In this week’s episode of Career Relaunch, legal secretary turned yoga studio founder and instructor Lola Scarborough describes how grit and determination ultimately allowed her to get her yoga studio off the ground. We discuss the downside of having a job that’s too comfortable and what you learn about yourself when you’re forced to make a sudden career pivot.
During the Mental Fuel segment, I’ll also share my own personal experience with my own career transitions taking longer than I wanted.
Key Career Insights
- The comforts of a stable, corporate job can often lead you to stop asking yourself tough questions about what you truly want from your career and life.
- When you make tough changes, you discover both things you like and things you may dislike about yourself.
- Discovering who you really are comes from a place of discomfort, which is exactly what a career pivot forces upon you.
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I challenged you to take a step back, reevaluate whether you’re being realistic with the timeline you’ve given yourself for a specific career transition or project you’re hoping to complete in the near future. Then build in a little extra buffer. And if you don’t get as far as you want as quickly as you want, just remember not to beat yourself up too much because it’s not unusual for things to take a little longer you than you initially expect.
About Lola Scarborough, Yoga studio founder and author
Lola Scarborough is an IKYTA and Yoga Alliance E-RYT-500 certified yoga teacher and a co-owner and Managing Director of Yoga Lola Studios. Lola is a certified life coach, a certified Wellness & Health Restoration Natural Foods Consultant, a certified tonic herbalist, a certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, a certified aerobics teacher, a certified Level III Reiki master and a novice astrologer. She teaches Kundalini Yoga along with many other types of yoga. She has a long history as a writer, teacher, and project manager in the business world. She’s authored articles, films, and videos related to yoga, health, and healing. She published her first book on natural breast health Fighting for Our Tits: A Woman’s Battle Cry in July 2018. She’s also completed her Ph.D. in comparative religion and published a book of poetry titled Molten Woman.
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): Fear and money kept driving me to go every day into a job where a lot of times I was exhausted. I was stressed out. I took a deep dive into what motivates me, what do I want.
Joseph: Good morning, Lola. Welcome to Career Relaunch. It is great to have you on the show.
Lola: Thank you, Joseph. I’m delighted to be here.
Joseph: We are going to talk about a few different things today, including your former life before you started your yoga studio, your transition, and also how you’ve now become a yoga instructor. I’d like to start by having you, first of all, just tell me what you’ve been focused right now in your career and your life.
Lola: I’ve continued to stay focused on building my yoga studio and wellness business. Most recently, I released a book, and I am going to be featured in an upcoming book as well called The World’s Most Amazing Women that’s going to be released in December.
One of the things I’m doing now is working to grow out my speaking skills. I love to lecture. I love a captive audience. It’s my very favorite thing. I’ve been working on that and working on raising awareness around different health-related issues through doing blogging and other things like that.
Joseph: I know that we’ve got a couple of different topics to talk about today, and I want to come back to your studio. I do want to go back in time and talk about what you were up to before you were a yoga instructor, because I know you haven’t always been a yoga instructor. Before we get to that, how did you get discovered to be featured in that book, The World’s Most Amazing Women?
Lola: I started doing some podcast radio interviews with KC Armstrong, and he invited nine women that he felt had stories that were significant, meaningful, and lifechanging for his readers. He invited me to be one of the lead writers in his book.
Joseph: Okay, very cool. I’m looking forward to seeing you featured there.
Can we go back in time, Lola, and talk about what you were up to before you were involved with yoga? What were you doing in your former life when you were working in the corporate world? Let’s start from the beginning, and then we can move forward from there.
Lola: When I was 17 years old, I graduated from the Atlanta College of Medical, Dental, and Business. I spent roughly 20 years of my career as a legal secretary. I loved it. I loved the legal field. I actually thought about entering it but then decided to have children instead.
As a part of that, towards the latter end of my career, we made a huge transition. I’m 59, so I’ve seen software come of age from MS DOS to MS Word. Because I picked up on those sorts of things easily, I became a lead trainer, and then became a lead writer for our training materials. I did that for quite a long time, and I loved doing that too.
