Tammy Dunn thinks she always had a massage therapist somewhere inside her. Still, she spent twenty years as a travel agent before she figured it out.
Regarding her career in the travel industry she says, “It was a job. When I went to school for it, I really thought it was what I wanted to do. But it never became anything more than a job to me, even after 20 years.”
She did consider massage therapy back in high school during the 1980s, but at that time it didn’t seem like much of a career option. There was little regulation of the industry and massage, fairly or not, was seen as something not-quite-legitimate. So Dunn never pursued the idea and largely forgot about it.
But later, well-entrenched in the travel industry, she experienced some stress-related health problems and began seeing a chiropractor and a massage therapist. Dunn worked with these professionals over the course of a year and saw the benefits of the work they did. “I realized how much I wanted to be part of that. It improved my life on so many different levels that I wasn’t expecting.”
About this same time, Dunn was becoming increasingly disaffected with her chosen field. “Things were changing very rapidly in the travel industry, making it less and less desirable to be a travel agent. My personal stress was building, and one day I looked at my husband and said ‘I just can’t do this anymore’. I was fighting myself trying to get to work each day. It just was not what I wanted to do. So, with my husband’s help, we scraped together the finances and I went back in school for massage therapy.”
She found a program she liked at the Mind Body Institute in Nashville and began going to school full-time to train as a massage therapist while also keeping her full-time job. “It was a very precise juggling act. Every minute of the day had to be scheduled, planned, and coordinated so I could get done what I needed to get done and be where I needed to be. It was exhausting, but also incredibly rewarding, and the entire time I realized that I was finding my passion. The day I graduated from massage school was the day I walked away from my corporate career, and I haven’t looked back.
“On the logical side it was very scary. I was giving up a stable and well-paying career, something I had invested 20 years in and could do, for the most part, with my eyes closed. I left it to pursue something completely new – not only to become a massage therapist but to go into business for myself.”
Dunn hasn’t regretted her choice for a single moment. The benefits have been both emotional and physical. “I was unaware of how much physical damage the stress of my old life was doing. I was sitting in a chair all day, completely sedentary. I have lost 60 lbs since I changed jobs. When I got out from behind a desk and started doing a job that I absolutely love to do, my body could become healthy again.”
For her first few years as a massage therapist Dunn continued to use the rooms made available at Mind Body Institute, thus enabling her to build a solid client base while taking advantage of the space the school provided to graduates. After three years, she was ready to strike out on her own.
“I originally thought I might join an established practice, but then I realized I didn’t want to work for anybody else. I had my own ideas about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. If I wanted those things, I was going to have to do it myself.”
On March 2, 2015 Dunn opened the doors of her own studio, Elementals Massage, and she couldn’t be happier. An ice storm during the two weeks before her grand opening nearly derailed it, but with the help of friends and family and a few all-nighters, she pulled it off.
Although there were some financial sacrifices early on and going to school full-time while working full-time was challenging, in many ways she’s been surprised at how smoothly the transition has gone and how wonderful it’s been. The 44-year-old Dunn reflects, “That was my old life and this is my new life and my new life is so much better. This was the best decision I ever made.”
Dunn continues, “For the first time in my life I feel like I’m actually living rather than just enduring or surviving. For years, I thought that you went to work because you needed to go to work. You did your job because you needed to pay bills. And now suddenly I find that if I don’t go to work for more than a couple of days I start to feel stress. So my career, now, is where I go to manage my stress, instead of being the thing that causes stress. How cool is that? And I love that I get to help people every day.”
- Find something that you’re passionate about, and then get your act together and jump.
- There is absolutely no reason you should go through your entire life not loving what you do every day. There are so many people who would love to do the job you hate, and so many people who hate to do the job you’d love.