3 steps to keeping your cool when things don't go as planned in your PT job
At this moment, my life and career is not what I expected it to be for myself.
On the surface level, I'm literally not where I thought I would be.
Two weeks ago, we decided to trade our holiday vacation to Mexico for a trip to Florida.
A grin comes over my face as I think “Huh, well this is NOT what we had planned.”
Why would I be grinning?
With all due respect to anyone who is from Florida (which is a beautiful place, no doubt), Florida is not exactly Mexico.
Back when we scheduled the Mexico trip and made reservations—it was an idea that was totally in alignment with what we wanted. It was perfect for us. Daniel, my husband, would get to ride his mountain bike for a few days, then afterwards we would do everything we love: hiking, swimming with whale sharks, eating amazing food, getting massages, reading books, meditating, seeing how Christmas was celebrated in a different culture, and just growing together as a couple.
But we made those plans several months ago, and since then our interests have evolved. Just over a week ago, we got very honest and vulnerable with each other and realized neither of our hearts were still feeling good about the Mexico trip.
Hence why we’re now in Florida.
This was not what we had planned. But it is absolutely perfect. We still get to do all of the amazing things we wanted, only the whale sharks are now manatees, and the different Christmas culture is, well, Florida.
And as a bonus, we got to celebrate the holidays in nature with some of our best friends.
And that is all that matters.
You may be wondering how this holiday travel anecdote relates to what to do when your PT job doesn't go as planned.
Well, it completely relates. Just like our vacation, most of life never goes according to plan.
Even though it’s not always fun right in the actual moment when I realize plans are changing, I truly LOVE it when life doesn’t go according to plan.
Yes, just like many of you may do, sometimes in the moment I might stomp my feet and throw things when things don’t go the way I thought I wanted them to go.
But surrendering and just allowing the unexpected to unfold also provides an exhilarating sense of adventure and vitality. It lets me truly milk life it for all it is worth.
And what’s not to love about that?
I didn’t use to think that “surrendering and just allowing the unexpected to unfold” was ANY fun, especially when it came to work and business.
I was a serial planner, and used to have my life and career planned down to the minute.
For example, I remember meticulously planning out every detail of every outfit for a conference—down to how I was doing my hair and which color glasses I’d wear that day— based on exactly what I was doing and who I was going to meet or see.
That practice certainly helped keep me from overpacking, but when the weather or programming changed or my colleagues decided to spontaneously do something fun at night, it felt overwhelming when those new unexpected plans didn’t mesh with my previous meticulous plans.
It took a long, slow, patient process of self growth and surrender to get to the point where I see uncertainty as exhilarating, not scary or overwhelming.
And this LOVE for really drinking up all of life and embracing its uncertain adventures can apply to absolutely everything we encounter in our lives.
I’ve used this approach to achieve freedom from the grips that cancer, autoimmune disease, and less-than-ideal career and business situations have had over my head and heart.
Let’s dive into the career and business piece a bit more.
Almost 10 years ago, I interviewed for what would become my first of several dream jobs.
As the highest of high achievers in my physical therapy school cohort, I lost a lot of sleep (and sanity) over doing everything it took to land this perfect job. This included mock interviews, a $500 suit (a suit that currently hangs very lonely and unloved in my closet because I’ve only worn it once since then), shadowing the clinicians way too many times, and schmoozing with the managers. I did all of it.
And lo and behold, it worked. And it was the perfect job. For 2 years at least.
Then the unexpected happened.
Another dreamier, more perfect job fell into my lap.
The endless pursuit of perfection in life and career was more or less my life motto in those early career days. So of course I moved on to job #2 without hesitation.
It was a little hard to let go of that first job I’d worked so hard to get. I felt guilty and like I didn't deserve the 2nd Dream Job.
But the truth was, this was an unexpected adventure Life had thrown me, and it was up to me to roll with the adventure or let it pass by. I concluded that once-perfect Dream Job #1 became a job that was perfect for me at the time but no longer perfect for me in that present moment.
