Ending the Gap Year or Why I’m Quitting the Wellness Industry

Okay- that was a little sensational, I admit it. I’m still teaching yoga but below I’ll outline why there’s going to be a big shift in that department…

Last year, just about this time, I was considering changing my life in a big way. After years of contemplation and plenty of letters added after my name, I decided to leave formal education, and take what I’ve referred to as my “gap year.” I’d dive into teaching yoga full time, I’d build a Thai Bodywork Practice, and maybe deliver medical marijuana as a side gig. I did all of these things and more, and now, feeling very complete- I’m going back to work full time. Before I dive into that new venture, I’m going to outline why trying to teach yoga as a full time job is awesome for some and less than desirable in the long run, for others.

I came into the Wellness Industry (I’m going to use this term going forward to refer to the industry that monetizes wellness practices like yoga, massage, health and life coaching, MLM businesses etc.) at a significant advantage. I had been teaching yoga for 12 years before I decided to try it full time. My experience included learning back end work of the studio I taught at in the Berkshires for 8 years, understanding client relationships, and many years of apprenticing with my teacher. I am also good at what I do, because I have studied not only the elements of what may be considered a “good” yoga class, but because I’ve logged thousands of hours of teaching. I estimate the 10,000 hour rule applies to me. By no means am I an expert at yoga or teaching, but I have a certain mastery over this skill and people return to my classes because of that (Mind you, this does not take into account convenience for the student, studio prices, etc.).

I wanted to build a Thai Bodywork Practice. I tried to do this in many ways but on paper, it wouldn’t look successful to anyone in a business field. It filled me up emotionally, but not financially. Working in the Wellness Industry is selling something to people that they don’t know they need. This is hard! It’s hard to convince people to spend that $85 on a massage instead of a beautiful dinner out. I still love the practice, but I don’t love the hustle and I don’t have the luxury of letting people come to me who align with my work. Earthly commitments like paying bills, saving for a house, and decreasing my debt are very real, and I couldn’t “abundantly manifest” them away. Please hear me when I say- I believe in the power of manifestation- but I also believe in the power of attainable and logistical goals with preparedness and routine. Working on where those two meet seem to be the crux of the issue with many people working in the Wellness Industry.

Quitting your full time job and going into the Wellness Industry has become somewhat of a stereotype. It seems to be mostly young able-bodied, usually white, women. I fall into that category. Sometimes it’s high powered male-bodied execs, but for the most part, it’s women who look and sound like me. We post pretty and curated photos on Instagram. We talk about gratitude and blessings, we congratulate each other on doing “the work,” and then we go out for $10 smoothies (which interestingly is often a third of what we make in an hour of teaching yoga…) We try to be genuine, and many of us really are. We also have a long way to go.

What’s beautiful and challenging about it, is that in my community, I can probably throw a bundle of sage in any direction and hit a yoga teacher. (But seriously, try to buy sustainably grown and harvested herbs and don’t throw shit at anyone.) We are that prevalent! Since I moved to Portland in 2017, I’ve seen at least 5 new fitness studios open and many of the popular yoga studios are offering 200-hour YTTs (this is the standard by which most people enter the teaching pool). Put all of this together and you have a big community of like-minded people. I have made amazing friends and know some teachers with high skill and integrity. The bigger underlying issue that no one likes to acknowledge is scarcity and over saturation; scarcity of clients and over saturation of fitness instructors. Plenty of people will tell you that we can all help each other rise. We can, and we have. I’m not afraid of over saturation because I’m lucky enough to be in a position where people seek me out, but realistically- how many yoga teachers can a community support? We say there is room for everyone, while we undercut each other and we are advised at one studio to not tell clients we also teach elsewhere. Can those teachers make a living wage without burnout? Can they save for retirement, pay their health insurance, and take time off without going into serious debt? Can they have a positive outlook when they consistently have zero students? How many of them are actually thriving?

Isn’t it telling that the ads I receive on social media revolve around how to reduce teaching yoga classes and to instead make thousands of dollars by creating a signature online program to sell to clients? Or that I will read an agonizing and personal account of someone’s past trauma that relates to my own, only to find at the bottom of the post that I’m being sold a coaching session? Or that almost every wellness worker (studio owners, teachers, body workers) I know also sell some kind of essential oil, supplement, or skin care line in a multi-level marketing company? I have kindly turned down every single offer to sell product alongside my teaching because I don’t think your yoga class should be a captive audience to sell people shit. Excuse my language. Maybe that’s harsh, but I find it manipulative. (I love essential oils, but I don’t need them pushed on me right out of savasana. End rant.) I know thriving is relative. Maybe if I agreed to some of the above suggestions, I’d be making more money, but I don’t want to make my money that way. I understand I am privileged to be able to choose how I make my living. (The privilege I have in even being able to write and semi-rant about this is crazy.) I know most people utilizing these strategies mean well, want to help others, AND make a living wage. I get it. I also know that “love and light” and “abundance culture” can very easily bypass the very real and very difficult issues faced by many who are self-employed in this realm.

