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When Your Child Decides He May Not Go to College

This is the time of year when kids go back to school and parents post fabulous Facebook photos of their children in front of the house or at the bus stop. I’ve posted these photos before as well. But this year I didn’t.

Ethan, my oldest son, started his junior year of college and moved into his first apartment off campus. I opted to let him mark the transition without a lot of fanfare. And, Noah, a high school senior, is choosing not to complete 12th grade in the traditional way.

He’s not going back to high school.

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Noah at age 12

This wasn’t an easy decision but it’s what he wanted to do. I didn’t feel a photo was appropriate for him either. For Noah, this year is a big deal – photo or no photo – and besides not joining his friends at high school, he may not apply to college. Noah is a trainee at Boston Ballet. It’s a two-year program, although many of the dancers leave at the end of this year to join professional ballet companies around the world. It’s a huge stepping stone for Noah and he was confronted with an important choice: College or a ballet career? He is leaning toward ballet.

While Noah makes his decision, I sit here day after day tossing away college application invitations from the likes of UCLA and USC on the West Coast to Northeast powerhouses like Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton. Each time an application invitation arrives, I show it to Noah. With a knowing look, I toss them in the trash (a few I save just for the memories). It’s a look of:

“You’ve worked hard, achieved academic success and now it’s time to follow your passion.”

Face to Face with Parent Choices

Once upon a time I was a young mother and made the choice to move to a town with a high-ranked public school system – the same choice countless parents make all over the nation. Would I do it all over again? Maybe. But if I knew then what I know now, I may have stayed where I was as my children both had passion and drive. They would have excelled ANYWHERE. Instead, the academic environment in our high school is intense. You’re probably familiar with this story in many high schools: Kids study hours upon hours to get the best grades, take as many AP courses as possible and even cheat their way to the top – all to get into the best colleges so they can basically repeat this cycle all over again. I get it: It’s a dog eat dog world out there. But through my own children, I know this isn’t necessary, nor is it the only way to succeed in your career or life. There are other choices, albeit not as conventional.

Noah, you see, chose to stay in high school for his junior year and excelled in all of his honors and AP courses. And now that he’s top-ranked in his top-ranked high school, he may be setting aside a college degree to pursue his passion: Ballet. Some would say he worked hard in high school for nothing. But I say: He worked hard for the right reasons and not because his parents pushed him. Or because he felt peer pressure. Or because he had to get these grades so he could get into the best college.

He did it for himself. And it makes the whole high school experience that much better.

Now, some parents have said to me:

“Really, he may not go to college? What about all he achieved in high school? Are you sure that’s a wise move?” My answers: #1: “Yup, he may not go to college.” #2: “He worked hard to learn.” #3: “Following your passion and pouring that same academic drive into your dream career is the wisest thing any high school teen can possibly do.”

That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes think:

“Should he just fill out a few college applications and see what happens?”

But I know that this is parental peer pressure kicking in. This is what kids usually do at this age. It’s also what raising children in a highly competitive academic environment does. It points kids and parents in one direction: This way to college.

 

Encourage Passion

I would perhaps feel differently about my son if he had no other plans for the foreseeable future. But this isn’t the case. And this leads me to consider how stressful the high school environment is for teenagers today. In fact, kids are so busy jockeying to get into the best colleges that many don’t have time to pursue a passion. I realize this is just my opinion, but based on what I saw happening with my kids’ friends, many teenagers cram in as many activities as they can as this makes them seem well-rounded (and of course there are about 10 spots on the Common Application to list activities and who wants to leave blanks?) In many cases, going straight to college is the right answer. But not always. What would happen if every one of these kids decided to follow ONE passion wholeheartedly while in high school? I don’t know the answer to this but it might make the high school years less stressful and more enjoyable. It might also create new pathways and opportunities.

This is the Time

So, as this back-to-school season kicks into high gear, I invite you all to consider the potential your children have and help them discover their passions. This might change their course entirely. It might not. But, leaving the door wide open will allow your teenager to cross the threshold on his own and discover what’s on the other side.

About the author: Robyn Parets is a personal finance and business writer based in Boston. A former writer for Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) and NerdWallet, Robyn is also the founder and owner of Pretzel Kids®, a children’s fitness brand and online training course. You can find her on Twitter @RobynParets, follow her musings at Away From Om, or reach her via email at robynparets@gmail.com

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Categories: being a mother, challenges, College, growing up, letting go, mother, musings, parenting, Philosophy, raising boys, raising sons, That's Life!, Truth, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

And One Day It Happened……

About a month ago, I was talking to my oldest son, Ethan, on the phone. He was nearing the end of his freshman year at Northeastern University as a journalism and film studies major. Usually our conversations consisted of something like this:

Me: How are you?

