The Teaching Life

Turning the Corner, Taking a New Path

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It has  taken five years to purge my closets of my corporate wardrobe. When I was on the hamster wheel of the 40hour plus work week, I prided myself on showing up for business dressed for success. Once a former colleague commented, “you never wear the same outfit twice in a month.” It was true. I owned a small boutique of clothes that filled every closet of my four bedroom house. In fact, one of those bedrooms was turned into a closet! I’ve finally turned the corner, purging the closets, eliminating much of the old corporate wardrobe in favor of the more comfortable clothes I wear to teach yoga.

Turning the corner means that I have successfully reinvented myself. Like many over-50 Americans, I was let go. It was called a “voluntary retirement,” offered to employees who had reached  the age of undesirability to remain in the workforce during the corporate retrenchment and economic recession. The penalty of not accepting the “buyout” when it was offered meant being left behind in a changing workplace where the expansion of technology undermined the value of human labor. I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was tapped on the shoulder as whole departments where I worked were decimated. When it happened, I thought I was ready. As getting let go goes, my former employer was beneficent. There was no golden parachute, but at least a whoopee cushion, consisting of a monthly pension and paid health benefits until the I reach the age of eligibility for Medicare, was provided to soften the transition to the next stage of life.

I was lucky. One of my friends was dismissed from her job just before lunchtime. She was summoned to human resources at the law firm where she worked and informed that her services were no longer needed, her job terminated, effective immediately. She was then escorted to her desk where she found a box was waiting to hold her personnel belongings which she packed under the watchful eye of a security guard. Once done, the guard chaperoned her on the elevator ride down to the lobby. There she stood on the sidewalk with her box of photos and memorabilia.  No goodbyes to colleagues. No time to cancel the lunch date she’d made with one of her coworkers.  She later told me, “After 20 years, I was treated like a criminal getting released after serving a sentence.” She was given three months severance, cut off from all medical benefits and her email account was deleted by the time she arrived home.

I was also lucky that I had already had begun to build the foundation for my next career as a yoga teacher and integrative health practitioner while I was still employed. This new career presented me with an opportunity to  express my innate talents, skills, education and experience in a more complete way than anything else I’d done prior. It fulfilled me and brought joy and renewed meaning to my life. It kept me conscious of doing good in the world and sharing it with others.  I had found the work I love, but the fork in the road to this new path would not be an easy transition.

The reluctance to rid my closets of the business clothes was the clinging to a life once lived. I wasn’t wearing them, in fact, I outgrew many of them, but I kept them in the event I returned to workplace as a part-time, semi-retired worker while I transitioned yoga from an avocation into a viable business.  Initially, I sought part-time work based on the job skills acquired during my 30 plus years work experience, but those years counted for naught in the downward spiraling job market.  There were no takers for an experienced 60-year woman. Posting resumes and cover letters to online job sites proved futile and time consuming. The new reality was job creation was in my hands, not the corporation.

I continued to work at building my yoga business, but growth was slow.  I used my retirement savings to supplement my expenses.  When feelings of despair or  desperation arose,  I would, once again, begin the search for full or part-time work. At peak panic, I thought about taking any job before the money ran out. I sensed something within me had shifted because my heart sank and clouds of depression darkened my mood at the prospect of taking a job just for a paycheck. I realized my metamorphosis was complete, I was fully transformed into a teacher of yoga, spirit and wellness. Yet, thoughts around money or the lack of it continued to haunt me. Every time I was caught in the emotional vortex of fear, I reaffirmed my faith in the path I had chosen and committed to work harder to make the business work for me.  My mantra was, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

One day, the search for a particular blouse ignited the desire to purge. Having no luck finding it, a wild possession took hold and I began stripping hangers of my old business clothes. Spreading like an infection, I moved from room to room emptying closets and drawers, leaving behind piles of clothes, shoes, handbags, coats, sweaters and accessories on the floors. I thought about all the money I had spent acquiring and maintaining what was no more than rubbish and vowed, “never again.” The purging done, the closets were rearranged to accommodate what I needed, no excess. I’ve regained a bedroom that can now be used when my little grandsons come to  sleep over.

The life of a yoga teacher is rewarding, but not necessarily lucrative. I pray for the day that will change and this new career will support my lifestyle. If it doesn’t change, I will have to face my biggest fear–what will happen if and when I  have no money. Bankruptcy? Foreclosure? Or, the daunting task of starting over again in my senior years.  When the “what if” fear monster arises in my mind, I face it head on knowing that I will do what is in my power to cross those bridges and weather the storms as they arise.

I recalled something I learned from a teacher, a swami from New Zealand, during my yoga studies in India.  He warned us Westerners to “be careful of your relationship to the material.” When I contemplated his advice, I was reminded of the path of yoga called “aparigraha” or non-possessiveness. The practice of aparigraha cultivates the flexibility in mind and spirit that yoga practice develops within us so that we see more clearly any tendencies of greed and hoarding. We learn to let go of excess and to release the people or things that no longer serve us. It can be very difficult to let go, not just of the material things, but also our self perceptions, emotional conditioning, and habitual patterns of thought and behavior. It leads us to the truth that everything in the physical realm is temporary, and ultimately we must let go of this finite life. This is all the more reason, I fully embrace and commit to do the work I love; time is no longer on my side. Now more than ever is the time to live a fulfilled life. I have chosen a new path; the old road has dead-ended.

They say “do what you love and the money will come.” I hope They know what they’re talking about. I have found work that gives my life purpose and to share with others what is uniquely mine to give. I hope one day it will sustain me. What if the money doesn’t come? This is how I know I’ve turned the corner and taken a new path because I  am willing to risk it all to do what I love.

How’s your life as a yoga teacher? Share your experience.