I believe I went to medical school at just the right place at just the right time.
We had a phenomenal faculty and an innovative curriculum FULL of energy. NUNM itself had just overcome a financial crisis through the deft work of the then President – and the incoming president was a whirlwind of ideas and lofty goals. It was a fertile time – walking through the halls in those days truly had the best version of a Hogwarts vibe. Weird awesome people hanging with weird awesome people learning about something truly transformative.
The first year of that program deconstructed me completely.
I had NEVER thought about the world in the way I was learning to think about it in school. I immediately took to the philosophies and ways of knowing that are inherent in Chinese medicine. In a way it is the perfect representation of that intersectional energy I cultivated in that class about environmental ethics in Idaho.
I dove into Classical Chinese Medicine with my whole heart, and got deeply involved in the school.
I participated heavily in student government, was involved in research studies, did peer mentoring and shouted from the rooftops about what I was learning. I used to have dreams that I was standing on the roof of the primary NUNM academic building looking out over the city and just filled with the most incredible sense of love and happiness.
I focused my learning early on Chinese herbs, which led me to working mostly with Heiner Fruehauf and Arnaud Versluys. The latter became a focus from formulas class onward, as his brilliance in understanding and explaining formula dynamics worked perfectly for my brain. Medical school was made even more busy by the fact that my wife was beginning her practice of massage therapy and our daughter was going through her early teenaged years. I’m surprised we all survived!!
In my second year of school, I ran into some obstacles in my learning.
I was having a hard time memorizing all the various Chinese herb names and details, and was also just needing a way to integrate the many streams of information I was taking in. That’s when I first started Deepest Health, in 2007, as a blog for me to say out loud what I was learning in an effort to see if I had really learned it. Writing – just getting ideas out of my head – has always been a big part of my learning process. Making it public just added an additional level of accountability.
I got interested, too, in blogging technology. One part of my history I’ve not really highlighted is my long experience with and comfort with computers and networking technology. So, while I was using blogging to explore the medicine I was so privileged to learn, I was also using the experience to expand my understanding of how to use blogging technology better. That led me to teachers like Yaro Starak, with whom I still study.
Deepest Health became a huge part of my medical school career, as I connected with acupuncture professionals all over the world.
My work on the site began to go beyond my class notes and random thoughts, and became a vehicle for my own research. Though I had left my Philosophy PhD dreams behind, I still had the urge to read, write, think and publish. What I was learning through teachers like Yaro helped me to see the potential of online technology to help non-traditional scholars reach an audience. I ultimately even taught an online course about Chinese herbs on the blog – called the Shennong Relational Herb Learning Method.
The more I learned and worked on the site, the more it seemed like I might be able to find a path to scholarship using the blog – rather than having to go the more traditional PhD route. The truth is, despite the fact that I was now learning a very practical skill with an obvious occupational result – I still yearned to be involved in scholarship. The blog did scratch that itch to some extent, and does so even more today.
However, during my final year in school my blogging dropped off and I focused all of my attention on learning about how to run an acupuncture practice, and doing the planning work with Amanda for what would become Watershed Wellness.
We started Watershed Wellness in 2009
The period between my graduation and licensure was filled with business courses through local organizations, ongoing planning work, and doing all the startup steps needed to hit the ground running. It was the earliest stages of the recovery from the Great Recession, a questionable time to go into business, but our energy and excitement about our concept kept us going through some financially precarious moments.
We opened our first space in an urban environment in inner Southeast Portland. We had a business plan built during a business course, a couple of other people willing to pay some rent in exchange for our management of the space. We were on our way!
As is true of most businesses, the early days of Watershed Wellness had highs and lows.
Fortunately, we were able to cover expenses and pay ourselves a small salary within the first several months. We had some great experiences with the renters and other folks we had practicing with us in the early days – just some really quality people and good connections. We were fortunate to benefit from great word of mouth advertising early on due to Amanda’s excellent massage skills and my specialized herbal training. So, even during recession days, we felt good about our business development.
While there was a lot to love about Watershed from Day 1, there were of course plenty of mistakes and missteps. We made our share of financial and bookkeeping errors, including one that required a session late into the night with our bookkeeper! Our initial clinic space had no exterior windows, and it turned out prohibited us from using moxibustion due to the ventilation situation. We also didn’t pay enough attention to marketing during the initial stages of the practice – I think just from a sense of overwhelm at what we were facing.
We did move to a much better space in a beautiful neighborhood in SE Portland. We were able to do some limited build out so that the space was more aligned with what we wanted. There was walk-by traffic, and a neighborhood feel, so the working environment was much better. Things were moving in the right direction, when the space next to ours (same building, twice as large) opened up. While we didn’t really have a plan, and couldn’t exactly afford it – we made our first major business mistake and upgraded anyway.
We learned the lesson of development without a clear plan.
We were being reactive, and motivated at least partly by fear, and we did insufficient planning work. This entered us into a five year period of serious business challenges and ongoing lessons. Our furious effort pulled us through what could have been a fatal time for the practice – and we ended that period much wiser and more prepared to take on the next steps. That said, I wish we could have learned those lessons in a class, or through some type of coaching, rather than learning it with debt and stress!
Despite it being a challenging time in many ways – that space and the group of folks we brought to it was truly beautiful. We did a lot of wonderful work in that community, and of course learned a lot about running an acupuncture practice. As I discuss in another post in this series, I was also teaching nearly full-time while we were growing Watershed Wellness, so this was a full and intense time of my life.
During the later part of the lease on our upgraded space, I reached a personal breaking point with regards to living in the city.
I have always preferred being in relatively wild nature most of the time. I crave encounters with creatures, and I am happiest when surrounded by plants and water. I moved to the city because I had to in order to attend medical school. And the truth is, there is a lot to love about Portland. But, it was never a permanent option for me. However, it was unexpected how quickly Portland grew, and the stress started to erode my physical and mental health.
It was time for a change.
You’ll learn more about what happened for me, and Watershed Wellness, in [Part 4 of this series]. But, first, I make a detour into Part 3 to discuss my teaching and Deepest Health.