(If reading about my business interests doesn’t appeal to you, consider skipping to the end to enjoy the fun pictures of last week’s retreat!)
The most wonderful element of my work is that my business feels like a living, ever-expanding, creative entity. New doors are constantly being opened as I heed inspiration and explore new ideas for growth in an effort to diversify and become solvent as a new, struggling enterprize. I keep reminding myself that my most successful endeavors began as nothing more than the seed of an idea, that tended with a bit of research, muscle and focused effort, flowered into a fascinating limb of my overall work life. In my former business, the preschool, the newsletter of Creative Dance Concepts, Kiddance teacher’s training & the syllabus , aftercare programs, buses, Children’s Dance Center, etc… were all born of small ideas that I couldn’t help but pursue, hoping they would manifest into something that would make a contribution to our overall professional survival. Seeking new, creative means to keep us financially solvent enough to raise a family of five on a little dance school income led to consistent growth and change, which meant there was always a new challenge and learning curve to deal with. At least we never felt stagnant or trapped in the same dull circle of business activity. I always have and always will love the endless potential for personal and professional growth that comes with owning a business.
My current dance/yoga studio has provided me with the same sort of endless possibilities for creativity as I enjoyed in the past. I’ve done what I can to keep the positive elements of my former dance program intact, but I’ve added Yoga to the dance mix this time around. Yoga has opened amazing new doors, leading to aerial yoga and teacher’s training. I’m still trying to create a hybrid program of yoga and dance for young people to meet the needs of our changing society, and I dream of creating young artists who are as emotionally balanced as they are well trained. But dance has been hard to get off the ground this time around. I have quite a few young dancers, and the numbers are growing. Eventually, my young program students will grow to be dynamic dancers, but it will take time.Most people are resistant to change and they challenge any new approach to training because they don’t trust the unfamiliar.
This same resistance was the case with my children’s program. When we first introduced the commercially driven creative movement program everyone said, “That’s not real dance. Dance schools have always taught little children’s classes differently and your way isn’t traditional, so it must certainly be wrong.” I was ostracized for the music, the syllabus, and the theatrical effects that were part of the program . But results speak for themselves, and in time, no one was denying the merit of the program. Now, years later, everyone is using the system and the method is considered mainstream. Sometimes I envy the people who ease into business in the wake or those who were the forerunner of new ideas – but I guess, given a choice, I prefer the struggles of being a leader rather than being a carbon copy of someone else’s vision.
Anyway, diversifying my business is a little like throwing darts and seeing what hits. Adding new programs or services means I’m always investing IN my school rather than taking anything OUT, which I can little afford to do in my position, but pursuing many threads makes every day at work fascinating and filled with possibilities for the future.
Still, there are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy in a body. So I’ve been carefully trying to expand the reach of my business to include areas that will provide income without it being as draining of time or physical energy as teaching can be .
I found a company in Bali to make me yoga swings with the ReFlex label which I sell at my aerial training workshops, in my studio and on e-bay. I’m working on developing an aerial yoga training website with David where people can get on-line aerial yoga certification – this project involves a huge amount of effort upfront, but would be something that would give back later without huge demands of time or physical energy. I figure the more my work life balances out with extra sources of income, the more I can devote myself to the things I love that don’t make money – such as offering scholarship dance programs or working with special needs kids or giving workshops to aspiring writers. And I still crave time to write my own books or garden or to do whatever calls to my heart while providing for my family financially – so I need to balance the needs of my work-life with my private life.
The other day, while handing David his morning cup of coffee, and I said, “Honey, I know we are stressed for time and energy, but I’m thinking of creating an import business on the side of my current business. I would love to create an entire on-line store with yoga accessories (beyond aerial swings), with mats, jewelry and original t-shirts and other things. I don’t have cash to invest up front, but if I keep rolling everything I make on swings into new products, over time I ‘ll have a full store. It means hard work and sacrifice now, but less work & sacrifice later. How do you feel about that?”
I expected him to sigh and be annoyed, because the concept will no doubt create work for him since he helps me with website design and bookkeeping and all things technical (which is the bulk of setting up this idea). He has a full time job and yet teaches a few yoga classes for me in the early mornings and he helps with my accounting & studio maintenance too. The man has dreams and special interests of his own, so I’m deeply aware that every time he devotes time to one of my projects, he’s stealing time from his own. I fret over this because my ex used to be totally put out and resentful when I pushed the envelope of our business. The man loved the financial rewards of my ambition, but hated having to contribute to the work required to put ideas and concepts into action , and years of his complaining and acccusing me of creating work for him has me conditioned to feel guilty and apologize whenever I want to do something that requires help in any way. Luckily, David’s reaction to my ideas is totally different.
He just smiled and said, “I think that would be fantastic. I can set up drop shipping and create a secure website. I’ll look into the cost of warehouses in the area if you want to do any of the shipping from here. I’d love to design some aerial shirts to sell on the site. And maybe after we get an online store going, we can do a trip to Asian to set up some import contracts in person. This will be a
big project and it will take some time, but once it’s set up, we could live anywhere and maintain the site, so if life throws us any curveballs regarding your studio surviving or my job not being secure, or if we ever want to retire to a desert island or something, we’ll always have this side business to contribute to livelihood. I love the way your mind works.”
I let out a sigh of relief. Building my business used to be like swimming upstream against a powerful current. With David, hard work is still hard work, but building a business feels more like I’m floating with the current. The ride is choppy, often I feel one step away from drowning, but at least I don’t have to feel badly about wanting to pursue opportunities to build a future, and hopefully retire someday. Huge difference when it comes to my being able to work happily.
