UC Berkeley - Psychology
National Holistic Institute - Massage Therapy
Megan O’Connor always listens to her gut. And while that led her from one passion to another, it also was her heart and instinct that eventually led her to the career she really loves — that of a massage therapist. But Megan doesn’t like to define her job by just one title. She also considers herself a body worker, healer and health educator. She also enjoys being outdoors. She says that same “zen” moment she experiences when working with a client she also feels when she’s outside running, camping, hiking, skiing and kayaking. A self-professed nerd at heart, Megan also loves reading, learning and indulging in the life of a foodie, which for her includes baking, cooking and finding new vegetarian/vegan restaurants and recipes.
Listen to what your heart says and that feeling you get in your stomach.
How did you discover your current job?
Massage therapy had always been something in the back of my mind. Whenever I heard anything about it my ears perked up. I was always curious about it and wondered if it would be something I would be good at.
What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?
This isn’t a quick answer question for me. It has been an interesting and random path to get to where I am today. I guess I’ll start with my education. I moved to LA in 2002, literally two days after my high school graduation, to begin a three-year accelerated interior design program at American Intercontinental University in Marina Del Rey, Calif. I was there for six months and found out I wasn’t on the right path for my first major. I worked for another six months until I had residency and started attending Santa Monica College. I spent two years there and then another two years at Berkeley.
Throughout this time I had various jobs -- ranging from sales at the Expo Design store, to personal assistant, to interior designer, to personal assistant to a lawyer, to receptionist at a production studio, to accounts payable clerk at the studio, to sales at Abercrombie, and finally to a research assistant on a longitudinal psychology study at Berkeley. The overlaying tie to these was accounting. It started with working for the interior designer. She taught me how to use Quickbooks and handle her accounts. Unsure what to do after graduating with my undergrad, all I knew was I needed a job and was burnt out on school. I landed a job as a receptionist/executive assistant/bookkeeper at a private wealth management company. I was then there for two years. On paper it looked great. I had my own office overlooking Westwood Village, had paid insurance coverage and holidays, and a comfy salary. However, I felt like I was dying inside and looked forward to my evenings and weekends.
After two years, my boss decided they could do without me and wanted to cut costs. I was sent on my way with my last paycheck. This turned out to be the kick in the pants I needed. I started looking into massage trade schools immediately and found the National Holistic Institute. From there I started their 10-month program and graduated last May. Once my classes started I realized I had found something I truly loved doing, and with practice, could be good at. It was like a lightbulb went on. This incorporated everything I had wanted in a career. Upon graduation I received my California state certification and passed the national massage certification exam three months later. Right after graduating I worked at a spa two days a week. From this experience I discovered focusing on my own business was what was best for me.
Was there any one situation that helped you along your way?
It was the kick in the pants of losing my job in July 2009. It forced me to find what I truly wanted to do and not settle for just anything I could find or do well at.
What is your typical day like? Does it ever change?
There is no such thing for me as a typical day. Sometimes I get calls the day of for massage appointments. Even my weeks aren’t typical. One week I will have one appointment. The next I will have four appointments. This is one of the great things I love about my job -- no one day is ever the same.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I feel the most rewarding aspect of this work is that there is instant gratification. Even though I can’t “fix” someone in one session, they see immediate relief and results. It is an amazing feeling knowing that I am helping people. It also is relaxing for me. I focus on not only their breathing, but my own, too. It becomes a very “zen” moment with the combination of whole body movement and tuning into giving happy, relaxing, loving, healing energy to a client.
What is the most challenging part?
Personally, it’s being a saleswoman. I hate sales. In order to have a successful private practice there are moments I have to be more outspoken and assertive than I like to be. I have to grit my teeth and do it. In the long run it is worth it. And, it is literally the only part of my job that I do not like. So, when I consider it that way, it isn’t that bad. I have also found some helpful marketing tips in the American Massage Therapy Association magazines that I have implemented.
What is one lesson you’ve learned in your job that sticks with you?
The more I practice, the more I learn. It is truly an art form.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
This would have to be overcoming the stereotypes that still exist out there about massage therapists. Legitimate massage therapists would never put up with inappropriate behavior, yet I still hear about establishments that give respectful massage therapists a bad name. More importantly, we do not just learn how to “rub” people. It is a very intricate career with many dimensions. Massage therapy is solely based on very scientific foundations like kinesiology, physiology, psychology and pathology. Beyond this there are other elements that are required -- intuition, art, movement, common sense, ethics, strength, sensitivity, awareness and body mechanics are just some of the many involved.
Who are your role models?
Three of my teachers at NHI stand out as strong role models for my practice. Their dedication and love for the art of massage was infectious, and I learned so much about myself and life from them. The sister of one of my teachers is one of the few white, Native American medicine women. She also is a source of inspiration to me. She introduced me to great resources and offered a slice of her experiences and knowledge that not only applies to my life but also to my practice. I can’t move on from this question without also sighting my mother as my top role model. Her strength, determination, compassion, patience, intelligence and love are so important to what I aspire to.
Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?
I have many. I’ll share two. This quote by Og Mandino sums it up for how I live my life in general, “I will persist until I succeed. I was not delivered unto this world in defeat, nor does failure course in my veins. I am not a sheep waiting to be prodded by my shepherd. I am a lion and I refuse to talk, to walk, to sleep with the sheep. I will hear not those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious. Let them join the sheep. The slaughterhouse of failure is not my destiny.”
Another one that pertains to this work I like is by Venerable Master Chin Kung who said, “In solving problems one must use unadulterated love and genuine care to help people unconditionally, touching their hearts.”
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
Talk to massage therapists from different specialties/modalities in different facilities, like private practice, spas, physical therapy offices, hospitals, clinics, hotels, etc. I feel this is the best way to learn more about any field you are interested in pursuing and how to truly find out if it is the right career for you.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The best advice I was given is to follow your intuition. Listen to what your heart says and that feeling you get in your stomach. You will never steer yourself wrong if you tune into your gut feeling.