Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Where have I been?

On an email today Susan wrote "Mel are you ever going to blog again??" - I think she had a point judging by how long it's been since my last post. So where have I been? You may well ask...

First off: geographically. I've been to India - hurrah! 
Second off: headspace wise. I've been EVERYWHERE. And then last week I lost my job - err, hurrah?

Maybe this goes some way to explaining my silence, given that I came back from 2 wonderful & fabulous weeks at Purple Valley with Tim & Kino to a whirlwind of job stress, which culminated last Wednesday in a rather unsurprising meeting terminating my contract.
Honestly, I don't even know where to begin in writing about any of this - but I know from previous experience that sometimes writing a mini-post will free me up to come back and write something proper later (I have no idea yet which way this one is going: mini or proper!).

The job thing wasn't really a shock, although I think I am still in shock (if that makes sense). The week before I went to India I was flown to Scandinavia for a meeting (I was flown all the way there to sit in a coffee shop in a shopping centre for 90 minutes...) where I was told that if I didn't meet a certain target in terms of the number of customers I went out to visit per week, starting the day I got back from India, that it was unlikely my probationary period would be turned into a permanent contract. I had been told this before, so it wasn't new news, but I had tried and couldn't seem to maintain the level they were looking for (and nor did I believe in the approach, but that's a different story). So there I was, India minus 1 day, with this overwhelming feeling of wanting to resign on the spot. Never mind the fact that I'd been given no time to prepare or book the appointments and would be coming back jet-lagged and having to hit the road in a big way, the major issue was that I didn't want to do this. But rather than make any snap decisions I remembered how spending time on retreat has a habit of making things seem clearer, so off I went, having faith that I would make a clearer decision once I was away from home.
And I think I got to day two before I had a thought: "Why didn't I do a proper job?". I was talking to K, a crazily-busy attorney with a kick-ass daily practice, and just had this feeling that I should have picked something real. You know: teacher, doctor, lawyer: something that can be described in one word. Instead I have found myself going down all of these no-through roads with funny jobs in funny little companies - or certainly nothing with an easily described or defined purpose. I let the thought settle, I left it where it was. Week one was mostly a process of not thinking too much about what was happening at home.
By week two I couldn't keep the thoughts down. Whereas on previous trips, my time in India has been consumed with thoughts of and conversations about specific elements of my asana practice, this time it was aaaall about "What am I going to do with my life?".
A conversation on Sunday evening led me to write the following in my notebook:
Feeling weird and sorry for myself today...Mental turmoil I've been trying to push down comes up now after practice. Last night's conversation with A who went to medical school at 38 and did a dual residency. Anything's possible? That's the feeling here, reality and finances and "being sensible" don't send these notions scurrying away....
Only Monday and already people are talking about the end of the week but it feels like we've been here forever, so we have that all still to come. But time marches on and reality comes more sharply into focus. What will I do?

Then on the flight home I wrote:
Allowing myself the luxury of a completely open mind - no such thing as a bad or impossible idea. I feel like I want to study, I don't know what, but to change direction, create a new path and more options - anything is possible?
Medicine kept coming up. I don't think that's the answer, I can't even really entertain the idea, but I allowed myself to. When money doesn't factor, hearing that A went to medical school at 38, P at 33, everything was blown open.
I went on to write my dream, to brainstorm ideas, but already on the plane I was editing and stopping myself writing down some of the thoughts. 

In one of our workshops Tim spoke about one of his students who had a very high-powered job in finance, and was able to use the stability he gained through daily practice to stay calm during the worst of the financial crisis (unlike everyone else in his office who went into meltdown). He was using the example to show to new students how we balance our lives as householders with careers, families, kids, ex-wives, dogs (whatever the situation may be) with our practice. All I could think while he was talking was that I wanted to ask:
"But what about when starting ashtanga means you no longer give a shit about your job? What then?" because the fact is, since I started my practice I haven't been satisfied with my work. 
Before ashtanga, work used to be my thing. I worked in a tiny company, working for a designer, and did one of those jobs where you do EVERYTHING as part of your remit (for no money). I was a total workaholic. I remember being on a week's holiday with some girlfriends during that time and by about day three lying by the pool I started to feel useless and frustrated. I needed that job to feel important and needed. Why hadn't they called me - surely everything was falling apart with me away? But then I fell out of love with that job, took another one doing something different, and didn't ever love it. After almost a year I left that job too, but three months later it all went wrong with job #3, and I found myself back at job #2 - which I didn't love but felt grateful and relieved to be taken back. It was around this time that I first travelled to India and started my ashtanga practice - and from that point on, yoga took the place of work as my main crush. Actually I jokingly asked Tim my question over dinner that night, and his answer was to laugh and say "well then it's time to do something new!". So maybe I didn't have to choose between my practice and having a job I can throw myself into as I had begun to think...

