For many therapists, they have dreams of becoming their own boss someday.

Generations of private practice owners before them have seemingly retired healthy, wealthy and wise. These former practice owners are spending their golden years checking experiences off their bucket-list chasing once-in-a-lifetime adventures.

Retired baby boomer PTs are traveling the world, swimming the English Channel, biking across America or climbing the Great Wall of China. Enjoying the golden years is part of the reasons why they worked so hard to get the gold in the first place.

Young therapists who aspire to go into private practice don’t want to put off their bucket-list until later. They want to make the most of their life right now. Waiting for retirement to travel seems ridiculous when many of them have studied abroad in high school and college.

What’s not to love about a life full of dream vacations and living large?

Unfortunately, there’s quite a lot.


Going into Practice For Yourself


As a mentor, I’ve spoken to many young therapists who want to go into business for themselves. 

For themselves, they want the income, perks, and flexibility that they believe comes with being the head honcho. They see Instagram photos from digital nomads working on the beach that fuel their desire to be self-employed and self-fulfilled.

It’s hard to build a successful practice when it’s all about you. Most consumers are concerned about what you can do for them not the other way around.

The first and most important task of therapy is making the right diagnosis. Without an accurate diagnosis, all subsequent therapy has a minimal chance of success. But when we take the term diagnosis by its most profound meaning of knowing (gnosis) and dia (through and through), we can see that most important aspect of healing in knowing our patients throughly.

Therapy is at its best when we know our patients fully, their ups and downs, their joys and sorrows which have all contributed to where they are when they come into our clinics. 

Therapists I coach have a difficult time seeing the treatment experience through the eyes of the consumer. They’re blind to simple market realities because of their knowledge, confidence and the authority driven medical culture. 

Big business medicine and technocratic streamlining have stripped the interpersonal aspects of the healing professions to a significant level. Its productivity demands and professional liability risks often force healers to keep an emotional distance from their patients. 

Websites are jam-packed with their credentials, specializations, and what they do to their patients. The website content is overloaded with information but lacks empathy and authenticity.

Somehow we don’t connect with what our patients really want. As a result, attracting and keeping patients is a lot more effort than they ever imagined.

Rather than feeling exhilarated by launching a private practice, they often end up feeling stressed and isolated. Startup owners begin to realize it takes considerable effort and there are tradeoffs.


We Can’t Escape Tradeoffs


We can try hard to avoid the reality of tradeoffs but none of us can escape them. As economist Thomas Sowell wrote: “There are no solutions. There are only tradeoffs.”

Most of us are tempted to deny the reality of tradeoffs from the choices we make. After all, tradeoffs imply having to choose between two good options that we probably want. Our preferred answer is usually yes to both. But try as we do we can’t have it all. 

As business owners work hard to generate cash to travel the globe for new experiences, too many therapists trade-off their connection to what really matters– meaningful relationships with patients, colleagues, family, and friends.

They can feel like outsiders in their profession and communities. The fundamentals of client-centered marketing are passed over for the quick fix tactics in social media marketing.

Eventually, the bucket-list can become somewhat of an addiction. The high from doing your own thing doesn’t last. Last month’s income doesn’t satisfy. Therapists keep piling on goals, plans to scale and bucket-list experiences to make the sacrifices seem worth it.

Unfortunately, this can lead to more demanding schedules and further disconnection at home.


There is Another Way


There is a way of escape. Therapists should think about using all the advantages of private practice, such as wealth, flexibility and innovation, to create something much more meaningful.

Instead of “going into practice for yourself,” you should use your expertise and resources to create something more lasting. Whether that means creating a new business model to deliver therapy to an underserved population or reimagining physical therapy provided in a more affordable way.

Take a hard look at your business. Have you ever as a leader of a small business ever sat down and determined, how much is enough? What is enough for you? Enough of what? And remember, that doesn’t probably always bigger, faster or more. 

Rethink your travel adventures as a way to share your knowledge and expertise with populations across the world that desperately needs our help.

At the same time think of other businesses, schools, and non-profits in your neighborhood to partner with to do good right down the street. Go against the appeal of something novel and invest in your community in unseen ways.

Local change often comes about slower but it can have a more lasting impact if you persevere and partner.


What’s On Your Bucket List?


Having a bucket list that includes practice ownership isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The key is what is on the rest of it.

Therapists who want to pursue business owners should ask themselves a few questions:

  • Do I only want to make more money?
  • Is it only to be able to travel and spend time with my partner?
  • What’s my life’s calling?
  • Whom do I feel called to serve?
  • What needs in my neighborhood am I uniquely gifted to help?
  • What are the tradeoffs?
  • Will this pursuit lead to disconnection with family, friends and my community?

I have no doubt; if you rethink your motivations for your bucket-list practice, you’ll be able to create a new list that is more meaningful and rewarding.