Last week, a young, new student asked me out to lunch. We met at my favorite local restaurant, which happened to be her favorite as well. She just graduated college, moved back in with her parents, and until very recently has been struggling with the question: What am I going to do with my life?
She's been working in a temporary job for her dad at his insurance company, pushing paper and watching the clock tick-tock in eager anticipation of her yoga class after work. Ahhhh... I had to pause and take a breath. I remember those days all too well.
My new friend is being confronted by well-meaning parents who are anxious to see her “do something” with herself. They're worried about what they deem to be her lack of future. She was bubbling with excitement as she told me that one day during savasana, it hit her. She decided to get a master’s in counseling and to pursue teaching yoga. She wants to blend the two. As she spoke and explained her story to me, she was trembling with joy and brimming with hope. I smiled a genuine, ear-to-ear smile as she laid her plans on the table.
After carefully showcasing her path, she asked me how I got into teaching yoga.
It all began in 1997. At the time, I was working in advertising in Austin, TX. Right next door to the agency where I worked was the headquarters of Whole Foods, which at the time was significantly smaller than it is today. Every Wednesday evening in a small conference room turned studio above Whole Foods, a woman named Peggy Miller led hatha yoga classes. One of my friends convinced me to join her. I expected a bunch of old women chanting and breathing. I was shocked as I broke a sweat while holding Warrior 1.
Yoga became a constant participant in my evolving world. My mom was ill and her health continued to deteriorate; after 9/11, my first marriage hit the rocks and, thanks in no small part to my temporary drug addiction, eventually collapsed. I came out of my tumultuous divorce pregnant with my new boyfriend/former-husband’s-former-best-friend’s baby and in an entirely new career. Yet I was still slaving to please others.
More than anything, I wanted a salary that would make my dad proud, I wanted a body that would make my ex-husband envious, and I wanted a new boyfriend to prove to myself and others that I was still desirable. Yoga was my only peace of mind.
As a single mother, I was convinced that I would need to stay on the gravy train of corporate America until my son was safely off to college. That was my story, my self-limiting belief, the way I could play it safe and not have to actually be seen. But in 2007, a shift happened that put something in motion that could never be stopped. You see, at this point, my dream was to work and make money until my son went to college and then I would retire and teach yoga in Costa Rica.
In June of 2007, I went on a yoga retreat to Costa Rica with an Austin-based studio where I frequently practiced. It was on this trip that I learned these two simple words: I can. I was rooming with two girls. One of them was a yoga teacher at the studio and a friend. The other was a new acquaintance. Both of these women were powerful (still are), generous in spirit, strong, wondrous and without the cloak of self-inflicted pain that I hid behind. They both believed in themselves. And they demonstrated to me what life could be like if I started using two simple words: I can.
One of them could do scorpion. I sat by with my jaw open. I said, “I’ll never be able to do that.”
She said, “You could do it right now. What are you talking about?”
And then she taught me how. One of them was a former NCAA athlete. Her confidence was contagious. Together, we surfed waves, repelled down a 100-foot waterfall and jumped out of a tree that was taller than I can remember.
I came back from this retreat with a new lease on life and began practicing my new mantra: I can. I came back from this retreat with momentum to make positive changes in my life, changes that would move me toward living the life of my dreams — before my son went off to college.
In the next year, I walked away from my corporate career, moved home to be near my mother before she discovered she had ALS, which ultimately took her life, and pursued teaching yoga. I’ve now been teaching yoga for five years, and I love it more every day. As I commute to “work” every morning, I have to pinch myself still and remind myself that yes, this is my life. I do what I love and I love what I do. I've created this by realizing it’s best not to live my life to make others happy. It’s far more effective to live my life based on what makes me happy.
As I gazed into the eyes of the young adorable creature in front of me, I smiled. She's 16 years younger than me. Good Lord, how did I become the one people are seeking advice from? When did that happen?
I wanted to say, "Don’t do something just because your parents want you to. Do it because you want it. Do it because you want it so bad you can’t stop thinking about it and you can taste it in your mouth. Don’t get too attached to your vision of your life plan.
Understand and embrace now that things may not work out exactly the way you want them to and that however they work out is exactly the way they should. Try not to get into that whole push-pull-struggle mode of life. As best you can, stay where you are right now. Stay with that wide-eyed enthusiasm. If something takes your breath away, capture it in a poem, a photo, an essay — something. And whatever you do, this is important now, whatever you do, always believe. Believe in the beauty of life and the joy in your heart. It truly is righteous."
But I didn’t. I just smiled and answered her questions. Far be it from me to deny anyone the experience of living and learning on their own.