A Bit of My Business History
July 24, 2011
From the perspective of my early life, establishing, running, and growing this successful business is a complete surprise. Mine was definitely not a family background of higher education or wealth. I knew that if I was to succeed in life beyond being a rural laborer I had to do it on my own. Breaking out of that mindset was my first introduction to the unknown. I was the first member of my extended family to pursue a professional career. Attending college and even medical school were not too far out of the expected but my choice of psychiatry shattered all the preconceptions of my family. I lost their support with that decision. At that point I was clearly in uncharted waters. Until her dying day my mother planned for my return to East Texas.
I learned my earliest business lessons as I started my first practice in Dallas, Texas in 1982. I was haunted by fears of failure. In addition to having so clearly left my family’s image of myself, I was anxious and uncertain about my competence as a newly minted psychiatrist. I continued my education by enrolling in the local psychoanalytic institute. As my education and experience grew, so did my confidence.
My marketing in Dallas was more aggressive than that of my colleagues’. I was driven by an absolutely terrifying conviction of failure. I was also hampered by a peculiar shame in promoting my business. A narcissistically determined defensive grandiosity made marketing myself feel like a constant, agonizing admission of inferiority. Secretly I was a red neck from East Texas masquerading as an urbane psychiatrist/psychoanalyst. What a strain!
Practice promotion back then consisted of attending meetings of the local psychiatric and psychoanalytic societies, socializing with colleagues, directly communicating with other clinicians of all types in the community, and making it clear that I was available to see patients. I also instinctively understood the importance of prompt follow-up when someone did send work my way. I was surprised and extremely grateful. Over time, my anxiety-driven outreach transformed into a calm realization of the excellent quality of my work and eagerness to sustain my practice.
I developed a love of psychiatry. Early in my career I began teaching psychiatric residents in individual psychotherapy supervision and in a continuous case conference for more senior residents. As I gained experience in these settings, I came to appreciate my teaching skills, which were validated when I received several teaching awards from the residents. Along with growing confidence in my clinical skills, I became a respected member of my professional community, eventually serving on the officer tracks of both the local psychiatric and psychoanalytic organizations, almost, but not quite completely, eliminating my dense sense of lack. I kept at it.
Then several years after a divorce, I met and fell in love with an amazing woman. Laura Lee elected to finish her psychiatric training at Northwestern Medical School. The original idea was that after completing her residency she would move back to Dallas and join my practice. I visited her often. A totally unexpected development was our both becoming smitten with Chicago. We decided to live here.
With my move to Chicago in 2004, I faced the challenges of starting over from scratch—but this time I was completely confident in my clinical skills. I also had the evidence of having built and grown a successful solo, cash-based practice. I was sure that I could do it again. This confidence allowed me to stay focused on the particular needs of re-establishing myself in a new city. I was able to immediately roll up my sleeves and get down to work.
The first few years in Chicago were full of new things, including developing a new marketing style and forming a corporation for the first time. A large part of the fresh perspective derived from my having a new life and business partner, an excellent psychiatrist and businessperson in her own right. We teamed up and quickly established a profitable Chicago clinical practice. These experiences along with years of psychotherapy have taught me tremendous lessons.
I doubt that my life story is particularly extraordinary. Many of us come from more or less wretched backgrounds. After all we are propelled into this line of work in some measure to heal ourselves. I am a hard worker. In some ways I am still driven by the fear of failure. What I know for sure is that the development of your business will follow your own path. If I was able to do this, so can you.