I remember sitting poolside with my friend Romain at a crew hotel in Chennai in February 2016 – I was on the India part of my sabbatical leave from work, he was on a layover. He lived on Reunion Island at the time, I lived in Luxembourg, this was one of those serendipitous alignments of time and space for us to meet there and then. And this is where he gave me one message I have been pondering and working with since.
‘You do not need to make a living out of everything you learn.’
See, I had just graduated from a one month yoga teacher training in Kerala.
I did this teacher training because I enjoyed yoga but found my actual practice unstable. I’ve defined myself as a somewhat ‘creative perfectionist’, which means I get excited by lots of things, and hold myself back from doing things if I don’t know how to do them, or if they, or I, aren’t ready…
So the obvious thing to do if one doesn’t feel comfortable doing the sun salutations in one’s living room is to take a few months off work, travel to India and learn all about the philosophy of yoga AND how to do the sun salutations among many other moves and poses.
I now have a RYS – registered yoga school 200-hour yoga teacher certificate, I’ve done 108 sun salutations in a row more than once, I’ve massively evolved my practice and, like any true yogi…
I know that I know nothing.
However I do feel comfortable doing yoga in my living room now.
And while I didn’t have the intention to practice my yoga as a teacher, this certificate, coupled with witnessing my beautiful and talented fellow training mates setting up courses around the world, did put out the evident questions: ‘What are you going to do with your new skills and knowledge? How are you going to share them?’ and of course:
‘How will you make money with your yoga?’
(at least enough to cover the training costs)
AS soon as I was home and full of fresh elan and deep desire to touch people with my newfound gift, I went out and bought yoga mats and blocks. Then it all slowed down when I had to do the stuff that I don’t enjoy, I half-heartedly researched what one needs ‘to do legally’ to be a teacher in Luxembourg (insurance? taxes?…), thought about suitable locations and timings that align with my day job. Typical doubts came in as well, so many people are such better yogis with way more experience than me… and soon enough, my drive had quite organically… frizzled away, and my efforts on this project halted.
For a while I beat myself up as being lazy and purposeless for not setting up my school, which seems to be the accepted response: ‘If you’re not working hard, you’re lazy.’
But that attitude of guilt really didn’t help me with my drive or creativity, and I’ve really worked hard at taking myself out of circumstances that made me feel ‘not good enough’.
SO what was going on here?
I enjoyed the yoga, I enjoyed the teaching… why wasn’t I doing it?
It started to dawn on me that maybe I plain enjoy the learning; it extends my horizons and my friend network, it colours my travel experience and fills my storytelling… and mostly, it gets my pride buzzing.
““Happiness,” wrote Yeats, “is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
Contemporary researchers make the same argument: that it isn’t goal attainment but the process of striving after goals—that is, growth—that brings happiness.”
― Gretchen Rubin,
One reads about these things – and I read this particular book in 2013, and many similar ones since – but the claims only really land when one truly feels them. And to me, this has been proving true.
I get a kick out of learning new stuff.
So here I was in Southern India, my curiosity was fed and… my curiosity was hungry for more.
See, there is a leadership model on stages of competence. It was brought to me on Day One of my coach training in November 2012.
1- Unconscious incompetence – ‘I don’t know what I don’t know.’
(if I don’t know it’s out there, I can’t miss it)
2- Conscious incompetence – ‘I know what I don’t know.’
(I know it’s out there, but I don’t have the competence of is – such as speaking a language; I know I don’t speak Japanese)
3- Conscious competence – ‘I know what I know.’ (I speak and write English)
4- Unconscious competence – ‘I intuitively know what I know.’
(when I drive my car I sometimes don’t even realise that I am shifting gears when I do)
Where I was personally just then, in India in February 2016,
the Yoga Teacher Training had given me a taster for the intricacy that is the human body, and the magic that is the art of healing through connecting body, mind and soul.
My coaching and leadership skills had me dive into the often underused realms of mental power, and here I was now in front of this other thing we all have – and don’t seem to use to its full potential either: our body!
And I was suddenly very aware of how little I knew about the human body and anatomy.
Conscious incompetence is a driver for me…
Thoughts came up around taking up nursing, or medicine… I shared them with my dear Auntie Pam weeks before she passed away and at her hospital bed. She’d always been an eager supporter of my craziness, and I remember her whispering ‘You’d make a lovely nurse.’ She would also always repeat to me that ‘it would be a shame if you didn’t use your coaching skills, you do a wonderful job.’ She was and is one of my angels and teachers, bless her.
I’d often thought I’d quite like to know more about the caring side of humanity. I’d, actually, often seen myself as a flying doctor out in a faraway adventurous bush somewhere someday, though I am neither pilot nor doctor (yet) – I am a flight attendant and a mental coach, however, not that far off.
And because over time a lot of my most inspiring yoga teachers had also given little neck, head and foot massages during Savasana, massage therapy seemed to be most reachable as an introduction to human anatomy in the immediate present .
