The Beauty of Failure

Recently, I had a young patient (high schooler) come in, chief complaint of low back pain. She also experiences neck pain and headaches, but states that she sees another chiropractor- one who performs atlas-orthogonal technique.

(Atlas orthogonal technique involves taking precise measurements of the upper cervical spine and making very specific corrections to the axis & atlas (C1 and C2 vertebrae).

This doc, knowing she comes to our office for treatment as well, asked her to not have her neck adjusted by anyone besides them. I had no problem with this, and I kept my hands off her neck.

However, I did ask questions, and gave a home recommendation that would maybe surprise you… Keep reading…

I asked: “What causes your neck pain and headaches to flare up?”

She answered: “I don’t know, usually if I have an exam the next day”

I asked: “So times of high stress? How do you perform in school?”

She answered: “Yes, high stress seems to make it worse. I have a 4.0.”

I asked: “What would happen to you if you got a B instead of an A”

She answered: “I wouldn’t let that happen”

I eventually started asking her about the time when she first started experiencing headaches. She described falling down a flight of stairs at a younger age, which kept her from performing in her ballet/dance program. Her ballet/dance program was a very serious one, which commonly puts high demands on developing kids, forcing smiles and good presentation, no matter how much stress, no matter how much pain is being experienced. Failure was not taken lightly.

I told her: If you want your neck pain and headaches to improve, it sounds like you need to experience failure and be okay with it. So my homework for you is to find an activity that you think you would enjoy, but it has to be something that you think you are not good at. You need to practice loving yourself for trying something, even if you’re not good at it, because life is going to toss you tests where perfect scores do not exist. If you don’t learn how to forgive yourself for performing in a way that’s less than perfect, you’re going to have neck pain and headaches for the rest of your life, so long as it’s the cause of them.

Practice learning. Practice growing. That’s spirit.

We need to spirit forward each day.

I’ve surely failed. I’ve surely taken risks and I continue to pay the consequences of them. I moved to Jacksonville, Florida where I was recruited to be the next chiropractor for an NFL team at the age of 26, just to end up performing exams, taking x-rays, administering physiotherapy (ultrasound, electric stimulation), and to perform manual labor outside when the rain was bad. I quit that job.

I then moved to Southwest Colorado to unexpectedly be told to open my own business in a town of 17,000 people, operating out of an unused portion of a StateFarm insurance building. After 1 month, I got scared and called up a job in Baltimore that I was offered when I was finishing chiropractic college. They decided to give me a chance, despite me saying that it wasn’t my style of practice a couple years prior. So I shut things down in Colorado and moved to Maryland. My initial rejection of their job offer when I was finishing chiropractic college came back to bite me when business slowed down, and I was let go. “You’re a great clinician, but we don’t think this is the right style of practice for you after all. We have no doubt you’ll succeed somewhere, but today is your last day here”… something like that.

I moved back to New Jersey, and joined a successful multidisciplinary practice that limped through the purchase a 40-year-old family medicine practice. Their hopes of transitioning it into a start-up replica of their original location quickly turned into a nightmare for everybody. The patients were mostly opioid dependent, and when the patients were given their 3-month-notice of the discontinuation of those prescriptions with the new ownership in place, I was the only male in the office to deal with the threatening phone calls that would come in, and the occasional threatening visit. Husbands & wives would come in crying, begging for a prescription refill to help their relapsing spouses who were on the verge of harming their own family. What I hoped would be an amazing opportunity, yet again, was a failure.

All I have wanted, and all I still want to do was to help people, and to practice in a way that restores hope.

Life is full of failures. But as Denzel Washington quotes, “Reggie Jackson struck out 2600 times in his career- the most in the history of baseball, but you don’t hear about the strike outs, people remember the home runs… Fall forward.

I’m still on my journey of learning. I always will be. I’m going to be doing things that a lot of people think is weird. My way of thinking may turn people off. But the things I’m learning now is what produces those home runs for people who are looking for hope.

If you’re a perfectionist, try something you’re not good at (that you’ve wanted to try) and be kind to yourself through it all, no matter how bad you fail. It will, in time, set you free.

This is the way,

Dr. Kev

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