It’s my business birthday. Exactly 20 years ago today I sat down with my very first private practice client.
I was six months out of grad school. Nervous but ready to claim myself as a counselor for people needing help with career and life transitions.
I rented space in a therapist’s office. Only a few hours a week, because I didn’t know what would happen after that first appointment. After all, I was still at my university job, counseling adult students.
Starting my own business on the side was pretty much an experiment. I was excited, but there wasn’t a road map for the path ahead.
So it’s true what they say: you can’t trace the arc of your life looking forward.
For sure, I couldn’t have imagined then that I’d be here 20 years later celebrating my business birthday and telling this story. Or that I’d add life coaching five years in and then pivot at the 10 year mark and go get licensed as a psychotherapist.
And especially that the very first group I facilitated (the career pioneers, as we fondly called ourselves) would be a stepping stone to years of teaching, training and eventually my great and always growing love of women’s circles.
Those 20 years went by fast though.
Much has changed for all of us during that time and the last few months of it have been perhaps the most intense ever.
I’ve been thinking about that, particularly wondering how do you celebrate a business birthday in the midst of a global pandemic and a long overdue collective wake-up call about institutionalized racism and decades of disenfranchisement?
If you’d asked me six months ago what I’d be doing for my business birthday, I probably would have told you I had something planned. Maybe a gift for my subscribers. Or a sale. Possibly a new program.
Because that’s what we’ve been advised we should do when we arrive at a big business birthday like 20 years.
But after two decades I’m pretty tired of the shoulds and musts of business marketing advice.
Some of it is questionable and manipulative. Like, earlier this week I opened an email excitedly telling me how to “monetize” my content by starting a paid newsletter. What?
I admit to an eye roll on that one, because I’ve never been more skeptical of words like monetizing and scaling. There is such a push to do more, have more, make it bigger, be an influencer. Personally, I think it’s wise for those of us in business right now to step back and question whether these strategies really serve our people or the world we want to live in.
That said, I also know I’m very lucky because I haven’t had to do much of it to sustain my business. And as I look ahead to the next chapter I want to focus on ways to make my offerings even more accessible. More about that in the future.
So instead of a business birthday gift, here’s a story about a friend who was there 20 years ago.
He’s gone now, but I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately. Morrie Turner was a pioneer of sorts, the cartoonist who drew the Wee Pals comic strip. We became friends because I worked at the university with his partner, Karol.
Morrie was a great storyteller, funny, kind, caring. He taught me a lot too. He talked openly about his experiences as a Black man in America, and he gave me a book of his earlier cartoons, pointed and powerful, but clearly ahead of their time.
On the day I graduated he also gave me a comic strip of my very own.
A couple of the Wee Pals kids were in it, walking into my office. And there was my caricature self, welcoming them. And on the door these words:
PATTY – COUNSELOR
Looking back it seems like maybe Morrie knew I was going to start this business even before I did.
But what he didn’t know is that he’d already gifted me with words of wisdom.
It happened during his 75th birthday party. The room was packed and when I came in he was huddled with our friend Maria, also finishing up her counseling degree. I moved closer, hugged them both and then began to listen as they continued their conversation.
Morrie: Hey, you’re doing good, about to graduate. You made it!
Maria: Right, but you know if I just had $10,000 more, everything would be perfect.
Morrie: Oh my dear, you gotta stop that now. If you keep thinking that way you’ll never be really happy. Because it might be $10,000 this year but in a few years it will be $20,000, and you’ll always be waiting for your life to be right. And you’ll miss living the one you already have.
It was a moment of wisdom being imparted to me by another human being.
He didn’t even intend it for me, but it was the way he said it, the life he’d lived to arrive at that place of wisdom. And instantly I got it. I’m not saying I never again wrestled with the same longings Maria had, but I always could come back to Morrie’s words. They settled me and gave me clarity.
Since then, I’ve come to see we all have these day-to-day opportunities to receive wisdom from others, and when we slow down it’s almost like it’s in the air and we can begin to miraculously soak it up through our pores, sometimes without even realizing it.
It’s become the foundation of my business. And it started with Morrie’s words 20 years ago.
I never had a chance to thank him though. So 20 years later, this one’s for you Morrie.
And if Morrie were here celebrating my business birthday with me today, I think he would tell us something similar. To live our lives in the present, to unearth our stories and experiences even when they feel difficult and uncomfortable. To do our own work in the here and now.
Oh, and he’d tell us to have fun too. Because even when times are drastically changing and there are a lot of unknowns, there’s always room for laughter and joy.
But Morrie’s not the only one I need to thank.
Whether you’ve visited my blog for the first time or you’ve been here many times, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I really appreciate you being here for my business birthday!
You know, the marketing people tell us we should imagine we’re writing our newsletters and blogs to one person, preferably our ideal client.
Well, that’s never worked for me. I guess because when I write, there’s this wash of feelings, a sense of all of us moving out of our inner solitude, bonded together even though we don’t necessarily know each other.
All of us having each other’s backs in some deeply mysterious way.
So here’s to the next chapter: to the mystery, to wisdom and to you.
* * * * *
What if you closed your eyes?
Would the world fall
apart without you?
Or would your mind
become the open sky
flock of thoughts
flying across the sunrise
as you just watched and smiled.