The sense of danger must not disappear
The way is certain both short and steep
However gradual it looks from here
Look if you like, but you will have to leap
-- “Leap Before You Look” W.H. Auden
Last week I found myself faced with a difficult challenge for an introvert therapist: marketing and promoting my business. Indigo Counseling, my new therapy practice, was doing well, but I still needed to build up a steady referral base to have consistent business. I wondered: should I market to doctors? How do I do that? I visited a Facebook private practice group and read about how others approached this. Some went for the cold calls, some the letter in the mail, while others dropped off their cards and pamphlet at doctor’s offices.
I decided to go for the in-person drop off and made up gift baskets with my cards, pens, pamphlets along with candy and homemade cookies. My idea was to visit four local doctors and psychiatrists that I thought might refer clients to counseling. When I approached the first doctor’s office, my anxiety raised to a high level—my heart started to beat louder, my breathing got more constricted, my body got numb. “What am I going to say? Will I look stupid? Is this the right way to approach this?” and a blizzard of other anxious questions stormed through my brain.
I parked, grabbed one of the baskets and then read out loud the note I wrote at home so I could remember what I wanted to say, “Hello, I am a local therapist with a new business just down the road. I am dropping off this gift basket with my cards, pamphlets and goodies for you to enjoy.” I thought “well, here I go.” I walked into the building with my anxiety spiking to a 10. I was certainly outside of my comfort zone, but I took the leap, entered the doctor’s office, gave the receptionist my spiel and handed her a gift basket.
When you’re a therapist and you give advice to others all day, you better make sure you are authentic. I have often thought when I am counseling someone, “How can I advise others to take risks, to step outside their box if I cannot do those things myself?” I need to leap of outside my own comfort zone so I can know what it’s like, so I can empathize with the uncertainty, the fear that it evokes.
Years ago when I was working as a writing teacher, I often got feedback from my students that I was too quiet, my voice too soft and monotone, that I was not expressive enough. I decided at one point that maybe I needed to do something to improve my teaching skills so I signed up for a improv acting class.
Improv teaches you to say “yes” to engaging in the moment and the experience. If you’re doing an improv piece and your partner says, “It’s hot,” the biggest improv goal is just to agree and keep going! “Yes, it’s hot, it’s 110 out here in the Sahara and I’m dressed in a sweater and jeans!” Or you could reply, “Hot, you don’t know hot until you become a 55-year-old female!” But the point is that there is not a right or wrong way to approach improv. It’s about being in the moment, saying yes, taking the leap, and seeing what happens--a lovely metaphor for life!
All of the receptionists greeted me warmly and took the baskets and said they would give the cards and pamphlets to the doctors. At the last place I stopped, the receptionist at first looked at me quizzically, like she didn’t understand what I was doing. I gave my spiel or some nervous, truncated version of it, “Hello…therapist…gift basket…cards…pamphlets…goodies for the staff and doctors.” I handed her the basket and as she looked inside, she noticed the bag of chocolate chip cookies on the top and she smiled, “Thanks,” she said, “You’re very sweet to drop off goodies for us.” Later, she called me on the phone to get more specific information about my specialties so the doctor could refer to me.
When I leap past my comfort zone I often find that there is not pain, humiliation or suffering on the other side. I don’t crash in a spectacular fashion as I had imagined, instead it is a soft landing. Somehow other humans forgive or don’t even notice my anxiety, worry or questioning. Instead I find that when I take a risk, there are just kind people who smile, engage with me in the moment, and are ready to accept a gift basket and/or make a connection.