Several years ago, I experienced a knee injury that ended a successful theatre career. I was dancing in The Phantom of the Opera at the time; I did rehab and limped my way through a couple more shows for a year or two before admitting I simply couldn’t put that strain on my body any more. I was devastated. Who was I, if not a dancer?
When the time came for me to hang up my pointe shoes, I became certified at the Kane School in New York City and discovered I had a particular skill set to offer: there were a lot of dancers and athletes out there, just like me, who had suffered from injuries and were trying to return to work. I was able to take my years of dance experience, my excellent Pilates training, and my own journey through various painful injuries, and offer something valuable and unique to people who really needed it.
A door had closed, but a new one opened.
I experienced a new, fantastic career doing something I loved, finding a place to pour my passions and put all my knowledge and experience to good use. After getting married and having two daughters, I found I had even more to bring to the Pilates table, though I wrestled with my new identity – Mom. This sudden job change meant our family found ourselves back in Dallas, Texas, where I’d grown up but hadn’t lived in years.
I began teaching Pilates in Dallas, even as I became more confident in motherhood. And as I raised my two girls, I suddenly had a lot of questions: what’s in our food supply? What’s in that diaper cream? HOW much does that lotion cost, and how much of that money went to the people who actually made it?
My first experiments ended in a lot of failures as I sought natural, healthier ways to maintain my family’s health. I dug deep into herbalism and essential oils, and completely overhauled my family’s medicine cabinet. In fits and starts, we found ourselves living a healthier, cleaner day-to-day life. I loved my creations so much I began giving them to friends: scrubs for Christmas, a jar of lotion for a sunburn. My daughter asked me if she could make lip balms to give her friends at her birthday party, and when people began coming back to me asking if they could pay me to make more, I knew I had something there.
A couple years later, I have a fast-growing business – Wholemade by Jen - that wouldn’t be here without lots of great friends to test recipes, design logos (I have really talented friends), and build databases (I have really smart friends). I still teach Pilates and find that the work I do creating healthy, natural body-care products continues to inform my teaching. I find myself fulfilled on so many fronts, and have come to realize that my identity is an ever-developing thing. So I should stop trying to capture it in a box and neatly label it.
You know that saying, “When God shuts a door, He opens a window”? I think that when a door is shut in your face, sometimes it’s so that you’ll look around the room and focus on what you’ve already got. Have a career-ending injury? Take what you’ve got and put it to even better use, helping more people. Love your kids and want to keep them healthy? Let’s grow that and reach more people than just your family.
In fact, I’ve come to recognize those seeming dead-ends for what they really are: an agent of change that’s always – SOMEhow – for the better. A necessary shoulder repair once left my arm in a sling for a month, and at first I couldn’t see how I’d get back to teaching. Then one of my students – a young lad named Jared Kaplan – offered to be my “hands” while I taught, and I found my verbal cues blossomed, my sessions streamlined. Teaching with my hands literally tied behind my back brought a whole new way of teaching to the forefront – and gave then-student Jared a chance to listen in on dozens of private sessions.
These dead ends have become a signal to me that “something really great and different is going to come out of this!” Working on developing a new recipe can be incredibly frustrating, and many times I learn things the hard, expensive way as I waste ingredients that don’t combine well. When an early lotion recipe led a friend to gently tell me it made her hands waaaay to greasy, I set aside my ego and worked to solve the problem. The end result? My Lotion Stick: a hard lotion in a twist-up tube that leaves no mess, and is beloved by travelers who don’t have to declare it as a liquid at airport security. It’s one of my best-sellers, all because I made a bad lotion recipe.
I think it comes down to sustainability. Life is fluid and constantly changing – but what sustains you will always run through your days, like an undercurrent. And you’ll find pieces of that rising up in various ways: a hobby, a helping hand that only you are qualified to offer, a dream job coming available. The question is, then, what sustains you? What’s your passion? And how does that passion fuel your daily life?
For me, I’m passionate about being a good steward of what I’ve got. That means using my body of knowledge –from Pilates certification to in-the-field experience with heartbreaking injuries to an ever-deepening understanding of herbalism – for making people’s lives better. It means taking the best care of my kids that I can, raising them to make informed choices. It means environmental stewardship, and using as little of our natural resources as possible. It means making sure my dollars go to companies that pay their employees fair wages, to farmers who ethically harvest their crops. I absolutely adore being able to look back on my day and see all the different ways I made someone else’s life better: all the opportunities I had to help someone become more than they were the day before, whether it’s healthier, stronger, or more content with where they are.
That’s one of the things I love about Studio 26: there’s no one-size-fits-all about them. The undercurrent that runs through Studio 26 is full of passion and variety and ecological awareness. Don’t even get me started on that plant wall; I can’t stand it, the thing is so cool. You see Jared’s environmental concern come out all over the studio, but also can’t miss the fact that every client is an individual who will have his or her needs met in a unique and personal way. Add that to the constant continuing education workshops being offered in a desire to always know more and never stop growing, and you can see Jared’s passion throughout the studio – it’s the undercurrent that sustains the place and makes it one-of-a-kind.
And here’s the thing: you are going to run into dead ends every day. You run into them constantly as you work out, right? Your shoulder is acting funny, so your trainer works around that issue and comes up with a new and incredibly tortuous way to work your biceps without triggering your shoulder injury. You curse him or her, but leave the session feeling stronger and more balanced than before, all because of a weakness of yours. And I’ll let you in on a secret: trainers like me, like the ones at Studio 26, absolutely ADORE the “dead ends” you bring in. They force us to dig deep, get creative, and kick your ass a little more precisely. We LOVE it.
My passion sustains me in its many forms. How do you find sustainability in your life? When you look around the room you’re in, door closed and all, what do you see that is waiting to come to the forefront? Maybe it’s time to bring it out into the light.