“Tomorrow, you’ll wish you started today”
Why Covid is the perfect time to chase your dreams, and here’s how I did it:
It was early May and New York was still in the thick of the Covid-19 crisis. One morning, I received a call from my oldest brother. Early in the conversation I could tell he had an agenda. At the time, I was working as a school psychologist. I loved being a school psychologist, but I was feeling a bit stuck and often lamented about my goal to go into private practice. It was a battle that I was having with myself for some time and kept pushing off. Typically, I am the one to bring it up in conversation, but this time, my brother did. “Go for it” he said bluntly, “you’re ready and people really need help right now.” I was nervous. Was now the right time to start a new project? Was I even ready for this project? I pushed back with a myriad of excuses. The world is unstable right now, where will I get clients from, am I ready? My brother’s response was unforgettable. As if Sun Tzu himself were speaking, my brother calmly and matter of factly said, “chaos breeds opportunity. I’ll help support you if you need it, just go for it.” From that moment the seed was sowed, and watered. I went for it, and now I’m telling you to go for it too. If you’re thinking “how?” or “but your situation was different,” here are a few tips and words of encouragement based on my personal experience to get you on your way.
If you have been aching to start your own business, pursue a new passion, move to a new city, or even learn an instrument, now is the time! This pandemic has brought about access to information and services at an unprecedented level. There are so many resources available on the internet to help you get going. There are webinars, articles, podcasts, and livestreams of people teaching you how to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. This pandemic is a constant reminder that life is short and fragile. If there is something you want, go get it.
The quarantine has allotted many people the freedom to work from home, or wherever they have internet. Many people also report having more flexible hours and increased productivity. And if you are finding that you are not one of those people with the hours you want, or the productivity is burning you out, perhaps quarantine will motivate you to make a change.
Here are my five tips:
1. Find the Evidence
Take a moment and think about your dream; the reason you clicked on this article.
What happened in the moments after you pictured your dream? Did you get nervous? Did your mind immediately work to come up with a reason to keep you in check, not to pursue it? Many times, when we think about what we really want to do, several reasons immediately pop into our heads telling us why we can’t. You may have thought, “now is not the right time,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I’ll be alone.” Psychologists call these automatic thoughts and in this case they are connected to our fears and anxieties. Our automatic thoughts can bring about strong emotional reactions that make them feel unquestionably correct. I encourage you to challenge these thoughts when they pop up. Who told you “you’re going to fail” or “now is not the right time?” Chances are, only you did. These thoughts are a defense mechanism to keep you in check. To challenge them, take out a piece of paper, put the thought at the top (i.e. now is not the right time) and draw a line down the middle of the page. On one side write down the evidence you have that this thought is true, and on the other write down the evidence you have that it is untrue. Use these thoughts as a guide map to prepare yourself. Write down some solutions to combat your fears.
Sidenote: I encourage you to seek out the help of a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist when making these decisions. Activities like the one described above can be difficult if you have never done them on your own before.
2. Talk to Everyone
While my brother helped to plant the seed and gave me my first few drops of water, I sought out more water from every source possible. I spoke to every psychologist and related service provider who was willing to speak with me. I received a variety of responses and I learned that there was no one formula for success, but there were some formulas that had advantages. In my conversations I was looking for similarities and differences in the ways that people got started in private practice. More than anything, I learned to be patient to keep drudging ahead. I also reached out to friends and family and told them the news about my decision. I found that most people were excited and wanted to help. I also learned that so many of my inner circle had incredible talents and were willing to lend a hand or offer some expertise to help get me set up.
Most everyone I spoke to put me in touch with an additional connection, so my network quickly expanded. Through my conversations I was able to receive referrals for office space, HIPAA compliant virtual platforms, attorneys, accountants, and many psychologists who had additional information to offer. For the most part, I found that people were excited to help. One thing I learned though, is many people do not tell you the part of the story where they struggled, which leads to my bonus and next tip.
Bonus: When you talk to people who were once in your boat and are now on greener pastures, feelings of envy and doubt are normal. Remind yourself that you are just starting the process, and channel these emotions as motivation to get where you want to be.
3. Surround yourself with the right people
Making a life change can be incredibly demanding, lonely, and confusing. There are ups and downs, and in between bouts of excitement and success, doubt can rush in. In fact, in the beginning there might even be more doubt and failure than there is success. In my experience, most people won’t tell you this. You won’t often hear about people’s pits, but you will get a lot of stories about their peaks.
You need a cheer team to help you along the way. A group of people who support your endeavor and who are on the lookout for opportunities for you.They actively seek to support you, pick you up when you are down, and swoop in at the right time with some hope. Find the kind of people who keep pushing and encouraging you. Also, find people who are honest with you. I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I finally heard a private practice psychologist tell me it took her three years for her practice to become self-sufficient. Finally, someone who struggled like me.
This is where I give a big shoutout to my wife. After starting my private practice, it felt like a lifetime before I got my first client. I was ready to jump back into the safety of a school-based job. I went on interviews and received offers, but each time I thought about taking the job, I got a pit in my stomach. I had already invested so much time, money, and energy to build a strong foundation for a private practice. It was my wife who would always say, just keep going. You are on the right track. I believe in you.
4. Make a to-do list
Research shows that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goal when you write it down. When I spoke to my brother that day, he said to make my goal one client. “One client’s a practice” he said to be exact. Reaching your end goal requires following a series of hierarchical steps. If you are planning on moving to a new city, you might want to consider things like how to break your current lease, living quarters in your new city, if your banking branch is available in your new city, potential social clubs join, etc. Starting a business, learning a new instrument, or starting a new goal are all going to have different steps. Making a list is the best way to keep track of your progress and to keep you on track.
For me, my to do list included things like incorporating my new practice, liability insurance, office space, and advertising. My list is ever expanding and I’ve learned that you never really finish starting a business. As the business grows and evolves, so too does your to-do list.
Making a list lends directly into my next tip…
It’s called “chasing” your dream for a reason. Nothing is going to happen to you or for you, everything you want you must go make happen. Make a list of the things you need to make your dreams happen, and then start getting those things done. If you are stuck, ask for help or move on to the next item. Chasing your dreams is a constant push forward. In step one I said to “talk to everyone” and that “most people were willing to help.” I should say this with some sort of disclaimer. Most people are willing to help… to an extent. No one is going to do your dirty work for you, or hand you clients at their own detriment. In fact, it is very difficult to receive referrals from other psychologists when you are just starting out. I learned early on that this business is very much insular. A culture of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. The problem was, I didn’t have a back scratcher. Small disclaimer to this last statement, there a few special people who were incredibly gracious and went above and beyond to help get an early career psychologist started. To these people I am extremely grateful, which is why tip three on this list is so important.
Bonus tip: Give yourself credit and take note of your achievements. It is easy to exhaust yourself and feel the effects of burnout. Studies show that by keeping track of your achievements you can lessen the impact of burnout.
So, are you ready to get started? Why not? Tomorrow, you’re going to wish you started today. Challenge your doubts, seek help, find the right people, make a list, and get going!