From there, I segued over into becoming a full-time technical writer. I worked with Capgemini, Axon, a software company called SBPA Systems. I did that for, I guess, another 15 years. From there, I went into project management. That was my last role in the business world, where I lead project teams of up to 10 and 15 people. I worked with companies as big as Burger King and Vanguard and some others and doing software implementations for their administrative systems.
That’s where I was when my career shifted.
Joseph: You’ve already mentioned a couple of career shift. I know we want to cover the major ones, shifting toward being a yoga instructor. I do want to go back a little bit here because you’ve mentioned a couple of major shifts, from being a legal secretary to a technical writer, and then a technical writer to a project manager.
Let’s just take the lattermost recent transition from being a technical writer to a project manager. How did you manage to make that sort of a transition? Because at least on the surface, it seems like those would be two very different things.
Lola: They really were, and I wasn’t really fully prepared for what happens when you’re a project manager.
I met a man, and I married him. I moved from where I was. I moved myself and my children from Stafford, Texas to League City, Texas, which is where I’m at now. I went in, and I interviewed. She really liked my style, because I’d held lead positions. As a technical writer, I managed teams. I was already used to being in leadership positions.
Being a project manager, I’d put out my begging bowl before I do that again.
Joseph: What did you dislike about being a project manager?
Lola: The 22-hour days and implementations not going right, clients very understandably being very distressed because their systems were down. People would quit because it was such a stressful situation, then you’d find yourself with a deficit of personnel. It was a small company, so one person leaving would have a major impact on the ability to get the project to fruition. The pay was awesome, but it was a lot of stress.
Joseph: Can you take me to the moment when you made the decision to leave that behind? What was happening for you at that time?
Lola: I’m a very security-oriented person. I always told people, they say, ‘Don’t you want to start your own business?’ I’m like, ‘No, not until after I retire.’ I kind of got kicked out. I had opened my yoga studio. I came through when we were in the acute stage of a recession in this area.
Joseph: That was in 2008. Is that correct?
Lola: Yeah. I had a friend who was coming. I let her use my yoga studio, which by the way, only had one student because the yoga studio was to be a retirement dream. I would only really be working hard six years from now had things gone along as intended.
I had opened it up, and she had a magazine. She said, ‘Well, if you’d let me use your studio for my group, I’ll run a free ad for you.’ I said, ‘Awesome.’
Before I even opened the studio and put a web presence out, I talked to my manager, and I talked to the other co-owner of the business. I said, ‘Listen. This is what I’m doing. This is really just to place on paper. It’s a retirement dream. We’re going to be working on it for years. Is it okay if I do this?’
They said yes. I had not spoken to the big boss about it because she knew that I did yoga. I taught yoga after business hours to some of the students there. Anyhow, she saw this ad, and she was livid. She told me, she said, ‘You have to make a choice.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ She said, ‘You have to make a choice. You either give up your yoga studio or you quit your job.’
I said, ‘First of all, I’m not going to quit. You’re going to have to fire me. Secondly, it’s not even really a yoga studio. We have two classes a week. I have one student.’ She said, ‘No.’ It became a matter of principle for her. She said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Okay, well I’ll wait for you to fire me.’ She obliged me by firing me. That’s how Yoga Lola got catapulted into being.
I started looking for jobs, couldn’t find anything. I’m highly educated. I have incredible business experience, but there was a recession. I realized that I wasn’t going to find anything, and what I had to do was that saying, ‘When God gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ That’s how it happened.
Joseph: I know that this does come up for people who listen to this show where they’ve got a side interest and a side project which could be anything from just a casual hobby to something a little bit more serious. It sounds like this was just at the infancy stage and something that you were tinkering with, didn’t plan to launch it until many years later, and yet your employer took issue with the fact that you had this side gig. What was her major concern?
Lola: She said the Imagitech needed 150% of my time. I said, ‘Has it? Look! Go on the web. Look at my schedule. There are two classes. My husband can take them. We only have one student.’ She said, ‘Well, you’re going to try to grow your business on my back.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not. I’m not going to try to grow my business at all for a long time. It’s just there as a placeholder in my life,’ because I made a lot of money.
It was really a sweet deal, even with all the stress. I got to wear beautiful suits. I got to travel. I had an expense account. She told me I had to make a choice, and I was like, ‘Well, we just spend $250,000 on a building.’ I don’t know what you expect me to do with it.
