How changing my career saved my life
When sitting with the oncologist to hear all of the things to do to beat cancer, I’m guessing it’s probably not common to hear “Hey, maybe you should start your own PT business while you’re going through chemo…”
I mean, my oncologist certainly didn’t tell me that.
She also didn’t tell me to quit the stable job I did have, one that provided me the benefits I’d need to help me finance my life while fighting that cancer.
At the time, I was in a work environment where the company’s stated values did not always live up to the hype. “Excellence in clinical practice” translated to a never-ending race to see who could achieve the most CEUs and certifications. “Teamwork” translated to supporting each other only until that support meant that it meant you might lose a patient. “Compassion” meant I was constantly asked how soon I’d be back to work because there was nobody else to see my patients.
Everyone truly meant well and was doing their best. But it was a tough place to work. And it certainly wasn’t a great place to be to foster support and calm while fighting cancer.
I’m obviously now here, and not there. So what gave?
Normally when I tell this story, it’s obvious that cancer was the catalyst that helped me pull the trigger to leave the job.
I usually say, “Cancer was such a blessing! It saved and reignited my professional career. It pulled me out of a job that was slowly killing me anyway and therefore saved my life.” The story could end right there.
But when I stop and think about it, I’m not certain of who rescued whom…did the Cancer save my career, or did changing my career actually save me from the Cancer?
Recently, I’ve come to realize that perhaps the latter is more true. Or maybe it's not an either-or situation. Perhaps it goes both ways.
When I look back on the entire story, I like to think that if the Universe hadn’t thrown the cancer brick at me, I likely would have stumbled upon this career path anyway, just maybe not as quickly.
I’d already been working for nearly a year to change my outlook on my life and work, and I already knew at the time that I got sick that it was inevitable that I’d be finding a new job that aligned with my values.
I had done quite a bit of research, and while nothing seemed to fit perfectly, I had some big ideas.
Cancer just sped those ideas along.
So yes, Cancer did serve to kickstart a change in my life and career. But really, finding the courage to change my job itself (regardless of when I did it) is the real catalyst to a bigger, lifesaving change I couldn’t have even imagined.
I took a total of 6 months off of practice while I underwent genetically targeted chemotherapy and saw my grapefruit-sized tumor shrink to the size of an egg.
One day, in the shower of all places, the name and inspiration for my PT practice came into my consciousness. PRISM Wellness Center was born. The idea of a PRISM was multi-purpose: it is one of the strongest shapes in nature, and it contains multiple facets: each of which filters light in one shade and spreads it in another direction, often in multiple more colors.
The idea of a prism seemed to depict me perfectly. I went into my career thinking I would do one thing, and was now finding that there was so much more depth and “color” to what I was capable of doing.
Staying in that other job didn’t allow me to shine my light in all the ways and along all the color spectrums I was capable of accessing.
So a practice was born. I didn’t know what I was doing half the time and made a lot of mistakes in marketing, but with trial and error I eventually figured out simple ways to grow a business in ways you wouldn’t normally expect, against odds you wouldn’t think were in favor of building a PT practice.
I was still undergoing chemotherapy treatment with impending surgery, radiation and more disability leave in my future. I had $160K in student loan debt, no outside funding, and little to no equipment.
Yet, within 2 months, I had a full schedule.
I was making more in 1 week than I made in a month at my previous practice.
I almost couldn’t believe it.
I was only working 2 days and seeing a maximum of 15 clients per week because I simply didn’t want to work any more than that.
And I didn't limit my work days because I was sick (though that was an added bonus to recovery). I just valued my free time and doing the things I loved.
I began spending more time outside than inside. I was exercising regularly. I cooked nutrient dense and beautiful meals. I had time with my husband. We actually took vacations and had middle-of-the-week date nights.
I took 4 more months off to recover from surgery and radiation, and my client load didn’t falter in that time.
Something seemed to be working.
It was as if there was this invisible ball of energy that was pushing me further and further towards this goal.
I loved this new approach and loved that I was practicing in a way that I wanted that allowed me to truly create a life that I loved.
On that note, my husband and I spent 1 month in New Zealand and Fiji to celebrate me beating the crap out of cancer. It was there that I sold hundreds of copies of my e-book and realized “huh, making money while I sleep is kind of groovy.”
As I returned from New Zealand, I began formal coach training, thinking that it would just be something I offered on the side.
But as I went through the training and practice hours, I realized I really had a knack for coaching.
Coaching allowed me to help clients in greater depths, on more facets, to shine their own lights in more directions than even they knew were imaginable. And, I could do it from anywhere and help people everywhere, not just in Atlanta.
