My American Dream: A Full-Circle Story of Realizing Success Without Stress, Part II

The person who I am today is a sum of my successes and failures. The past 10 years of my career have catapulted me to success, have plunged me into failure, and have lifted me to success once again. This is Part II of my story of expanding my relationship with yoga to expand the American dream and to expand my life. Read Part I and Part III.


From Failure to Freedom

My second superpower is my intuition. I do not analyze before I act. I just get a feeling – and go for it.

Within six months to a year of taking my first yoga class, I knew that I wanted to be a yoga teacher.

My practice had evolved from excruciating to emancipating. I remember forming triangle pose one class and thinking: “Huh. This is no longer miserable.” I developed flexibility, strength and body awareness. As I witnessed how quickly and deeply yoga was transforming me, I wanted to share it with others.

But I could not yet harmonize the spiritual practice of yoga and the physical reality of life. Mistaking the yogic principle of nonattachment for detachment, I distanced myself from possessions and people.

I moved 12 times in three years, ping-ponging around the globe: Thailand. South Korea. Thailand. United States. Mexico. United States. Mexico. Thailand. Mexico. Thailand. Mexico. United States. Then continued to travel like a maniac.

Wanderlust

My friends told me that they loved me but I did not stick around long enough to let them. I had detached so fully that I had forgotten my own value.

My independence kept me clean from influence. But I would remember my worth thanks to the practice of yoga and the people who pulled and pushed me down this path: teachers, coaches, friends, relatives, authors, employers, students, employees.

First, they stilled me. Then, they encouraged me to move with purpose toward my purpose.

When I moved home from abroad, I discovered my first teacher. Pete was a life coach first and a yoga teacher second. He did what I could not: wove together yoga and life.

It was novel how Pete commenced class with a self check-in and emphasized how I thought and felt in poses over how I looked in them. He drew my body, mind and spirit into unprecedented harmony. He gave me a tour of a land more distant than any continent I had traveled to: the present. His presence disarmed my judgment of my experiences and myself. He taught me why we call yoga a “practice”: because it prepares us for our performance in life.

Pete spoke my language. His concepts were foreign to me, yet something inside me recognized them as my own.

This something inside me spoke back. Pete recognized my desire to become a yoga teacher and recommended I do my basic training. I enrolled at another studio down the street, Yoga Garden SF, unaware that it was where he had received his first teaching job.

My third superpower is my commitment. The second I say that I am going to do something, I am 100-percent in. Even if I were uncertain the day before my training, the moment I stepped foot in that studio, I was going to become a yoga teacher.

And yet, my kryptonite is that I hold myself back. The narrative that I was “supposed to” be a corporate manager battled for a long, long time my deep knowing that I was meant to teach yoga.

The training offered my first opportunity to converse with yoga teachers beyond a public class. I was enamored with their presence, knowledge and abilities. They felt magical to me.

I do not know what kind of gymnastics I had been doing before my training, but I learned that it had not been yoga. My teachers also introduced me to forms of yoga beyond poses, including meditation.

Sitting still is what started to settle me. Meditation dissolved my urge to run.

It is no coincidence that my next escape would be my last. That jungle trek in Colombia concluded in a site called the Lost City. I went there to conclude that I was lost.

I was ready to stop running, but I was not ready to go home. I moved to Chicago because a friend offered to let me stay with him. I was just starting to build a life there when a late paycheck sent me home because I could not afford food or rent.

But I did not return empty-handed. I had discovered a book, “The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity,” that became my bible and inspired my approach to wellness. It also taught me an advanced meditation practice. That book is why I went to Chicago. Because that book changed my life.

I was learning the art of stillness. And success soon followed.

child's pose

I crash-landed from four years in flight into rock bottom – my mom’s couch. Her strength to tell me that enough was enough was enough to wake my ass up. I had to come all the way home to find the courage to seek success in my hometown.

Over on my dad’s couch, I hunted for jobs with more fire. My mom and cousins lent me money for food, rent and work clothes so that I could apply.

Deepening my debt to my cousins was embarrassing, but they continued to support me when I needed it most. Requesting $2,000 from my mom was one of the hardest things that I have ever done because it was admitting that I was a failure. But she also continued to support and to love me when I could not support and love myself.

I promised her that it would be my last monetary request. And it was.

From Stress to Success

I received offers from the YMCA and my old company, which I had maintained contact with throughout my travels. The fear that quitting had been the wrong decision had haunted me since 2008. But my abroad friends had urged me: Do not return to corporate life. Pursue your path as a yoga teacher.

I called my old company from the YMCA parking lot to decline its offer. Then, I walked in and accepted a job at an organization that was promoting wellness in the community. I questioned my decision for the following year. But I stuck with it. I was saying no to a higher income and yes to a more valuable path.

Serving as the sales and membership director was a stretch following four years of denouncing possessions. But seeing the organization use its profits to serve the community evolved my definition of money from dangerous to helpful.

The YMCA trained me to approach my role as a coach – not a manager. I learned how to listen and to speak to my employees mindfully. I became conscious of my impact on their health and happiness.

I finally was able to combine my skills as a manager with my skills and perspective as another type of leader: a yoga teacher. I also taught my employees stress management techniques that I learned while studying holistic health at a local university.

For the first time in years, I went after success. I honed old skills and developed new ones.

I also honed and developed myself on my yoga mat. My practice was once again the only thing holding me together. I was no longer a ball of anger and frustration, but I was alone. I had lost all of my friends, well, except for the ones related to me.