In the end, it worked out for the best, but if you had asked me at the time, I really thought what was going to happen was she was going to fire me, and then I was going to go find another job, just like the one I had. That is not what happened.
Joseph: During that immediate aftermath of you moving on from that company, what did you start to do the next week, the next month to figure out what you wanted to do next and how you wanted the next chapter to look in your life?
Lola: I kept looking. I started working on the studio more, because I had free time on my hands. I finally realized I wasn’t going to find another job. I had to reeducate myself, and it was this studio or bust. That took about nine months to sink in, and I was shell-shocked initially.
Joseph: Let’s shift gears, Lola, and talk a little bit about the yoga studio and how you got it from where it was to where it is right now, because I think the idea of starting a yoga studio, when I hear that, that seems pretty cool. I think that there’s probably a lot of people out there who think, ‘Oh, it’d be so cool to start my own studio,’ whether it’s yoga or fitness or whatever it is. How did you get that thing off the ground, going from one student to more students? I’d love to hear some details on what exactly you did.
Lola: Absolute persistence and a dogged refusal to give up. I had to reeducate myself. I was a certified yoga teacher, and I’d been teaching yoga for a while before we opened the studio. I was also an energy healer. My grandmother taught me that at the age of 12.
I had my business skills. I don’t know how anyone could open any business, whether it’s a yoga studio or any kind of small business, without having the kind of business skills I had, because that really became the foundation from which I built. I knew you have to be competitive in the marketplace. You have to have the right education for the audience that you’re presenting yourself to.
I got a two-year degree in Ayurveda, which means something in the wellness business. I also became an E-RYT 500. I went to the highest level of yoga training that you could have. I rolled in my business skills as a technical writer by creating training programs that are really the bread and butter of our studio. We have a 200-hour training course, and then I also have a training course where I teach people how to do hands-on healing, and I certify them.
I went to the Spencer Institute. I got my life coaching degree. I got some aerobics degrees. I studied Chinese herbals. I remade myself in a brand new image. I learned how to do marketing, which was really painful for me because I’m not very good at ‘selling’ things. I’m really uncomfortable with that.
Joseph: What was uncomfortable about that for you?
Lola: I feel like when you try to sell something, inherently you cheapen yourself. That was the attitude I had then. I’ve made a lot of shifts in my attitude since then. I’ve gone from the idea that I am selling something to the idea that I am offering something that, if people like, they’ll buy. There is no shame in that, but it was a big transition.
The only thing I’d ever had to market was myself and my skills in the business world. I didn’t really have to ‘sell’ myself more than once. They hired me, and then I began to show them what I could do, but that’s different than selling.
Joseph: Definitely. As you know, since we’ve spoken before recording this, I also came from the corporate world, and I was a full-time employee before launching my own business. I definitely hear what you’re saying about feeling a little bit more exposed and having to almost be forced to sell yourself more regularly versus being hired into a job, and then you do have your annual reviews, but if you do a good job, you’re pretty well set, in general. That’s very interesting.
Any other surprises that have come up along the way for you in building your studio?
Lola: Yes. The first surprise was that I lived in an area where people were relatively hostile to yoga. They felt like it was something that went against their belief system. They were very fearful of it. It took years and years and years of educating people. The media now, you see yoga everywhere.
When we first opened the studio, especially here in Texas which is very conservative, which is very traditional, which is very, very republican, very Christian, there was a lot of fear initially about the technology of yoga. It took a long time for the message to get out that yoga is actually a technology. It’s a tool that works with the human body, mind, and spirit, whether you are agnostic, atheist, or deeply religious.
Learning even how to speak that to people was an education of its own because I had done yoga for so long, and I was so open minded, and I had drunken in around in the world of these things for such a long time, I really did not realize that one of the biggest barriers to entry at the time was belief systems.
Joseph: I hadn’t thought about that aspect of yoga. I always assumed that people did it for the health benefits, but I guess there is that spiritual side to it, which is either appealing or maybe quite alienating to people who aren’t familiar with it. Do you feel like there were any misconceptions about being a yoga instructor or misconceptions about yoga instructors in general that you would like to straighten out?
