What’s Better?

So instead of working on the  other writing projects I should be doing, I decided to distract myself with something more fun and now I want to enlist you guys!

As we've said a bunch of times, this is WCA's 10 year anniversary. Somehow I have a hard time getting my head around that. Periodically I try to think back to the beginning of the clinic and remember what that time was like, and compare it to now, and then try to absorb that the two are actually connected. I was doing that yesterday and it dawned on me that in pretty much every way I can think of, my life is a lot better now than it was 10 years ago. A LOT better.

I think when people think about business and business models, the conventional way to evaluate their success is to ask, how much money can you extract from them? And when we think about social business and social business models, we evaluate their success by asking, what are the social dividends to the community? I think about the social dividends of my business all the time, but I hadn't made a list of all the nitty-gritty ways I benefited personally. This is by no means a complete list:

1) My finances are a lot better. No, I haven't actually extracted any money from WCA in a conventional business sense, and it's entirely possible that a traditional business valuation would say it was worthless. But my personal and family finances are much, much better than they were 10 years ago. Consistent paychecks, even when modest, make all the difference in the world over 10 years — as opposed to the inconsistency of conventional private practice or the instability of a public health job with shaky funding.

2) I have a lot more confidence. I'm sure a lot of people think I had to have confidence to try this crazy experiment in the first place, and I guess I did, but I also had a lot of desperation. There weren't a lot of other good options. What's different now is that I've had the experience of getting results out of hard work. Maybe not always the results I wanted, and at times the work was much harder than I wanted it to be — but I think there is no substitute for being responsible for a business, having to make it work, and discovering that you CAN. It doesn't matter if anybody else is impressed. I trust myself now a lot more than I did 10 years ago.

3) I'm less afraid of making mistakes and of failing. Because I've made a lot of mistakes and a variety of things that we've tried, have failed. That would be a long list in its own right. But each of those mistakes was actually useful in the big picture, and I can see that, looking back over 10 years. There was a reason for everything that didn't work out, and my life is better because I learned about those reasons.

4) All of my family relationships are better. This is the Internet and I'm not going to get any more detailed than that, but they really are. In some cases I can see how WCA directly affected those relationships, and in some cases it's not so direct, but the end result is, they're all a lot better than they were 10 years ago. That can't be a coincidence.

5) I now get regular acupuncture. I didn't before. Hey, it makes a difference!

6) I also get more exercise, more regularly, than I did 10 years ago. Having this business has made me appreciate and cultivate routines.

7) I found a spiritual community that I'm really happy with. I met those folks through WCA — they came in as patients.

8) I have a LOT more fun with my coworkers and colleagues than I did 10 years ago.

9) THE ACUPUNCTURE WORLD IS A LOT BETTER. For me, anyway. 10 years ago, my connection with the acupuncture world was to read Acupuncture Today, cry or scream (depending on the month), and rip it up and throw it away. There was no acupuncture organization I wanted to join, let alone volunteer for.

I could go on, but the point is, if somebody had told me 10 years ago, “Hey, if you start this business, your life is going to get better in every way you can think of!” I probably wouldn't have believed them.  But if I did believe them, and if they warned me, “You know, you won't make a lot of money in other people's eyes. And it won't always be obvious how your business is going to pay all its bills. Do you still want to do this?” I would have said, sign me up anyway. Because some of the benefits of doing this are things you couldn't buy, no matter how much money you had. And the benefits aren't temporary, they're permanent. Or that's how it looks at the 10 year mark, anyway.

So I figure this phenomenon isn't limited to me, and I'm curious. In what ways is your life better since you got involved with community acupuncture? Anything surprising and unexpected? Tell us!


Author: lisafer

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


Leave a Reply to jenniferwoolf

  1. Wow, One of 1st comments..I was unemployed, standing outside library waiting for it to open. Tatyana of Sarana CA comes up, hey come volunteer! I now am a hired punk full-time at BAP and I like to think working at my full potential ever growing and always delighting in the realness of life around me. Community acupuncture is revolutionary to our hearts, soothing to our souls in the land of impossible especially our rights as humans and trying to get proper healthcare.

  2. I can walk to work instead of driving 500 miles a week. So more time for my family – family relationships definitely better. I can treat people in my community – even with a smile as I walk to work and home. I don’t take money from the dysfunctional health care system which is based on corporate profits instead of people, therefore, I sleep better at night, with a clean conscience. I can treat members of my family and friends…or anyone….if I choose too. I can provide a modest income for other acupunks.

  3. How CA has made my life better:

    I work close to home.

    I charge an ethical amount of money per treatment, which allows me to stop struggling with my internal dialogue of “Is this Right Livelihood?”

    I get to watch people get better, not over months, but over days.

    The look of amazement when people come in and say “I haven’t thought about my issue in days! In fact I forgot about it until this morning when I knew I was coming in!” Priceless.

    I am my own boss, and all that that entails. Sometimes challenging, always good.

    I am giving back to society, and my community in many ways: business taxes, employing others, fund raising, etc. therefore my sense of personal satisfaction is

    I unreservedly love what I do.

  4. A big thing for me is that my work schedule is totally tailored around me being home for my young daughter. Because I work in a community clinic, I can see a LOT of patients when I work, and be completely free when I leave – not worried all the time about my job. I’m free for all the things I love about being a parent. Because the whole clinic is not resting on my shoulders (there are three punks working at CCA) we can all (pretty much) work a schedule that is good for us and for our families.

