Personnel Change at PYFM
Last Monday when I started teaching the 9am class, there were 4 teachers teaching at Power Yoga Fort Myers.
By 10am when the class ended, there was only 1.
The other 3 teachers sent me individual texts at the same time saying that effective immediately, they quit.
There was no conversation I was apart of prior to this. I did not know this was on their mind. There was nothing that happened directly between the teachers and myself. One teacher stated, “it’s obvious through your disrespectful, rude, unprofessional rants on social media that you are creating division not only among the staff, but the entire community.” They obviously got together to discuss how they felt without me, and proceeded to make a group decision.
I’m sharing this to be fully transparent. Not to point blame, make people look bad, or act like a victim. I’m not sharing to try and control how anyone sees me or paint an image of myself or anyone else. I’m sharing because I want to be completely honest about why I am now teaching 100% of the classes at the studio, and because I believe there are a handful of extremely valuable lessons to learn here for every single person reading this. These lessons are exactly why I opened up this yoga studio. And I’d love to share them with you.
Lesson #1: Understanding Perception vs. Perspective
One teacher shared in her farewell text, “it’s obvious through your disrespectful, rude, unprofessional rants on social media that you are creating division not only among the staff, but the entire community.”
This was this teacher’s perception of me. If I asked every student in this community if they thought I was creating division amongst the community in what I posted on the studio social media page, I’d bet that no one would perceive it that way. Why not? Because there are multiple perspectives to any event. But when we are committed to our ONE perception, we cannot see from other perspectives.
What I’ve come to understand is the issue boiled down to the vision I had for the studio. I shared pieces of my vision with the teachers. Things like giving 5 minutes every class for savasana, and ending class on time (“time integrity” - I want to honor the time commitment you the student made, and I don’t want to overstep my reach by taking up more of your time). It was important for me to create a specific tone and communal feel at the studio that made coming here different from going to any other yoga studio in town. That boils down to our values, and the way we lead and interact.
But during our first team meeting in September, all 3 teachers presented a unified front having already gotten together on their own ahead of the meeting to discuss how they felt about me, and they proceeded to tell me how they were not on board for many parts of my vision.
So, because I want to be a team player and respect the views and concerns of my teachers and staff, I retracted any vision I had and let my teachers do whatever they wanted. I still stood in my vision in all of my classes, but at their request, I stopped going to their classes so they could feel free to teach however they wanted, without pressure of trying to align to my vision.
I was content with my decision to step away from their classes because I valued them being on team more than I valued being strict in my vision.
For another month, I stayed away from their classes, and kept working to build rapport amongst the teachers while repairing any damage that I had already created from suggesting my original vision and how that did not land well on them.
And then, completely out of the blue, I get their 3 texts at the same time, while I was teaching. From the minimal amount I gathered from their texts, they took issue with the vision I was leading with in my social media posts for the studio page. I was completely unaware that what I was posting was hurting them in anyway.
And that’s the first point / lesson I want to make. That we don’t see reality. We see “our” reality. The one our brain, eyes, and beliefs formulate. Which is different from everyone else’s reality. We experience life through our own unique lens. Our own seeing of events. We are the hero in some people’s reality, while simultaneously being the villain in someone else’s reality. So it’s not so much a matter of us needing to change something, it’s a matter of the way we are seeing.
Here’s an easy example. If a car in front of you is swerving and keeps crossing the line into your lane, and you start to take it personal and get mad at the car for being a bad driver, that’s one perspective you have. But as you drive past the car, you notice it’s a teenager going through his drivers training, and this is the first time he’s ever been on the highway. Now all of a sudden, you don’t take it personally, and you can relax seeing that it’s just a young kid’s first time behind the wheel in what can often be a tense & uncomfortable experience. All of a sudden you have compassion because you’ve filled in an empowering story. But if you never saw the teenager, you’d go on the rest of your day letting that driver get under your skin thinking they were swerving on purpose.
After the situation with the yoga teachers, I can see how they viewed me to be a jerk of a driver on the road. But what they failed to do was to pull up along side me to see my truth and my reality. Because I can say with all pureness of my heart, I never once intended to create division amongst the staff or community. I even silenced my own vision to try and create connection amongst the staff. But they don’t see it like that. They see me attacking their style and expression by speaking to what I spoke to in my social media posts.
To sum up this first lesson…perception is what we see with our own eyes, which is different from what anyone else sees. Perspective is the ability to see from many different points of view beyond just our own. If we go through life only interacting with the world through the lens of our two eyes, we will be destined to think that the shadow on the wall from the fire in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” is the real fire.
Lesson #2: Triggers Tell us More About Ourselves Than They do Others.
When I read the texts my teachers sent me, I felt an uneasy sensation run through my body for about an hour. Shortly after I was able to let it go and be at peace with their decision and how it impacted me and the studio.
