This September, I’m leaving a stable job with a steady income - where I don’t take work home with me, and where I’m paid enough to live on and save too. I’m leaving a place where all the food is free, and where colleagues from LA and Tokyo often dial in via a robot that roams around by my desk.
After a year contracted at Google & YouTube’s Real Estate & Workplace Services team, I'm undertaking a 200-hour yoga teacher training course, delving into the other half of my heritage in Malaysia. I’ll come back self-employed and scraping for a living, much like I was when teaching English fresh out of university. I’ll no longer have a payday or an amazingly tight group of colleagues to hang out with five days a week, and will be supplementing my income by attempting to sell the majority of my possessions, documenting my journey on the way. My end goal is to be part of a movement that makes yoga, eco-living and plant-based fitness appealing to young people.
“Get a proper job”
Pre-Google, the year I spent as an English Language teacher sparked my love of relaying knowledge to others. It instilled in me this young and urgent buzz for teaching - for all the little wins you get when you see people making progress. I did dislike the sedentary aspect - sat in classrooms and cafes all day - but made up for this by jogging and walking to lessons.
I quit teaching because my friends and family kept asking what I was “going to do next” - I succumbed to the pressure of landing a ‘proper’ job with structure despite getting overexcited every time one of my English students finally grasped the future perfect tense, and despite going to bed on Sunday nights looking forward to the week ahead.
Feeling too comfortable
So I got a proper job through a Facilities Management company at Google, where I felt frustrated at not being able to make a deep impact through my work, hating the structured days. I would be sat on my bum for 9 hours and then hit the gym for a couple of hours to burn it all out. I’m young with lots of energy, and it was at Google that I realised I needed to integrate physical movement into my career.
Google is like a mother, nurturing and cleaning up after her kids - and that makes for the perfect environment when your employees have super-technical jobs to focus on. However, where my challenges were mostly time-related, I felt too comfortable - although I recognise that’s a lucky situation to be in (#firstworldproblems). I found myself wanting more risk; I wanted to feel on edge again. I wanted to wake up every morning and jump up and get on with my day without sinking back into this cosy comfort that was my job - where I was a tiny, ticking cog in a big machine. I felt very fed, but undernourished.
I started attending regular London yoga classes in 2012, and got addicted to Nike Yoga Ambassador Leah Kim’s dynamic but breath-focused style. Continuing with classes throughout my office job brought stillness to the chaos of a stressed-out, drained 9-5 head, and I wanted to share, with everyone I knew, how yoga could be used to find and keep balance in life.
Getting deeper into yoga got me more interested in and involved with the health community, and I continued my journey into a fitness-focused lifestyle - taking up a whole foods, plant-based diet, which in turn opened my eyes to the impact our buying choices have on the environment. ‘Green’ living has such bad rap - when we think of vegan food & green fashion, we think of low ponytails and socks with sandals. I would love to help change that and bring sustainable, active, conscious living mainstream - merging design & branding with ethics. I think yoga teachers have a strong presence in the wellness community, and hope to be an ambassador for the amalgamation of urban & earth-friendly.
I toyed with yoga teaching becoming a career just a couple of months into my desk job, but felt I should stick with Google for at least a year because (a) it meant I could save up money to invest in a good teacher training course, (b) it meant I could continue building relationships with inspiring and knowledgeable people on a daily basis, and (c) I was scared of quitting my ‘proper job’ for a ‘not proper job’.
Quitting the comfort
Over the next few months as I sat at my desk with one leg shaking restlessly, researching ethical trainers, I decided to submit myself to my passions and look into whether yoga was a feasible career for me; as they say, being an instructor is a really different experience than practising as a student. After concluding that yoga fulfils everything I want out of a job - bringing the benefits of teaching along with the bonus of being non-sedentary - and that it’s a great place to start with my aim of eventually taking up a multifaceted role in the health & wellness industry (with both yoga and eco aspects to it), I decided to crunch the numbers and draw up a plan.
I wanted to head to Malaysia anyway to improve my Malay and make a few videos sharing Malaysian culture with my friends back home, so began looking into combining the visit and teacher training course, as I knew of a number of popular schools in Kuala Lumpur. I was recommended a 200-hour course at Yogshakti, which marries Yin and Scaravelli principles for an integrative style - the perfect blend of stillness and fluidity, and exchanged many emails with yogi Shilpa before committing to the teacher training. I transferred my Ringgit and gave in my notice the following day.
A little bit terrified as to what’s next
It’s impossible to predict how things will unfold with freelance work. The plan so far is that, in November, I’ll come back to London and spend two months purely selling my possessions for ‘Project Downsize’ whilst planning and working to build my brand. I love a good self-experiment, and Project Downsize is my next one: cutting down on materialist ‘stuff’ until I’m left realising what’s truly valuable to me. I’ve saved enough to live on for a while - through changing lifestyle habits so that I’ll naturally spend less going forward, as much as through cutting my spending for the last 18 months or so.
If I’m reaching out to clients by the end of this year then that’s great - but I won’t push it as there’s so much to sort out with Project Downsize and brand-building first! A couple of great yogis I know have spoken about assisting them as a way of gaining exposure, so hopefully that’ll help me make contacts alongside self-marketing, with the aim of increasing my number of classes and private clients until I’m earning enough to make ends meet. I think it’ll be a slow transition from 90% Other Projects 10% Yoga, to 50-50, to 30-70 and so on, with the dream of building a 100% wellness- & eco-oriented career that helps healthful & ethical options become common choice and practice.
To begin with, I’ll probably do some copywriting and TEFL, maybe along with some temping at Google too. Setting out these options initially gave me this shudder of Corporate FOMO again - but I came to realise that we shouldn’t be ashamed to start our life’s work in bits and pieces that might not be profitable initially. Sometimes you have to follow your gut, which I think is a lot less deep than it sounds. Your gut will tell you whatever first comes to you in silence - and that will be whatever you habitually practise. If you practise your passions that are yoga- & eco-related, then that’s what you’ll hear the little voice saying. It’s what you’re logically pulled towards (but that sounds a lot less intriguing). So I’m following my gut, taking a risk and pouring everything into what I love - learning about it as best I can, planning as best I can and having a bit of faith in my purpose.
Sometime after adopting a whole-foods diet, I realised that my sense of taste had changed. Foods that were once bland - plain leaves and low-sugar fruit - were now full of flavour, while ‘normal’, processed foods were now a punch in the face of sweetness and a weird synthetic aftertaste. I felt that my tongue had sort of ‘reset’ itself: that my perception had shifted and made one physical reality become something else entirely, something more vivid and sensitive. It was as if my mouth had opened wider. This is what mindful yoga practice did, and continues to do, to my entire body and spirit. I want to share this with others because I believe that a healthy mind-body balance is pivotal to successes in work, play, love and life.
Now I just have to study, pray and namaste :) wish me luck!
If you would like to keep up with my adventures, I’ll be logging everything here and on Instagram at @imserenalee. I’ll be setting up on YouTube soon too - lots of Malaysian food, vlogging and eco reviews coming right up! :)