Anyway, now, I am diving in, heart first, into yet another project. Retreats. I have always wanted to travel. I love teaching yoga and meditation. And I absolutely love teaching writing & journaling (been diligently putting my MFA to use by offering free classes and workshops for two years now at the Friendship Center, and small low cost writing courses at ReFlex and St. Pete Yoga to hone my skills as a writing teacher. I’ve developed into quite a good writing mentor, or so I’m told by some very appreciative students.)
Anyway, putting together retreats means I can combine everything I love (and everything I’m well trained to do) into one wonderful week of teaching and travel. So, I’ve been doing research, crunching numbers, studying successful retreats on the market, and thinking through the pros and cons of putting together a writing/yoga retreat that will be unique from others due to the various experience and talents David and I can bring to the table. I’ve found some amazing locations (one in Costa Rica, one in Belize, and one in Ireland) and I’m currently working on a business budget, researching marketing avenues and all the other details that must be attended to in order for the dream to manifest into something tangible and realistic.
As I work on business plans, I send them to David for feedback. He takes the ball and runs with it, sending me his research on the foreign exchange rates, cultural issues I might want to consider, seasonal weather, or travel details – He is enthusiastic – willing and ready to be a part of retreats as both a teacher and coordinator. His enthusiasm and positive energy spurs me on. We both love travel, exploring different cultures, writing and yoga. Retreats are a way we can have shared adventures while working in an areas we love, and we get the bonus of interacting with wonderful people too. And he makes me feel appreciated and admired for my efforts to contribute to our financial situation, and positive reinforcement like that always takes the frustration out of working hard.
Anyway, as I began working to design a week long retreat in a foreign country, it occurred to me everything I’m planning is theoretical rather than based in experience, and that is risky. It would be smart to do some test runs here at home to play with ideas so I have evidence of what works and what doesn’t. A few one day retreats at home would allow me to explore what it is like to work with David too. If we want to pull off an event together, we need to know how tasks will be divided and see if we can work in harmony under pressure. It is easy to sit on a couch and talk about grand ideas – another thing altogether to test if each of us can make the sacrifices and share the stress and effort involved. So, with only two weeks’ notice, I told David I was planning a retreat, and I outlined the things I hoped he’d contribute. I created a flyer, found a location, did some marketing, rented a pavilion at Myakka & boats, planned a day of activities, and put the event “out there” to see what would happen.
Twenty people joined us (Well, only 17 because you can’t count David, me and Neva). The people who attended had a great time, got much needed inspiration and rest, and David and I learned everything we needed regarding how we work together. I’m now planning four more day retreats at ReFlex in the coming year, as well as some long weekend retreats at a few Florida destinations, and perhaps even a night retreat to star gaze. Yoga under the moon, a bon fire, good conversations… I imagine an evening retreat when Florida is too hot to do yoga outdoors during the daytime would be great fun.
Sometimes you open a door and step through and it leads you someplace wonderful with a thousand new options to explore. Other times, you find a door leads you to nothing but a closet and you feel trapped, so you get out there pronto. Retreats look to become a door to many more doors.
I will share a few pictures of our first retreat– because, as they say, a picture says more than a thousand words. The event was hard work, we only broke even, and it took a great deal out of us considering we were beginning from scratch and supplies had to be bought, made or collected– but it was worth the time and effort. We took notes regarding how we’d do things differently and created a “retreat trunk” filled with materials we now have to use for ll future retreats. Our first retreat was a research project, and the first of building blocks to many future events.
If you have to work like crazy (which circumstances have made necessary for me at this stage of life), nothing compares to working outside in beautiful nature and doing what you love with people you love. I’m grateful for the opportunities I have to live a creative life. And I’m grateful that I’m not alone in the endeavor to rebuild my life.
So… here is my retreat pix ……We began with outdoor practice to the sounds of birds and early morning breezes.
We set up a table with art supplies and nature & art journaling books (I have dozens). I hoped people would browse a bit, but the actually poured over the materials and tried their hand at leaf rubbings an nature art, then perused my 30 pages of journling prompts (I have been compiling these materials for a while now.) and they went to small corners of the park to write, contemplate or try the exercises. It was so lovely….
We set up aerial swings on the grounds and decorated the area with inspirational signs with quotes from Throeau and Emerson. I had readings prepared from moving transcendental literature for guided meditation. David designed a rope system that protects the trees and makes it simple to hang swings from any height. We can take them anywhere now….
After David barbecued veggie burgers for our all vegetarian cleansing lunch (I made pasta salad, a salad bar, fruit, nuts, granola bars, sun tea etc… we all explored the park. Some enjoyed photographing the grounds or found nooks for quiet contemplation. Everyone visited the canopy walkway to enjoy the view 75 feet above the forest.
In the afternoon, we all met at the lake for a canoe lesson from David. He taught paddling as a metaphor for life (you must work with your partner, expecially when the current
makes the trip temporarily tough . There was beauty all around, laughter … and alligators!
But the most fun, was our Buddha trail. My daughter and a yoga teacher friend went into the woods and hid 13 buddhas in the trees and underbrush of a hiking trail. Our guests walked the trail for a mindful exercise, seeking buddha in nature. They paused to write or draw what they witnessed. And others hiking Myyaka enjoyed the Buddha trail too and thanked us for the fun. It was memorable…
Peace and wisdom is easy to find if you just train yourself to see clearly and pause to appreciate the small things that make you smile. As I say to my yoga students all the time….. that is a lesson you can take off the mat and into your life!