When John described the chaos of his office--journals, papers, insurance forms, and whatnot stacked on the desk and the floor--and showed me his old-fashioned calendar with a jumble of scrawled names and appointments, I knew he was having trouble negotiating the fourth (blue) developmental phase, which focuses on organization. People at this mid-life stage need to create stronger, more functional, business structures to support their dreams of enlarging their business and becoming more profitable. John's frustration came about because he wanted to branch out and pursue greater opportunities, but he hadn't completed the tasks required by the blue phase of his business. He had ideas and dreams, but didn't have the structures in place to make them happen.
Although people have to learn that their businesses stand alone as separate entities, it's also true that because people's businesses are their own creations, they necessarily reflect key strengths and weaknesses within them. However distinct your children are from you, undoubtedly they also reflect your genes, your values, your capacities as a parent. At times, the easiest way to help a therapist change a problem in his business, is to see whether he can make a similar change first, in himself.
I told John that he needed to think of his business as a mirror of himself. What was it in his life or in his childhood that might contribute to the mess of his office and the paperwork that was essentially drowning him? John said he'd never been a well-organized person. As a young child, his parents had moved many times. Again and again, he'd been uprooted from familiar surroundings, friends, and schools, leaving him feeling that nothing ever really belonged to him. Nothing, that is, except what he could physically carry with him from house to house, state to state. Rather than teaching him to pare down his belongings and travel light, the constant moves made him ferociously attached to his "stuff." Once John understood the connection between the origins of his pack-rat mentality and their effects on his business, he could begin, with difficulty, to take steps to change his business practices. Reluctantly, he admitted that this problem was more entrenched than he thought; he needed to bring in someone to help him fix it and agreed to hire a "clutter consultant," a professional he found in his local paper, who came to his office and completely banished the clutter and reorganized it.
John focused on other "blue" issues of organization, including how to use what I call a Practice Upgrade Plan--which I developed to help a small-business owner bring more stability and substance to the business and enhance its reputation in the community. Through the Practice Upgrade Plan, I encourage proprietors to build into their daily schedules time for planning and actions that will strengthen the long-term prospects of their practices. For example, this is the stage for a therapist to decide his top five business goals for the next year and to take one action every day toward these goals.