How do you know when it’s the right time to take a leap in your life or business? Are the signs clear that it’s a learning moment and you need to lean in, or will the moment be quietly transformational and you realize it in hindsight.
I believe they can be both, and for me it was. And this story goes back to May 2002. I was still living in Salt Lake City, I'd recently graduated from massage school and I was just starting out figuring out what kind of business I wanted to have, or whether I wanted to work for someone else.
There was a new day spa in Park City who advertised down at my massage school that they were hiring. It was a boutique hotel spa and guests paid several hundred dollars per night and the owner’s name was S****, and he was a smooth talker. Not handsome, but not unattractive. He dressed well and drove a convertible BMW that made me smile a little because I knew how inappropriate that car was for winter here. Either he didn't know that and the car was new, or he didn't seem to care. His spa was expensive, luxurious, hip, and had a luxury about it that you felt right as you opened the doors and smelled the difference between the lobby and spa.
The entrance to the spa was behind the hotel’s front desk, which I thought was a poor design when I saw it; you had to walk past the "backstage" of the front desk to get to your treatment. The back of the front desk was also the first thing you'd see when you exited the spa. Down the hall from the front desk was the elevator up to 4 penthouse suites and there was a cozy dimly lit lounge and appetizer bar off to the left of the front desk, and the staff room and office tucked away to the right. The spa was intended for hotel guests, investors and friends of the owner. It felt like a stretch being so new out of school to even put in my resume, because on their job listing they required a minimum of 1 year of experience and I had less than that. I was an old soul massage therapist, meaning sure I was fresh out of school, but the depth that I connected with people felt like I’d been practicing massage for life times before. But that’s tough thing to express on a resume. But I knew I could show them I'd be worth hiring if I could just get a hands on interview.
So I applied.
What I loved most about the spa and noticed immediately was the check-in ritual. When you arrived, and walked past the front desk and through the door, you entered sacred spa space. There, you were given a fluffy robe and slippers and asked if you wanted some water with lemon. Yes please. Even the basket that held your robe and slippers was gorgeous; and the robes felt so soft and luxurious, you couldn’t wait to bundle up in them. Once robed, you could either go to the dry sauna or jacuzzi to wait for your appointment, or you could go to the tea lounge where there were fruit and tinctures waiting for you to add to your drink.
It felt like I was in another world when I visited and asked for a tour. And when I subsequently submitted my resume, it was several months before they called me back. So when I got the phone call asking me to come in for a hands-on interview with the owner S****, I was so excited. I'd been out of massage school for almost a year and I’d been working both out of my private office at the Canyons Ski Resort, out of my home in Salt Lake City, and for a chiropractor’s office in Salt Lake City.
The treatment rooms at this spa were very different than the chiropractor's office or my private office. The decor was above and beyond and the treatment rooms had rich colors, soft linens, heated tables, music stations and a sink for each room, and a heated table that you could raise and lower by pressing down on a button. They didn’t seem to miss a detail (except the front desk), but I was new to the massage world and barely knew anything about working in spas, so I took it all in and memorized the details. I was instructed to wear all black and I had a name tag to wear and I loved that it made me feel like I was part of a team.
I saw clients from every walk of life. I worked on the artist who did the spa's murals who was doing a trade, I worked on the head chef, I worked on the owner, his wife, and an array of men who were all his business contacts from out of town. I loved everything about working in this space and I was learning a lot. On one occasion I remember doing reflexology on a female client, and in working on the reflexes for her female anatomy, I felt a lot of blocks, and as I worked on them, I was overwhelmed with a sensation of wanting to cry. I think she sensed me having an experience because she opened her eyes and lifted her head up and said, "you feel something don't you." daring me to answer. And I did, but I didn't know how to describe it in a way that wasn't seemingly inappropriate for our relationship of therapist, client. I asked if she had her menstrual cycle because I told her it felt blocked in her ovaries and that could mean her cycle. But she put her head down and I felt her breathe deeply and she told me a few days before she'd had a miscarriage. Wow. I was stunned. I'd felt her sadness and her bodying processing that in her feet. I thanked her for her honesty and she thanked me for being a good enough massage therapist that can sense that sort of thing.
That was the first real feedback that I had a gift that others didn't. I thought everyone felt energy in their clients the way I did, and that's why it was more a person's energy who guided my massages than me. It was like a force took over.
I never saw that client again because I quit that fancy spa shortly after that experience. My time there came to an abrupt halt on a chilly evening in April 2003. On what would unknowingly be my last day on the job, I’d been asked to give a massage to one of the owner’s business partners and best friends, something that wasn't out of the ordinary because I'd worked on his friends and associates before. But I felt special because the owner had requested me specifically for the session. I’d hoped the request was based on the reviews I was receiving from my sessions, so I felt excited with a touch of nervousness about my session with his friend.
Let's say his name was Peter; and our session was completely eventless until about 30 minutes into our 50 minute experience together. It happened just after Peter turned over onto his back; I saw the top sheet over his groin area standing straight up to the ceiling. He had “pitched a tent”, a term we learned in massage school to describe when a man got an erection. This was my first time with this scenario, so it was startling, but I immediately took the next step teachers suggested in school, which was to quietly put a heavy towel over the midline to gently communicate (with the weight of the towel) that it was time to relax everything. But when I placed the towel over Peter's tent, it didn’t collapse; instead he swept the towel off to the side and asked, “aren’t you going to finish me off?” Like it was a line item on the spa menu that he’d already paid for and I was supposed to provide the service. But the worst part about it was that it felt like Peter had made this request before, because his request rolled right off his tongue so easily and he knew what he liked and how he liked it, which meant this sort of thing was normal here. But it was not normal with me.