Lola: Not that I have encountered in my one-on-one interactions, but I think sometimes people think yoga instructors are really limber, and they can do what you see on the yoga journal. I’ll tell you, that’s about 10%. Most yoga instructors are just people who have injuries, who bump up against their own internal conflict, who have lives like regular people. It looks glam, but it’s not all that glam. It really isn’t.
Joseph: How long did it take for you to get the studio from a place where you weren’t sure it was going to be sustainable to a place where you felt like, ‘Okay, this is something that could become my full-time vocation?’
Lola: Seven years.
Joseph: Wow. Was that longer than you expected, shorter than you expected?
Lola: Like I said, I had a hard landing into it. I didn’t really know what to expect, because it was something that was going to happen way in the future. I had not done market research. We figured, by the time we were ready to do it, the environment would be a lot more right for it than it was at the time we bought the studio.
We started, like I said, we had one student, and a big yoga class three years later was, ‘Wow, man. We had five students. That’s awesome,’ but I would wake up every day, and I tell my husband, I’d say, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get this thing off the ground.’ We’d look at it, and we’d say, ‘Okay, we’re going to try one more day.’
We went to the ‘one more day’ kind of model, and we just took it one day at a time. We stuck it out, and our reputation is beautiful. I mean we have such a wonderful reputation in our community. People began to talk about us, and then I learned how to do things on Facebook. I grew our social media presence. I learned how to language what I was saying to people in a way that they could embrace it. I began to really understand what the deeper fears were.
I guess in the last year, we’ve had maybe 800, 900 people in and out of our studio. We’ve gone from nothing to something. It’s just been incredible.
Joseph: One of the things that I think people who might be listening to this show struggle with is that time gap between when you start something and when it ‘takes off.’ You’re talking about seven years here. How did you know that you wanted to keep going with it versus quitting and moving on to something else? In other words, the question is around do I keep persisting or do I cut my losses and move onto something else?
Lola: For me, I look at it, and I say, ‘Okay, how much has it grown this year compared to last year? How much more interest is there?’ Looking at income, it’s grown exponentially. Even though our income, I think most people would find it to be in the small to medium range, it’s enough to cover the cost of the studio and to allow us to keep growing.
Our studio, because we purchased it, we have an asset that every time we pay the mortgage, we’re actually building equity and a hard asset that should we decide, ‘Okay, we’re not going to do this anymore,’ we can let it go.
In addition to that, there are the emotional benefits which are significant. I really did not get those kinds of emotional benefits in the corporate world. I had pride. I had success. I had those feelings in the corporate of ‘Wow, we got this project done. It’s awesome.’
I have people who come in to me who are going through very traumatic events in their lives – cancer, divorce, all kinds of other traumatic events. They come to me, and when they do and we first start working together, their lives have been blown apart. By the time we get finished working together, I see a transformation that is unbelievable.
In my group classes, people come in, and they sit down. They can’t even bend forward. They’re so stiff. A year later the transformation, they can reach their toes. The emotional reward of watching that happen is really what’s kept me in the game.
Joseph: Got you. That’s a great segue, Lola, into one of the last things I was hoping to talk with you about, before we wrap up with what you’re focused on and the book that you just released last year, which is some of the things that you’ve learned along the way here. You mentioned emotional benefit for you. What other benefits have you seen in your life, having made this shift into doing work that you find more meaningful?
Lola: It woke me up, and I didn’t even realize I’d gone to sleep. Like I said, it was a hard landing. I was like, ‘Boom! Wow! Look at how security-oriented I am. Look at how much fear has kept driving me to go into something.’ Fear and money kept driving me to go every day into a job where a lot of times I was exhausted. I was stressed out. I had sciatic, and my lower back hurt all the time.
I took a deep dive into what motivates me. What do I want? I’ve stopped asking myself what I wanted a long time ago because I had what I needed.
Joseph: The other thing that was coming to mind as you were sharing your story today, Lola, is that when we first connected, you said that when you make career changes, you meet parts of yourself, both likable and unlikable that you never knew existed. I’m curious, what did you discover about yourself? I’m curious about both the likable and unlikable.
