My top 10 lessons learnt through my first 10 years as a physio
Today (25 Nov 2015) is my 35th birthday. It also marks 10 years since I graduated as a physiotherapist from the Gold Coast Campus of Griffith University.
I remember my graduation well as it feel on my 25th birthday. It was held at the Gold Coast Convention Centre. Celebrations were with my family over dinner afterwards, and it was at that stage the culmination of years of study, and more years of longing to become a physiotherapist.
In my first book ‘You CAN Run Pain Free!‘ (released March 2015, available from AMAZON, or POGO) I shared that in my teenage years I had declared that my career pathway in life was going to be professional triathlon (first choice-didn’t work out-refer to Chapter 1 of ‘You CAN Run Pain Free!‘ for full story), or physiotherapy.
The early ‘physio’ seeds
A love and passion for physiotherapy came to the fore while a teenager. I was receiving week in and week out physiotherapy for a string of junior triathlon related (over-use) injuries. I spent many hours under my physiotherapist (Suzanne’s) care. Through my time ‘on the table’ I learnt that physiotherapy was not just about ‘patching up injured athletes’, but rather it was about helping people in general perform at their physical best. I was hooked on learning as much as a could about how to ‘one day’ become a great physiotherapist.
Fast forward to the year 2000 and I commenced my Bachelor Physiotherapy/Bachelor of Exercise Science at the Gold Coast’s Griffith University. Five years, countless hours of study, scores of practical hours, loads of extra-curricular experiences later I was graduating.
Early Practice Years
I launched my practice at the age of 26 just several months after graduating as a physio. It launched from Surfers Paradise with less than $3 in the bank for start up capital, my book-keeper as my first client, and a name My Back’s Physio.
In 2009 I made the decision to partner with the Back In Motion (BIM) Health Group in bringing BIM to the state of QLD. This required me to rebrand My Back’s Physio which we did 3 years into operations -it became Back In Motion Mermaid Waters.
Almost 5 years later after seeding Back In Motion Bundall, Bribie Island, and Mt Gravatt franchises with BIM my franchising chapter came to a close. In 2014 we re-branded the practice to become POGO Physio.
As a practice we have now treated over 17,500 Gold Coast (and wider) clients. Personally I’ve treated Australian Champions, World Champions, Olympic Medallists including Cameron McEvoy, Emma Moffatt, and surf -life saving Ironman legend Shannon Eckstein. This was always a dream of mine to work with the nation’s best athletes. I’ve also enjoyed treating politicians, adventurers, and even rock stars such as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.
Over the 10 years I have experienced the highs and lows of running a business -which has incidentally been for 9.5 years of my physiotherapy career. We’ve had 3 names and 2 moves, and 3 refits of the practice inside the 10 years. As anyone in business can attest the failure rates of navigating the complexity of small business are very high. I’ve found the 10 years to be full of ‘mountain top and valley’ experiences, but here is what I have learnt.
My top 10 lessons from the last 10 years of physiotherapy
My 10 biggest learnings from the decade that has as of today closed are:
1. The strength is in the foundation laid, it is not what is visible to the outside. It’s the same as with an iceberg- the true depth of the iceberg is only visible beneath the surface. It’s easy to get discouraged by not seeing the ‘building’ scale as quickly as one might like-but its a trap to take one’s eye of the foundatios being laid along the way.
2. Daily habits give rise to eventual big wins. On-lookers may observe an ‘overnight sensation’ that actually took 10 years! It’s easy to dismiss the small daily disciplines as unimportant. As a well known voice once said ‘habits are the battlefield of character’.
3. Our identity as people and business owners cannot be found in our performance. Whether it is our physical performance or our work performance there must be a revelation that we are more than ‘performance’, and ‘what we do’. What are you left with when your performance takes a plunge, and along with it your identity? For me my faith has become more central to my life over the last decades as I have navigated the realities and complexities of running a business whilst also being a treating physiotherapist (tough combo!).
4. Physiotherapists need to be crystal clear on what their clients are trying to get done. At POGO we have found this is normally one of two things: to get out of pain, or to perform at their physical best. It is no good trying to take someone on an ‘into performance’ journey when all they want is pain relief. Trying to ‘convince’ clients of anything they don’t want to do (ie truly fix their problem when all they want is pain-relief and acute ‘quick fix’)is frustrating and tiring for the physiotherapist. At POGO we have built our entire philosophy and approach to physiotherapy around taking our client on the journey that they want-we call this our 3P Philosophy.
5. Be patient. Bill Gates said that ‘we underestimate what we can do over 10 years, but overestimate what we can do in one year’. Being a naturally ambitious person it intrigues me how my immediate to do list can at times feel ‘overwhelming’ as I try to ‘cram’ as much in as humanly possible. In more recent years I have learnt to ‘rest’ in the knowledge that there really is no race, rather a journey that needs to be both taken, and enjoyed along the way. I’ve learnt to let ‘patience have it’s perfect work’.
6. The real problem with being injured is not the physical pain that is associated with the injury. Rather it is the emotions that go with it. At POGO we have come to realise that it is these ‘internal problems’ that tend to affect client’s receiving our care the most. Recognizing the emotions that client’s experience and coaching clients through the process toward their desired outcome is critical to a complete and remarkable result being arrived at.
7. Everyone appreciates and welcomes a standing ovation. Clients and team alike. We enjoy and have always enjoyed making our customer our hero, celebrating their successes and wins. Equally one of the greatest joys I get in operating a business is celebrating the win of our team members.
8. The growth is found in the middle of the discomfort. I wish it weren’t the case-but unfortunately discomfort has preceded every victory I have had in my career to date. Ouch! Don’t run from it-run towards it, embrace the tough conversations, meetings, and task list items you wish weren’t there!
9. Who you start with is not who you finish with. It took me several years to get comfortable with this. Turn over of staff and team members used to chew me up but I now recognise that this principle transcends all industries and workplaces. Team members coming and going is a by-product of fulfilling a business vision that will take years to come to fruition. Of course I would like team members to stay-but only as long as they are growing, feeling challenged, and enjoying their work life.
10. The need for physiotherapists to be crystal clear on the client profile they enjoy working with. In the last 18-24 months my ideal client avatar has become very clear. I now realise that I enjoy working with high performers, not just physical performers. I enjoy helping CEO’s, adventurers, company founders, and anyone focused on fulfilling their potential in life.
Bonus: the ‘grass isn’t greener’. Early in my career my tendency was to continually look ‘left and right’ to compare my progress both as a physiotherapist, and also a physiotherapy practice owner with others. I learnt (painfully) that while the grass may ‘appear greener’, it quite often just ‘needs more water’! Trust that what you have to offer the world is unique, and back yourself!
In your physio success,