From Mergers to Mantras: Opening a Yoga Studio

by What's Next

Nobody likes losing his job. But for those willing to reimagine their careers, the experience can be an opportunity to create a more balanced and fulfilling life.

“There are no second acts in American lives,” F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote. But Fitzgerald died at 44, so what the hell did he know about the subject?

Ethel Merman was a stenographer before she got rhythm, Jackie Mason a rabbi before he was a comedian. Before their presidencies, Woodrow Wilson was an academic, Harry S. Truman a haberdasher. Like a Shakespeare play, Richard Nixon’s life had five acts—rising star, has-been, president, pariah, eminence.

The simple fact is that radical life transformations are as peculiarly American as a ham sandwich on a bagel. And that’s true now, more than ever, as the concept of corporate loyalty recedes into history and technology requires constantly evolving skill sets. Fortunately, a heartening number of second actors find their next stage a great improvement over the first one. Take David Kelman.

Fired: Chance of a Lifetime

Kelman spent 10 years as a hard-driving investment banker specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Then his firm was taken over. “I survived eight rounds of cuts, but finally my department was dismantled and I was out of work.” By then he’d become a father, and workaholism had lost its appeal. But he soldiered on and found a job with another bank. One day, when he wanted to leave early for an event at his daughter’s school, he was reminded: “You can’t put family first.” Not long after that, his boss sat him down and said, “You’re not happy here. Why don’t you go somewhere else?”

The boss was right. “The top levels of corporate America are conditioned and programmed,” Kelman says. “I wanted to do something of value.” A practitioner of yoga since his student days, he began talking to the owner of the studio he attended. “The more I got to know the business, the more I liked it.” He assembled a team and, in October 2004, David Kelman opened Yoga Sutra, a studio in midtown Manhattan that offers classes in three styles of yoga, as well as lectures and workshops. Kelman runs the business while a colleague takes care of the curriculum. He loves it. “I can’t wait to come to work here.” Besides, he adds, “I do more business now than I ever did banking. Banking was purely transactional. Now I do everything, including picking up a broom sometimes.”

Some old banking friends view Kelman as a counter-culture weirdo. “It was hard on my marriage. I mean, my wife married a banker!” he says. “We’ve had to trim the fat from out lives. We don’t buy many clothes and we don’t have vacations.” But he has no regrets. “People feel this place has changed their lives . . . Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, it’s been a success already.”

Alfred Gingold is a wide-ranging writer, book author and blogger who has written a number of “Careers 2.0” profiles for WhatsNext.com.


by What's Next | Wednesday, March 4, 2009 | Entrepreneurship, Buy or Start a Business

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