Confronting my Essential Self

After the response I received on Facebook with respects to a status about returning to the classroom to teach for my 10th year [wow when did I get old?!], I decided to elaborate upon it here on my blog.

Two years ago, I walked away from teaching. My fitness career was taking off. I was being offered more classes than I could keep up with and I was just DONE with education.

I was over it all. Over waking up early, grading papers, the self-righteous, the hypocrites, parental atrocities, LAUSD, unrelenting, unfair, and unrealistic legislation, and finally, the disenfranchised youth.  When I left the classroom, I couldn’t get out fast enough. I was checked out. I was burned out, beaten down, and I felt as if I had nothing more to give.

I spent my summer post education hustling to line up as many jobs, classes, and opportunities as possible. Finally, in what seemed like the break of a lifetime, I was approached and hired as the Lead Instructor and General Manager of a brand new cycling studio by a young woman who read my [old] blog. I thought to myself I hit the big time with this gig: salary, eventually paid vacation and sick time and indoor cycling all day, everyday.

I was elated that I was now going to have more autonomy over my life and schedule. I could finally teach classes during the day, sleep later, train all day, stay up later, and really live fitness.

As summer ended and the new school year rolled around, I read my friends posts about their first days. An overwhelming sense of “HAHAHA SUCKEERRSSSSS” came over me. I refused to ‘like’ their statuses because now I was no longer a teacher: I got out. I took a stand. I stuck it to those kids, the school, and the district.

Ugh. Sometimes I am angry at myself for the things I think. Really, what about a little grace and humility?

It didn’t take long for me to dislike working at the cycling studio. Everything about it just wasn’t me. Sure, I have the capacity to manage but is it really me? I was ALWAYS on call: morning, noon, and night. If my boss called, I answered. If she emailed, I replied. I was working tirelessly to build someone else’s business with my unique and innovative ideas while laboring over manuals, scheduling, learning new computer programs, and hiring instructors. I spent my days in stretchy pants as yet another faceless LA cliché writing on a laptop in a Starbucks.

Eventually, as the opening of the cycling studio neared I had to sub out more and more yoga classes. Finally, I was asked to give up my classes at One Down Dog so that I could be more available for the cycling studio. Well, if you know anything about me, you know that One Down Dog is not just some place where I teach yoga. As one of the original instructors who helped open the place, it is my home. One Down Dog is a sanctuary, my family, and happy place. As time unfolded, it seemed that what I wanted this job to be and what it ended up becoming were grossly misaligned to my needs, desires, and heart’s passions. Yet, in the midst of this all, I repeatedly told myself that this is the work I wanted to do, in the industry I wanted to work in, so I kept at it.

I was miserable but I refused to admit that to myself because in my eyes, accepting that I wasn’t happy meant that I had failed at something I had set out to do.

As many of you will agree, in most cases, the grass really isn’t greener. It’s a funny thing how we want what we want, even if we don’t know what it is what we want [that's a mouth full, read it again slowly and think about it]. Everything I thought I once wanted, when I finally got it still seemed as if something was missing. And for one thing, I sure as hell wasn’t any happier than when I was in the classroom.

I learned so much about myself while I was away from the classroom. First, I learned I missed the structure of the day and school year. Yea, that structure I so desperately tried to rebel against? Yup. Turns out I need it and I like it. I missed seeing my students smile when I came to support them at sporting events, musical performances, or took an interest in their personal lives. And to be completely honest, I missed the certainty of my paycheck.

With all these things swirling around in my mind and life in February while out to dinner, Greg suggested I look into teaching again because ‘it’s my life’s work’. I threw a fit, stormed out of the restaurant before our food even arrived and I tried to break up with him. I know, immature. But what you need to understand is I was so paralyzed by my denial and inability to accept that I may have made the wrong choice that I lacked clarity. Besides, I gloated and boastfully poked fun at my friends still teaching about parent conferences, back to school nights, and LAUSD drama. How could I go back to the classroom and not look like a failure?

And then, I just did it. I went out, looked for a job and got one. I mean who am I living this life for anyway? I needed to just get back out there, do me, and not worry or care what the world would think of me going back to the classroom. As fate would have it, I applied to Helen Bernstein High School on a Wednesday afternoon, interviewed Thursday morning and was hired on the spot. I started work the following Monday.

And just like that, I was thrown back into teaching. Head first, I jumped into high school and soaked up the material, the kids, and the culture. From the instant I walked onto campus I felt like I belonged. There is a very real and palpable energy in a school that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet. I cannot even put my finger on what it is, but there is something magical about a school campus and in a classroom. Maybe it’s all that possibility of what’s ahead. But those walls, those halls, and those buildings speak to me like nothing I have experienced in my life. I kid you not, when I talk about how I feel about my work and my students, many times I tear up from the emotions surging through my body.

