“Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace”. John O'Donohue

Friday, 6 October 2017

£5!


Where do (or did) you imagine yourself at fifty?

There was a time, in my early twenties, when I thought I might be enjoying early retirement. Yes, I can laugh at that now. I will be lucky to retire at 67 on the basic state pension, if it even exists by then.

But at that time, that is what many of my baby-boomer parents' peers were doing. They were all paying off mortgages on houses, had generous pensions or relatively comfortable jobs. Those who were facing redundancy - from whatever local industry was closing down -  did not suffer in the way their younger colleagues did, and with their redundancy money, bought their council houses, urged on by a conservative government keen to privatise whatever wasn't nailed down. 


In my area of the West of Scotland, the "redundancy door" was a sign that someone had bought their council home with their severance pay. The door being a more gentrified wooden replacement for the standard red "cooncil" door. It was a sign that one had stepped one rung up on the social ladder. But it came at a price . Those who were of an age to benefit, did, but their Gen X children were not so well off. We emerged into a precarious economy and record unemployment. And no social housing.

Things could only get better.

I had an arts degree, which would have been useless had I not benefited from a feast of funding for arts projects designed to engage with some of the social deprivation of this post-industrial economy. And when the arse fell out of that funding I was astute enough to gather skills and qualifications and ride the wave of popular developments and into regular employment. And for a while I held onto a "proper" job alongside my yoga teaching, until I made the leap some years ago to teaching yoga and offering therapies full time. And although I was never well off, I did OK. Partly because I had a wide range of skills to offer, I ran a yoga studio which gave a small income, and my are of specialty - yoga for cancer -  offered me a degree of kudos in my field, and work on the back of that.



That was before the veritable tsunami of yoga teachers started emerging onto the market. The reasons for this read like some bizarre Karmic Ponzi scheme. More yoga teachers appear, so the existing teachers decide to do teacher trainings in order to earn enough money, which creates more yoga teachers, which continues to saturate the market... continue ad infinitum. It doesn't take much deep consideration to realise the unsustainability of this as an economic pattern.

Add into the mix an economic culture and a yoga "industry" that is continually evolving to be more consumer focused, and subsequently less focused on depth, less valuing of seniority and experience, and less inclined to invest time and money in trainings which offer these things. Ever ready to ride a new wave, I have already redesigned my yoga for cancer training for an online platform, and two years in, I am having to change the format into a more bite size modular format which engages both the attention span and willingness to pay of the consumer yogi. Even at that, I am aware I am not moving with the wave fast enough any more. I keep it going because I believe in it, but it doesn't earn me very much money. And committed as I am to the work, I struggle to keep my heart in the marketing of it.

I did recently contemplate getting a mainstream job. But it has been so long now that I couldn't move back into the job market, even if I wanted to. Nobody would have me. I began training to be a secondary school teacher, and realised very swiftly what I ridiculous mistake I was making. As a senior practitioner in my field, I shouldn't have to do any of these things. But I simply can't earn enough to survive on. I am taking a Masters degree in the hope of moving into academic teaching but I feel intensely vulnerable. At forty-nine, with next summer's entry into my sixth decade, I find myself earning significantly less than I was twenty years ago. I rent a room in someone else's house, because I can't afford a flat, and, because I am self employed, I receive no government assistance.

I am not alone. A brief poll of fellow freelancers reveals that many of us are in the same position. Supposedly at the height of our earning potential, many senior colleagues are instead struggling to pull in enough money to pay the bills. I am talking about some seriously qualified people. Yoga teachers and teacher trainers, therapists, psychotherapists and body-workers. All practitioners with 20,30,40 years experience. All are having to juggle various different jobs and money making schemes, including renting out rooms in their homes, in order to make ends meet. On top of jobs which require a huge amount of energy in holding therapeutic space for others, this comes at a price. Burnout is always a looming threat. And when we don't work, we don't eat. It is that simple.

One fellow teacher, a highly qualified multi disciplinary practitioner says "I'm now 54 – presumably at the 'peak' of my earning power and still worrying every week about whether I'll be able to afford to pay basic bills and eat."

Worrying about whether you are going to eat or not is not something that someone with a PhD and thirty years experience should have to experience. Someone who has spent years, and thousands of pounds of their hard earned money on training and who has specialist knowledge that no-one else in the industry can offer at that level. Someone who is, essentially, at the top of their game! What we have is a saturated, social media driven market where image has more pulling power that experience, and cost has more influence than value.

A business coach might counsel that we need to do more marketing, that we need to create a niche, that we need to confidently charge more for our offerings (address our "money shadow") and get on Instagram. But I am fully aware that my fifty year old abs are no competition for the Instagram generation yogis and experience may be impressive, but it 'aint sexy. Handstands are sexy. And I am tired. *

And yet, people do want and need what we offer. Just the other day, I taught a yoga class. It was a wonderful, nourishing, healing yoga class, both for me and for the participants. I have a gift for teaching and holding ritual space that draws on a depth of experience and knowledge that only a mature practice can offer. And it shows. People know when they get something more from a teacher. But when all the costs were calculated, and all the money saving schemes and discounts taken into account, I made a fiver from that class. £5. Minimum wage is £7.20/hr.