I brought this up to a friend of mine and he pointed out a brilliant lesson. He asked me what my reaction would have been had the teachers quit because of my green hair? I smiled at him and thought, “well that’s a silly idea. For starters I don’t have green hair. And second, that’s a pretty odd reason to quit.” The point he made was that I didn’t associate to their belief that I had green hair, or that it was an issue to them working here. But because my body felt sensation for an hour after they all had quit simultaneously, I did associate with that action. I did believe that there must have been something I did that was wrong, bad, harmful, disrespectful, unprofessional, etc. I mean to have all three teachers quit on the spot, via text, that’s a pretty strong statement. I let that statement affect me, and took it personally to mean there’s something wrong with me. Because that doesn’t happen to most yoga studio owners I know.
And then hearing from different perspectives (remember Lesson #1?) from many other yoga teachers I have known and been friends with for years who lifted my spirits and said they would be happy to teach for me in a heart beat if they lived in the area, they presented the perspective that it just wasn’t the right match. And instead of taking their leaving personally and making myself out to be a bad leader, I saw it from a different perspective that allowed me to be free from the blame and wrong-doing they accused me of. My friends helped me to remember that I stand for a lot of great things. And that just because others don’t align with my vision, doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person.
But this lesson doesn’t stop there. While my body only got triggered for about one hour and then I put it to rest and moved on, I considered the three teachers. And how they must have felt triggered by something I did, enough to make them quit via text, never to want to set foot in the studio ever again. Keys were mailed, social media pages were unfollowed. And I still don’t know what created such a strong trigger for each of them. But I can see it with a bit more clarity.
One teacher who was in law enforcement in NYC said she felt more tense teaching here than when she had a gun pointed to her head. When she told me that, I respected her feelings and wanted to rectify the situation. I am extremely passionate about leadership. I want to create a friendly, engaging, positive, and happy environment where staff are excited to come into the space, whether it be to teach or practice. And that was no longer the case for this teacher. But the real question is, how much of that is on me?
Now I’m not trying to escape accountability. I’m just asking, am I responsible for the way someone else feels? That’s a pretty dramatic statement - to fear coming in to teach yoga more than a life and death situation. I’m not trying to disrespect this teacher’s feelings, however I am suggesting through this lesson that what it brought up within her has more to do with her, than it does with me. Just as when they all quit and I felt an uncomfortable feeling in my body for an hour, that was my own beliefs about myself being tested. That had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with them. That’s the lesson I’m trying to distinguish here. If they had quit because of my green hair, I wouldn’t have felt a single thing in my body.
I’ll also state that I felt a distant energy from this teacher, so I reached out to see if there was anything that needed to be talked about or cleared between us (because I want to be a good leader and value how the team feels). To which the teacher said she had nothing to clear, and values me as a leader, a teacher, values my feedback, and appreciates the community I’m creating. That was three days before she revealed to me she felt more anxious being here than when she had a gun pointed to her head.
To sum up this lesson…when we are triggered, challenged, and intense sensations arise, that’s a teaching moment. Not necessarily to say, “get away.” But to look within to ask, “why is this triggering? What does it bring up within me, and where is this coming from?” I take no ownership in how the way I lead my studio resulted in someone feeling more anxious than in a life and death scenario. Our triggers aren’t about the other person, they are about ourselves. They are pointing to what needs healing within us.
Lesson #3: The Power of Influence & Gossip.
In Baptiste Yoga (the style of yoga we practice at the studio), Baron Baptiste teaches to avoid gossip, and to stay clear of groups that practice it. He teaches that if there’s an issue or something that needs to be resolved, go to the issue / source and handle it directly. By talking about the problem behind someone’s back, it's a form of gossip, and that actually hurts more than it helps.
I was excited to set up our first team meeting, and get all 4 teachers in the same room at the same time. I had planned fun games and activities to create a deeper connection between the 4 of us, a fun photo shoot, as well as to officially go over the vision I had for the studio. But the other 3 teachers had gotten together on FaceTime the day before to discuss their displeasure with the way I was giving feedback after some of their classes. They approached me during the beginning of the meeting as a unified group to say they were not okay in receiving any kind of feedback from their classes.
For example, one teacher was teaching a power class with music, and I gave feedback after class saying I felt the music was putting me to sleep and didn’t quite serve the nature of the power flow feel. She later told me that she didn’t realize until after the class that she was playing a restorative playlist. Songs meant to relax and calm and quiet you down. I offered the feedback that if we aren’t aware during the class that we have restorative music playing, then we aren’t using the music in an intentional way. In other words we are just turning the music on, and not paying attention to what comes out, and how it impacts the class. To me these are teaching moments and being intentional with how we use music or how we deliver the practice is apart of my vision for the studio. While I don’t usually use music in my own classes, I was more than happy to let the teachers play music in their classes. But my vision for how we create empowering classes extends into all the choices we make, including our music selection. It’s not that I reprimanded this teacher for their music choice, I simply wanted to bring awareness so that they could be more present to what they were using to create the class experience.