With great risk comes great return.

I firmly believe you MUST take a chance on yourself and life when it calls to you. I do not regret leaving the classroom for a second. Taking time off allowed me to find a renewed sense of passion and faith in the process and my work. And what’s more, leaving the classroom allowed me to get a little closer to myself. I stopped running, hiding, and denying who I really am. After one of my cycling classes, a friend of mine who is a respected yoga instructor said to me:

“In class, you always tell us to stop running from ourselves and to be courageous in confronting our most essential self. So, why are you so afraid? Why are you running away from teaching? Why are you refusing to be your most essential self?”

Needless to say, that conversation took place after my last class at the cycling studio. It was all I needed to give me the confidence to head back with zero doubts. With the support of friends, family, and a loving man by my side I started a teaching assignment in late February 2014. And if you ask me, aside from saying YES to marry Greg, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

I have found myself again.

I have found a home at Helen Bernstein High School.

And I couldn’t be happier.

Oh, if you’re wondering what I think of myself: Do I think I failed in the fitness industry? Do I feel like I couldn’t hack it? Pffffffff, heeelllllllllll no. I went back to the classroom because I wanted to leave a legacy behind in this world. I wanted to leave this planet a better place than when I came into this world. I wanted to dare myself everyday to leave an indelible mark on this Earth. And I do. I do it all. I teach kids. I teach adults. I make playlists and I grade papers. I still wear stretchy pants to work though I think my principal would prefer I don’t. Whether in fitness or in my classroom, we cry, we laugh, we smile, but above all–we connect.

 

For those of you who missed it, below is the post from my Facebook on August 11, 2014 that inspired this blog entry:

It is the eve before my 10th first day of school as an educator. One year ago, I was not returning to the classroom as I pursued my passions in fitness in yoga and cycling.
As life would have it, at a little more than half way through last school year; I landed back in a classroom at a high school in Hollywood.
For years, I have grappled with being an educator. Despite awards, great successes, and my ability to inspire urban youth to achieve, I ran away from my essential self. Like a coward, I fled and cultivated other strengths and interests–anything to not be a teacher. I spent years ashamed of being an educator, hiding and running from who I really was at my core. When asked what I did for a living my response always was, “I am a fitness instructor.” However, that all changed when I landed at Helen Bernstein High School.
After 8 years in a middle school setting, I now know that I am a high school teacher.
I AM AN ENGLISH TEACHER.
I am an English teacher and I am damn proud of the work I do but most of all, I am honored to serve the most incredible youth in this city.
It took leaving education, a new principal taking a chance on this mysterious girl with purple hair who materialized mid-school year for me to find myself again.
I am an English teacher.

Yes, I love teaching fitness and that is a huge part of my life and who I am. But strip me down and my heart beats for those kids whose lives will be forever altered by being students in my class. There is nothing more valuable in this world than being THAT person to help a young person be the first individual in his/her family to graduate high school or go to college. For many of my students, my classroom is a haven for them to feel safe, nurtured, and pushed beyond what they ever imagined was possible. Together, my students and I are strong and together we can accomplish anything.

I am an English teacher.
I am an English teacher.
I am an English teacher and tomorrow is my first day of school and I can’t wait.

Kindness Echoes in Eternity

Days 22 & 23: Monday, June 30, 2014 and Tuesday, July 1, 2014

They say “you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” For years, I retreated to my left coast 3,000 miles away from my immediate and extended family and maintained little to no contact with many of my relatives. I can’t really say what happened or what changed that prompted such silence on both ends but I believe it had to do with the distance, miscommunication, and purely a lack of effort on both party’s ends.

With that, despite being raised closely with a handful of my first cousins and having quality relationships with my uncles and aunts, as I entered adulthood I retreated from my family.

I went to college then immediately after I moved to LA. As far as I was concerned, my life on the east coast was so foreign to me I didn’t even know how to be a New Yorker if my existence depended on it.

Let’s rewind a little and let me give you some family background and back-story to bring us all up to speed.

My father has three siblings: His oldest bother Ira, younger sister Stacey, then the youngest of all, Seth. My father is the second born in case you were wondering.

My uncles are both very wealthy and successful businessmen in the accounting and finance worlds. My aunt lives in Florida and has led a life filled with pain and struggle with not much to show for years of working her ass off. That’s not necessarily a bad thing per say, but my Aunt Stacey has a rough go of it and let’s leave it at that. And then there is my family, my father Eric or as my sister and I call him Abba, Abbz, or THE ABBZ (Hebrew for father and no, we are not religious in any capacity–don’t ask). We are as blue collar as it gets. My mother works in New York City for Con Edison at the same employer since she was in her late teens doing the same work every single day of every single year.

