Facebook group is a great place to start any discussions around that subject. There's a link in the show notes or if you go to changeworklife.com/Facebook that'll take you straight to the group. In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful 2020. We've got some more terrific episodes lined up and I hope that you will continue to join us on the Change Work Life podcast. I'm really looking forward to seeing you next time. Cheers. Bye and Happy New Year.

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