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Massage Today
October, 2009, Vol. 9, Issue 10

I Didn't Know It Would Be This Hard

By Jenn Sommermann, LCMT

I have been a massage therapist since 1992 and an educator since 2000. If you have read any of my articles, you know I teach the business curriculum at Swedish Institute in NYC but have also taught in Boston and in continuing-education settings around the country.

My life is all about the business of massage and teaching students how to "work smarter, not harder." That being said, this profession requires hard work, especially at the beginning when trying to build a practice. Even after a practice is established, hard work is still needed to keep clients coming back and maintain a certain level of success.

My goal is to teach undergraduate students what to expect in their professional life and help them to understand the real world. In general, I think I do a pretty good job. However, some of my graduating students have contacted me and said, "I didn't realize it would be so hard." This opens up a bagful of questions. "What do you mean by 'so hard'?" "What specifically about this profession is hard?" "What did you expect?" Those are just three of the questions I want to rattle off when I get that call. My time with students is limited to 24 hours over six weeks, but on at least four occasions, I inform them about how difficult it is working in the field, especially in today's economy.

During the lecture on career options, I talk about the physical nature of this work and the necessary self care to preserve your body. In the practice-building lecture, we discuss emotional burnout and I share the current AMTA statistics regarding the average professional life span of a massage therapist being six years. Embedded in the finance lecture, earning a living is discussed as it relates to exchanging time for money but also in terms of the economy and why people are hesitant to receive massage. The marketing lecture and its undercurrent are about hard work. By no means do I sugar-coat it. That's four times in the course of six weeks that I inform students how hard it is to become successful and maintain it. I am sure other teachers in other classes are relaying the same message.

So why are the students shocked upon graduation and entering the work force? I have given it quite a bit of thought. I have decided it's the "That doesn't apply to me" syndrome. As educators, we can teach what we think is important but only if the student feels it applies to them will they note, absorb and apply it. That must be it. What else could it be? I know they are in the room when I tell them these things and I have to think they hear it at least a couple of the times.

At this point, I feel I need to make a clarification. Hard work is good and does not equal unhappiness. Quite the opposite is true. In fact, if you love what you do, it doesn't even feel like work. I love hard work and the rewards that come with it. If things were easy, everyone would do them. I like doing things that are different, require specific talents and have rewards at the end of the rainbow. My lectures about hard work are not meant to scare students, but I have a feeling some folks look at massage therapy as an easy road or a quick fix. I have to be the voice of reality. If you have entered this field for the quick fix, get-rich-quick scheme or easy ride, you will be one of those AMTA statistics to which I alluded. Luckily for the rest of us who don't mind hard work, we'll scoop up your clients and pick up where you left off.

This might sound like a rant to you and if you have read this far, you are probably not one of the folks who are afraid of hard work. In fact, I can bet you have already achieved a certain level of success. My hope though is that students or new graduates are reading this article and realizing that massage therapy is hard work. Aren't the most rewarding things worth working for? It wouldn't be very rewarding if it was easy. So keep plugging along, planting seeds, marketing, talking to everyone and working hard because it is SO worth it. Stay focused.

Click here for previous articles by Jenn Sommermann, LCMT.


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