Education, Health and Wellness, Massage

Spa Retrospective and the promise of 2012


When it comes to 2012 I find myself hesitant to look up from my work. I’ve got forward momentum right now and I don’t want to lose it!

2011 is winding down nicely for me. I am pretty certain I made the Deans list at The University of North Alabama for Fall 2011 and my financial aid package for next semester was approved. I am almost done with my massage continuing education for the NCBTMB and  I’ve applied for a job as a student worker with the History and Political Science departments for Spring of 2012. I am REALLY hoping I get an interview because it would mean so much to my program of study.

I have been a Massage Therapist by trade or profession as you prefer for 13 years and I have always had an academic bent. Getting my undergraduate degree is something I have always wanted to do and I am scheduled to graduate in the Fall of 2012. My minor is in History and it serves a multitude of purposes when added to my Interdisciplinary major. Massage as a profession sometimes struggles with the marketing of forward-looking research. Consequently, many of its practitioners by nature or short-sighted professional design, fall behind the curve of evidence based medicine. At first, I chose History as a minor because I love it. Period. My intent with my History minor wasn’t to get into evidence based medical research. But I knew that a value added benefit would result with a History minor; I would be better able to understand the rigors and processes involved in research production and that in theory, I could become part of the process. Since I have had a little time to get used to the idea of promoting my History minor in that light, I am just beginning to think about additional ways to use it. I would love nothing better than to add to its appeal by working in the History and Political Science departments as a gopher but competition for on campus jobs is fierce! I am counting my blessings that making the Deans list this term may be enough to at least get me an interview and in thinking ahead to graduating this time next year, all it seems I can think about is taking one step at a time to make my future resume the best it can possibly be by landing said job.

I’ve also been on the lookout for an internship of some kind. Management, marketing, health promotion, hospitality; it doesn’t matter which. Just an internship so that I have something to go on my resume other than “Massage Therapist.” If you aren’t a Massage Therapist, you may know exactly what I mean by that and if you are, you might accuse me of leaving the profession altogether or suggest that I consider it. But the truth is somewhere in the middle. As a health and wellness modality Massage Therapy is one of the first employee benefits to be cut in lean economic times and one of the first to be promoted when things are going well. As far as integrated Health Services go, Spas, Real Spas, still offer the best of preventative medical and alternative medical models to the consumer. With this in mind, I need practical experience to ground the management portion of my program of study and an internship is the best way to do just that.

I worked as a massage and spa therapist in the Hospitality Industry for about 7 years and during that time, I weathered the initial blow to Travel and Tourism post 911 for a few months before relocating to an area which didn’t have what I consider to be ‘real‘ Spas. The new reality was awful. Small cramped rooms with no laundry service, fake hot stones from Conair hair supplies, no hot towel cabis, and questionable product lines. I had seen the outside world and it was small, dark and cut throat and all about appearance! All it took to brand a business as a medi spa was the addition of a glorified aesthetician who could proscribe Accutane and was only in the spa if she had an appointment which was infrequent. My dreams of more professional freedom were dashed on the shoals of reality. It was all so Wrong. The endless chatter and sounds of the salon intruding into the treatment room and the constant implication that I somehow belonged in that environment was very humbling. I took a job teaching massage at a community college for a short time but felt conflicted about the political implications to the Industry as a whole. The first time I saw a steam room again I almost cried from sheer relief but a week or two later, one employee tried to use sea salt from the break room table for a salt glow and I knew I was still living in a mirage of post modern pretensions. It took almost two weeks for me to get the image of a woman being salted like a piece of pork out of my mind. It wasn’t until a Marriott opened in my town that I knew a kind of temporary respite was near.  Having worked for them before, I knew not to expect much in the way of luxury but that the basics would be covered. I could once again be neat and clean. Quasi religiously redeemed, inside and out. I knew that once again I would be able to give a decent service in a decent place that met at least the minimum requirement in my mind to be called a Spa. At least part of this time, I was working as much as I could and going to University full-time and to be honest, if I was still working as a Massage Therapist, I don’t think I would have made the Deans list this term. I know now what I didn’t know then, which is that when I am working as a MT, it takes so much of my time and my life essence, just to give as good as I get and there just isn’t enough left over to devote to a full-time education.

With this lesson in mind, I changed my major to Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Health and Management and a minor in History. I stopped working and live on student loans. I am happy with the choice and accept without complaint the financial burden of my education costs as something I want for myself and don’t necessarily need in order to be a Massage Therapist. My first job as a MT was with a four star, four diamond Resort and I had no college degree, only a dual massage certification. If I choose to go back to work as a Massage Therapist, I want to return to the bosom of Resort and Destination Spas and I believe I have all the credentials I need so that I could begin paying back my undergraduate loans right away. Also, I might luck up and land a spot as a line manager for a Resort Spa with my combined experience and degree and be a production and product supervisor. My other idea, is to go for a sales and training position with a Real Spa Product Line, and then try to work my way into a line managers position.

Of course, a degree opens many doors and I still have 3 semesters to go including the summer term. If I can find a good internship, I think it will make a great deal of difference in what kinds of employment I begin looking for after graduation in Fall of 2012. Ideally, I would like something that allows me to use the Management portion of my degree in a creative way. I would also like to find out what kinds of work I could find with a hospital or in the insurance industry. I am also planning on joining ISPA this summer and picking up a certification for Spa supervisors thru them. After all, it can’t hurt!

All in all, I am in a kind of zen Jedi Yoda zone where he says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” At this point, it’s a matter of continuing to put one foot in front of the other. I spent five good years dreaming of a future and a four-year degree when I first graduated from massage school. I dreamt of all the things I wanted to do and explore and why I wanted to do them. I found out who I was and what I could live with and what I wanted out of life and what I had to give life in return. Now is the time to keep adding those smaller dreams to the fire of my ambition and dedication so that I cross the finish line and reach a place where I can step into the new reality that those dreams will have created, forged in their fire. Only then will there be new dreams to be dreamed and new realities to be explored. For me, 2012 is about work and dedication to my goals, about seeing a project to completion and bringing to birth a new foundation for reality. An article I read recently suggested that the Maya calendar, contrary to all the popular associations about the world ending, is by contrast, a rebooting of the world clock. The closest thing to an apocalypse I can imagine would be the upcoming Pell Grant changes that limit the number of years a student can receive Pell Grants, which begins on July 1st, 2012. This change will affect me for my last semester of school and right now, I don’t know how I would secure loans to finish without a Pell Grant. I also could in theory finish school this summer if I am willing to forego an internship and a class in health promotion. How I handle the situation will depend on the wisdom of my advisor and more information from the Student Financial Affairs office. Beyond this, I am not reading into ‘The End of the World’ but looking forward to a new beginning. Which to my mind, is exactly as it should be.

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