It had been a long, tired battle between me and my laundry. The laundry—a menacing pile of flannel and terrycloth—was winning.
That was 20+ years ago. I saw 18-20 clients per week, a dozen in my private practice. Although they were all nice people, my clients burned through linens like we go through snack food, unable to stop at just one each. I used additional towels to bolster them and even to rest the oil on. Laundry service was long overdue.
Finally, on that decisive day, I lugged my flannels and terries to a local Laundromat, dropped them on the laundry service counter, and left with a spring in my step. I had won.
Looking back on two decades of laundry service since then, hiring it out was a great move. The seamless transfer of responsibility freed up all kinds of energy.
Not all business decisions were this easy.
Sometimes I balked at offloading tasks. While writing a massage textbook, the bibliography rivaled the laundry in size. Instead of delegating it, I hung on for a while, falling behind and feeling inadequate. As I added research, teaching, and other activities to my work, it got harder and harder to do it all myself.
My business projects and tasks grew steadily, but they always seemed to pounce without warning and surprise me with their demands. Suddenly I’d become unable to see all the clients, make all the referrals, answer all the calls and emails, track all the receipts, write all the curriculum, or supervise all the students. My anxiety closet filled with undone tasks. Something had to change.
Ask for help, they said.
In baby steps, I finally asked for help. It arrived in stages, over several years. I found administrative help for the office, then teaching assistants for the classroom. I found a web developer, then a bookkeeper. And all along, there were the mentors and the guides. I began to shed my do-it-yourself identity.
Welcoming each new person into my work was a huge step, but when my work became their work and ultimately our work, it got easier.
Autonomy is an illusion, they said.
My helpers ushered in a different way of life, and they ushered out my illusion of autonomy. Slowly I realized that getting help in my business wasn’t that different from getting help in the rest of my life.
As independent as I’d like to be, I can’t deliver my own mail, plow all the city streets I need to drive on, or wire my house. Most importantly: After several attempts to prove otherwise, it’s really clear that I can’t cut my own hair. I need other people’s help for these tasks, and more.
Exploring my so-called rugged independence, I discovered some arrogance behind the idea that I could possibly accomplish anything alone. I was relieved to feel it soften. I acknowledged my deep dependence on other people. Another weight lifted.
Needing help can be a sign of success, not failure.
More relief came when I realized my increasing needs reflected the success of my business, not a collection of personal failures. The expansion of my work required an expansion of my workforce. It was as simple as that.
By asking for help, I’ve enriched my life with lovely people. Now that I have a bookkeeper, I look forward to her visits and her easy, efficient ways. My administrative assistant brings a quirky sense of humor along with her steady support. My teaching staff is full of love and dedication, inspiring me to love and dedicate even more.
After widening my circle of support, there came a day when I knew that it was time: I dropped the “I” when referring to our organization, in favor of the true, clear “we.” With that, I felt as light as the day I dropped off that load of laundry.
Anything Worth Growing Requires Help
I’m not alone in my need for help. Any growing massage practice, business, or program needs help. And the growth of a massage practice is rarely smooth. Instead, it is characterized by bumps, lurches, and steps backward as well as forward. These movements make all kinds of noise inside our anxiety closets. We can’t always tell when the noise reflects something wrong–a whimper for help–or if it’s just the squeak and creak of healthy growth.
Each investment in the next level of business growth requires significant time, money, or both. This often occurs precisely when there is a shortage of time, money, or both. All the available time and money is busy running the business at its current level.
This problem shows up many times in massage therapy growth: A move to a higher-rent office, or an investment in advertising or training. Even the first purchase of a massage table requires a leap. Other leaps include leaving one’s day job to devote full-time to massage, or the simple act of hiring help.
A growing, breathing business inhales a lot of resources, whether it’s lying there quietly or calling for attention; whether it’s in its infancy or adolescence. It takes a good store of hope and a long, deep breath to commit to its next phase of growth. It usually requires help.
Kinds of Help
Help can come from service providers, colleagues, friends, and family. It can come from your massage school’s career services office, or from professional associations. It can come from a referral from the business down the street, or from a remote contact made online.
For our part, Tracy Walton & Associates helps build skills to serve all kinds of medically complex populations. Being able to serve a broad client base helps build a successful MT practice, and we get a lot of joy from being part of people’s success.
From giving and receiving help ourselves, we’ve learned a lot about what good help looks like. We try to support the profession by supporting researchers, massage schools, teachers, and hospitals, as well as massage therapists themselves.
We make many referrals to the Society for Oncology Massage , when MTs are looking for training in areas we don’t serve, or for consumers looking for an oncology massage therapist locator service.
Along the way, we have noticed a growing need for mentorship in massage therapy, specifically oncology massage therapy. We’ve answered that need with a mentorship program designed to help oncology massage therapists build successful practices.
Those of you practicing oncology massage have asked us for help growing your practice. You have told us you need help marketing, and reaching out to physicians. You’ve asked for the best oncology massage research to back up your claims.
You’ve also asked for guidance in doing the work sustainably, without burning out. And many of you have requested more case studies and care plans, thinking through massage contraindications for an oncology massage population you’d like to specialize in.
We have responded to individual requests as much as possible, but we wanted to gather the resources in one place, in a format that can be used by more people. We began our Oncology Massage Therapy Advanced Mentorship Program in April 2014. It’s live, taught over the web, where we can all hear each others’ voices, share support, and see the same scenarios on the screen.
The program is designed for any and all oncology massage therapists, in any and all settings. If you are an oncology massage therapist who would like the help, and we’re offering the kind of help you need, we would love to have you join us.
Read all about the program here:
The Intention to Grow is Growth
Perhaps you find, as I did, that asking for help is a way to grow. Or it reflects your intention to grow even though you’re struggling to make it happen. Even if growth and success seem out of reach, the very act of asking for help means you’re moving forward.
I’ve thought a lot about the challenges in massage therapy. I know many of them from my own work and from what my students tell me. I’ve learned much from asking people these questions:
-Describe the challenges you face as you build or maintain your practice.
-What’s inside your anxiety closet?
-Name the risks you’ve taken in your practice.
-List the things you’ve tried that didn’t work. The things that did.
-What kinds of help do you need right now?
-What kinds of help have you received?
Each time I hear about other people’s help, whether it’s arrived or it’s still on the way, I think of it as a sign of hope, a promise of a shinier future. Needing help can signal hope, not despair.
Our growing needs reflect our growing goals, or recent successes. The scariest mound of undone laundry reflects a healthy client base. Who knew?
After the laundry, the irony.
Much to my surprise, I’m doing my own laundry again. A few months ago, the linen service at my massage office was discontinued. Instead of finding a substitute service, I decided to try laundering them myself for a while.
That, too, was a great decision. I found I actually kind of like laundry. Really. With a handful of regular massage clients, laundry is once again a manageable and meditative task. I think fond thoughts of my clients as I prepare their linens for the day.
Although I wash, dry, and fold it all myself, I do have help. It came to me in a momentary flash from an unexpected source. While developing the DVD, “Touch, Caring, and Cancer: Simple Instruction for Family and Friends,” I worked with Dr. Janet Kahn, an integrative medicine researcher extraordinaire, MT of 4 decades, and one of my research mentors. As we packed up linens for filming, Janet said, “Hey–let me show you my aunt’s trick for neatly folding a fitted sheet.”
Shake out the sheet. Stretch. Unite the corners. Fold inward.
Using Janet’s aunt’s technique, I now fold my tangled pile of linens into neatly squared-off stacks. The war is well behind me.
Thanks to her, my laundry and I are at peace. I would never have figured that out on my own.