In the meeting, I heard the teachers out and because they were quite unsettled in the feedback I was giving I decided to stop giving any feedback. They were free to teach in whatever way they wanted, and I let go of trying to create a shared vision amongst the whole teaching team.
What sort of shocked me was that they got together on their own to discuss how they felt about me and my feedback. Same thing in the way they all texted me on the same day, at the same time, saying the same thing, that they all quit immediately. There was obviously a group influence that was created by talking together about me and the studio, yet keeping me out of the discussion. This is what gossip is. I would have loved and welcomed conversations with each of the teachers directly about any concerns they had, but unfortunately it never got to that point. They took how they felt, they amplified and strengthened it by getting together and discussing amongst themselves, and came to a final conclusion without ever checking in with me.
I truly valued their teaching. I was happy and felt lucky to have them on team. I know several hundred yoga teachers. I’ve taken classes from over 400 different yoga teachers. I can write pages full of what I valued and respected from each of these three teachers. They are powerful and inspiring in their own ways. I valued that. From their perception, they felt that I did not. They felt I was trying to trim them down and force them into an expression I wanted for them. And I can understand that. That was not my intention, but I understand how they arrived at that place. Regardless, they took me out of the equation and solved everything on their own, coming to the conclusion of leaving the studio from a shared feeling of not being valued.
What getting together in groups like this and what gossiping does is spread false news. For instance, at the first team meeting, they all said the feedback of their classes has to stop. And yet one of the teachers told me just a few days prior that she understands the feedback and doesn’t take it personally and is used to it and doesn’t have a problem with it. And yet when they all got together as a group, she joined their cause.
Would all three of them have decided to quit on their own and on the same day had they not gotten together to talk about it as a group? Probably not. The influence of getting together to discuss their shared negative views amplified their feelings. I’m not trying to control how people see me. I’m saying getting together with a group to talk about someone without talking to that person is only going to reinforce the belief they have about the person. But it’s not based in anything real. It’s just taking how each person feels and using it as more fuel. It’s like getting three people together to predict the weather for later that day. If all of them see a weather report suggesting it’s a 50% chance of rain, and they come together to share their beliefs, then logic suggests their beliefs should stay at 50%. However in cases like gossip, they strengthen their beliefs and now they take on a 150% belief that it will rain, despite nothing in the weather pattern changing to indicate anything more than 50%. This is the danger of gossip, and not dealing with things straight on. And while that’s what I feel happened to me, I’m also not worrying about it. Life’s not perfect or fair. The lessons I’ve learned from all that has happened is invaluable to me.
Lesson #4: Be Clear in Your Vision.
This all came about because I had a vision that others did not align with in which it became complicated to feel a sense of community, togetherness, and union.
The word yoga means to yoke - to bring together. Union. They felt that me standing for my vision was the opposite of union. They felt it separated them and made them outliers. The root of this is simply a disagreement of vision. Just the way some view same sex marriage as wonderful, while others disagree and see it as a sin. If you had tried to make people share the same views, it wouldn’t go well. Everyone is entitled to their own views. And at the root of it, the teachers and myself did not share the same views. However that does not mean that I am not honoring the practice of yoga. There are many different forms of religion. Just because someone does not align with your beliefs, does not mean that they are tarnishing the idea of religion. But that’s what they saw for me. Or at least one teacher who shared that in a text message.
So moving forward, I will be crystal clear with any new teacher who wants to teach at the studio, of what the vision here is. What makes this community different from any other yoga studio in town. While every yoga studio wants to foster community, how we go about that is very different and specific. Notating exactly how that happens and what that looks like at our studio is extremely important so that every new teacher can decide if they align with my vision or not. It doesn’t make either party wrong or bad if it’s not a good fit. And I had hoped that would be the perspective taken by the three teachers who left. However it seems they left feeling personally attacked. Which again provides a wonderful lesson to learn (#1 and 2).
To sum up this whole experience, I am thankful for all the mess ups, the failures, the setbacks, and even the triggers and hurt feelings because they all point to where it is we need to get to work. I love this work so much. I know the other three teachers do as well, and in their own way. I honor the passion each of them have for community and for the practice. I acknowledge their efforts and how much they gave of themselves to this community during the 2 months they were at the studio. I know the students valued their talents, gifts, and teaching, and enjoyed their classes, as did I. But now, we are clear in what happens next. At some point we have to leave the past behind and move from right here and now. Because as we say in baptiste yoga, “right now is all we’ve got.”