The pressure that comes with choosing a career can be anxiety inducing at best. There are endless resources to help you decide what career best fits your personality, what you’ll make the most money with, where you’ll make the most money, job security, the list goes on. If you’re anything like me, it might feel good to investigate that part of my future but once I’m done reading I usually feel more uncertain than before.
I dropped out after one year of community college when I was 18 years old and while it felt liberating to not have to invest so much of myself in something I was uncertain about (nursing), I was scared. Scared that I would never “make it”, scared that I would live the rest of my life wishing that I’d set myself up better, and most of all scared to commit myself to anything while I was still so young. I found a good job at a warehouse printing t shirts and decided to give myself some time to try different things out and see if anything really stood out for me. I was exercising everyday so I considered a career in some sort of athletic training, I started cooking and baking and considered a culinary career, I always enjoyed hair and makeup so cosmetology was an option, what I ended up choosing was a complete curveball but in hindsight it absolutely makes sense.
After a few months of working in a warehouse and exercising every single day, my body was really feeling it. I woke up one day and collapsed from a searing pain in my right quad muscle. After a day I could walk on it but the pain traveled up to my hip and found a nice place to settle down in my lower back. My mom had been seeing a massage therapist for several months at this point and very kindly gifted me a 60 minute massage to see if it might help my situation. It was the first professional massage I had ever received in my life and it completely changed the trajectory of my life. As I lay there, in pure bliss, it clicked for me that this is a job, people can learn this and go on to provide this amazing experience for other people.
Let’s skip right to some of the pros and cons of a career in massage therapy.
- Depending on where you live, the schooling ranges from 9 months to 2 years (much quicker than a bachelors degree). The school I attended in Washington state had a one year program.
- My schooling only cost $11,000. If I include all the supplies I bought (some of which were optional), including my nice, brand new massage table it adds about $1,500. I went to a privately owned massage school, if there is a massage program at your local community college you might pay half of what I paid.
- You get to actively take part in the well being of your clients. Ultimately what changed my trajectory from nursing was the idea that I don’t want every single day of my life to be a part of the worst time in somebody else’s. I’m immensely thankful for the healthcare workers that have helped myself and the rest of the world through the scariest times of my life, but it’s hard to stomach that kind of a commitment. It is immensely satisfying for me to have clients thank me and say they feel so much better than when they came in, whether they have an injury to work on or are just trying to relax.
- You are hardly ever stuck at a desk. I spend maybe 5 minutes between clients finishing up paperwork but besides that I’m up all day. If you are mindful of your form, like with any sort of activity, you can do massage for as long as you’d like. Most of my instructors have been in the industry over 10 years, one of which has spent an impressive 30+ years in the industry.
- Scheduling is highly flexible. Many massage clinics consider full time to be 20 and 30 hours a week, if you work your way up to it you can work more and I know many therapists who do, but starting at 20 hours a week was a good choice for me. This gives me the freedom to invest more time in the other aspects of my life that have been placed on hold. I have the time to read all of my books, take the classes I haven’t had time for, reconnect with old friends, and try out new hobbies. I never thought I’d have such a great work life balance.
- The earning potential is very impressive. After tips and any extra commissions I made about $45-50 an hour very reliably. If you only work 20 hours a week this is about $50,000 a year. If you enjoy taking care of your body and want to work your way up to more hours, you can make a very impressive salary. Washington state is second only to Alaska for average income for massage therapist in the U.S. so like anything it will vary based on where you live, the numbers I present will not represent the whole industry.
- Massage is a booming industry. According to the BLS website, the massage industry is projected to grow by 32% between 2020 and 2030. I found a job while I was waiting for my license, they were willing to hire me and finish up all the paperwork so I could start immediately after receiving my license.
- There is a range of paths you can take in massage therapy. I work at a clinic, that offers anything from relaxation to focused injury treatment. There are spas, clinics, chiropractic offices, physical therapy offices, certain gyms, the list goes on. There are very light modalities where the pressure is no more than hands resting on the client and there’s deeper options where people are instructed to take a deep breath and you might hear some cries of pain from the other room and everything in between.
- It is very physical. I worked in restaurants and warehouses for years before starting my career in massage therapy and I was still surprised by how tired I was after my first few shifts. To turn this con into a sneaky pro, it is so satisfying to see myself getting used to it and know I’m getting stronger and building stamina, but this might be a rough adjustment for people who don’t lead a very active life already.
- The benefits package isn’t always very clear cut. I’m very fortunate in my situation to have health and dental insurance, but that isn’t universal in the industry and there isn’t a standard for “full time”. When I was interviewing for different jobs I encountered one place that considers 25 hours a week full time, one was 30, another 32, my current job is 20 hours a week. It varies greatly depending on what branch of the field you go into, and of course if you choose to start your own private practice that burden falls entirely on you.
- There can be a stigma around massage therapy. I live in one of the most liberal, progressive cities in the United States and I still get “happy ending” jokes from time to time. I like to think about it as a teaching opportunity when I hear misguided comments, but it can be challenging to deal with people’s preconceived notions about massage therapy.