One way to help clients differentiate themselves from their practices is to ask them to imagine the practice as a distinct entity from themselves--another person, so to speak. True, they created the business, but no more than their own child is it an undifferentiated extension of themselves. "If your daughter needs braces," I sometimes say, "you don't refuse her orthodontics because your own teeth are perfectly straight." I asked John if he could talk to me about his practice as if it were a separate being, with its own individuality, personality, needs, and behavior.
He laughed nervously, but agreed to give it a try. "Should I make it a male or a female?" he asked.
"Your call," I replied.
He thought for a moment. "Well, my practice is definitely a she, " he said. "She's timid and boring. She's also pretty rigid--she only knows how to do things one way, and she sticks to it, even when it's illogical. We've gotten along okay, so far; she's a familiar, safe presence in my life. But I've known her for more than 20 years and she never changes. I'm bored with her." John paused, looking ruminative. "It wasn't always this way. When we first met, I was thrilled by her--she got all my attention and energy. But now, my attention is drifting. I want something more."
John suddenly reddened, looked at me open eyed, and barked out a laugh. "I sound like the world's biggest clicheÂ´! I get it now. I'm having a mid-life crisis," he said. "I want to have an affair, but it's not my wife I want to leave, . . . it's my private practice!"
The great thing about working with therapists is that they frequently get the picture very quickly. John looked out the window for a minute. "This is ironic," he said, a little sheepishly. "I specialize in working with couples, and here you're reminding me that when you're in a relationship for two decades, even a relationship with your business, things change. The question for me, I guess, is what the changes mean and how they'll play out. Will I need to leave this timid, messy lady--and all that we've built up together over the years--in order to get what I want now?"
We looked at each other and smiled. "Welcome to business ownership at mid-life," I said.