After months of hustling, interspersed with travel I’d never been able to do were I still a classroom teacher, ( still grateful for this!) I had a slow unraveling of my desire to be in the Wellness Industry full time. I had all of this time and no money. All of my plans to travel now that I wasn’t teaching children were halted because I didn’t have regular and reliable income and the stress that came along with that was hard. I was just as poor as I had been as preschool teacher with a Masters Degree, as I was as a full time Yoga Instructor. (That’s teaching 12 classes a week and subbing up to 4 more on top of that.) I got depressed in the middle of winter and when I wasn’t teaching, I was in my bed most days. Real Talk- I accidentally overdrew my bank account- twice! Social media had me believing that I had to post my whereabouts for classes and offerings relentlessly if I wanted people to participate. I stressed about the “right way” to build an IG account, until I finally deleted the accounts off of my phone.

And now, here I am in the present. I decided I wanted to go back to work full time because- SURPRISE! I actually like being given a task and completing said task, versus making the task up myself, posting it all over social media, stressing about numbers and finding random part time work. I missed having a team, and a salary, and the opportunity to maybe retire at some point in my life. Lest I sound like a money-hungry new-age woo-girl, please understand, money is an energy exchange that allows you to live within means that suit you. We do need it if we’re going to live in this society, and I’m choosing to live in it. So I started looking for work and I auspiciously found a position that described qualities, skills and experience that I have in spades. I think I said to myself “This job is for me!” I applied. I let it go. Two or three weeks later I was in for an interview, a week after that, a second interview, and a week after that, a generous offer for full time employment that brings me SO MUCH JOY. My new director said it was a unanimous decision, they were thrilled to hire me, and that their favorite part of my interviews were not MY answers to their questions but the detailed and thoughtful questions I asked of THEM. Way to turn the tables, hm?!

I will be a Head Start Coach, using my experience in Early Childhood Education and teacher training to coach, supervise, and support Early Ed teachers. This is a dream for me because I get to stay in education, but get to be out of the classroom and be the kind of support I wish I had for many years as a teacher. Being an advocate for teachers makes me SO EXCITED, and as a bonus, I’m going to be paid a wage that is EXACTLY what I’m worth.

Someone jokingly said to me “Oh, so you’re going back to corporate America?” which is vaguely insulting and very misinformed. Years ago, I think I would have been offended or worried that I had sold out. My closest friends all work for themselves and when I made the jump to do that as well, they celebrated me. (Hi Love Crew!) When I told them I was stepping out of self-employment they cheered me on, maybe twice as hard as they did the first time. One said that it was a mistake to think that self-employment is the be-all, end-all, that everyone should strive for. It’s not for everyone. It’s not for me. Years ago, I would have looked at this shift as me failing on my big dream. The amazing part is that this feels like the biggest success of my life thus far because I have new dreams. Sovereignty over my career and passion for what I’m going to be able to do is paramount to everyone else’s expectations and comfort zones. Having solid and sustainable ground underneath me is important as I move forward, and this feels like the right path, for now.

To my courageous friends and colleagues who are busting ass to make ends meet in a tricky and changing industry- ROCK ON. You can do it better than I can, and if you want to talk about it- please reach out. If some of the “underbelly” of the Wellness Industry makes you uncomfortable, let’s sit with it together. There’s a lot to suss out, a lot to communicate, and a lot to decolonize. The monetization of ancient practices is nothing new, yet it remains a blind spot in this industry. I am doing my best, as I know you are.

Lastly, please know that I’m only relaying my experience. There are definitely people in the Wellness Industry thriving who will probably be able to retire at some point and who make a great living and enjoy the hustle. That’s amazing, and I want to hear those stories! I also want to hear about those who have struggled in the same way; seeing what looks like an amazing and abundant life on social media, but knowing personally that said person is broke, hurting and confused. Make space for all of it. Connect for the sake of connecting, not just to build your client base or to outsmart the algorithms. Write from the heart because it moves you, not because those posts garner the most attention. It’s hard to remember the time before we put our whole lives on the internet. Try, though, if you can. We now have the capability to be the most connected we’ve ever been as humans on earth. Remember to use that for good, and remember to step on the earth with gratitude and reverence for how she holds us up. Try not to check out. Not that you asked for my input or advice, but this all feels relevant.

From here on out, you’ll catch me teaching yoga some weeknights and most weekends, not because I need to, but because I want to, and that feels in complete alignment with who I am. The gratitude I feel for this life is an understatement. xo.

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2 Comments

  1. PREACH GIRL! Be raw & honest. It’s awesome. I’m sorry you struggled in the winter but I’m hella happy you listened to that little voice. Much love and keep sharing.

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