I say ‘surprisingly’ because the idea of going bankrupt has been a personal nightmare of mine for a very long time. As a banker’s daughter, the very thought that I might go bankrupt would induce a tightening of every muscle in my body and an intense wave of shame and humiliation.
But at the end of last month when I sat down with a lawyer to declare bankruptcy, it felt like the smartest, most responsible and most liberating thing I could do. Time for a fresh start.
Inspired by this experience, for the last few weeks I’ve wanted to write about how hard it is to make a living as a yoga teacher. That despite how people complain that yoga is too expensive, and despite the fact that yoga clothing companies make a fortune off of $90 yoga pants, gifted teachers everywhere get paid laughably low wages and have no health insurance.
But I haven’t been able to write about the financial life of a yoga teacher. In part because I couldn’t find a way to do it that seemed useful instead of simply a bitch fest. And in part because I’ve been too overwhelmed by my own existential crisis around teaching yoga as a career to have any kind of creative energy to write.
You see it wasn’t going bankrupt that was humiliating and challenging. It’s everything else I’ve discovered in the last few weeks because of being forced to take a closer look at my approach to work now that I have no financial safety net.
I’m humiliated that I had to get a part time job. I had not done this in years because I stubbornly saw it as a way of exposing myself as not good enough at teaching yoga to be able to make a living doing it.
Along those lines, I’m humiliated by being introduced as “just another person trying to make it as a yoga teacher.” I shrank inside as a room full of people laughed dismissively at this quip a few weeks ago.
I’m humiliated by only six people showing up to a workshop that I’m teaching, or only three people showing up to a class I’m teaching—both of which happened this past weekend. I wanted to curl up and cry.
I’m humiliated by the conversation about how blog writing is just like a public journal that no one gives a shit about, and by continuing to publish pieces week after week that only a hundred or so people read. It puts a futile and foolish undertone to the fun of it.
So I can feel, along with the pulled muscle in my low back that has kept me laid up in bed all day, just how f*cking uncomfortable teaching yoga is for me in so many ways, not just financially. To be honest, part of me wants to call it quits on the whole business of teaching yoga.
Stewing in my own discomfort all day, I can’t deny what my counselor told me yesterday: The #1 difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is their willingness to fail over and over again. Which is to say (at least in my case), the willingness to be humiliated over and over again.
With that, I can see how it was my resistance to being humiliated over all these years that was a major contributing factor to me going bankrupt. Not allowing myself to be embarrassed kept me from putting myself out there in a big way over and over, and thus, from also making money.
So if I’m really honest with myself, my existential crisis over whether I should keep teaching yoga has nothing to do with whether it’s possible to make a living teaching yoga. People do it. It has to do with facing the reality that I haven’t. And coming to terms with the fact that if I want to continue forward I have to do things differently. I have to be bold and big and risk failing and being humiliated.
I’d like to say, “I know what I’ve got to do and I’m gonna’ do it!” And in some ways, I can. I’m realizing that one of the great side effects of going bankrupt—what I had deemed as the ultimate failure—and finding that it was in fact a smart and responsible (if a little scary) business decision, makes it easier for me to feel how other things I think are scary and potentially humiliating are also simply smart and responsible business decisions, too. Like having straight up conversations about money with my studio manager and with my students. Or showing up week after week to zero to few students as I put the necessary time in for a class to build.
But the thought of walking out on the tight rope of teaching again with no net, bolstered only by my belief in myself and my conviction to face my fears…well, it makes my low back spasm so much that I can’t get out of bed!
And yet, here I am writing this. Putting a toe on the wire. Because I love teaching and writing about yoga. I can’t imagine not doing it.
But I’m tender. A bit scared. There’s no equivalent judicial process to bankruptcy that wipes away insecurities and years of diminishing myself and devaluing my work.
I think I know what I need to do, but I’m daunted by it. And so I write the following words not from the place of a teacher who has lived and learned. Instead, I write these words to the teacher I know is in me and to the part of you who wants something and is scared of failing:
Your fear won’t just go away over night.
Move forward and track the ways you want to pull back just to try to avoid being embarrassed.
What do you say to yourself? To others? What actions do you take (or not take) so that you won’t have to feel humiliated?
Even as you notice all those things, stand up for yourself.
Ask for what you want anyway.
Put yourself out there without hedging.
Don’t let humiliation shrink or diminish you: acknowledge it, feel it, and then keep taking the risk to go for what you want.
It’s time for a fresh start.