“Thank you for all your help today! I’m in love with this set,” exclaimed an excited customer.
I was finishing up her purchase—matching leggings and a top that I helped her pick out on her visit to the store where I work.
We continued to chat at the register, bonding over our mutual love of earth tones and giving each other yoga studio recommendations. Both of us were glowing from the interaction. She was excited about her new yoga clothes, and I was thrilled to help her find a set that she liked.
Ten years ago, I never imagined myself working in retail for one of the top athleisure brands in North America. At 21 years old, I was in the process of applying to graduate school. I was either going to study for my Master’s in Nonprofit Management or pursue an environmental law degree. I decided on nonprofit management. My early 20-something self had dreams of saving the world. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I wanted to help others who were struggling and create lasting change.
Needless to say, I spent the next 10 years of my life building a career in the nonprofit sector. I graduated from my Master’s program at the University of Oregon and worked for several different nonprofits in the years following. The organizations that I worked for ranged in focus from environmental causes, to education, to social services.
Through working at these organizations, I learned that working for a nonprofit isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve had plenty of positive experiences working with these organizations that I will cherish for the rest of my life. From the genuine connections I made, the invaluable career experience, and the personal growth this work has provided me. I don’t regret a single day that I spent working in the nonprofit sector.
That being said, there is a dark side to working in the nonprofit world that people don’t always talk about. The “do-gooder” attitude that many employees and volunteers share can be ego-fueled when left unchecked.
While most nonprofit employees earn a humble wage, there are often large pay discrepancies between CEOs and Executive Directors and those working below them, just like in any other corporation. As I started to learn more about the dark side of working for a nonprofit firsthand, I became more and more turned off to the work I was doing.
When I turned 30, I went through a major awakening. I had been seeing a therapist with whom I’ve unraveled a large amount of my childhood and young adult trauma via modalities including brain spotting and EMDR. Through this deep self-work, I started to understand that I’ve always placed a large portion of my self-worth in my ability to help others.
As a friend and a partner, I’ve often felt like a “free therapist” for others. However, as I’ve healed this attachment, I find myself playing the role of the “therapist friend” less and less. I also have found that my need to be of service to others (or “save” others) has also lessened. It isn’t lost on me that this tremendous self-discovery went hand in hand with my waning interest in working in the nonprofit world.
Another pivotal realization that I had during my 30th year occurred when I went through yoga teacher training. This completely changed my career trajectory.
After I finished the training, I found myself wanting to do yoga-related work, preferably something that would allow me the freedom and time to start my own yoga business on the side. So when an opportunity came up to work with a major retailer known specifically for their yoga gear, I couldn’t pass it up.
I’m no longer feeding the hungry, but the path I’m on now is feeding my bigger goals and dreams. Without pouring my energy into solving the world’s problems, I’m now able to truly feed my budding yoga career, which in turn is making me a more fulfilled and joyful person.
I’m now a better friend, a more present partner, and a more engaged family member than when I was spread thin working at a nonprofit. For the first time in my life, I’m filling my own cup rather than pouring what little resources I have into everyone else’s.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that my worth is in who I am, not what I do.
While I’m a yoga teacher who also sells expensive leggings on the side—my identity isn’t tied to either of these jobs. I understand that I’m still helping people in this new career path I’m on. I’m helping my yoga students; I’m also helping customers at the store. The difference is that I’m now putting myself first, and because of that, I can show up more fully to everything that I do in life.
Leaving the nonprofit world allowed me to learn who I am outside of the identity that I built for myself around being of service to others. Yes, I’m still a helpful and compassionate person, but I’m much more than that. I’m learning how tenacious, disciplined, and ambitious I am in embarking on an entirely new career path.
We are all so much greater than the boxes that we put ourselves in. We must permit ourselves to look outside of these boxes to see ourselves for who we truly are.