In Part 1 of this series, I looked at my young life and college career. In Part 2, I looked at my medical school career and the earliest days of Watershed Wellness, my clinic. We took a detour in Part 3 to look at some parallel developments in my teaching and scholarship, but we’ll return to the main narrative here and finish up by looking at what has been the most impactful period of my life so far.
I have always loved the Oregon Coast.
Before I started college, I lived in a tiny town on the central Oregon Coast called Yachats. And while it was a hard time of life for some reasons, I never forgot the peace and serenity the proximity of nature and wildness brought to me. My wife and I were on the coast visiting one day in early 2016, and through several conversations eventually reached a point where we started to accept what it might mean to leave Portland. Things really snowballed from there – all the pieces fell into place.
Within 6 months, we were living in the town we now call home!
We landed in the far Northwestern corner of Oregon – in Astoria. We plan to stay here for the rest of our lives, so strong is our love for this place. Our goal coming into this time was to live on the coast, but keep our Portland practice and condense my teaching schedule. I think we imagined that we’d live both places for a while, and things would develop from there. We weren’t certain how it would work, but the basic vision was clear and several logistical features of the situation made sense.
That pivotal decision truly changed everything.
My personal journey intensified and I began to heal long stored up traumas from years of neglect and hustle. The wide open space and everyday exposure to wild nature stimulated my creativity, and helped both of us start thinking through our next life steps. Truly, moving to the area was an example of letting the Heart, and Vision, lead. I’ve never regretted the decision.
Unfortunately, I ultimately could not work out an appropriate teaching schedule with NUNM and began to reduce and alter my engagement with them almost as soon as we moved. I would wrap up teaching altogether in 2019. But, the real story for this series is what happened with Watershed Wellness.
When we first moved to the coast we weren’t intent on opening an acupuncture clinic here.
But, pretty soon upon moving to the area we realized the other practitioners here were already at capacity. Finding a practitioner, much less one with whom one resonated, was essentially impossible. And almost nobody took any kind of health insurance. It’s not that hard to believe, of course, rural healthcare in the United States is notoriously challenged by access and distribution problems. Every practitioner we talked to told us that we would do well here, and would be making a positive impact to the community. We felt the call to contribute to our new home and opened in early 2017.
Within 6 months, we were as busy as we could handle and already regretting signing a lease on a space that wasn’t more expandable.
We started a yoga studio simultaneously with the new practice, as Amanda had recently undergone teacher training and saw a need for the type of movement she could provide. That, too, became quite busy of energy. Before we knew it – certainly within a year – the Astoria practice was by far our dominant source of revenue and clearly only at the beginning of tapping the potential of the area.
Simultaneously, the Portland market really tightened up.
Portland has two schools for acupuncturists, and is known as a place where many great practitioners congregate. This is wonderful in many ways, but it does increase the pressure on business owners, particularly those starting out. At that time, we weren’t in a position to invest a lot in marketing. And our location, while beautiful ,was increasingly becoming something people biked or drove by. They rarely stopped to engage. So, as the point came to renew our lease, we made the difficult decision to let that practice go. It was emotional, and obviously hard for the other practitioners who were there, but it was the right decision.
Since then, our lives and business in Astoria have improved continuously
We now have massage therapists, acupuncturists, me focused on Chinese herbs, a thriving esthetics and organic skincare department and a location that blows my mind every time I walk into it. We can virtually guarantee a new practitioner a full practice within 6 months, and every year the thing gets easier to operate as we put new systems in place.
We have a strong plan for ongoing development, are digging into more advanced marketing strategies, and are always looking to attract more high quality practitioners.
Our next frontier is really putting the final layer of management in place so that Amanda and I can be free to do more of the upper level business development work, as well as pursuing our other interests. It’s truly magical that I can write those words – Watershed Wellness has made this possible and I will never stop being grateful for that.
Incredibly, the practice has only been strengthened by the COVID-19 crisis.
The virus was, and still is, a destabilizing force. We had to close the clinic for three months, our expenses skyrocketed as we adapted to the new procedures needed, and people were tentative to come back initially. But now, in May 2021, we’ve posted several of our best months ever recently and while we did sustain losses for 2020, the network of funding and support we were able to put into place kept that from being a fatal blow to the business.
As you might expect, it’s been a pressure cooker type environment of business adaptation. As with other tight spots in our lives, we’ve learned a huge amount about ourselves and our community. I made the decision to convert to herbs only practice during our shutdown period, and in the aftermath, I’ve relaunched Deepest Health and written a series of courses that will change the way acupuncturists are taught about practice management. Things are good, very good – and I look forward to sharing all that goodness with you. 🙂
Thanks for reading this series. It’s one of the most uncomfortable exercises I’ve ever engaged in. I’m not used to being front and center, certainly not communicating about myself – but it’s been a valuable experience.