I sent my sister (the chiari surgery zipperhead) a link to this blog when I asked permission to use her post-op photo.  She, of course, showed it to my mother.  Later, on the phone, I had this conversation with Mom.

“I saw your massage website.  It was good.”

“Thanks!  It’s been a lot of fun to work on.”

“Have you finished it yet?”

“Finished?”

“Yeah.  When do you think it will be done?”

“Um, it’s kind of an ongoing project …”

I realized two things after this exchange.  The obvious one was that I have come to view the blogging culture as far more ubiquitous than it really is.  The second is that I have this funny sense of progress about a lot of my life.

My life has been a series of experiences that got me to the point where I am now.

Nearly flunking out of high school.  Joining City Year Cleveland at the age of 18 and completing my year of service.  Going to college.  Dropping out of college.  Moving to New Mexico and beginning to work in childcare.  Moving to Lilongwe, Malawi and teaching Kindergarten for a year and a half.  Moving back in with my mother.  Leaving Cleveland for Cincinnati.  Starting massage therapy school. Getting married.  Starting a blog.  Never in this process have I ever stopped learning new things or getting ready for the future.  Never have I said to myself, “Well I guess that’s over and done with now!”

And yet, when I mention I’m in school, the second thing people ask me (after “Do you need somebody to practice on?”) is always, “When do you finish?”  I dutifully answer “I’ll graduate in May, sit my State Board Exams in June, and if all goes well, I’ll be licensed by July, which is when my real education will start.”  They laugh at that and say something about the economy, but it still makes me feel a little awkward.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”   -attributed to Mark Twain

I’d like to think that massage therapy students are excited about finishing their education because they’re ready to get out there and do a whole lot of massage without needing to squeeze it in after their day job.  But to listen to some professional massage therapists grumble about their continuing education requirements, it seems like people dislike training for its own sake.

This attitude sucks for everyone involved.

Can we PLEASE think about this a little differently, in the interest in not being a bunch of grumpypusses forever?  Every day, I learn something.  I give a massage, I learn.  I get a massage, I learn.  I study a diagram, I learn.  I take a test, I learn.

And I read a blog, I learn.  I reflect, I learn.  I make some awesome salad dressing and I learn from that, too!    I write a poem and learn something else.  Everything is useful, provided I find the pertinent lesson.  Why would I ever want this process to end?

Let’s forget about “training.”

I was talking recently with a very smart friend who said that there is a problem with the way we view “training.”  Firstly, we see “training” as something we do before we act, rather than something that includes and expands upon action.  Secondly, we see training as a process with a definitive end.  We graduate.  We pass.  We’re “trained.”  All done.  These ideas don’t have any place in what is ideally a constant process of action, reflection, and planning.

This same friend suggested the term “capacity-building.” Whatever builds my capacity to accomplish my goals is a part of my education.  When I get up at 5:15 each morning so that I can maintain my health by walking for half an hour before going to work, that builds my capacity as a massage therapist.  When I quiz myself on the muscles of the posterior compartment of the thigh for the nth time, that builds my capacity as a massage therapist.  When an experienced massage therapist learns how to bill insurance or help a paralyzed client onto the table or express her discomfort with a colleague, that’s capacity-building too.

I’d like to think there’s not such a huge gap between the students and the pros. That one day we’re a bunch of uneducated yahoos, and the next day we’re “trained.”  There comes a point where I get to earn a living doing this stuff, but I sure hope I get better as the years go on, or I’m going to be very disappointed in myself!

So for now:

  1. Quit counting down to graduation day and enjoy the process of becoming a better massage therapist.
  2. Take a look at your actual capacity as a massage therapist, and not just what quarter you’re in.  Celebrate your real achievement.  (Hint: it’s not that you’ve passed all your exams.)
  3. Think about what kind of person you’d like to be in a few years, not just on the day you first hang out your shingle as a massage therapist.  What can help you get from here to there?
  4. How can what you’re already doing when you’re not “studying” help you to become this person? How can a posture of learning help your capacity to grow?

Check out the massage therapy SWOT analysis Kelli has been doing over at Massage Therapy World.  She’s a great example of someone who’s always building her capacity, both in a formal educational setting and from her own experience. 

How do you think about yourself as an embryonic massage therapist?  From what parts of your life and education do you learn the most?  Think this whole blog post is full of bullpoopy? Leave a comment and tell about it!

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