I have not shared this with many people. But, to tell you the truth, I did not have anything in my personal life then besides yoga. You know that “Footprints in the Sand” poem about how God carries us during our lowest moments? Well, it was a one-set-of-footprints time. And yoga was carrying me.

It sounds poetic, but it was also sad. My best friend for a year was a four-hour ritual: 60 minutes on the train and bus to YogaWorks studio, 90 minutes taking class with Pete, 30 minutes eating a burrito alone, and 60 minutes on the bus and train home. I remember thinking: I do not have much besides this.

Yet, even in my loneliest moments, I did not quit. I kept faith that I was on my path. And I was.

In retrospect, this was a critical digestion period. I had ripped out my weeds in Colombia. Now I was discerning what did and did not serve me so that I could plant what I wanted to grow. I was finally integrating my physical and spiritual worlds.

The Big Yogi, spreading the word of the YMCA in San Francisco, Healthy Starts HereI scheduled my first public yoga class at the YMCA – one of the perks of being a director. That 7 a.m. Thursday class became my training ground. I pretended that I knew what I was doing, and my students clapped for me class after class until I started to actually know.

One student, Van, questioned why I was not trying to teach at a studio. Why was I not going after the vision that I had for myself? She wrote an article about me that showed me for the first time that I was making a difference in the world. She even hooked me up with an audition at a studio, Yoga Flow SF, to throw me into the fire.

The fire was hot. The studio owner basically told me that I sucked. But I persuaded her to let me sweep the studio floors at 8 a.m. on Saturdays.

Three months as the studio bitch earned me my first class: 6 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at its location on the outskirts of the city for $25. I was pumped! Attendance ranged from zero to five students. On zero days, I practiced by myself. On five days, I taught elated. “I’m doing it!” I remember thinking. “I’m a yoga teacher!”

Meanwhile, I became an impactful leader in the YMCA community. I revamped my department. I increased revenue and decreased expenses by 25 percent. I taught yoga and stress management and meditation classes. I also wiggled my way onto a children’s health committee. I was slowly moving in the direction that I wanted to go in: promoting wellness.

And yet, I knew for my entire two years there that it was not where I was meant to be. Others knew too.

My employees and students forced me to market myself as a yoga teacher. One of them built me a website. Another created my first business card. When they asked me for my business name, I jokingly responded with my roommate’s nickname for me: “I don’t know. The Big Yogi?”

Perfect, they responded. And my first business was born.

That online promotion of my unique self – two things that I had been resisting – is what snagged my second studio gig, at Wheel House. It was not my audition, which apparently sucked too.

I was now teaching seven public classes a week, in addition to my full-time job. This let me focus on developing my skills rather than making money.

Next came Helen, a YMCA regular, who outright told me that I did not belong there. I barely knew her. I remember thinking: How the fuck does this person know that I am having these thoughts? The next day, she handed me a card that said: “I know you’ll soon find what direction you want to go to next. … You’ll find what gives you purpose. … Don’t settle.”

I contacted Pete for life coaching. I now had a business, but I could not figure out how to make enough money from teaching and coaching to do it full time. I described to him during our consultation a wall of fog standing between where I was and where I wanted to go. I knew something awaited me on the other side, but I felt lost and frustrated that I could not figure out what.

I could not afford Pete’s services. But he served another role: as my model for teaching and coaching. Witnessing his ability to help me remove that fog just by listening to me taught me that my job as a teacher and a coach was not to solve students’ and clients’ problems. Rather, it was to hold space for them to devise their own solutions. He also taught me to know and to own my worth, which answered my question about how to earn a living from teaching and coaching.

Soon, I had my first coaching client. Then, I started driving for Lyft to test whether it could sufficiently supplement my teaching and coaching income. It could.

I foraged for teaching positions. As I committed to my path, life no longer needed to shove lessons down my throat. I was hungry for them. I consumed an ad that Yoga Garden was hiring. My intuition digested the significance: It was time to go home. It was time to dive into my teaching career.

Two years ago this spring, I left my job at the YMCA to pursue full time my purpose: inspiring others to live healthier and happier lives.

I started teaching three classes a week at Yoga Garden and enrolled in its advanced teacher training program. Returning to the studio that had trained me to share these teachings felt like a homecoming. I continued to transform inside that building as a student, as a teacher and as a person.

I also designed my own programs to train the body, mind and spirit. Both the independent and interdependent chapters of my life proved useful as I offered students and clients an autonomous and holistic approach to wellness. I combined everything I had learned to empower them to decrease their own stress, to improve their own health, and to increase their own happiness.

When I stopped fearing success and started embracing my purpose, my business opportunities multiplied: The attendance in my public classes and my private client base increased tenfold. Yoga Garden invited me to teach the business of yoga in its teacher training program, a segment I had cringed at as a trainee. Wheel House enlisted me to develop its yoga program. Companies hired me to supply yoga teachers to lead classes for their employees.

The Big Yogi, Wheel House Yoga

More money flooded my bank account than when I was a stressed-out jerk of a corporate manager. My impact on my students and clients stretched further than I could have imagined. And I was working less than 30 hours a week.

I always knew that I was born to be a leader. Now I had the financial, social and personal success to prove it.

And yet, I remained unaware that a deeper fear than success lurked inside me.

Go back to Part I or continue to Part III of my story.

A Maur Unity collaboration, co-written and edited by Maura Bogue

Nick Palladino-King teaches students and clients how to reduce stress, to increase happiness and to elevate health through yoga, wellness coaching and strength training.

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