My father on the other hand has had a myriad of jobs, businesses, partners, stores, and grand plans. I guess you could say, that he’s had to find his way of sorts. In many ways I resemble my father with respects to our desires to have many different interests and the need to cultivate them all simultaneously. However, despite my father’s initially abrasive nature, he is a passionate and heart governed man. He is a voracious reader, watches documentaries (and the Lifetime Channel, he LOVES rom-coms), gardens, takes care of all the pets with patience, and is the essence of a life-long learner.

My father was the best teacher while my sister Kassi and I were growing up. We were what I would classify as ‘pretend middle class’. Meaning we had a nice enough house, cars, and zip code but we were barely getting by and bought our shoes at Payless. I didn’t get my first pair of Nike sneakers until I was almost 13 years old and they weren’t even the Nike Air model because we couldn’t afford them. But not having quite as much as my peers didn’t really phase my sister and I much, as my parents worked tirelessly to make sure our family unit thrived and that my sister and I never knew of their financial woes. We took winter walks on the beach, had family picnics, went to the nature preserve, watched movies, went to museums, and my favorite memory of all from my childhood: bedtime, when my father would read aloud to my sister and I. Now, this seemingly idyllic childhood definitely didn’t come without a price.

In my youth, I experienced something that I shouldn’t have.

At the risk of sharing too much with the world, I am only going to talk about how events in my childhood affected me and those in my life. Specifically my family. So if I appear vague, it’s not that I do not want to share: I am ready to share my story with the world. I am holding back out of respect for the people I love. Wow. I think they call that maturity and growing up. It sure feels good to be an adult!

For as long as I could remember, I was angry. I was filled with a rage and fire that when unleashed transformed me into a demon. I was violent and biting with my words. I said terrible things to the people closest to me and never apologized. As a teenager with all those hormones coursing through my veins alongside my anger, I was impossible to wrangle. I retreated into art and writing for solace. During my adolescence, I was in and out of therapy–on and off various medications for depression and I also developed an eating disorder. I was an internal mess but to the outside world with my boyfriend, sports, decent grades, positive relationships with my teachers, and great wardrobe, I had it all. In hindsight, I was not asking for help, I was screaming in a room full of people and no one could hear my cries.

I went off to college and got into some trouble with a credit card. Knowing my parents would murder me for being so irresponsible, I called my Uncle Seth to ask him for help. Sure enough, not only did he bail me out but he wouldn’t tell my father either. PHEW!

As the years unfolded and social media exploded, so did my desire to express myself publicly (I guess something’s will never change, huh?). My Uncle Seth, much more conservative than I, home-schooled my cousins, and then sent them to private schools. We didn’t really have much in common as I grew into adulthood other than I was a public school teacher and felt strongly about not home-schooling children AND the private sector. Anyway, one day I posted something on Facebook about lesbians. I mean it was a stupid post but my reaction was even more ridiculous. I deleted and blocked my Uncle Seth and then basically refused to speak to him. Yes, the same man who GAVE me money when I needed it—I just turned my back on him, my cousins, and most of my family. I mean c’mon? They were soooooo difficult and didn’t understand me anyway. I’m an Angeleno and you’re New Yorkers. What do you all know about living life anyway?!

Ugh. Writing this disgusts me. I am ashamed and embarrassed for how I have behaved. So why am I sharing all of this?

I am now 32. It has probably been a little over 10 years since my Uncle Seth and I have really sat down to reconnect—I mean really connect as people. Two years ago we saw each other at my cousin Michael’s wedding, and even though we buried the hatchet and I re-friended him on FB there wasn’t any real resolution.

Prior to my yoga practice and some serious self-discovery, for the greater portion of my life I allowed my rage and anger to define me. I permitted this pollutant to seep into my pores, into my being and unleash a monster. I lacked compassion and the ability to be introspective. The world was out to get me and that was that. Frankly, I let my anger shield my emotions and heart like a mask and I hid behind it–afraid of ever really feeling anything or at the risk of getting hurt.

I never did thank my Uncle Seth for helping me all those years ago. I imagine I said it or maybe called, but he deserves so much more than that. Because right now, my Uncle Seth is trying to re-unifiy us, reconnect us, and mend the holes in all of our hearts. My Uncle Seth is trying to pick up the shattered pieces of our family and put them back together. It just goes to show you that you don’t have to be the oldest or patriarch to fix something —we all have the power to promote healing.

My Uncle and I have spoken on the phone twice in the last week. The first time was to FaceTime so he could show Greg and I his home in Florida as a possible place to have our wedding. My Aunt Amy eagerly and excitedly showed us the features of their beautiful home and made suggestions of how we could set up the reception. Finally, we got down to the nitty gritty family business. As I opened up to my Aunt and Uncle they shared how saddened and hurt they were to learn about some of the things I have endured over years and told me I would never have to suffer like that again. They told me they loved me and that were so proud of all the professional, personal, and emotional successes I have had in my life. My Aunt and Uncle cleared way in their hearts to let me back in and I am so very grateful. I am glad to have them back in my life to learn from, to grow from, and to just be my family.

