Three Difficult Lessons I Learned From Building a Private Practice

When I started my private practice back in 2016, I had no clue how much this endeavor would challenge me, overwhelm me, and invigorate me.

During the first year of my business, I felt like I was faking it. Even as I got my first several clients, I remember waiting for some imaginary auditor to cite me for the crime of I-have-no-fucking-clue-what-I’m-doing.

I remember all the offices moves. As my practice grew and my life changed, my office followed suit.  I went from Fort Collins to Denver.  From an hourly sublet to a part-time share to…at long last…my own office that I could fill with my style and energy.

I remember when my website first went live.  It was such a labor of love.  I put over 20 hours into the writing, the designing, and the self-teaching of WordPress.  Even though I only shared it with family and friends to start, I felt like I was exposing my heart and soul to the entire world.

I can’t tell you the exact moment, but I do know there was a day when it all started to shift.

I remember the moment when I first identified as an entrepreneur, not just a therapist.

I remember when imposter syndrome’s toxic messages started to go from a deafening roar to a dwindling whisper. Yes, it still flares up with each new endeavor I do, but I know how to handle it.

I remember when my practice became full and I started making a profit.  I remember being able to afford my office rent,  clinical trainings, and even put some aside for future business investments.

I remember doing the hard money-work so that I could throw almost $20,000 towards my debt in 2018.  This involved increasing my fees and getting real about my spending traps & money “stuff”.  It entailed tears, strategy, and discomfort.

Behind all these memories, there was a ton of learning, exploration, and soul searching.  

I have learned so many technical and clinical skills since my doors opened.  However, the lessons that really stick with me are the hard ones.  The ones that have a reverberation both in my business and my personal life.

These are the lessons that have impacted me on a soul-level.  

I share them with you now.

Lesson #1: I’m allowed to be seen

Prior to my website’s launch, my internet presence was close to nonexistent.  For many years, I purposely didn’t have any type of social media.  I was terrified of being seen without my consent, without having utter control over what people saw and thought.

Plus, I don’t really like being the center of attention. I thrive being behind the scenes.  I mean, heck, my entire job is LITERALLY behind closed doors.

Thus, the biggest barrier I faced when launching my practice was allowing myself to be truly seen. 

Unlike previous jobs, my private practice felt like an extension of ME and now I had to put it out there for all to see.  YIKES.

Yet, I knew that, in order for me to get clients, I had to allow myself to be seen.  And because of my personality, I knew that online marketing would be the most sustainable way for people to learn about me.  I didn’t want to get burned out on noisy networking events that didn’t really serve me.

What helped me with allowing myself to be seen
  • Sheer hustle.  When I left my full-time job, I gave myself 6 months to get full. I didn’t want to work for anyone ever again.
  • I realized that if people don’t know what I do and how to reach me, I can’t help them.
  • I started to understand marketing as a persona, as an extension of me, but not who I am.
  • I began to trust the natural expansion and contraction cycle of sensitive entrepreneurs.  Knowing that some days I’ll be more comfortable being out there, and other days I will just need to hide out. Both are important parts of the process.
  • I figured out a way to put myself out there that felt true to me, in alignment with my values and playing upon my strengths.
  • I saw been seen as a muscle, the more I practiced, the easier it became.
  • I found close colleagues and friends where being seen at a deeper level felt safe and authentic.
  • I had to remind myself daily that not everyone has to like me, my practice, or how I put myself out there.  At a certain point, I can’t control how others perceive me, only how I treat them.

LESSON #2: Success isn’t always what I thought it would be

My definition of success has changed over time and certainly is influenced by being a Highly Sensitive Person.

I had many disillusionments about going into business for myself. I certainly didn’t know how to measure ‘success’ beyond numbers – be that the numbers in my bank account or the number of clients on my caseload.

Therefore, at first, I thought success was a full caseload – regardless of the pay.  Before I knew it, half my caseload was a low paying EAP.   And I was still paying for an hourly sublet at the time.  Therefore, if I were to look at the numbers, yes, I have a full caseload, but I was also making about $12/hour after rent.  (Technically, that’s $6/hour if you’re using the Profit First model.)

So I learned that success is not just a full caseload.

Then, I thought success would be grossing the ever-coveted $10,000 in one month.  So I did that in May 2018.  I also didn’t take ANY time off and was seeing way too many clients in a day.    My colleague remarked how burned out I was and how little I enjoyed my clients when I worked so much.

Thus, I cut back on my hours and have never grossed that much in one month in 2018.   I’m am perfectly ok with that because, with how my fees were set, it was absolutely grueling.

Ok, so success is not a monetary amount.  As we near the end of 2018, I think I’ve figured it out.

Success is being able to live the life I want to lead, have the time for the people I love, and make enough money to feel like I’m on track to meeting my financial goals.

So here I am. In my tiny office, seeing about 11-15 clients a week, making a decent amount of money each month.  I will be going to Alaska soon to see my family and will have a full two weeks off.  This is the most time I have ever taken off since…I can’t remember.  Instead of this feeling like “success”, it feels like peace and stability, and I can do get on board with that.

Lesson #3: Wherever you go, there you are

I had this fantasy that once I was self-employed, I’d magically engage in all the self-care habits I had neglected over the years. In my dream, I’d spend lazy Sundays reading and phone free.  I’d go hiking every weekend. I’d make elaborate dinners every night.  I’d even foster kittens and knit them matching sweaters.

I hate to tell you this but none of these habits “magically” happened once I was my own boss. In fact, I think I may have gone backward even.

I am still anxious and try to control situations. Sometimes I turn to Netflix instead of real human contact.  I still get really obsessed and fixated on ideas, my work, and writing. I still take a long time to let friends into my inner circle.  Even with my “ideal schedule”, I still struggle to set time aside for me.

Dammit.  I thought being in private practice would magically fix all my flaws. 

I had secretly hoped that being self-employed would ‘cure’ me of my imperfections and humanity

Once I realized that my private practice was a tool that could either support me or drag me down, my mindset really started to shift.  As opposed to working for my business, I made my business work for me and for the life I wanted.

I would not be where I’m at today without the kindness, tough love, and support I received along the way. Once I started working with a coach and a mastermind community, my life satisfaction soared.  I was able to move my practice forward much quicker than had I been on my own. I won’t lie – there were lots mental blocks I had to work through.

My outlook for 2019 is hopeful and realistic.  In the coming year, I’ll be letting go of some unrealistic expectations and moving forward with goals that I feel truly passionate about.

Let my lessons inform your journey

I’m not about to let these lessons go to waste. In fact, I think learning these soul-searching lessons is how I am both the passionate and grounded entrepreneur I am today.

If you’re a sensitive therapist, you might see yourself in one of these struggles, wondering how you can get to the other side.  How can you allow yourself to be truly seen? How can you heal your money trauma so that you can reach your financial goals? How you can have your business work for you, as opposed to control you?

The biggest challenge is within you

I’ve been where you are. I know the biggest challenge is not outside of you, but within you. The inside of your head is a messy tornado of imposter syndrome, money shame, overwhelm, and self-doubt. Unless you look at those anxieties, your practice may never be what you want it to be.

I want to be the compassionate guide who is there when you start to come face to face with your own soul lessons.  I can support you as your self-employment fantasies start to fade and you’re hit with the real-life reality of entrepreneurship.

Schedule your free exploration call today.


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