Just because our path doesn't follow a straight line doesn't mean we aren't exactly where we need to be. In this month's Trailblazers Check-In, Crystal Moore discusses her decision to change course and where she is headed next...
When we last spoke, you were the proud owner of a beloved neighborhood yoga studio and an education company in Washington, D.C. In the coming months you are stepping down from the role of teacher and advisor to again be a student. What inspired you to change course?
I’ve been thinking about advanced studies almost as long as I have thought about getting a college degree—since I was in high school, at least. As an undergrad, I participated in a program designed to support students of color interested in pursuing their doctoral degrees and careers in the academy. Following that program, I completed a yearlong research program at the University of Pennsylvania.
I was miserable at Penn. I hated every hour spent in the lab, collecting data and running statistical analyses. I wasn’t interested in being a full-time researcher at that point in my life, and moved into elementary school teaching. Over the course of my 15-year career in education, I have held numerous positions including my current role coaching and training the principals of low-performing schools in DC.
I love my work, but I also have been frustrated with how hard it is to effect the change that is so needed in some schools and districts. I’m also wondering what it will take for our nation to be able to educate large numbers of low-income, minority students well. My questions drove me to pursue a PhD in education policy. Now, I can’t imagine anything more exciting than spending my days reading, writing and researching the answers to my questions. I will be enrolling at the Graduate School of Education at Stanford in the fall.
Closing a business into which you poured your heart and soul could not have been easy. How did you know when it was time to make such a difficult decision?
I knew I wanted to own a studio before I even started teaching yoga. I mainly became a teacher because I figured it would be necessary to own and manage my own studio. I loved Serenity Place DC, your neighborhood yoga studio. I loved the people I met there—the teachers who I recruited and the students who came to practice with us. But it was grueling. I worked 20-odd hours a week with my K-12 schools, taught 5 yoga classes a week, and then put in 30-40 hours managing the studio.
In October 2015, I fulfilled a lifelong dream in traveling to Spain for two weeks. I hired personnel to manage the studio in my absence, so that I could completely disconnect and enjoy my vacation. It was the best two weeks of my life! I spent a lot of time alone in Spain--wandering through museums, eating delicious foods, and thinking about life. It was during this time that I finally admitted to myself the life I had built was not sustainable. I couldn’t keep working 55-70 hours a week. I needed outside interests, relationships, and time to care for myself. The studio also wasn’t generating enough income to cover its expenses. At the rate we were growing, it would be several more years before we broke even.
I began making changes as soon as I got back from Spain. First, I found others to teach my yoga classes. This extra time in my schedule allowed me to reinvest in my own self-care. After weeks of prayer and meditation, I knew that it was time to close down shop. I consulted with a finance person who works with startups, as well as my beloved godmother Annie. They both agreed with my decision to shut down. I let the teachers know first, so that they could find new places to teach. Then I let our students know. Our last day was December 15, 2015.
What self-care strategies proved most useful during this challenging transition?
Over the years, I’ve heard many people, including Oprah Winfrey, advocate for a gratitude practice. I started reading a devotional book right after the studio closed. When I purchased the book, I also bought the gratitude journal the author created. I began each day of 2016 listing five things for which I was grateful from the previous day. As my godmother’s health worsened (she was dealing with two kinds of aggressive cancer), I still managed to find pleasure in the simple things (talking with my niece and nephew, going down the slide with my friend’s 3-year-old daughter, the words of gratitude from the teachers and principals with whom I worked). Annie passed away in April, and I was devastated.
I wrote a great deal about my feelings of grief after the funeral, and posted them to my blog. My readers—mainly friends from throughout the different phases of my life--reached out with words of sympathy. But I was still sad, really sad. For the last 15 years, Annie had been my closest and most trusted confidante and advisor. I couldn’t imagine going through the rest of my life without her. Devastated didn’t begin to express how I was feeling. But at the end of each day, I still found five things for which to be grateful, even in the midst of all that sadness and loss. I’m not sure I would have fared as well in the months after closing the studio and losing Annie had it not been for my daily gratitude practice. It really helped shift my mindset.
I have heard it said that, "A change of place + a change of pace = a change in perspective." How do you think moving from Washington, D.C. to California will affect your mindset?