There was something about that I found very alluring.
After about a year of training, I started offering coaching as a full fledged service.
Within 6 months of building my coaching website, my schedule had filled with some of the coolest coaching clients I ever could have asked for.
This afforded me a glimpse at what “work from anywhere” really meant. I took coaching calls from a tree overlooking the Maine coastline (true story!), from a beautiful retreat in the mountains, and sometimes from a coffee shop.
I’d never tasted this kind of freedom before. I kind of felt like I was breaking the rules!
But, as liberating as that felt, I faced a little growing pain. Because I was still working with some PT clients as well, my schedule had started to fill beyond my sacred 2-days-only-of-client-care rule.
I'd reached an inevitable crossroads that I never imagined I’d face so quickly.
Two options arose for me:
Option 1: Would I move forward and pursue coaching only? That invisible ball of energy really seemed to be pushing me in that direction.
Option 2: Would I keep up the PT work as well, you know, as a side gig? Something I truly never thought I would say.
The freedom was too good to pass up.
While my heart sang for my PT work, how I felt when I was coaching was a different kind of “truly alive.”
It was clear that at this stage in my life, the answer was Option 1.
Despite that clarity, I hemmed and hawed and did not take resolute action on the decision for a good 2 months.
I’d say things like…
“We can’t afford to lose that income”
“Who will treat the teenagers around here?”
“That patient will totally lose her mind. I can let the other patients go, but I can’t let HER go.
“Maybe I just don’t want to stop? What if I lose my skills or I’m making the wrong choice?”
Being that I regularly help people learn to make decisions and take action for a living now, I recognized I was making excuses and that each of those things was not the truth.
It was crystal clear to me that I was standing in my own way.
Usually preferring to practice what I preach, I did all that I could to take action.
I practiced emotional surrender, let go of fear, imposter syndrome and any “not good enough” emotions that were holding me back. I checked, double checked and triple checked our budget to ensure it was financially viable. I told people that full-on-coaching-as-a-career was coming. My husband and I began making plans to travel more so I could truly practice this work-from-anywhere dream.
And yet, I still didn’t budge to actually make the leap.
As it turned out, as is usually the case for me, there was something deeper that was holding me back.
One rainy Thursday night I felt very uneasy. So I got very still, focused in on my breathing and set an intention to just listen to what my heart had to say.
In my mind’s eye, I saw a picture of a little girl. She was standing on a dock, watching me as I sailed away on a large ship. She was waving and happy for me as I set sail on the journey. But she was also whispering something.
The word “invisible” echoed from her mouth across the water.
She said, “You forgot me. You never really gave me a say in the matter.”
Very quickly, Intuition told me who she was.
She was the little girl, one who still very much lived in my heart, who fell in love with being a PT in the first place.
She was happy for me and wanted me to go on this new adventure, but she hadn’t been given the chance to give me her blessing.
So I listened to what she had to say, let her cry a little bit, and then, as soon as her tears dried up, peace washed over my body.
Not even 12 hours later, I’d never felt more resolved and alive.
That next day, I “broke up” with my last few PT clients, all of whom could not have been more gracious in wishing me well. I wasn’t even a little afraid.
Overnight, I'd truly become a bigger boss of my career (and therefore, my life) than I had already been.
Like me, you can step into the driver’s seat be the boss of your own career. I developed a free DIY PDF guide that gives you a 7-step blueprint to help you learn and practice this mindset. In my free guide I provide some printable worksheets and handouts to keep you focused on what’s most important to you in your life and career, so you can stay away from the pitfalls that many physical therapists often fall into when making and carrying out your plans. You can get your own copy of the free guide here.
The truth is, I will always be a physical therapist.
And who knows, the practice of physical therapy may re-enter my life in a different stage or phase of life. I’m open to that.
I will still continue to teach physical therapy courses and support the profession through advocacy, continuing education, and plenty of other ventures.
But for now, I can honestly say that shifting my daily practice into something I never dreamed of has truly saved my life.
Creating a life and career that reflects what I truly value for myself has allowed me the space and mindfulness to surrender any fear I have about the cancer that still resides in my body. And that, I believe, is what has truly saved my life.
So much of what makes life most fulfilling has less to do with what’s true about life (for me, having cancer or being in a job that I didn’t love) and more to do with our perceptions of that truth (for me, whether I’m afraid of those things or not).
And there is something to be said for surrender of fear: once we do it for one thing, there is a domino effect on surrendering fear for other things in our lives. And then, we no longer feel as if we are on the run from something terrible.
