Build It and They Will Come

field-of-dreams.jpgProbably one of the most misleading movies used to inspire naïve chiropractors is the one with James Earl Jones and Kevin Costner, who builds a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa cornfield.

“If you build it, they will come.”

The throaty whisper, combined with a healthy dose of 60s idealism makes for great drama as the Costner character gambles foreclosure on his farm in favor of following his passion for baseball.

It’s a movie! It’s made up! Yet, countless chiropractors emerge from chiropractic college with the notion that all it takes to heal the hurting humanity in their town is a highly-trafficked practice location, a back-lit sign and a spanking new diploma framed on the wall.

Is this merely a hallucination perpetrated by chiropractic colleges interested in enrollees with good enough credit to swing student loans? There’s probably something more significant happening here.

Before I offer my explanation of how and why Amiables and Analyticals with underdeveloped communication skills get through chiropractic college (and what to do about it if you find yourself in this situation), without being told that their personalities will be a liability, let me tell you about an email exchange and then a phone call I recently had with Dr. Ellen.

In a recent Monday Morning Motivation, I made a comment about the importance of being “aggressively friendly.” I’ve enjoyed the juxtaposition of these two words ever since I first heard them in reference to the training the Disney organization gives to its cast members (park employees).

“That’s just not me,” she confessed. “I’m the kind of doctor, who, if I had won the Nobel Peace Prize, you’d never know it. I just don’t talk about myself.”

But it wasn’t her humble nature or her inclination to “live in her head” that prompted her to take up my invitation and call me. It was something else that I suggested in my weekly email.

“What do you mean by telling “your chiropractic story?” she continued. “ I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

“Well, there are really two stories,” I ventured. “The first story is the one patients are most interested in, and that’s the story of how you chose a career in chiropractic—a profession that many see as merely the ugly stepchild of medicine and nothing more than an elaborate massage. The second story is how you frame the services you offer to patients, such as the Pain Story, the Bone Story, the Nerve Story, or the Lifestyle Story. Or a combination of two of them,” I quickly added.

“Oh. Well, I went to a chiropractic college that didn’t really cover anything but the science and symptom relief part of chiropractic,” she observed. “So, I guess that’s the Pain Story.”

“That’s right. May I ask how often you get checked or adjusted?” I asked.

“About once a week,” she replied. “But that’s because I have access to free chiropractic care. I suppose if I had to pay for it myself, it would probably be about once a month.”

Probably one of the more truthful admissions I’d heard in a long time.

My guess is that the build-it-and-they-will-come mentality is a holdover from the days of generous insurance reimbursement. With a deep-pocketed insurance carrier picking up the tab, you didn’t need much of a personality or, for that matter, a very clear explanation of what chiropractic is and what it isn’t.

Today, without the price supports afforded by third parties, the notion that you can find a 1,200 square foot office with affordable rent, hang out a shingle and wait for your community to beat a path to your door is a quaint reminder of the era of gold neck chains, jaw encroaching sideburns, and $100 deductibles with 80/20 coverage.

If you find yourself experiencing career-questioning gaps between patients these days, I feel your pain. Really, I do. Because whether consciously or unconsciously, you were deceived. You’re running a small business here. (Or trying to.) And your license is merely the admission ticket into the ring. Your community doesn’t owe you a living because of your knowledge, degree, student loan balances, or practice location. In fact, your community doesn’t care one iota. Mind you, it’s not conspiring against you, it’s merely ambivalent. Neutral. Oblivious.

Take heart! There’s a way out. It’ll take a little luck, a little “MacGyvering” and it will require doing some things outside your comfort zone—but then that’s how you expand your comfort zone.

Acknowledge what is. If you’re unfamiliar with the DISC personality test, find out more. This time-tested resource provides helpful information so you can know yourself better. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is the starting point for true self-development. (By the way, we don’t change from our basic quadrant; however, we can become more versatile.) You can take a free test online.

Journal. If you’re in the non-emotive half of the equation, it’s critical that you get your thoughts and feelings down on paper. It’s the first step to leaving the safety and comfort of living in your head and becoming more available to others. Often what you think of as showing up deeply intuitive or as a brilliant diagnostician, patients perceive as detached aloofness and an off-putting healthier-than-thou attitude. Journaling can help you assign words to your experience. The next step is expressing them.

Get to a Toastmasters group. These small group settings provide a supportive environment for those who recognize the importance of self-expression. Here, you can get gentle coaching and firsthand experience as you tame your butterflies. Speaking to groups is the most effective way to attract your tribe. It is a learned behavior. If you had the smarts to negotiate board examinations, you have the mental horsepower to acquire public-speaking skills.

Get out of your social cocoon. You’ve probably arranged your life so as not to encounter any strangers. It’s difficult to introduce this amazing thing called chiropractic to others if you already know everyone you bump into. Drop your laundry off at a new place. Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Start a conversation in the checkout line. Chances are your mommy made you afraid of strangers—which may have been appropriate when you were six years old. Today it’s dampening your practice.

Realize that a no is just a no. Most of us attach an inappropriate meaning to being told “no.” Or make more of it than we should when others decline our invitation. So much so, we never make an offer, ask for a favor (or the sale) or make a request. If you associate rejection with shame or, in extreme cases, even death, then you’re in bondage to a lie. A “no” is not an attack. It’s not even personal. It’s just a no. As in, not at this particular moment.

It’s not about you. Most of the emotional baggage standing in the way of showing up aggressively friendly, speaking first, and being curious about others is actually the result of making interactions about you. About your reputation. About whether they like you. About looking good. About self-preservation. And dozens of other things you are powerless to control. Only when you can get yourself out of the way and invest yourself in something larger than you and your pathetic attempts at surviving in what appears to be a hostile world, will you be free. Get over yourself, already.

Turns out, there is some truth to the “build-it-and-they-will-come” mantra. Build you and they will come.

By the time a patient has any need for you (or any other health care practitioner), they deeply desire to meet someone who is confident, certain and exudes hope and possibilities. You can’t show up as that resource if you’re secretly afraid of the world, have acquired an entitlement mentality, or live in your head. I’m guessing that nobody told you that the metric used to measure success in chiropractic college (grades) would have little to do with what will be needed for success afterwards.

Sorry about that.

Originally posted February 14, 2009