I’m actually a native New Yorker. I only know one speed—FAST. People in California tend to move slower. From what I have observed, they also are a bit kinder and gentler. I’m hoping a little of each will rub off on me.
I also am looking forward to the schedule and pace of student life. I will be able to retire my 8 and 9am morning meetings with school leaders and their staffs. I am hoping that I will be able to expand my morning routine to include more time for daily writing. I have been thinking and talking about two BIG, HAIRY, AUDACIOUS writing projects that I want to work on. But I am finding it hard to make space in my life with all the other commitments I have currently. I hope that changes in the fall.
What do you hope to learn from your doctoral program? How do you envision putting this new knowledge to use?
I am going back to school because I want to figure out what it takes to help kids who grow up the way that I did succeed. I was fortunate. Although she never obtained a college degree, my mother always valued education. She put my older sister and me in parochial schools when we lived in the Bronx because she wanted us to get the best educations possible. When I was ten, she moved us to New Jersey so we could have a better quality of life. I know I was one of the lucky ones.
But there are millions of kids—poor kids, Black and Latino kids, kids with oodles of potential—whose parents do not have the financial resources or social connections to enable their children to enroll in quality schools. Those children are not any less worthy of a great education than I was. Yet, many of them are getting shortchanged in their local schools, and it isn’t for lack of financial, human or material resources. Those of us in the education business have been working really hard, especially over the last decade, to close the gaps in educational opportunity and attainment between advantaged and disadvantaged children. But despite our best efforts, those gaps persist.
I am determined to find examples of high-performing schools in urban communities, and to spend lots of time in their buildings learning what makes them work. I want to be able to document the keys to their success and then share those lessons with principals, superintendents and policymakers across the nation. I believe we can, and must, educate all our children to their highest potential.
What lessons have you learned from this chapter in your life that you will carry forward?
I can’t say that I have learned any lessons per say from my life’s DC chapter. It has been more of a time of healing and self-actualization. I suffered a lot of trauma as a child, and I felt the effects of it in my life as an adult. It was hard for me to have healthy and intimate relationships, and contributed to the demise of my marriage. I wasn’t pursuing my dreams, and had been living a rather mediocre life despite receiving a great education and possessing amazing professional connections.
I found a great therapist shortly after moving to DC, and she and I worked together for the last seven years to face each one of those traumas and unpack all the ways in which they had affected me. It was hard, painstaking work with many fits and starts. There were times when I felt like I hated her, and others when I was utterly overwhelmed by my emotions. But something inside prodded me to stick with the program and keep going back for more treatment. I am so grateful I did.
Outside of therapy, I spent a lot of time practicing yoga. I explored both the physical and spiritual aspects of it through readings, classes, workshops and retreats. The time I spent on my mat helped to emotionally prepare and strengthen me for the inner work I was doing with my therapist. The two were quite complementary.
I grew stronger—mentally and physically. I also grew more self-aware and more conscious of my authentic self. As I was growing, I paid more attention to the inner promptings of the Divine, who I call the Holy Spirit. I believe He was always there, but I couldn’t hear His voice earlier over all the noise that accompanied the trauma. As I began to listen and follow His promptings, I saw myself grow and change in ways I never thought possible. I wouldn’t call this process a lesson, but it has been transformational.
I saw my therapist earlier this week for my final session. We agree that I am ready to move on. I have faced my demons, and put them to rest. I have learned to have authentic relationships and communicate my truth with honesty and respect for others. I am able to forgive those who hurt me, and no longer bear any grudges or harbor resentment. Instead, I am filled with ambition, enthusiasm and faith for my future. It’s time to shine!
What are you reading now?
One of the first things my professors taught us in my master’s program was the importance of being a lifelong learner as a teacher. I wholeheartedly agree. I am always reading several books at the same time. Usually, I have one good piece of fiction (right now, it’s Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth) and my book club’s selection of the month (Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green). Then, I have several nonfiction texts that I read over a longer period of time (Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson; Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn Jackson; The Daniel Plan 365-Day Devotional: Daily Encouragement for a Healthier Life by Rick Warren; The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron; Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder and The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time both by Arianna Huffington; and Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller). I just finished Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System As a Path to the Self by Anodea Judith, and am about to begin The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary by Edwin Bryant.