I did muse on the thought of talking to my students about it. Actually asking them "How much do you think this is worth? If I told you I was only earning a fiver from this class how would you feel?" But British people don't like to talk about money, and yoga practitioners less so. And we are all so bound up in the systems and discount schemes that it probably wouldn't make any difference. They value it, but not enough to pay for it. Because in truth, many of them are skint too. In an Uber culture, nobody pays for a taxi.

I have no answers to this right now, and yet, despite my despairing moments, I refuse to despair. Hope is at the heart of my practice, and my belief is that there there is much more sustainable way of living. I am resourceful and can always find ways of making enough that I don't actually starve. I might hate it, but I won't die.

What people get when they come into a room with a seasoned authentic yogi is akin to church. They receive a depth of wisdom, knowledge, healing and held space that can't be bought. Ideally, like church, it should be free, and the senior yogis, and all the artists, dancers, musicians and healers whose craft benefits communities, should be funded by their communities. If we got paid enough to live on, we would gladly show up and offer what we do. It may sound idealistic, but it is not pie in the sky. There are trials going on in several places of a Universal Basic Income that is shown to be both economically and socially beneficial. And whilst it has its opponents, as anything that deals with economic inequalities generally does, if we are to move towards a system that is socially just and sustainable, it would seem like the progressive move.

The alternative, for many of us, is poverty.


* 09/10/17 -  I have had several conversations since this post was published - all on the subject of marketing. As predicted I was advised that I needed to do more of it (or any at all) or to spend more money on training myself on marketing skills, or any number of "learn how to sell yourself" coaching pieces.  Personally, I am fed up being peddled a huge lie. One of the greatest myths of Capitalism is that hard work produces financial success. And we are so absorbed in this culture that  we believe it, even if we are intellectually bought into another paradigm. The truth is vastly different. The whole system survives on some people being well off, and some people being poor. We can't all be doing OK unless something fundamentally shifts. 

10 comments:

  1. Great blog which speaks(or should) to a generation. The Scottish Government are presently looking at the feasibility of universal basic income. This will,of course be howled down by the Right wing ,bottom liners as radical and subversive rather than a progressive future.

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  2. I so much resonate with this Jude.. it's pretty much my life too - the lodger, the insecurity, being good at what I do but no longer earning a sustainable living.. I now write blog posts for a digital marketing agency helping yoga teachers to 'grow their business'!!! mwaahahhaha... maybe I should take a leaf outta my own book.. xx

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    1. Yes, take my advice, I'm not using it... lol

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  3. Damn, grrrl, I'm 59 and studied hard for an M.Ed. in TESL and Adult Education & Training. I taught preschool for 15 years and English for teens and adults for another 15. But none of that seems to matter. I gave in to temping in admin work. My field fell prey to oversaturated markets and few opportunities. Admin offers low pay and instability. I stopped trying to keep up with ever-changing techniques and tools for my field. Trying to be entrpeneurial has never worked for me, as I cannot bear to watch the greed with which so many folks operate. Honestly, even though I have employment in a totally unexpected line right now, I'm scared of what lies ahead.

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  4. Well said Jude. I get it...similar position as a dance/movement teacher with 35 years experience, and some of that in teacher training and training trainers field. Part of my ability to live as I do is that I am out in South Wales and have been here long enough to have paid of my mortgage.....and I am in a relationship, so costs are shared. I feel abundant in many ways but not often financially respected or appreciated for the commitment I have made over the years to going on trainings (all self funded), developing skills and experience etc. I am about to step away from some funded work by the end of the year, as I feel drained. Hoping to regroup/relaunch next year.

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  5. Hi Jude.. you only made £5 from that class? You are selling yourself short. Someone with your knowledge and experience should be running workshops and getting paid a lot more. I would happily host a workshop at my studio in Leeds for you. I think if we choose a career as a Yoga Teacher then we have to accept to a certain degree that marketing is half of the job. It’s a necessary evil and if you want to earn a living you have to do it

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    1. Thanks Nichi. Not every class only makes a fiver, but it was an example of how precarious it can be. If only a few people show up to class, then it can sometimes mean that we make a loss. It's a risk in a highly competitive market. Yes, marketing is indeed part of any job where we have to generate our own income. I do run workshops and trainings. If you would like to host a workshop I would be glad to visit.

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  6. Hi Jude, yes you really have told it like it is. It's happening in all areas of therapies and healing/spiritual work and it's difficult times. My business has never fully recovered from the 'financial crisis' but more so from the absolute saturation of the 'turn them out in 6 months' beauty and massage therapists training by all sorts of fly by night companies. There'a a few therapy centres in Glasgow city that teach skills in ONE day - they know how to get government funding and are endorsed by what used to be respected beauty guild but have sold themselves up the swanny. Alas some people aren't bothered by experience and training, sadly thirty years+ of practice means nothing if you're charging £25 and someone who's been doing it for 6 weeks is charging £15 - but only to some people. And I understand your marketing issue - many of us are the same, you need bags of energy to do your life's work and the many other streams that come with it, we end up spreading ourselves too thin and unable to take the self care advice we give to others. And apart from that sometimes we have to make the choice - do I market this month or do I eat? Great blog keep up the good work and congratulations on a wise choice of course - you have much to say that others want to hear.allison

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    1. The fact that you charge £25 says it all. When I started massaging- more than 15 years ago now) - the going rate was £35! I am full of questions about sustainability. More questions than answers but I am hoping something creative will emerge. x

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