But reading V's very timely blog last night summed up exactly what I have arrived at: I am not defined by what I do for my work - I used to be, in my workaholic days. As V put it: "the practice stripped me bare". Now I think it's true that I define myself by my practice (maybe it's time to start weaning myself off that too!) and, like V, I may not know who I am, but I know who I'm not. And I am not a sales rep. Well, that's true enough now given my employment status! But in my first week after getting back I went through the mill - I was horribly jetlagged and running around all over the countryside to meet the target I had been set, but I could barely breathe all week. By the weekend I was in a horrible state of panic. So on the Saturday I took myself off to kirtan and, whaddyaknow, mid-chanting I came up with a big realisation, and a rather specific plan.
The big realisation was this: I don't give two hoots about being on some corporate (or other) wheel where I work my way up to the next thing, the next promotion, the next payrise. It's just not me.
What I want from my work is something which I like enough, and allows me the time and space (mentally and financially) to do what I love with the rest of my life. A job where I work from home and am expected to keep up with incoming messages and emails at all hours of the day or night is NOT it. The idea of studying and doing something completely new still appeals, but as no ideas are forthcoming for now, I'm looking into shorter term solutions to give me an income while I figure some things out. But happiness comes first - it might not buy me a shiny new car, or mean that I can finally stop renting out a room in my flat, but as long as it buys me the odd yoga retreat, and the possibility to practice every day without feeling guilty, then it will be enough.
Having decided all of this it was hard not to resign immediately - though as it turned out I didn't have too long to wait. With little more than 24 hours notice I had the meeting last week and was laid off with immediate effect. And you know what? In the immediate aftermath I was absolutely fine. For the first few days I was making a joke of it and enjoying telling people that I was unemployed. But since the weekend I have been absolutely exhausted - I have a heavy feeling in my lower back and hips, and it feels like I have weights tied to me dragging me down. My practice is stiff, my lower back is tight and refuses to feel open, my hips are tight, and the tiredness is overwhelming. I think this is my body's way of telling me that it has been through some trauma. And now I have noticed the last two days I get a lump in my throat when I tell people that I just lost my job - the laughing and joking seems to have gone. But I am consciously allowing myself some time out before I start frantically searching for new employment - I can keep going for a little while without too much trouble - although now I am beginning to wonder if this might be a mistake?
I should also mention that within four hours of being given the push I had a phonecall offering me work - so all is not completely bleak, though this would be a stop-gap rather than something concrete, but the thought of doing anything right now is just making me feel tired. Life eh?! Oh and I absolutely promise I will write about what happened in Goa (aside from my career worries) another day, I just had to get all of this out of my system first. Unless of course you've all read all about it on Susan's posts already (yep, lucky me, I got to go to Goa with the lovely Susan, we had such an amaaazing time!).
Super Susan (left) and me (far right) with Kino & Tim. Go us!


  1. Hey Mel - Sounds like it was quite an earth-shattering retreat in Goa! I'm sure you made the right decision work-wise, and everything will work out fine for you - the universe does provide (smile). God knows where that expression comes/came from! But life does have a habit of opening new doors and revealing new opportunities ... :)

  2. Good to have you back!

    I relate to the weird up and down of breaking the news excitedly, then later realising that actually it's all pretty tough. I did exactly the same after I passed my PhD viva (yay!) but with way more corrections than I'd have liked (boo).

    I hope the right thing comes along for you soon, until then I guess it's about enjoying the wait: "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. .. it is about learning to dance in the rain".

  3. Hi Susie, yes once again Goa turned my world upside down mentally - well, I guess it was already turned upsidedown, and the trip just helped to clarify things.

    And as for new opportunities...I spent this morning firming up the details of the offer I received a few hours after getting fired. I'm not sure if it counts as "the right thing" Rosie, as it's *exactly* what I swore I didn't want to do, but it is very flexible and commitment-free, and takes the pressure off while I figure some things out. I think we can call that "breathing space"!

  4. Breathing space is *definitely* a good thing!

    I personally really value the flexibility of my working life. I'm with you on feeling guilty about practising every day, a job that allows us to organise our own time that way is brilliant. And doing what you swore you wouldn't - because it's become the right thing - seems incredibly positive. And I'm not just saying that because I'm doing the same thing this summer . . . I'm taking on a role I thought I'd never want to do again, because it allows me to keep on with my practice and my PhD.

  5. I can totally relate to what you went/ are going through with regards to your career. It is *so* hard to admit to oneself that the corporate life isn't one that makes you happy, but it's a realization worth having. I struggled with it in my year working at a PR agency in San Francisco...feeling as if I should continue because it was 'the right thing to do', but absolutely depressed me to walk into the office every morning. Leaving the corporate world was scary but probably the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I have a feeling it's going to be the same for you too.

    Just a thought: since you're looking at studying as a next step, what about studying to be an Authorized Ashtanga teacher??

    PS: This is Danielle btw logging in with my blog id :)

  6. I look bald in that photo... like a bald, muscular alien. Anyway, glad I got you to blog, now I just have to update my own! This was fun to read, having been through a lot of it with you, but then the workaholic flashback segment was new to me :)

    I think you are doing just great :)

  7. Susan I did a genuine LOL at that bald muscular alien comment & now can't stop giggling!! I think I had my eyes shut in the other photo of the 4 of us(surprise surprise, I had my eyes shut in EVERY one of those last-minute-pictures-with-new-friends taken that day). And imagine - me a workaholic!!! You really have been through it with me so thank you for listening to all the wingeing :) xx

    But wait - savasanaaddict is Danielle? Danielle how did I not know about your blog? Well I'm happy I do now! In a weird way admitting that you don't want to do a certain sort of work feels like falling off the side of the earth. But hang on - isn't that what flying would feel like? And isn't flying the ultimate expression of freedom that people dream of? Maybe that's the feeling to concentrate on instead. Anyway I have to say, I have had such a wonderful time this week not working, and I feel happy and confident that things will unfold just as they are supposed to. But in terms of teaching yoga, I know we should never say never...but that's how I feel about it! But please don't quote me on that if I suddenly announce I'm doing teacher training sometime soon... ;)