Ethan: Fine

Me: What’s going on?

Ethan: Not much. Same old: school, improv

Me: Do you think we can get together soon for dinner? I’ll be in town next Wednesday.

Ethan: Maybe. I’m pretty busy. Can I let you know next week?

Me: Sure. Well, just called to say ‘hello’. Talk soon?

Ethan: Sure. Bye mom.

But this particular conversation was different. Ethan was working on a particularly challenging story assignment. We spent about half an hour discussing the story, his angle, his interviews, how difficult it was to find the right people to talk to, and how he came up with his idea to begin with. THEN, wait for it……he actually listened to my advice. Now, granted, I am a journalist and sometimes actually know what I’m talking about. But still, this was MONUMENTAL. And, then….we had a two-way conversation about a common interest.

Flash forward to two weeks ago: Ethan was about to leave for a five-week journalism semester in Spain. I was leaving the house before he would be picked up for the airport, so we went through his check-list to make sure he had everything for the trip. As this happened, my young adult college journalism life flashed before me. I was in Spain this exact time my freshman year in college and I did a similar journalism semester in London as well (albeit with typewriters and no cell phones). I said goodbye to Ethan and saw his eyes welling up with tears. He gave me a big hug and then, a second hug. I told him how proud I was of him and he promised we’d talk via Face Time and chat via instant messenger (which we’ve done several times). I said goodbye as I left the house, holding back my own tears of pride.

Since Ethan has been in Spain, he has started his own blog, written his first article for the NU Journalism Abroad news site, (a brilliant story on the controversy surrounding an abandoned bullfighting ring — you should all read it!) and is now en route from Barcelona to Madrid where he will work on more stories and blog posts. Since he’s been gone, we’ve talked about his stories and blog posts as if we were peers.

And then it hit me: My son is an adult.

Not a young teenager who has some mature thoughts and seems like an adult sometimes. He’s a real, bona-fide adult. How the hell did that happen? Yes, he’s 19 years old and at some point I knew he’d be a grownup. But, like most parents, there comes a time when it hits us smack in face. That time has arrived.

As parents, we try to raise our children in the best way possible. In our family that meant, above all else, teaching our kids how to make wise choices, pursue their passions, be kind to others, and engage with the world. I understood that my kids may grow up to be like their parents, or turn out to be nothing like us.

But when you see yourself in your adult children, even a little bit, it’s both eerie and enlightening.

Ethan, you see, did his best to defy everything that I was about. Yoga and health food topped the list. Although there were likely other reasons for his aversion to yoga and vegetables, I think he wanted nothing to do with my choices because he didn’t want to be like his mother. I’m sure you can all relate. I mean who wants to be just like their mother, especially teenage boys?

Up until Ethan was about nine years old, I was a full-time freelance journalist. He was young so I doubt he remembers much about what I was doing locked in my office writing. What hits more close to home for him is my second “career”: a yoga studio owner. This consumed most nights and weekends of his childhood. So, reflecting back on this (and the fact that he probably thought it was a little strange that his mom also practiced and taught yoga while his friends’ moms were lawyers, bankers, and doctors), it seems well, a bit normal, that he would steer clear of my career and interests.

This, my friends, makes it all the most fascinating to me that my son is choosing my other passion as a possible career: writing. He didn’t witness me working in a newsroom or burning the midnight oil writing stories on deadline (I did most of this before he was born). I never pressured him to go this route. Yet here he is. And here’s the uncanny coincidence: As I watched Ethan make choices for himself, I started making new career choices as well. Our discussions about writing caused me to pause and realize that I truly missed writing. So, as Ethan discovers his path, I am creating a new chapter for myself.

Could it be that I am following in my son’s footsteps?

Categories: being a mother, College, Etcetera, get real, growing up, journalism, letting go, mother, musings, On the Road, parenting, Philosophy, raising boys, raising sons, That's Life!, Travel, Truth, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Careening Down a Dangerous Path

So, I’m perusing through my Facebook feed the other day and I see this post:

“Sometime soon, we may reach a point where half the women in America will be teaching yoga to the other half…”

An interesting quip from a man I worked with at a California newspaper in the early 90’s.  To my knowledge, he’s a PR executive and not a yoga teacher. Hmmm, even non-yogis realize things are out of control and there’s no end in sight.

I touched on this in late 2013 when I wrote an article that evoked much discussion in the yoga community. My honest reflection resonated with many, ticked off some, and got people thinking.