Kind of like a perfect-on-paper trip to Mexico became a less-than-perfect-on-paper-but-actually-perfect trip to Florida.
I went into Dream Job #2 with high hopes. It was a job that appeared to be the pinnacle of physical therapy jobs on first glance. In my mind, it was a job that only the cream of the crop physical therapists would achieve. On paper, was the Shangri-La of places to work and places to go as a patient.
I stuck with Dream Job #2 for just a little bit longer than Dream Job #1, even though it didn’t take long (maybe about a month) to realize that Dream Job #2 was anything but perfect.
It was the type of place that was great on paper, but under the surface it provided an unmistakable recipe for burnout.
Once again, it wasn’t what I had planned. This time, a dreamier job didn't present itself as easily, providing me an easy "out." I therefore faced a dilemma of what to do.
Instead of listening to my heart and to the signs from the Universe stating that it was all wrong for me, I held onto that dilemma just a bit longer.
I stayed for nearly 4 years even though it was tearing me apart physically and emotionally to keep working there.
Why would I stay? Because like many of my colleagues, I’d told myself that I’d reached the pinnacle. I knew I didn’t want to be there, but didn’t know where else to go. In my mind, any other move would be a step backwards on the proverbial professional development ladder.
I obviously didn't stay forever. Something eventually had to give. And for me, it took falling on my face with a major health issues for me to finally justify pulling the trigger to get myself out of there.
Those major health issues weren't what I'd planned, nor was the medical leave I took in order to care for them.
But by surrendering to that unexpected twist, an opportunity came along that I would have missed if I had continued to fight it.
One day, in the shower of all places, I realized that in order to get exactly what I wanted in a physical therapy job, the only answer was to create my own dream PT job.
I decided to start my own PT business.
And just like changing from dream job to dream job and upending our dream vacation plans, that, too, was certainly never in my plan. In fact I always said it wasn't what I wanted to do.
I'd seen friends and mentors start and run PT practices and feel miserable in the process, always working way too much and burning themselves out.
I knew I didn't want that.
So I decided to break the rules.
I chose to build a practice and career the exact way I wanted: by creating a life first and a job second.
I wanted to do more with less.
For my entire career I had done it the other way: build a career by always striving to do more, learn more, get a better job and pile more onto my plate.
I had to always reach that mountaintop. Once there, I'd let life fall into place in whatever space and time was leftover...assuming there was anywhere leftover in the first place.
It became very clear to me that it wasn't the dream job that got me the happiness and life that I wanted.
It wasn't the dream job that was a recipe for burnout.
It was the mindset I carried around about the job.
In fact, the truth was not that I could plan out and achieve the perfect job and expect life and happiness to just fall into place. That mindset and belief was totally backwards.
In fact, the exact opposite was true.
From scratch, I chose to create the perfect life first, then let the career fall into place.
On the surface, the outcomes of this mindset may look very similar. It may still look like I'm burning the candle at both ends and working my butt off. It may look like I have it all together and I'm constantly striving to reach the mountaintop professionally.
But the intention behind those outcomes is very different.
And most importantly, rather than plan out every single element of a business before I got started, I let go of the fear and just jumped in and started doing it.
I chose to embrace the adventure that was ahead. For me, a previous fear of the unexpected had transformed into inspiration and excitement.
And what happened?
It wasn’t always easy and it certainly took work, but I succeeded.
I made twice as much money by working half as much. I saw patients one-on-one for 1-2 hours each and only worked 2 days per week. I was able to build a niche practice that catered to the exact clients I wanted to treat: girls, women, and swimmers. I was able to do clinical research on female athletes, become an adjunct professor in PT school, and regularly lecture at major PT meetings. I wrote and sold thousands of dollars worth of books.
Being my own boss was a dream.
And everything was going perfectly according to plan.
You can probably guess where this is going…
That’s right, that dream was replaced by a new dream. A dream I couldn’t possibly have envisioned anywhere along the path.