Lola: The likable is that I found out that my heart was bigger than I thought it was and that it had more room to encompass others, because in the corporate world, you kind of shelf yourself off if you don’t have a lot of contact with the public and finding their stories, finding them moving, finding the generosity that is inherently mine and being able to share it more freely.
Unlikable was that I found out that I was a very transaction-oriented kind of gal, at least in the beginning. I had always done generous things. I’d worked in the community. I still did lots of things by donation when I was doing my healing and my yoga classes while I was working, but I had to come to terms with that part of me that had a cold, hard edge that wanted to drive things to profit and make everything transactional, weighing how this person would fit into my life and how they could help me grow into what I wanted to be.
I also found out that I had a penchant for a little bit of snobbery. I didn’t like being sweaty. I didn’t like being yoga clothes all the time. I didn’t like my hair hanging limp. I wanted my suits back. I wanted to feel important. For a long time, I did not, because there was nobody to validate me.
Joseph: Why do you think that it takes a major career change to uncover these things about yourself? Another way of asking that is why do you think these parts of ourselves remain hidden? In your case, you mentioned bigger heart, more transactional, the snobbery. What do you think it is about career changes that helps to make that stuff emerge?
Lola: You are no longer safe.
Joseph: Yeah, I guess it forces you to face a lot of your demons.
Lola: Your fears.
Joseph: You also mentioned, before we started this recording, that who is really inside comes from a place on discomfort, which is what a career pivot or change forces upon you. What exactly did you mean by that?
Lola: When you go into automatic pilot—for example, I call it putting on your face—you wake up in the morning, you know exactly how you’re supposed to look, you know exactly how you’re supposed to present yourself, you know what’s going to help get ahead, but when you’re out there and you’re on your own and you’re creating something from scratch, you don’t really even know the language. You have to bust through.
I feel like I am so much more authentic. It’s not that I’m not afraid. I worry about things. I do. But I’m a lot more authentic than I ever used to be. That’s because nobody’s going to fire me except me.
Joseph: One of the things that we also talk about on this show is clarity, confidence, and courage. It really sounds like you found a lot of courage to stand on your own two feet and start your own studio and keep it going. How have you amassed courage during this transitional time?
Lola: I allowed myself to really feel my feelings. When I needed to just pull back and have what I call a breakdown so that I could get to the next breakthrough, I let myself have that. I stopped pretending that I didn’t have fears. I became a lot more real to other people. I became a lot more cooperative instead of competitive.
That also took some breakdowns to get to the breakthrough, which is I’m not in a corporation anymore, I’m in community, and learning to adapt to that.
Joseph: One of the things I know that you’re doing for your community relates to what I wanted to wrap up with today. Can you tell me more about your book that you just release last year?
Lola: The book is geared towards helping women find underlying causes that can trigger breast cancer. The reason I became so interested in it is, because as a healer and a yoga instructor, I get a lot of women coming in to me who have had breast cancer or who are going through the treatments and the surgeries. I started noticing an alarming increase of clients coming to me who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
About 10 years ago, I thought, ‘Oh my God! There has to be an underlying reason for just this surge.’ It’s not only breast cancer. It’s chronic or acute disease in particular, but breast cancer became my focus. I got out there, and I started researching all the different kinds of scientific data around breast cancer. I coupled that with my interest in complementary and alternative healing modalities, which I’ve been in that field for 40 years of my life and put it together in a book.
The book is designed to help women uncover different tools that they can use to help prevent it. That’s the whole focus of the book. The name of the book is Fighting for Our Tits: A Woman’s Battle Cry. That’s what it’s for.
Joseph: That’s really wonderful to hear that you’ve taken the time to write about such an important topic of breast cancer. If people want to learn more about you or they want to check out your book or learn more about your studio, where can they go?
Lola: I have two different websites. My writer’s website is LolaScarborough.com, or they can go to YogaLola.com, or they can just directly email me Lola@YogaLola.com.
Joseph: Thank you so much, Lola, for telling us more about your former life in the corporate world, your life as a yoga instructor, the realities of starting your own studio, and also the benefits of doing work you really enjoy. Best of luck with all of your writing and with Yoga Lola Studios.
Lola: Thank you, Joseph. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be on your show.