While I never expected to be rich as a yoga teacher, I hadn’t prepared for the possibility of moving into my parents’ basement in Indiana.
Now at almost 41, with more than a decade of yoga education and experience, I was tired of juggling jobs only to come up short for rent. My full-time job in a social work setting gave me health benefits and the chance to instruct yoga to lower income seniors. But it still wasn’t enough. Additionally, I had developed a chronic cough from a filthy carpeted office and poorly ventilated workout rooms. Some of our clients had serious mental disorders, which made me feel unsafe as I walked from the senior center to my apartment that didn’t have a doorman.
If I continued along this path, I reasoned, I might end up like Ana Charle, the homeless shelter director who was sexually assaulted and gunned down in the Bronx.
I had become addicted to ahimsa, I thought, but I had failed to give it to myself.
I made the gut-wrenching call to my folks and other relatives, supportive people who offered to pull me out of New York. “We’ll get some trucks and vans,” a cousin offered, not realizing how little I owned. “You’ll be rich in Indianapolis.”
I was grateful for their love. Yet the lump in my throat grew bigger. What I would do in Indiana that was different from my ways in New York? Before I panicked and broke my lease, I decided to fully assess my full situation.
I sought the advice of a social worker/therapist who offered special rates for poor clients. True, her specialty was couples’ therapy, but I loved her outrageous long red hair and affordable prices. She suggested I create a vision board, a collage of magazine pictures that pleased me. Willing to try anything, I tore up old magazines on the floor of my apartment. I cut out pictures of clean office spaces, outdoor gardens, and women running outside. I also pulled photos of Angelina Jolie and Angelica Houston, carefully removing Brad Pitt and Jack Nicholson with surgeon-like incisions.
Now these glorious women stood alone. When I was done with my art project, I noticed that there were no men in this collage. But there was a sense of being part of the world while remaining a free individual with distinct boundaries.
“Have you tried Match.com?” my social worker asked the following week. “What about Jewish dances?”
I wasn’t Jewish, I told her. More importantly, I admitted how a satisfying work life had become more important than marriage and kids. At least for now.
Next, I contacted career counseling through the library and gratefully accepted advice from a coach, via Skype. “What do you want?” she asked
“I don’t know,” I said.
“What’s your dream job?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
Together, we assessed what I didn’t desire: dirty rooms, danger, and a future with low pay. Then we examined my love of writing and stylish clothing, two details I had forgotten.
“Your assignment is to interview everyone you know who is doing something you might like,” she said. “Ask them what their day is like. Ask for a range of income and education. See if you like what they tell you. It’s not a success unless they give you contact information for someone else. But you are the only one who can figure this out.”
Stoked, I interviewed my physical therapist, a man I adored, but who worried about not having enough money. Recently, he had taken out a fifth credit card to buy office supplies and have a bar mitzvah for his son. Then I consulted a pal who is chairman of physical education department at a major university. She didn’t make enough and constantly feared losing her job on a year-to-year contract. Finally, I got somewhere when I contacted my old girlfriend from journalism school. She was now a director of public relations and marketing a children’s hospital. She loved her job. She made enough money to buy a house and go on vacation. And she went home at 5 p.m. with the expectation of keeping up with essential email. When I interviewed another pal, also in PR and digital strategies, I realized that the whole world had gone online. If I wanted to keep up, I had to stay relevant. And I could.
Finally, I spoke to a yoga teacher friend who speaks fluent Spanish and has an Ivy League education in family literacy. “Oh, I don’t teach yoga anymore,” she said. “It just got too hard. I got into real estate. But I now apply yoga principles to helping clients find an apartment. It’s not what I envisioned in yoga school, but it’s just the way it has to be for me right now. I wish I had figured it out sooner.”