The path of progress can take a hard-left turn when you least expect it.
At the turn of the century, I was working as a physical therapist in a small clinic in Seattle. I had already had one therapy job that ended in the disillusionment that comes from realizing that my primary purpose at work was to generate money for my employer, rather than taking the best care of my patients, and it was happening again in my new job. I’ve always had a disdain for those who whine but won’t do anything to change the situation, so I decided I needed to start my own practice so I could provide the service that people deserved to get. I called a former classmate from PT school, and we started planning to go into business together. It took about two and a half years, but that is how Real Rehab Physical Therapy was born in 2003. We had no idea what we were doing, but we stuck to our service plan, and although the business model wasn’t designed to make us rich, the business grew rapidly. Despite the success in growth, I made a ton of mistakes while learning how to run a practice, but we overcame them with sheer hard work.
My goal was to create an organization that had a reputation not only for providing great service, but also one that was exceptionally innovative in how we helped our clients. We had to learn more than our peers, invest more in technology to push the envelope, and work hard to develop new ways of identifying and solving our client’s problems. That’s a tough plan for a small business with rookie owners, but that’s what I pushed for years. I have a feeling that this push was an important element of our success, but I also think it wore people down in our company, and eventually caused a rift in the owners and the staff. I put blame on others for a while, but really, I have to take responsibility for ultimately failing in that endeavor.
My plan was to create a service model that included a full biomechanics lab, physical therapy service, and performance training. I knew from experience that I was learning amazing things way earlier than conventional wisdom by using the tools and methods of biomechanical analysis that I had immersed myself in, and I believed that if we continued to expand that method of practice, we could become an amazing source of knowledge and education, not only for ourselves and our patients, but also for our peers, the medical community, and the public in general. I still believe that, and it is still my purpose.
I gained some skills that attracted higher level athletes, and in 2016 I found myself accompanying an American decathlete named Jeremy Taiwo to the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. It was the kind of craziness that I love. We had frenetic commutes through Rio to be able to meet with Jeremy between events and do treatments but squeezed in some sights and Qi Gong on the beach. Of course, attending the games was outstanding, and despite all the challenges that Jeremy had to overcome just to make it to Rio, he made us proud.
It was really a great experience that I thought everyone back at my clinic should get to experience, so I started planning how I could make that happen. That wouldn’t happen though, at least not at my old clinic. My business partner and I had been having problems. We were having growing conflicts about a lot of things, and it turned out that my trip to Rio was the last straw. When I returned I found out that one of us had to go. I had put an incredible amount of myself into this organization. I won’t call it a sacrifice for myself because of the invaluable lessons I learned, but my family had huge sacrifices put on them by the experience. We were really close to being in a position to make the next big leap to my original plan of lab, clinic, performance center within a couple of years. But my vision was no longer the vision of everyone else there. I had been struggling with how to regain traction for my plan, but it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen with Real Rehab. So I left.
I have two kids and leaving Real Rehab felt like I was abandoning my children. Worse, I felt like it didn’t need to happen, but it was beyond my control. I spent all of 2017 working on myself and my family. It took a long time to realize that my original goals with Real Rehab are in fact my purpose, and I am compelled to achieve those goals. I had an incredible amount of sadness and anger over the “loss” of Real Rehab until I realized how much I had gained from the experience. I learned an immense amount, which is part of my mission. I had the opportunity to work with amazing staff, and I was blessed to be a part of countless inspirational stories of clients from kids to Olympians who were able to prevail over their challenges and reach their profound goals.
I’m grateful for that loss. I learned one way not to achieve my goal. I made a hard run at it, hit a wall, regained consciousness, and found a way around the wall. Now I’m running toward my goals again, and I’m running with people who are running in the same direction. I used to have two Alaskan Malamutes that pulled a sled for me. When they pulled together they had incredible power. When they didn’t they toppled me and the sled. Same goes with people. The team I’m on will only exist by pulling together. We have a long way to go, but we’re off to a great start, and as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”