How Yoga Helped Me Succeed in My New Career
It's not a stretch to say yoga classes helped me make the switch from corporate lawyer to self-employed leadership coach
I’m in my second career, having a ball as a leadership coach. But I don’t think the transition would have been nearly as successful if it hadn’t been for yoga.
Although research and planning are certainly important in launching a new career, your side passion — whether it’s gardening, photography or, in my case, yoga — can be a huge boost, too.
Until I was 53, I was a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and the public affairs executive of a big natural gas company. I enjoyed the challenge of government affairs, but what I really loved was mentoring and helping people grow. So when a friendly merger brought a buyout in 2000, I jumped at the chance to retire early and become a leadership coach.
At first it was difficult working on my own and scouting for business. Fortunately, my new career allowed me to attend yoga classes regularly, which kept my stress level down.
Initially, I thought of yoga as just a fitness activity. But I soon discovered that the discipline not only changed my work habits and mindset, it helped me learn how to take risks — and it still does.
Yoga's 6 Lessons for My Second Career
Here are the six lessons that yoga taught me and how they made my career switch easier:
1. Don’t fear looking foolish. When you’re learning yoga, you get used to trying new moves and feeling comfortable even when you’re stumbling along. This was a huge change for me. Lawyers are taught to be comfortable only when they have great expertise.
When I first became a career coach, I spent a lot of time fretting about mistakes. But as I attempted new postures in yoga class, I gradually stopped thinking that I was making a fool of myself.
As I became less self-conscious at yoga, I found it easier to chase new clients whose line of work was outside my comfort zone. Soon I even started coaching nuclear physicists.
2. Enjoy sole responsibility. My teacher keeps saying that even when you’re in class with other students, you’re alone on your mat and fully responsible for your yoga practice.
At first, I felt lonely as a coach and kept looking around for support. But yoga has taught me to find the energy that comes from being in charge of my practice.
There’s joy in doing your utmost during yoga, even when it’s a bit of a struggle. And now I find a similar joy in creating a business that’s all mine.
3. Share your energy. Yoga people support one another with encouraging words, practical advice and unspoken empathy. In my coaching business I’ve found that I’m always looking to collaborate — and I love the generosity I’ve found among other entrepreneurs.
4. Welcome corrections. In a yoga class, the teacher may put her hands on your body, gently moving you into alignment. I’ve learned to welcome a correction like this, knowing it will help me understand the posture I’m trying to reach.
I think that’s what has made me become better at making corrections in my business, too. Whether the feedback comes from clients or colleagues, I try to listen hard and let go of my tendency to be defensive.
5. Live in the moment. In yoga, there’s no time to let your mind wander. You have to focus on where to place each part of your body and you have to do it now.
Although I always kept one eye on my long-term goals when I was in the corporate world, as an entrepreneur I’ve discovered I need a different mindset.
Entrepreneurs must be flexible, addressing challenges as they come along and seizing possibilities. We have to remain in the present. Just like yoga.
6. Find a way to meditate. People who meditate like to say that it calms the sometimes exhausting voice in your head by focusing your attention on something, like a phrase or your breath. When the voice intrudes, you just let it go.
For me, yoga is a form of active meditation. As you concentrate on putting your arm here and shifting your hip there, that internal voice stops babbling. You start meditating naturally as you're doing the yoga postures.
The more I do yoga, the easier it is for me to stay calm, relaxed and fully engaged, even when I’m working with (how shall I say it?) challenging clients.
If you take up yoga, you may get a feel for meditation the way I do and experience that quietness. You may ultimately decide to learn other ways to meditate.
So, give yoga a try. You may find it's a big help for your worklife, too.
Beverly Jones is a leadership and transitions coach who runs Clearways Consulting in Washington, D.C., and Rappahanock County, Va. She was formerly a lawyer representing energy clients, universities and nonprofits.