That new dream was so far from the original dream on paper, yet paradoxically so close to what I’d originally set out to do in my heart.
I decided to move on from seeing physical therapy patients so I could put my whole heart into coaching practice.
While I was certain this was absolutely the right thing for me to do, it still required a really slow decision making process and transition.
For months to years as I'd transitioned into coaching, I worried that coaching was not a "good enough" profession.
I had a Doctorate for crying out loud. And I was really good at my PT job.
I heard people say all the time that coaching was "just a certification" therefore implying that it was "lesser than." I had people tell me I didn't know enough or that I didn't have enough experience. Colleagues told me that I would fail.
It's safe to say I ultimately didn't let those voices get to me, because here I am. That doesn't mean that I didn't hear them and occasionally allow myself to believe them--even if only for a moment.
But I pressed on into the unexpected. Adventure was calling, and I was up for it.
And what did it look like?
Two weeks ago, I “broke up” with the last of my physical therapy clients.
This felt both exhilarating and like a little bit of grief.
I got very still, allowed myself to step outside of my body and really dig in and feel those feelings. As I looked on, it was as if I saw myself venture away from home and off on some grand voyage.
This was a voyage I knew was good for me and I knew I wanted to take. But for the little girl who fell in love with physical therapy in the first place, it was as if I was saying goodbye to an old friend.
And for the young adult who'd grown comfortable being really good at what she did for a living, it was a challenge to let go of the familiar, more comfortable parts of my life, career and business.
In truth, the present version of me couldn’t feel more inspired and excited to embrace and surrender to the uncertainty of stepping away from clinical practice and into coaching practice.
It was never in my plans, but the thrill of this uncertainty is what makes life truly full for me. I know in my heart that this change of plans is what is going to allow me to shine my light the brightest--in this season of my life at least--and to milk life for all it is worth.
And I would encourage you to consider trying this mindset on, even in small doses, as you approach what are inevitably the unexpected paths of your career and life. I especially encourage you to explore the “fun” that is behind uncertainty if uncertainty itself is not something you typically love to embrace.
I’m looking at you, my dear friend. Yes you—the one who says she is “such a planner” and can’t live without having her life completely mapped/planned out all the time.
There are times in your life when you LOVE uncertainty or when you love change! It may look different for you than me. Some of you may love the uncertainty that comes with opening a present, riding a rollercoaster in the dark, or taking a trip to a new country where you don't speak the language.
How is it that one minute we say we can't stand uncertainty (and therefore a change in plans) and the next, we love it?
Here’s the thing—there is a fine line between constantly planning and trying to predict the future (which I don’t necessarily recommend) and totally flying by the seat of your pants (which I also don’t necessarily recommend).
It’s not black and white: planning everything versus not planning at all.
We all need a little of both.
On the one hand, planning is one of the highest forms of self care. If your planning is rooted in an intention of concrete core values and a clear vision, it helps keep you focused and keeps you out of overwhelm, overstriving, and overly relying on perfectionism to achieve your goals.
Over-anything is not a great way to get anything accomplished. It just makes you overly exhausted, overwhelmed, and perhaps eventually overly burned out.
Personally I’m a big fan of doing more with less in my life and career, and I love to teach my clients to do the same.
Planning and projecting is one way to set yourself up for doing more with less and to help the future be a little more manageable.
But no amount of picture perfect planning helps us to actually predict the future.
Yet so many of us spent hours and hours planning with the intention of doing just that.
Oftentimes planning is not rooted in a place of values. It comes from a place of fear, FOMO, comparison to others or feeling like we’re not good enough at our jobs.
Uncertainty can be a fickle thing, can't it?
Planning from a place of fear of the uncertain — or rather— attaching our emotional wellbeing to planning for fear that if we don’t overly plan then we will fail or be overcome by fear of uncertainty—often fools us into believing that we have total control over the future.
And when we tell ourselves the story that we have total control, that warm and fuzzy “feel good” sensation washes over us. That warm and fuzzy feeling is a real thing. It’s a neurochemical reward system.