No, for me and for most of my clients, we are only running towards the things we truly love and value.
Wondering how you can shift your career and change your life into something you truly love?
Curious how you can let go of any fear that is holding you back from building a career or business that is authentically YOU?
Or need clarity on how to actually define what “authentic you and authentic career” actually is?
I have 3 tried-and-true steps that worked not only for me, but that I also teach to all of my clients:
1. Get crystal clear on who you are and what you value, independent of what other people tell you to value in your life and career.
If you define who you are and what you value independently of any perceived extrinsic sources of approval, it is far easier to stand in a firm foundation when you do focus on building your career or business. And this will provide a springboard to getting exactly what you want.
I suggest creating a list of no more than 3 core values that drive your life both personally and professionally. Just Google "core values" if you don't know what I'm talking about.
Then, as you walk through your days, weeks, and months, ask yourself if you are truly living and practicing by those values. If not, what needs to shift so you can? If so, how can you do more of that?
We are very good at saying what is not important in our lives or what we don’t want, which is a great start. However, when we run from the things we don’t want, that source of motivation can only last us for about 2 months. That may be why you come up with great ideas, take the steps to make them happen, and then they fizzle out.
If you’re clear on what you value and who you really are, you’re always running towards a clear target, and the source of that motivation is inexhaustible.
Not sure where to start with this? Reach out to me for help.
2. Write or envision a story about what you would do with your life if working and money were not anything you had to do or have. Truly play pretend here. What you would do with your time if jobs or money weren’t a thing? And who would you be?
For me, I like to envision living in a house full of windows on the side of a cliff. A warm, iridescent waterfall tumbles over the edge of the cliff. The water is warm, of course, so it’s comforting and enriching to lay at the bottom of the falls in the pool and read a book all day. Animals of all types roam free on the land below the cliff, and there are mountain bike trails all over the land so my husband can go out and play all day.
While nothing is impossible and I could certainly create this vision, the important part is not to take it too seriously or literally. What is the essence behind the elements of vision?
For example: I love a house with a wall full of windows because I love to welcome light and truth into my life. And I love to help others illuminate that truth for themselves.
See what I did there? Yes, I would love to create this literal vision (and someday, I likely will)! However, there are elements that I can create today without even leaving my house!
3) Believe that “no” is not a four-letter word, and practice using it on the daily.
As writer and speaker Brene Brown says, setting boundaries is the highest act of self care.
If you’ve set a firm foundation in who you are and what you value and envision for your life and career, at some point you may realize that you are not acting in alignment with those values and that vision. And that usually gives you an icky feeling.
You can try all of the things to help yourself feel better. But the only way to truly get rid of the source of that feeling is to say no to some things. Like things you previously thought you valued, but no longer do.
For me, most recently, this meant saying no to seeing PT clients.
Like me, your tastes and values can evolve as you slow down and commit to learn more about yourself and do things your way. These are 2 things I’m fairly certain you would really love to do, amIright?
And, my friend, this may mean that you have to start saying no to people, events, and things with which you no longer align.
And pro tip: nobody (except maybe me!) will give you a standing ovation when you set a boundary and say no. This is to be expected. Don’t take that personally. That is about them, not about you. Say no with style, and move forward and blaze your on trail toward a life and career you love.
I recommend you start letting go of small things first. Learn to taste success with those, then progress on to the bigger things that seem more challenging.
If you’re on the verge of a shift in your career or business, or even if it’s way off in the future for you and it feels impossible, please know that if I can do it (while fighting cancer, no less!) then you DEFINITELY can too.
And another pro tip: I don’t recommend you wait until your health starts to falter or the Universe throws some other brick at you where you are forced to make a change.
And I’m here to support you so you don’t have to wait until you’re forced to change.
I support physical therapists (and a few other health & wellness pros too!) to realize that health is not just an industry in which we work, but a state of mind that we hold. I don’t believe that finding a career and life you love has to be so laborious and neverending. Instead, I believe that we find our greatest lives from a place of values, not fears.
So what are you waiting for? Are you feeling ready to learn more about how you can create a career and life you truly value? I'd love to chat with you about it.
Don’t hesitate to set up a complimentary career & life strategy call. In this call we will get crystal clear about what it is you actually want in your career and life, what’s getting in your way of achieving that, and what steps it will take to get you there.
And please be sure to reach out to me and let me know what kind of amazing stories you envision and write about yourself! I can't wait to hear what you come up with!
In love and health,
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