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Not a Stretch
I'd rather teach yoga than go to college
Eliza Dubisz
headshot

I never took well to school. In fact, once I got to high school I hardly went to class. I signed in every morning but most days, I’d skip class and hang out in the library where I’d read or use the computer. I didn’t like that school was so structured and I didn’t connect with my teachers.

So last year, when I was a junior and my parents sat me down to talk about going to college to become a doctor, they were in for a surprise. I told them I definitely didn’t want to be a doctor and the last thing I wanted to do was to go to school longer than I had to. In fact, I didn’t want to go to college at all.

I knew this would upset them. My parents moved from Goworowa, Poland to Queens when I was a baby so that my sister and I would have a better life here. And a big part of that was the assumption that I’d go to college. In Poland, my parents lived in the country; they had a farm where they raised chickens, rabbits, and pigs. Life was hard for them because they had a lot of siblings and they lived in poverty. Poland is very poor and even if you have a chance to go to college it’s hard to find a job after graduation because the economy is bad.

When my parents got here we lived with my aunt and uncle to save money. My mom got a cleaning job and my dad worked in construction. Neither of them spoke much English. Now they both do the same kind of work but they make a lot more money.

They struggled to get us here, but I wasn’t following their plan. They knew I was doing badly in school but weren’t sure how to help. I figured it was up to me, so when I learned that I could transfer to City-As-School, an alternative school that is less structured, I went for it.

Success at a New School

Part of the City-As-School philosophy is that kids should learn by going out into the world and getting hands-on experience through internships. You’re also allowed to choose your own classes. I was excited to start.

I immediately connected with a few teachers. My art teacher Rich was open-minded, honest, friendly, laid-back, and funny. He taught us patience by reminding us that our art pieces won’t come out perfectly on our first try and that it’s a process. I also loved his class because we painted on canvas. Mine was huge.

I stayed after one day to help him clean up.

“Rich, I don’t know what I’m interested in or who I am. I want a meaningful life.”

“Eliza, you’re so mature yet you’re still young and growing,” he told me. “You’ll find something that you like doing. It might take two years, it might take 20. But you’ll find it. I had a few careers before finding out that I was an artist.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes, I didn’t become an artist and teacher until I was 40 years old.”

I smiled. “Rich always makes me feel better,” I thought.

Cool for Cats

At City-As-School, students are required to do an internship every two and a half months. Since my father wanted me to be a doctor and I love animals, I got an internship at an animal hospital to see if I might want to become a veterinarian. I made vaccines, restrained animals, scheduled appointments, did paperwork, took inventory, and even performed two dental cleanings on a cat and dog.

I also took blood from a dog’s vein. My hands were shaking and I was scared I’d hurt him. I had to hurry because it was busy and I missed the vein a bunch of times before I found it; I felt bad.
Still, I repeated the internship twice because it was rewarding. Then they offered me a job after school and said I could have a full-time job after I graduated. Although I enjoyed helping animals, something didn’t feel right.

Sometimes the staff were so busy they’d ask me to do certain procedures that I’d never done before, like taking x-rays and cutting medication pills if the dosage needed to be smaller. Even though they’d show me what to do I felt pressured because I had to work quickly and I’d get nervous that I’d make a big mistake. I thought about it and figured out that the job was too fast-paced and stressful for me.

Needless to say, my dad was disappointed when I told him I turned down the job. “But I thought you loved animals,” he said in disbelief. I did, but that didn’t mean I wanted to work in that kind of environment.

Stretched to the Limit

My next internship was at a yoga studio and was offered to introduce teenagers to yoga as a way to reduce stress. We just had to attend yoga and meditation classes; we didn’t have any work responsibilities.

I wasn’t in good shape and meditation was difficult for me so I didn’t like it at all. I couldn’t see how people sat quietly for 40 minutes. I remember sitting in lotus pose during one meditation class. I was leaning against the wall, with a blanket over my shoulders, my eyes closed. The room was dark. I was trying to focus on my breath with my hands resting on my knees. My legs started to hurt while I was sitting in lotus (cross-legged with feet on opposite knees).

