It was the summer of 2017, and I was officially a small business owner. I had set my heart out to be one of the youngest privately owned psychotherapy practices in the city where I lived. I had been working at another practice for several years building my clientele, when I decided it was time to go off on my own.
I typed up my resignation letter, gave my employer 30 days notice, and alerted my clients of my promotion from therapist to owner. Every client asked to come with me on the adventure, which I was pleased to find out was okay due to the no-compete clause my employer never implemented.
However, when I unlocked my new office door on opening day, I was shocked to realize there were many things I hadn’t considered prior to starting my own business.
It’s silly to admit now, but as an aspiring entrepreneur, I did not allot the time I needed to prepare for the transition from employee to employer. Although I gave myself a month to find an office to lease, buy furniture and supplies, and provide my clients the reassurance that it was going to be a positive move, I did not give myself the time to learn how to be an entrepreneur.
I was naive to think that a Master’s degree, two internships and 3,000 hours of clinical supervision in the field of social work was enough to run a business. Within a week of opening day, half of my clients transitioned to other therapists in the area because I didn’t know I would need to be contracted by their health insurance companies. My previous employer had taken care of that task, and I was unaware it existed at all since I didn’t give myself the time to research what it took to open a psychotherapy private practice.
My first year in business I made less than the cost of my first car. Although things have bounced back in abundance, I still look back at that time, close my eyes, and actively have to choose to give myself grace for not knowing anything about starting a business.
As an entrepreneur, I learned I had to surrender the need to control. No matter how much I marketed, refreshed my website, or gave away free services, I could not control how many clients would come to see me for their mental health needs. Giving up the desire to control the number of clients I had provided me the space to take things as they came. It also taught me to do business in a state of gratitude and thankfulness.
Sometimes my inbox is flooded with referrals, and other times it’s sparse. Working in an industry that is client based, I have to be flexible. This concept has taken practice, and will continue to be an area of growth for me as a small business owner. Rather than trying to control it, I choose to live more open-handed. It means shifting around dollars, taking vacation during the down times, and being more creative with how I advertise.
The best way I have found to market is not to tap into what I think people need to hear, but to just be myself. As a person, I have felt emotional freedom by no longer trying to control it.
Becoming an entrepreneur has an overarching expectation: make money. However, over the years I have found that I do not particularly enjoy earning money. When I was a W-2 employee, I liked the feeling of my paycheck being deposited into my bank account. It felt like my hard work was being compensated and appreciated by my employer— as if my boss was saying, “You are a valuable employee, and here’s how much I think you’re worth.”
As a sole-proprietor, something felt different when it came to how much to charge, how much to save and how much to pay myself. Rather than focusing on how much I expected to earn, I switched gears to contemplate how valuable I was as a person. My expectation of striving to earn six-figures as a psychotherapist dwindled before me.
It made me question my motives of being a business owner. If I was no longer trying to earn more money, what was I doing? This drastically changed the projection of how I chose to run my business, and I incorporated the method of minimalism. I wanted to work less, earn less and feel more satisfied at the end of day by being an imperfect therapist who gave people a space to be themselves just as they were.
The main thing I wish I would have known when I started my private practice was that fulfilling your dream can feel like a disappointment if you don’t keep dreaming. For me, I had one dream in mind: be a private practice psychotherapist. I was able to make it happen within four years of completing my Master’s degree and working in the field of social work. Many social workers take much longer to get there, but I went after my dream.
However, on opening day, I unlocked my office door and said aloud, “This is it?” The emotions I anticipated feeling did not greet me hello. I had spent over a decade dreaming and working for that moment, and to feel nothing was unexpected.
What I learned was that I had stopped dreaming. Nothing was beyond opening day. Over the past few years, I have set aside time every week to dream. I long to travel, to write books, to help people in ways outside of the therapy office, and to live a life of minimalism and grace.
Dreaming of such things helps me to live in the present, because I know that in order to fulfill those dreams, I need to accept who I am and what I have right now.