When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.

Bernard Meltzer

Ladies and Gentleman, I am sharing my story with you all to encourage you to reach out to that person in your life. You know that person you’ve been holding hostage for something they did to you. It is time to let them go. Free yourself. Moreover, give them the permission to forgive themselves. For all you know, people sometimes act out of pain, survival mode, or anger. Perhaps that person whom you view as having hurt you or slighted you was really crying for help? More importantly, make space in your heart for love to reside again. Look, I am not going to say that’s going to be easy. What I am saying though, is it will be worth it.

Over the years, as I started to relinquish the iron grip that my anger had over me, great things started to come into my life. I acted better and I felt better too.

The power in healing is when a wound heals, scar tissue is fibrous and dense. It’s tough and hard to break. I am stronger now than I ever was because I let love and light into my heart and I am starting to get my family back.

Thank you Uncle Seth for your unwavering love and kindness.

And oh, thank you for your help all those years back—I never forgot about that and never will.

 

Craft Your Community

Day 17: Wednesday, June 25, 2014:

At the end of the day, we all just want to feel like we belong. Whether we want to be accepted by our lover, colleagues, friends, family, or even strangers we pass on the street—we all just want to feel like we are part of a collective whole.

At our very core, most essential self, human beings are seekers. We are looking for something to fuel our souls, to connect us, empower us, to make us just feel a little less alone.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful young lady with great hair [this I HAD to tell her], an even better energy, and awesome attitude who has started taking my yoga classes. From our initial meeting, I liked her instantly. Isn’t it funny how certain people walk into your life and there is this connection that speaks to your heart? Well, I am not sure what it was but whatever it was, I felt drawn to her.

We chat.

I learn she’s new to Los Angeles.

She comes to my birthday yoga class (which did not go unnoticed!) then again to class a week later.

This time we get to speak for a more extended period of time and I learn that she Crossfits. Ahhhhh, there’s the connectionwe are one of the same. With that, I was getting ready to take the next class and we part ways. I didn’t really think much of her attendance in my classes or our chat until the following message I received later that evening:

Great to get to chat after class today…I just moved to the area about 2 weeks ago and I am sort of in transition feeling out LA. I just thought you should know that the first class I took In LA was your class…having you be my first yoga instructor on my second day in LA, filled me with a lot of positive energy that I REALLY needed that day! Being a colleague in the field of helping others reach their full potential, I understand how nice it is to sometimes be reminded of the impact you are making in other peoples lives by simply showing up and being you…so thank you for that. So you seem like a really awesome person, which are always nice to come across when moving to a new city…

I have said this before, and I will say this again: You never know whose life you are touching just by being you. This made me smile and filled me so fully. Being able to make someone feel welcome and a little less alone is what I think community is really all about. As a race, we crave and long for connection. We thirst for community. For me, being able to facilitate that means the world to me. I take my work as a teacher, blogger, friend, athlete—whatever label you want to assign me, very seriously. I do everything with 100% of my heart and I hold nothing back. I am real, vulnerable, and here for you and everyone else who comes into my life.

We MUST reach out to people with whom we come in contact. We must continue to foster community, build one another up, and support each other. After all, when it’s all said and done we are left with the relationships we build with people in our lives.

Reach out to someone, anyone. Let someone know how much their presence in their life means to you. Give credit. Share in someone’s success. Go to a friend’s birthday party. Meet that friend you keep putting off for coffee.

Don’t wait. Build your community today. After all, this is your world and you are living in it—make it the place you want it to be. Reach out. 

I Don’t Like Showering

There, I said what many of you already think about showering! It’s time consuming, my skin gets really dry, and frankly I would rather spend that time sleeping. All the same, I suppose it is a necessity.

Below is an excerpt of a conversation I shared this on my Facebook. Based on the likes and comments, I decided it was just too honest and awesome not to share here. Enjoy!

Over-share:
This conversation happened between my bf and I last night after we both made our playlists for our cycling classes:

Me: “I’m not going to shower. I didn’t sweat that much today and I’m teaching early in the morning so why bother?”
My bf Greg: “You taught two class AND took a Pilates class. You ARE showering.”
Me: “Oh, yeahhhhhhhhhhhh. I forgot I took class–You’re right, I should shower.”

‪#‎sweatontopofsweat‬ ‪#‎confessionsofafitnessinstructor‬ ‪#‎whyshower‬‪#‎tootiredtoshower‬