    There’s a thousand other good things, but that stands out for me.


  5. Oh, Lisa – this is lovely. For several years now, I have periodically began composing in my head a blog post entitled “what’s in it for me” but then I kept forgetting to write it, or something came up.
    For me finding CA meant a huge life transformation on just about every level. I very much resonate with your numbers 1 through 6. Also:

    ~ I learned to do sooo many new things that I have never tried before: bookkeeping, oiling recliners, being a boss, writing a newsletter…on and on

    ~ I know myself better because I have been “using myself” – utilizing whatever skills I have. I also have a better sense of my skill-set as a worker, a practitioner and business owner and understand my strengths and weaknesses. There is nothing like experience to hold up a mirror.

    ~I have better social skills. As an introvert, it has always been hard for me to interact with lots of people, but my clinic provides the structure and the safety that enables me to get better at authentic connection, to get more comfortable with coming out of my little shell. There is so much love that I cannot help it.

    ~I am better at letting go and working with others. I am kind of a control freak and a community clinic means you have to let go of control again and again or you will have to do all the work yourself and never go home.

    ~I have many more acupuncturist friends that I actually like. A lot. And they show up for me when I need it.

    ~ My life has been deeply enriched by my amazing stellar resourceful talented clever business partner who is also a family friend, a gardening mentor and the best chicken-sitter.

    ~I like myself better because I feel useful every day.

    ~I get to fulfill my personal spiritual commitment (to contribute to relieving suffering in the world) at work, without even thinking about it.

    ~ I am a lazy and shy activist. But just coming to work is activism, so that helps.

    There is more, but you get the idea…

  6. Besides other things, one thing that I’ve noticed is that it makes me feel closer to people. Outside of the clinic I communicate on a while differenet level with strangers, they actually don’t feel like strangers anymore…. Great feeling.

  7. I guess there is not a way to add to the comments here, but I also wanted to say that doing hard, focused, and purposeful work paired with the financial stability added a major sense of dignity and self-respect to my life.

  8. Three years ago, I regularly referred to my private practice as “the acid bath”. I was on the verge of quitting at 48 years old and finding something…ANYTHING else to do, my huge acu-mortgage payments notwithstanding. I wasn’t on my last legs because I didn’t have patients. I had plenty of patients. I hadn’t fallen out of love with Chinese medicine. If anything, I was going nuts because I didn’t have the energy to keep studying it and even in a full private practice, I wasn’t practicing nearly enough of it. It was far too exhausting dealing with the unrealistic expectations and debilitating demands of continuing to find gimmicks and “angles” to justify to myself why I was charging so much for something my NADA work had long ago shown me could be incredibly effective under even the simplest of circumstances. Finding CAN was like being thrown a rope just as I was about to go under. Now, work is a refuge. Chris, the punk who’s been working with me for the past four months said it best just today. He’s been moving into a new house and he’s got relatives over helping take care of all the details and it’s pretty hectic. He came in today and said that he told his wife “I think I’ll go to work so I can relax.” All I could do was smile. Work as refuge. There’s a phrase that lifts a long finger in the face of the machine if I ever heard one. A refuge for our patients, a refuge for us. And we take our livings out of it in direct proportion, not to some arbitrary assignment of monetary value in the marketplace, but to how much we help. And because I can see patients frequently enough, I can actually help them in the realm of health without crippling them in the realm of economics. That in itself changes everything about the dynamics of patient interaction, not to mention the dynamics of me being able to sleep at night. It makes me sad that the Acu-brahmins of the world find this concept difficult. I find it lovely.

  9. CA has completely changed my life in less than 3 years.

    I know lots of people.
    I feel like a part of the community! <3
    I have lots of mentors and great friends.
    I have confidence.
    I have determination.
    I believe in myself.

    I love CA!

  10. I am connected to and useful to my community. Every time I run into patients around town (constantly) its a reminder of how lucky I am.

    I am no longer financially dependent on my husband. While I know its a privileged position to have a spouse who can support us both, its a double edge sword when it comes to self worth and subtle nuances of a relationship. Community acupuncture has made my marriage is stronger in other more subtle ways as well.

    I have diverse people all over the country who I care about now. Some I work with, some I chat with, some I just barely know but in my POCA job I feel connected to every new POCA clinic and care about all of them.

    I am not desperate or afraid or lonely and I never have to be anything but authentic. When I graduated from acupuncture school I never thought I’d end up any of these things but four years out it seems to clear that this would probably have been my fate.

    You can’t really do community acupuncture without learning a lot about basic humanity and the tricky ways of oppression. That awful ball of wax makes me more human myself.

    I’m proud to tell people what I do.

  11. One thing for now:
    As a straight, white, raised middle-class and protestant and midwestern guy, my life became a lot bigger opening a community acupuncture clinic. One has to fight in our culture to have deep difference-making connections with people from different backgrounds. Doing community acupuncture is one way to have that fight, and to be winning all the time. It keeps my face all kinds of oppression which I’m set up to carry out and helps me work on ways to check the privilege, change the isolation, be an ally and a citizen of the world.

  12. I’ve always been very extroverted and private practice made me feel isolated (in many more ways than one). Now when I go to work I feel like I’m going to a social event where people get better.