Once upon a time, I was a teacher with a 10-year plan that would make any grandparent proud. I was so convinced that this was the path I needed to be on that I started figuring out graduate schools before I had even finished student teaching.
The 10-year plan started coming apart by the end of my second year as a full-time teacher. By year four, it completely derailed. I handed in my resignation letter and ventured off, knowing that the wild world of unemployment was better than trying to suffer through one more year of teaching young children.
Sometime during that summer, my tai chi instructor contacted me. I had been taking tai chi classes partly as a way to learn a martial art (and, as a lanky 5’11” white girl, very few types of martial arts left me feeling like I wasn’t a wet noodle in the wind) and partly as a way to find some peace of mind while my teaching career fell apart. My instructor had been bugging me to teach classes of my own ever since I had completed my first form (which I took as a huge compliment, since she doesn’t believe in flattery and was passionate against us Westerners teaching people the “wrong” types of tai chi). A yoga studio was looking for a tai chi teacher, and my instructor had recommended me. A few meeting and a demo class later, I was teaching tai chi to middle-aged ladies every Monday and Wednesday.
Teaching tai chi didn’t exactly paid the bills. While I was technically making more per hour as a tai chi instructor, I was only teaching twice a week. But I loved being able to pass on what I had learned and deepen my own practice through teaching others.
I am a bit passionate about tai chi, and, as a result, I developed a nasty habit of rambling about all things tai chi during my classes. My students haven’t complained about it yet, but I know how I get when my own instructors get a little too chatty, so I’ve been trying to keep it to a minimum.
Yesterday, I was rambling about the idea of “tai chi masters”. To be frank, too many people go around calling themselves “tai chi masters”, when becoming a master is incredibly rare. Being a tai chi master is a lot more difficult than obtaining your black belt in karate. My own instructor – who was born and raised and trained in China and can perform martial arts in a way that I will never be able to – refuses to call herself a master, stating simply that she’s merely a teacher. Mastery has a connotation that you have understood all that there is to understand, and there is always something else to gain in tai chi.
As I told my students, tai chi is a practice, not a perfection (a term I stole from, like, 1,001 different yogis). There is always something new to learn and understand about the forms and the philosophies. You can never perfect tai chi; you can only go further down the path. And where you are on that path is irrelevant, so long as you are going forward.
Another thing I ramble in my classes is about the overlap between tai chi philosophy and life philosophy. Like redirecting an opponent’s energy to your own benefit (instead of going at the opponent head-on and hoping you can overpower them). Or, in this case, the idea that where we are on whatever path we’re on is irrelevant, so long as we’re going forward.
Being 27 (and being surrounded by people in their late 20s and early 30s), I hear a lot about what is “supposed” to happen at this time in my life. Marriage, kids, a house, a steady career. Productive hobbies and 401k plans. Like everyone’s path has clear-cut milestones that must be crossed or else the rest of the trip is worthless.
And I hate that. One of the reasons why I stayed in teaching for as long as I did is because I was scared of being “that person” without any proper career or even a sustainable field of study in mind. I’ve seen my friends start trying for kids, and I feel as unprepared for hypothetical motherhood as I did when I was in college. Not to mention my dreams of being an international bestseller by 25 were gone by the time I hit, gee, 26.
But, again, where I am on that path is irrelevant, so long as I’m going forward.
So onwards I go. Writing like a madwoman. Teaching tai chi when it technically pays less per billing cycle as teaching full-time did. Slowly figuring out what it means to be an adult. Tending to myself and my life, and experiencing all that there is to experience. Milestones be damned. Life is a practice, not a perfection.