I got frustrated and bored. I had a pack of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in my bag so I pulled it out and tried to open it quietly. I looked around the room to see if anyone had noticed the ruckus I was making. No one seemed to so I started eating. “Yummy,” I thought. But then I realized the noise was likely disturbing everyone else so I put the cookies away; I leaned on the wall and just observed. “Why can’t I sit here just like they are? They make it look so easy,” I thought.

I felt like yoga was a waste of time and I stopped going. When my internship coordinator found out she grabbed me one day in the hall. “Eliza, what is wrong with you? Do you know how lucky you are to be going to such an expensive yoga studio for free? Why have you missed so many days?”

“It hurts when I do the poses and I can’t silence my mind during meditation. Everyone seems to be doing better than me, it’s intimidating.” I said.

image by YC-Art Dept

“I know it’s frustrating at first, but you will get used to it,” she said. “Respect your body and its limits. Don’t do any poses that hurt. If you miss another day I won’t be able to give you credit.”

It wasn’t just that I didn’t like yoga. I was also feeling depressed and struggling to get up every morning. The unhappiness had started in 6th grade, but I’d never done anything about it. I didn’t want to take antidepressants, and I didn’t think therapy was for me. Yoga was just one more thing I didn’t have the energy to do.

Eventually I told my internship coordinator how I felt and she told me yoga may help with depression. So I gave it another try. I wanted to feel better.

Yoga Makes Me Happy

It took a couple of months, but eventually I became more flexible and started loving yoga. I went every day.

One day, my sister asked me to go to a yoga class with her at her gym. The class instructor wanted us to do headstands. I’d never tried them and I felt intimidated. There was a young, muscular, attractive guy doing one. He made it look easy. The teacher asked, “Who wants to try, I’ll help you out.”

“Me!”

She came over and held my legs up so I could stay balanced.

It felt amazing. I practiced every day until I mastered it. I had built strength and balance and faced my fear of falling. It was empowering to see my body do something it wasn’t capable of doing just a few days before. This may seem silly, but this was what made me feel better.

I started meditating and standing on my head all the time. My loved ones started noticing that I was happier. That’s when I thought, “Yoga is making me happier. I want to spread the word and share it with others.”

I interned at the studio three times a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Instead of just being there for one two-and-a-half-month internship cycle, I ended up staying seven and a half months.

I Want a Stress-free Job

During the internship, I decided I wanted to be a yoga instructor when I graduated high school.

One day, I was watching TV with my sister when my dad called me into the kitchen. I knew what he wanted. We had the same talk every few weeks. I don’t know if the room suddenly got hot or if it was just me becoming annoyed. I had just come home from my job at Zara, a boutique I worked at after school and on weekends, and my feet hurt. I didn’t feel like getting up, but I did.

“I called you in here because I want to ask you what your career choice is,” said my dad.

“He already knows what I want,” I thought. “Why do we have to keep going over this? Maybe he thinks if he asks me enough times I’ll change my mind.” However, I would never say this to him; it would appear disrespectful.

“You know I want to be a yoga instructor.”

“You’re not going to make any money from a job like that. How much do yoga instructors make anyway?”

“They make $30,000 a year.”

“That’s nothing. Why don’t you want to be a veterinarian? I thought that you loved working with animals. You were doing good at your vet internship; you got a job offer there.”

“Dad, we’ve been over this. I love animals but jobs like that are stressful.”

“Making a living is stressful. We came to America so that you can have a better life. I want you to have what I didn’t have.”

“I know you want the best for me, but I’m going to do what I love. I’m sorry,” I said.

I’m not going to let my dad’s opinion influence my choice. He’s focused on money, but I’m not. So right now, my plan is to graduate high school and then take a yoga teacher training course. Later, I may go to college to get a business degree if I decide I want to open up my own studio. But I’m not going to college just because my parents expect me to.

College is not for everyone. It depends on what type of career you want to pursue. You’re the only person responsible for creating a happy, meaningful life for yourself.

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(NYC-2015-01-12)

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