14 years a therapist
I still remember my first ever client. Summer, 2006. A man from Toronto, in town on business, coming in with his longtime girlfriend (a regular client). I was the New Therapist, having received my certification only days before, and I was the perfect one to massage the likely-not-returning-guy. Ideal for my first foray into massaging in the ‘real world’. No pressure.
Still, despite the logic, I was dizzy with anxiety as I got to work that day.
I had approached my employer, Jan, a woman with her own massage clinic downtown, with a sense of false confidence a few months prior. I marched in, handed her my resume, and she hired me on the spot. My first career job. I was so excited. But when I took the bus to work that first morning, lotion holster in my backpack, sneakers on my feet, I second guessed myself. I felt so much less like a Woman with a Career and so much more the Kid Outta School.
No shortage of ambition
I was 25. Ambitious. Eager. Ready to get out there. In six months after that nerve-wracking first treatment, I had earned enough money to move out of home, get my own apartment. Six months after that, I switched from the downtown massage clinic to a south-end multidisciplinary, and bought my first condo nearby.
I slowly built my schedule up from nothing to 8 clients per day. I loved working, and passionate about my field, but I wanted more. In January of 2013, I opened my first clinic. I scaled back my massage hours to allow for management.
It seems incredible that the following seven years can even be compressed into a few bullet points, so rich were the learning experiences. But after that first clinic opening, I rebranded, expanded, joined forces with my husband Jamie, added a gym space, and opened a second clinic. We also sprinkled some kids into the crazy mix while we were at it.
So many lessons
Fourteen years in this beautiful field squishing people’s muscles and contributing to the wellbeing of hundreds of people has led to a lot of lessons learned. Here are some of them:
I did not seek a mentor early on in my massage career. I learned what I could, here and there along the way. I got massages, asked questions, and observed. As a result, I didn’t have a full, steady schedule for over 2 years. I had to learn everything by trial and error. I had no one to bounce ideas off of, ask dumb questions to, or voice concerns to. Now, in my role as an owner, I try and help my team grow and learn, and connect with one another for this exact reason.
Mentorship makes for better, stronger, clinicians. I see new therapists now, right out of school, getting busy in 6 months. That’s the kind of success I would have wished for myself.
2. You make your place of work great (your boss doesn’t):
For a long time at my first job, I wished we had more team connections, like a staff outing once in awhile or even a team meeting.
Over time, wishing and not getting made me resent my boss, who honestly wasn’t doing anything wrong. She had no idea I wanted anything to change, because I never said anything.
My dislike of the process was a huge factor in leaving there. In my second workplace, I was encouraged to voice concerns and make suggestions.
The more I got on board and worked to improve things, the better work was. Bosses aren’t psychic. I realized that it was up to me to make my workplace great.
3. Hard now is easy later. If you’re willing to work.
There was a time when Every. Tough. Conversation. would make me cry. A time when I was certain that finding clients to fill my own schedule would be the death of me, it was that stressful. But I worked on my weaknesses. A few years later, managing other RMTs was the main obstacle. Then it was finding therapists to replace me for mat leave (in a clinic that was not my own). And then, a year after that, starting my own business was what would surely end me. And then expanding that business. And replicating it.
Writing it here in a few sentences does little to convey the actual feelings of this is damn impossible that I experienced daily. But over time I learned that I just have to keep going. And I have. And so much of what I thought was the hardest those years ago is not even a blip on my radar anymore. I just have to work at it.
4. Not everyone shares your dreams.
The first time someone quit my clinic, it tore me down. I tried so hard not to take it personally, but it was! How could this person not be 100% on board with this huge, amazing dream I had? How could they not see its greatness and want to be a part of it?
Thankfully, the realization that not everyone is dreaming the same dream as I am turned positive in the end. I learned to take criticism much more easily. And I found that, even when people naturally went their separate ways, my dreams stayed strong. That was good enough for me.
5. A strong body and strong body awareness are the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
Every pain I have ever had in my body was either the result of overuse or underuse. I know that I’m doing too much because I learn to listen and become aware of the cues my body gives me. I know that I’m not doing enough because I ache and feel tight and crunchy.
Our bodies are miraculous. I don’t use that word lightly. They are miraculous. And if we stay strong, functional, and aware of ourselves, we get to have a long and happy life with them.
Disrespecting our bodies leads only to more pain. I see it every day. Balanced strength leads to better body function, leads to more awareness, leads to less silly injuries, leads to aging better… you get the idea.
6. Gross is in the eye of the beholder.
I don’t have a weak stomach to begin with, but one client stands out being so infernally nasty, I have to share the story: He worked a physical job and sweated during work. It dried on his skin so his back had that salty post-sweaty residue. Plus, this guy had a thing for tanning beds. So he was always slightly sunburn-peely.
To make matters worse, he must have smoked with the windows rolled up all the way to each of his treatments, because to say he smelled like an ashtray is being polite about it. And don’t even get me started on the stinky feet.
But I have to thank this man, this one client who had so many icky features. The final thing he did was just icing on the cake, and having to deal with it has made me a better therapist.
Every treatment, without fail, this guy would get on my table face down, and he would pull the sheets down low enough on his back so I could see his g-string. Yep. Salty, sunburn-peely, stinky-ashtray-guy wore a thong to every single massage he had with me.
And to this day there is nothing that phases me.
Today, I woke up and went to work. A place that I (and Jamie) built, nurtured, loved, started from nothing and built up. I put my hands on my (give or take) 13,000th client, and thought back to that first one, all those years ago.
14 years a therapist. To all who have lain on my table, taught me, or worked alongside me: I’m grateful.