Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

Photo: Alex E. Proimos
I have never been very good at sales. I've tried several times in my life, but I'm always uncomfortable and uneasy playing the role of the person who knows exactly what someone else needs.

When I was a kid, my friend talked me into selling candy with her from door to door; the idea was that we told the people who opened the door to us that the sales from the candy went to helping keep youth off the streets, but as it turns out, that wasn't entirely true: the youth we were supporting were ourselves, and the guys driving us around in his van took most of the money. I lasted one day on that job. As a teen, I was hired at an all-women's health club, and was promoted to sales, but only for the short time it took for the management to realize I had no aptitude for it. In college, I worked as a bank teller, and management would impress upon us the importance of getting our customers to open new accounts or subscribe to different services, all under the guise that it was better for them; when the bank held contests, I usually showed up last on the list.

In each of these examples (and many more in my life that I will spare you), I wasn't invested in what I was selling. But selling is certainly a part of my self-employment now. On a daily basis, I need to be promoting my classes, workshops, trainings and videos. I've gotten a little better at it, but it's still an ill fit for me, something like high-heeled shoes; I can pull them out and wear them for an occasion from time to time, but I'm going to kick them off as soon as I can.

What makes the selling both easier and harder is that I work with people with cancer. 

It's easier because I am wholly invested in my work. I can look back at my life and see a clear path through all the twists and turns that led me to this moment. From my grandmother's death 21 years ago, to my leaving the corporate engineering world, to the people who I attracted to my classes with my avid interest in how yoga heals, and so on.

When I am asked "Have you had a cancer diagnosis?" I reply, "no, but I've studied yoga for cancer in depth." In fact, the last four years I have been learning from teachers and doctors, as well as my students. I teach evidence-based practices, which means that there are medical studies behind everything that I do. More importantly, I observe how my students respond to the practices; how it makes them feel, what language I can use that is effective, which sequences lead to reports of improvement, etc. This is an ongoing endeavor, because new evidence comes out all the time, and I am continually working with my classes to incorporate it.

If someone is unsure about coming to class, I can easily talk about the benefits and how people respond, but it's much harder for me to sell myself as their teacher.

Photo: limowreck666
One reason for that is because it is cancer. It's important. It drags us right up to the Awful Truth that we avoid in countless and sometimes cruel ways: we are mortal. We all have an expiration date, and cancer has the reputation for taking us in a slow, painful way. I can't begin to understand what someone feels when they hear those life-changing words: you have cancer. I don't know what it's like to have to weigh treatment choices, manage countless doctor's appointments, investigate research, count out all the dates and memories that came before and wonder what comes next, deal with the unskilled reactions of people I love, or be suddenly thrust out of the club of the blissfully ignorant and onto the disease battlefield.

I can empathize, but I don't know, because I've never been diagnosed with cancer. And that makes it hard for me to tell people to trust me, to let me be their ambassador as they navigate their new world. In just a few moments of introduction, I need to convey to them that this is more than just my job, that I do take it seriously (even though we may laugh a lot!), and that there is nowhere else I'd rather be. With my voice, eyes and hands, I show them that I am present with their experience, that they are in control, and that we will navigate the yoga experience using the art of adaptation together.

Photo: Dionne Wilson

I am in service to people with cancer. 

It's at the heart of everything I do.

As long as I keep doing that, I don't really need to sell anything.