A few seconds of quiet passed between us after he made his comment and I politely asked him to repeat himself, just to be sure I wasn’t misunderstanding him. And then he rolled his eyes at me and said, “So I take it you don’t give happy endings”, and I knew it was time to end this.
So I turned up the lights, told him his massage was over and I walked out of the treatment room into what felt like a new life. I’d just stood up for something I believed in, and said no to what I didn’t believe in. It felt like a powerful moment I'd remember. I proceeded into the spa's office to tell a manager that I’d just ended a massage because of this disrespectful request from my client, and I was relieved to see the owner S**** in the office, because he was seldom there; it was usually just a stack of unpaid bills on his desk that always left a weird taste in my mouth.
I told S**** what happened, expecting him to apologize profusely, be furious at his friend, and storm out and give Peter a firm talking to. But instead S**** calmly and creepily looked up at me from his office chair and replied, “you know some of the girls are making a lot of extra cash doing that…” And with his words seeping into my skin, a fire in me had just been lit by this conversation. It was not time to educate S**** on my perspective about happy endings, so I showed him how I felt by grabbing my stuff and walking out the front door, and giving the middle finger overhead to their whole business as I left. When I reached my truck in the parking lot out front, I saw a client who I’d really grown to like on his way in and he was also my next session. He was a private chef and his wife was a mural artist and she painted a lot of the interior of the spa. They were both regulars and I enjoyed them.
I told him I just quit and he asked me how he could get massages from me in the future because he loved my work. I smiled and brushed some snow off the camper window of my truck, revealing a my name and phone number on a sticker on the back of my truck.“Here’s how to find me” I said to him. And we hugged and parted ways.
I drove away that night from that fancy boutique hotel spa thinking to myself how different it was on the inside from what I thought it was on the outside. And it felt confusing that such a beautiful space could feel so out of alignment with me and what I wanted to offer the world. But I was proud of myself for my choice and I wanted to tell someone what I’d just said no to, so I called my dad and told him the whole story. And his next words changed me forever and opened a door to a new idea…
“Harriet why don’t you just open your own spa? That way you could do it your own way…”And I was stunned by his comment; I was 24 and not in a stable place in any part of my life, so opening a spa seemed almost laughable. But what if? I knew I had something powerful to offer the community, because I hadn't been to a spa where I could get a great massage, a great facial and other spa treatments like waxing and tinting. I had to go to 3 different salons for that. So what if I created my own and had the best of my favorite services all under 1 roof? I felt myself nodding my head that I should open my own spa. And that was the beginning.
Very little of my decision made sense at the time. I had little experience in business or spas and I thought about the long list of reasons why my dad’s question about me opening my own place sounded illogical:
1. I didn’t know how to run or own a spa
2. I was new to massage
3. I don’t know how to hire people
4. I didn’t have any money to build a spa
The list of why nots seemed insurmountable but what also grew in me was my desire to have a place to share my gift of massage in a big way, and a knowingness that I could create a beautiful space, inside and out.
The thought of having my own spa was exciting and inspiring and I didn’t have a clue as to how it could or would happen, but I wanted it with a passion I could feel in my bones.
A few days after my conversation with my dad about me having my own spa, he called me back and told me there was a guy he knew with an empty condominium inside a HOA run condo hotel called the Shadow Ridge Hotel. It was at the base of Park City Mountain Ski Resort; and the space was empty and had been used as an office. He asked if I would like to see it for a possible spa space and he could help arrange a meeting. Wow. I thought. He wanted this for me as well.
Umm, “Yes please dad, and thank you.”
And a few hours later I walked around the corner of the first floor at the Shadow Ridge Hotel and I saw the front door to what would soon be my first spa home for Align Spa. I knew it when I walked through the double glass doors and came face to face with a gorgeous stone wall with an inset globe-shaped fish tank that was waiting to be filled. These were both elements I’d seen in a dream years before about my first healing space, long before I went to massage school. It was all coming together and making more sense now.
But here’s the thing. I didn’t know how the hell I was going to do this, or what to do, but I was going to go for it anyway. And give it my all and figure it out along the way, day-by-day. And I’ve been being and feeling bold, authentic, and magical, and grateful for the whole journey. I learn and grow from all my past experiences, and that’s the energy I put into the Align Spa each day.
The life I live is the message I teach, and since Align was born that summer of 2003, she’s been growing from those core roots ever since. And you can feel this energy in the physical space, the staff, the clients, our services and even in the air. It’s a sacred space.
And now Align Spa is the oldest running day spa in Park City, Utah and we’ve been voted the best spa in town by the locals. Align Spa is so much bigger than me now, and now I’m a part of her team and still do my best to support her growth.
Some of the original spa staff are still together and I remember the moments when each of them came into my professional life because I knew we were all in this together.
Never could I have imagined that saying no to a happy ending request 14 years ago at my first spa job would set me up for such success and give me such a passion for what I’m here to create today. Never underestimate the little choices and decisions you make in the moment, because that’s where the magic is and what can pave the way to your freedom and YOUR happy ending.