I first heard about John Benbow from a client who had taken one of his classes.
“He’s a chemist at Pfizer who teaches yoga classes on the side? Hmm,” I thought, “an interesting combination.” In my profession, I’m always intrigued by stories of people with varying interests and several income streams.
What I didn’t know then is that Benbow’s sideline interests in health and wellness would come to his rescue when in 2009 he confronted one of life’s scariest challenges.
The Ph.D. chemist of Norwich, then 49, was laid off from his job at Pfizer along with 1,100 others. This was the second setback in 10 years for the promising scientist. In 1999 he had been denied tenure at Lehigh University, where he had been teaching chemistry.
I am happy to report that Benbow landed on his feet. Just how is a lesson in extraordinary serendipity, one that traces all the way back to a youthful attempt to kick smoking.
Today, he is the owner of Humble Monkey Wellness, a yoga and wellness company. His company, based in Norwich provides a variety of yoga, fitness and other wellness services.
Benbow was able to move from full-time employment at Pfizer to entrepreneur by falling back upon a passion for health and yoga and combining this with his lifelong interest in teaching.
Both his father and brother worked in academia and since he thought he would enjoy teaching he headed for a career as a university chemistry teacher. But, along the way he developed an unhealthy smoking habit. He began exercising as a way to end this habit, and thus began a long and studied interest in health and fitness.
Even while working full time as a chemistry professor at Lehigh, Benbow received his first fitness teaching certification in 1999. Since that time has taken more than 45 fitness and yoga courses and received numerous certifications.
His setback at Lehigh came as a blow. “It was the first time I had ever experienced failure,”
But he found a job at Pfizer in medicinal chemistry in 2000. The position came with a steep learning curve. He pushed through it and stayed until 2009, when he was let go in a massive layoff.
“The initial feeling was of shock, a feeling of failure, losing a job, again.” Benbow reports. He said he went home to his partner and cried. After a lengthy discussion they agreed that Benbow needed to take time to revisit what he really wanted to do in life. Looking back, he realized that although he was capable of doing a good job as a research chemist he hadn’t really been happy in that role.
Unemployment can be very disorienting. Benbow managed his stress by continuing to work out and maintain his routine as a fitness instructor. He met regularly with a former colleague who was also laid off to talk about potential future options and to update each other on opportunities that had presented themselves. Additionally regular meetings with a counselor helped him to explore job prospects and to stay focused on his goals.
But the choice he made was right in front of him. Benbow’s decided to turn his sideline fitness business into a career.
“I used to work to make drugs and now I work to help people stay off of drugs.”
It seemed natural to combine his love of teaching and education with his passion for health and wellness. And, although no longer employed by a larger organization, he had, after all, been self-employed since 1999. Running his own business fulltime would allow him to continue to do what he loved in a fulfilling second career.
Benbow’s latest interest is Thai yoga massage. He positions the recipient in various yoga positions, helps them stretch and applies gentle pressure. Afterwards he says people often feel more limber, lighter, and more energized.
And that’s sort of the way Benbow felt when he discovered a new path into the future.
Liz Pelissier, LCSW, is the owner of Sound Career Services, based in Waterford, CT