Corporate burnout: Professional women giving up their jobs to teach yoga
“I’d be in meetings in New York and throw my heels off and sit cross-legged on a chair,” Mary-Louise Parkinson recalls.
Parkinson, who worked in IT for two decades as the education manager of Apple and then general manager of sales and marketing for Commodore computers, always practiced yoga on the side.
“It was my bit of sanity really,” she says.
Although Parkinson cut back to part-time work in 2000 after her son was born, the demands of corporate did not diminish.
“It burns you out after a while,” Parkinson says. “Even with a part-time role, I was meant to go down to 20 hours a week, but it was the equivalent of someone’s 60-hour week and they still expect you to drop everything even if you have a child.”
A career change to yoga held the promise of a better quality of life.
“When I finished with Commodore I had a bit of a break-down, or break through, and took 12 months off,” she recalls. “That’s when I really reassessed my life and that’s when I did my proper, professional yoga training then.”
After buying a plot of land on the south coast and building an “eco-yoga retreat” and home, she used her marketing skills to promote her new venture and Parkinson and her partner spent the next decade running retreats.
“It was the dream lifestyle.”
A dream lifestyle doesn’t always pay the bills, though.
Daniella Goldberg made the switch from medical science to yoga about five years ago.
Although she had practised yoga for years, like Parkinson, it was a highly stressful working environment that “pushed me over the edge”.
“I could see so many people like me who were totally stressed out,” says Goldberg, who has a doctorate of philosophy in science and medicine.
“It meant being more balanced and more healthy and calm and being amongst people who I knew would be positive and good for me. On another level it meant financial consideration.”
Contrary to her plan, her children ended up going to public schools, to ease financial pressure. Goldberg, who teaches six classes a week, also does public relations “on the side” for health and wellness companies.
“I have to be honest it’s not huge money [in yoga], but the public relations covers it a bit,” she admits. “That’s the only way to stay afloat.”
But, it’s worth it. “Absolutely,” she says.
Yoga is the fastest-growing fitness activity in Australia, and more men and women are making the switch from corporate to jobs in the wellness industry from teaching to running events or retreats to marketing and PR.
Parkinson, who is now the president of the of the International Yoga Teachers Association, says a recent survey found nearly 52 per cent of their members make a living from teaching yoga and have moved from the corporate world.
Many have reached “sort of crisis point” either personally or professionally when they decide to make the leap, she says.
But it’s important they keep their expectations in check.
“I recommend to students doing the teacher training not to give up their day jobs,” Parkinson says. “That’s not unique to yoga. I’ve still got a little IT business that I run. Any small business, it takes a minimum of 12 months to find your feet and get a business established and it takes about three years for any small business to really start.”
She advises students to create a business and marketing plan and give themselves time to transition.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, that’s normal,” Parkinson says. “That’s not made aware to a lot of people doing their teacher training – it’s not professional training that they’re getting, it’s just people making money out of giving yoga teacher training.”
For Parkinson, like Goldberg, though the path has not been bump-free, she has not looked back.
“What’s the difference between running a not-for-profit yoga organisation to a commercial organisation? I have to tell you just that lack of pressure for profit and growth for profit and growth’s sake is such a relief,” she says.
“To do something that’s ethical and worthwhile rather than just making more money for shareholders. Really, what’s the point? Do you want to go to your grave and go ‘oh well, I increased the profits quarter on quarter’ or do you want to go to your grave and go ‘well, I really made a difference in the world?'”
This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald
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