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Friday, 02 January 2009 11:16

Our Businesses, Our Selves - Page 8

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I often invite proprietors to "embrace their ambition"--clearly a tough sell for therapists, who think that too much emphasis on ambition and profit signify self-absorption and greed. So I suggest to clinicians that they think of ambition as a kind of emotional fuel, a motivating force that frees their passion, imagination, and creativity. Ambition is really a synonym for desire, emerging from the same impulse that helped get them through school, then into training internships, and, finally, into their own private practices. I suggest they ask themselves what they fear about ambition and then allow themselves to do a little daydreaming about their ideal future. What--no matter how apparently improbable, grandiose or Walter Mitty-ish--would they most like to see happen to themselves and their businesses? They don't have to act on every ambitious thought or fancy, but allowing their minds to wander in this way helps detoxify ambition and gets them in touch with their own aspirations.

Evolutionary Stages

After orange, there's another swing of the pendulum to a third, latter-life evolutionary stage with its own phases, the first of which is green. If orange is characterized by the drive for achievement and material success, green represents a move in the other direction, toward the integration of more humanistic values into one's work life. The characteristics of this stage are a desire for deeper personal or spiritual connections, a yearning to experience again the soul-deep inspiration that brought them to the work in the first place. People signal they're ready for this stage when they complain that, for all their material and professional success--the practices (perhaps several offices) purring along at full occupancy, the workshops they're asked to conduct, the book chapters they're writing--they feel something lacking. Green is the color of congruence, when any incongruity between professional success and personal identity becomes painfully obvious.

John, who'd just entered the orange stage and was exuberantly enjoying the world of prospects and achievement after having been in a safe, but confined business situation, wouldn't be ready to shift into the next (green) stage for a while. But another client, Clara, is experiencing "symptoms of green." A social worker with many years of experience, she no longer sees clients. Instead, she owns and operates a healing center that she built from a solo operation to a prosperous, 15-person organization housed in a large commercial property that she owns in a busy Midwestern suburb. She employs mental health professionals, massage therapists, and physical therapists. She's an excellent businesswoman and a natural marketer, who actually enjoys calling total strangers to talk about her practice. She considers each call a kind of adventure into the unknown.

But when Clara called me, she said that, in spite of her obvious success, she was feeling dissatisfied and burned out. She felt tired much of the time, and although she had a heavy workload, she thought this tiredness was from feeling less personally connected to what she'd built. More and more, she felt less like a healer with a real gift for connecting with people in pain and more like the harried CEO of, say, an expanding widget plant. "As each year goes by, I feel less sure about my direction," she said. "I'm always marketing, planning, or thinking about some business problem--staffing, expansion, leveraging our space needs, or looking for increased areas of profitability. I wanted to create something meaningful with this center, something that would genuinely help people and contribute something to the community. I've done that, I think. But I've kind of lost sense of what it means to me. I feel I've lost something important, which I had when I was just struggling to make ends meet.

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