Icicles on studioSo, here I am watching the snow fall outside my window in Massachusetts. It’s been about two years since I traveled to 40 cities in the US and Canada in the course of 15 months. I got a realistic pulse of the yoga landscape in America and hit classes in strip malls, YMCAs, intimate settings, large chain studios, gyms, and pretty much every place in-between. When I returned home, I reassessed where I wanted to go with my studio, Breathe Joy Yoga, which sits behind my house in the woods.  After witnessing the state of the yoga industry, I knew it was time for a change. I was done operating a full-blown studio where part of the job was competing for yoga newbies who are more concerned about sweating, low prices and convenience than immersing themselves in the practice. So, instead, I focus on teaching two to four classes a week at Breathe Joy Yoga. Everyone is welcome and every class is engaging and unique as I never have a yoga pose playlist prepared. I also oversee Pretzel Kids® trainings and classes, and I have returned to freelance journalism. Once in a while, I offer PR and marketing consulting services to other yoga professionals trying to navigate this rocky landscape.

So why revisit this topic? Well, because we’re no better off than we were two years ago. In fact, we’re much worse off. And this, my friends, affects how and where we practice yoga, as well as the integrity of our community as a whole.

Today, I would guess 30-50% of yoga studios offer 200-hour yoga teacher trainings. It’s no surprise as these courses generate fast cash and help pack studio classes. Now, don’t get me wrong. Studio owners deserve to earn a living and hopping on the teacher training gravy train is a sure-fire way to ensure that they do so. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. But, here’s the problem: As long as students continue to drink the Koolaid served at the closest yoga studio, teacher trainings will multiply like bunnies in a highly unregulated industry. Seems a little harsh, I know. But let’s peel off some more layers here.

DSCF0442Yoga in America isn’t what it used to be and we, as a yoga community, should stand up in Tadasana and take notice. It was only 11 years ago when I opened Breathe Joy Yoga. I offered a comprehensive teacher training course as much out of need as desire. There were simply no programs in my area. The market wasn’t saturated and skilled yoga teachers were in high demand.

Flash forward to today: If you throw a ball out a window in any major US city, it will hit one yoga teacher on the head and bounce onto another instructor’s asana. Taking classes and teaching yoga is the “in” thing and many students wear rose-colored glasses and think that, if they become a yoga teacher, they too can open a successful studio (just find an empty corner, start a Facebook page, and viola!) or at least teach a few classes a week (good luck finding a studio without a two-page list of subs). The plot thickens. Many still think they can quit their day jobs and make big bucks teaching yoga. Now, I know…..some of you are thinking I sound cynical or this is just sour grapes. But, let me tell you right here and now: I sure as heck don’t have sour grapes. I love to practice and teach yoga. And, I enjoyed the challenge of turning a small, community-supported studio into a thriving business. I wouldn’t have chosen any other life or livelihood for the eight years I ran a yoga studio full-time.

Here’s another thing: I love that yoga is now readily available. I just wish we were more responsible about this mushrooming growth. One of the pitfalls of working and practicing in an unregulated industry is that many businesses offer yoga classes and have no idea whether their own yoga instructors are skilled. A certificate from a crash course is sometimes all a health club needs to hire a teacher. It’s even become commonplace for prospective teachers to “audition.”  Here’s a common scenario: A club owner sits through a slate of “auditions” and then, regardless of whether this “casting director” knows the difference between yoga and Pilates, a yoga teacher who fits the “part” is selected from the lot.

And then there are master classes. What defines a master class? Well, nothing really. At least not anymore. Any newly-minted, recent 200-hour graduate can throw together a workshop and call it a master class. Scratch that. No 200-hour certificate is necessary as anyone can teach a master class. It certainly sounds impressive and many students take the bait, especially when they see this so-called expert on Instagram striking a perfect pose. Our industry has run amuck here. In my opinion, there are only a small handful of teachers who should be considered “masters” in any field. Yoga is no exception.

About now I’m probably pissing off some of you. But, put your egos aside for a moment. I’m saying it like it is. Satya for ya in its truest sense.

To that end, I’m going to tell you a story that may help illustrate where our industry is headed. I’m warning you: It’s a doozy.

A couple of months ago I received a pitch for a workshop from an out-of-town teacher whom I had never met. I usually only offer workshops taught by experienced teachers I know. This way, I feel comfortable about what I’m selling and confident that my students will take away something valuable from their time and financial investment. But, it sounded good so I decided to give it a go. The teacher sent me a description of the workshop for beginners, which would include backbends, arm balances and inversions. She then explained that the inversions would encompass variations of headstand, shoulder stand and maybe handstand. Further information indicated her method will help students reach happiness faster. Ok. Let’s stop right there. Reach happiness faster? By doing a headstand? Wow. Now you really got me going.