Also, massage is a very daily normal thing in India, like yoga, it is a part of the omnipresent Ayurvedic living.
I was in India, massage was everywhere and so the flirt with massage began.
Once again, the thought alone on the rational level brought me further off whatever my track was – I’d kind of left the normal track when I left the corporate job (and potential-yet-not-happening career) to become a flight attendant, and then some more when I left a full-time job for a part-time job, and then some more when I started spending my non-work time and my savings on learning, and getting certified in, new random things such as photography, diving, coaching, leadership, yoga…
And the saboteur voice in me, you know, that voice of reason, and that voice that says ‘be rational’, ‘this is not safe!’, ‘what will people say?’, ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘what are you thinking?’, ‘why?’ and ‘you’re weird!’ was yelling: ‘how about setting up your coaching and leadership training practice before starting something new again? And how about teaching yoga after that? What are you hiding from when you hide in your trainings?’ And the loudest ever ‘you do all these things but you don’t get anything done!‘
And this is exactly the conversation I had with Romain in Chennai, when he looked at me with the love that only someone who sees right through you and knows and cherishes exactly what dreams and depths you have and he said to me:
‘What makes you think you need to make a job or a living out of these trainings and certificates?
What if you do these things because they are fun and you enjoy the learning part of them?’
This perspective is one I have been pondering since, and it has given me a lot of freedom.
See, I have feeling we all talk a lot about ‘being in the moment’ and ‘following our heart’, yet we live more ‘rationally’ (a word I have actually banned from my vocabulary because it means little to me now, that is another story) – I have a feeling we make up a lot of our limitations by glorifying society-rules and self-invented rules around what is the accepted norm for ‘safety’ (that job that pays the bills) and how to spend time (make sure it is useful and you can make money off it). I will not disregard the comfort of knowing where the next meal comes from or knowing that I have a roof over my head and a blanket on my bed.
I am not talking about the very basics of comfort, however I will always and again challenge what we think is all-important and that stops us from living out just for the sake of living.
The school was brilliant, right up my alley. I signed up for a 10-day initiation called Bodyworks Beginnings, and yes, oh, that healing touch is a gift – not only is it a gift, it is something we all have if only we gave it some attention and space.
A bit like what I thought when I began my coaching track, and anything I find brilliant, I kept wondering:
‘Why isn’t everyone doing this? It would make the world such a nicer place if we all knew this!’
One thing lead to another, they always do, I continued the Advanced Clinical Massage Training, again, not because I intended to make a business of it, but because it sheer interested me; and I enjoyed the courses, I loved coming home to a family I didn’t know I had once a month for a year, and I got a right kick out of being local in Brighton for a while.
I trained alongside a group of brilliant and practicing therapists in Brighton, and some of my most encouraging and brave friends and family members accepted to be my practice clients at home. I enjoyed it all, and I took and succeeded all the courses.
When the time came to get ready for the final exam, I was called to check in with myself on what my priorities were… while the training was hands-on, the exam really did require a lot of studying, i.e. time invest. Acknowledging that I was still not intent on building my own business around it just now, that my actual practice had not allowed me to apply my learnings in between courses, that my job was full-on at the time, and I had committed to a rather big trip just before the exam: I dropped out.
Just before the end, I dropped out. I did not take the exam.
I do not have the final certificate.
Can you hear the voices of guilt and shame and… disappointment chanting?
And this is when I remembered, once again, you do not need to make a living out of everything you learn. You do not need a certificate to prove anything to anyone (unless, of course, you do, in which case the circumstances change and: I can still take that exam).
The reactions I got to this choice reflected every single thought that banged about my head.They always will.
There will always be a good reason and argument for any single thing we do because Life is full of missed opportunities.
As I wrote on my article on this very thought:
“Every single moment in this our life is an opportunity.
So if that is the truth, whatever we decide to do is a YES to one opportunity and a NO to another.
We can’t be everywhere at the same time, therefore life IS, indeed, filled with missed and taken opportunities.”
Had I only gone by ‘do I want to be a massage therapist now?’ I would never have embarked on this journey, and I would have missed out on a lot of fun moments and moments of growth! I preferred doing it my way, to be honest, and I just can’t help but wonder how many of us are not doing things we might enjoy, that may lead to somewhere, or not, just because ‘it isn’t sensible’. How many of us take up studies because ‘it is the right thing to do and will lead to a good job’ versus fuelling creativity?
Once again, and always, I remember Steve Jobs’ thought:
‘Trust in something (…), because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even if it leads you off the well worn path… and that will make all the difference.’
And as my favourite author/creative-critical contemplator Elizabeth Gilbert points out in her book Big Magic, I’m not suggesting we let go of all things we consider security; keep someting going that pays the bills, so that we can feed the creativity and fun-lover in us without pressuring THEM to have to pay the bills.
But: keep feeding the creativity and fun-lovers within, just because!
The dots will connect in hindsight, and for the very least, we get a kick from the growth and so many colourful magic moments on the way.
All of this is food for thought, as always, an ongoing process.