Monday, September 28, 2015

Letting go

The Chinese say that Fall is the season of grief, but it's also the season of letting go. As I have previously confessed, I don't do so well with this season, and a lot has to do with the difficulty of letting go. It means such different things in different settings, and it's hard to tell from the inside if one is making a fair and reasonable decision or just being selfish. Case in point: I resigned from the last of my volunteer positions in local government a couple weeks ago. On one hand, I feel bad about leaving my friends (and the trees and the fire company) in the lurch. On the other hand, I have donated ten years to working for the Borough through being an elected official and participating in various committees, study groups, etc. I am confident that I have done some good, and I continue to be vitally interested in the goings-on in my hometown. However, there's a bottom line. After practicing acupuncture for 15 years and exercise therapy for more than 25, I am still having a hard time making a living. I don't feel like a failure, but I do need to do something different to supplement the income I make as an acupuncturist. Therefore, I've had to let go of my cherished volunteer work so I can re-direct my focus on making my family more financially secure. Everyone understands, but there are still people who are disappointed in me or who have hurt feelings. So it's hard -- we don't live in a vacuum, and when I let go of something that may require someone else to pick it up. At the end of the day, all one can say is, "Sorry, It's someone else's turn."

On still another hand, letting go is necessary to move on, including to grow and mature. I have always had a hard time with this -- supposedly this is part of being a baby-boomer, but I have frequently needed to be "kicked upstairs" in my personal and professional life. I wish I was smoother at this life skill, because I hate being kicked and others hate kicking me, but it seems to be part of my karma. I am very loyal, and I have a great ability to endure when others would pack it in. Those are strengths, but it is a weakness to not let go until my survival is threatened. As a result, there are a few sinking ships in my wake, with angry people saying I abandoned them. Well, I WAS born in the Year of the Rat!

Short of survival, though, other things should motivate us to let go, and this seems to be one of the great life lessons I must learn. Among other things, sometimes one ends up in situations that are simply inappropriate, and that reflect poorly on one's sense of self-worth or self-esteem. I'm not talking about having a nice car to drive or fancy boots, but feeling like ones life has a purpose and like one is contributing something by doing his best. I love what I do, and I think I'm pretty good at it. I'm also proud of the practice I have been able to build in this small town, and I am grateful to the people who trusted me with even a part of their health care. But something has to give. In struggling with this over the years and especially as the summer of 2015 has come to a close, I have realized that my strength to endure and my inclination to loyalty sometimes makes me appear unambitious or insecure. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my first life lesson was to overcome the surplus of over-confidence that I was born with by dedicating myself to serving others. But I tend to go overboard in all things -- well, I WAS born in the State of Texas!

Professionally, I realized that I have been generous to a fault with my practice. I have always given discounts to seniors, students and some other groups of patients, and will continue to do so. However, I have pretty consistently given away 20% of my fees over the past fifteen years, and I can't afford that. When I first started, I was very reasonably concerned about my ability to attract and keep patients. Being unwilling to manipulate the desperate people who came to see me for more visits and more fees, I instead tried to attract as many people as possible to my practice, and discounted service was one way to do that. However, I've been doing this for fifteen years now -- I'm pretty good at it and my reputation is excellent. At this point in my career, the extent of the discounts I offer doesn't only leave my bank account thin, but also under-values the service that I provide to my patients. For both of these reasons, I am going to be more judicious in offering discounts going forward. I will continue to honor the specific discounts I have negotiated with individual, long-time patients, but I won't be offering standard discounts with my newsletter, and I may trim some of the other policies I have followed for the last fifteen years. Like my volunteer service, I'm going to have let go of some of that. Otherwise, I'll have to find another job. I don't want to do that, and I don't think my patients want me to do that.

In any event, difficult, scary and unpleasant as it is, I'm letting go of some of my generous impulse in professional situations. I want to be here for a long time, providing first-rate acupuncture and exercise therapy to the community. I don't want to become one of those places that people sigh about and say, "Remember when..? I wonder why he went out of business..." I'm letting go of one thing (my insecurity about bringing acupuncture and yoga-based exercise therapy to Central PA) so that I can hold more tightly to the more important thing (supporting my family by providing first-rate acupuncture and exercise therapy to the community for the rest of my career).

Strange how "letting go" works out sometimes.