Call me crazy. Call me responsible. I don’t care. I had to put my foot down and question her proposal. Here’s our email chain:

The “teacher”: “Regarding inversions, I am skillfully trained to teach them in a very safe and attentive way. I realize that not a lot of instructors feel comfortable teaching them (and thus they go untaught which I believe is a shame), but I feel that if proper alignment is taught, modifications are given and safely precautions are taken, inversions are not only extremely beneficial but tangible to even the most beginner of yogis. (INSERT HERE THIS TEACHER’S STYLE, PURPOSEFULLY LEFT OUT) places a strong focus on inversions and without them, I wouldn’t stay true to its homage….”

I agree that inversions are beneficial, however, kicking our egos to the curb: Even with modifications and the best instructor in the world, my experience is that it’s impossible to watch everyone at the same time in a large room filled with upside-down beginners who you don’t know. I was getting squeamish just thinking about the possibility of someone falling over on my hardwood floor. I also wasn’t feeling too warm and fuzzy about a teacher who felt that, without teaching specific inversions, she was not staying true to her yoga lineage. I mean, c’mon, really? Aren’t there plenty of other asana choices out there? Um, yes.

Here’s how it ended peacefully as I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt:

Me: So, here is my position: From a liability perspective, I feel it’s not responsible or safe for me to offer this at my studio.  I understand that you would prefer to stay true to your homage but I need to stay true to safety and health. Are you able to offer rabbit pose, basic tripod and/or modified shoulder stand with legs up in an “L” (like legs up the wall without the wall) as alternatives? Let me know your thoughts. Thanks again.”

She wrote back: I understand your concerns. Yet on the other hand I ‘respectively’ [sic] disagree.

That was that.

So let’s talk a little about homage and lineage. What does that even mean? Back in the heyday (meaning hundreds and even thousands of years ago – long before lululemon pants graced our yoga classes), yoga teachers were taught by true experts to pass down this ancient tradition.

Take my primary teacher, Diane Lagadec. Diane is the real deal. About to turn 71, Diane runs Maha Yoga Center in Bridgewater, Ma. and you can often find her in a safe backbend or inversion. She trained with Shri Khanna, who was one of the yogis who came to the states in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s to learn and teach.

“He came to Boston to complete a doctorate and while he was here he created a small ashram in a home in West Newton. He was friends with Yogi Desai, Dr. Mishra (also known as Swami Brahmananda Sarasvati), etc. We got to meet and learn from wonderful teachers. Shri was from the Maha Ananda Ashram in Simla, India. I studied with him for years,” said Diane.

I realize there’s no one path to anything, but I am fairly certain that enrolling in a 200-hour teacher training for a handful of weekends or taking classes in a hyped-up studio with packed classes and hotshot teachers is not going to help you reach nirvana faster. What to do? For starters, do your research.

If you practice yoga, inquire of yourself: Why am I choosing this teacher to guide me? Maybe you have no idea whether he/she is skilled. Maybe the time works for your schedule. Maybe the quality or safety of the class doesn’t matter to you. You still should ask.

If you’re considering enrolling in a teacher training, ask yourself:  Why do I want to take this course with these teachers at this studio?

If you’re a yoga teacher or studio owner, ask yourself: Why do I want to teach? Why do I want to run a 200-hour course? There is no right or wrong answer.

The point is: We should all be digging deep. Or, as we yogis say, it’s time to practice self-study, a.k.a. Svadhyaya.

I may be going out on a limb here but we are careening down a dangerous path. Literally. Yoga students are blowing out hips and shoulders regularly. I’m thinking Patanjali didn’t have this in mind. Take a look at the Yoga Sutras. Depending on your interpretation, only about five of the 196 sutras (II: 29 and II: 46-49) discuss anything to do with asana. Let’s sit on that for a while.

Robyn Parets, a journalist and yoga teacher, is founder of Pretzel Kids® and owner of Breathe Joy Yoga studio in Massachusetts. A former writer for the Los Angeles Times, Inc. Magazine Group, Investor’s Business Daily, and many other publications, Parets turned to yoga and meditation in 1999 after her life was interrupted by a neurological disorder. Bedridden for nearly two years with two children under four, Parets credits her dedicated practice with helping her gain back her health. She recently traveled across the country, documenting the changing yoga landscape along the way. Parets is now focusing on blogging, reconnecting, and creating her next chapter! Find inspiration at: www.awayfromom.net

 

Categories: business, business of yoga, Etcetera, get real, humor, journalism, Philosophy, That's Life!, Truth, Uncategorized, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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