Dopamine and endorphins release in the brain and we receive what we believes is a payoff for all that planning. As things go exactly as planned, we are rewarded with the sweet nectar of feel good chemicals.
Any worry, anxiety, or fear of the uncertain we were trying to avoid by planning gets shoved down even further into a dark place where we don’t have to see or feel it.
“Ahhh…that’s better,” we think.
And we really believe life is better because we did all of that planning. We unconsciously tell ourselves a story that we have control over the uncertain future.
This is why planning can become really addictive, and why we might say “I just can’t live without planning everything out.”
It’s also why our worlds may perceivably fall apart when things don’t go according tp plan. When our plans fail, all those suppressed worries, anxieties, and fears come rushing up from that dark place where we once shoved them. They wash over us with tsunami force.
Planning that comes from a place of fear doesn’t necessarily get rid of the fear, after all.
It’s just a temporary band-aid.
I know what you might be thinking though:
“But if I feel afraid, what am I supposed to do? I can’t just stop planning.”
Don't worry. You can keep planning. The trick is to do it from your heart, not from your fear. And I've got a couple of steps you can take to guide you.
1. Get clear about your intentions.
The first step is to get super honest with yourself about the intention behind the plans while you’re making them. Get really honest about what you’re feeling when you sit down with your planner. Are you coming from a place of fear or of your deepest values?
If you’re not sure of the answer to that question, ask yourself what will happen if your plans fall through or if things don’t go according to plan. Ask yourself how you feel about things being uncertain. Does that trigger any feelings of anxiety? Or anger? Or grief? Or a combination of those things?
If so, that is totally ok. Give yourself some time to really feel those feelings in your body and let them dissipate. Examine any stories you may be making up in your head about why you feel so attached to the plans going exactly as you want them to.
What would happen if you weren’t so attached to the plans? What would happen if you knew that you didn’t have to be afraid to try and protect yourself, and that you have the wisdom to make the right decision when the moment comes in the future?
2. Choose your path.
The next step is a choice. You get to choose if it’s a big deal that your plans fall through, or if you can practice letting go of any emotional attachment you have to those plans.
Perhaps you can practice surrender. You can ask yourself if an unexpected change of plans might open doors for something better to come...something that you never could have imagine.
Planning and setting goals is really smart and there are 1001 reasons why it’s a great idea in your career, business, and life.
So if you’re sitting here raising your eyebrows and thinking that I’m trying to preach at you to just throw caution to the wind and not plan anything, then you can take a breath.
3. Practice emotional non-attachment to your plans.
If you're crystal clear what your intentions are and what path you're choosing if your plans do or don't work out, it will be easy to practice nonattachment of your emotions to your plans.
The unexpected doesn't have to feel scary. You don't have to feel like you have to be in total control all the time.
When we knowingly or unknowingly attach our emotions to our plans and goals, we sometimes miss unexpected opportunities that were not part of our original plans.
When we aren't attached to our plans, we can seize opportunities that may bring something even more amazing than the path to which we currently have ourselves chained. Like a dreamier job or the opportunity to start your own business from scratch.
Got it? Ok, let's go into 2019 with full, surrendered hearts then!
As we head into 2019 and a new year, how does your career path and “plan” land with you?
Are things going according to plan in your life and career or not?
And how are you feeling about that?
What do you LOVE about how things are going?
What don’t you love?
What would you like to change, but can’t see the path on how to change it?
Maybe you want to get out of your job, but like me you have no idea where to go or how to grow.
Perhaps you know you want to start a business, but that feels like such a huge undertaking that it leaves you feeling overwhelmed. It’s easier to stay put in a less-than-stellar job because it pays the bills than to venture into entrepreneurship.
Or it could be that you have your own business, but feel like it’s starting to take up way too much of your time. You’re so busy with patient care that you can’t seem to get most of your ideas and projects off the ground. And it may certainly feel like you're in the "work first, live second" mentality tha