Admittedly, when I decided to start a graduate program in Herbal Medicine, I jumped right in after undergrad and didn't give much thought at all to “what on earth will I actually do with this degree?”. While I was in that 3 year long grad program, I was totally immersed in what I considered to be the coolest thing in the world - studying everything I ever wanted to study my whole life, taking trips to the United Plant Savers, working in an herb dispensary, reading and writing and hard core studying traditional herbal medicine and also modern day clinical trials and applications. It was so dreamy.

As I neared the end of my clinical rotations in my third year and my looming graduation, I realized I would need to start making a living really soon. Finally finishing my thesis and clinical rounds was a major accomplishment for me, and I took about 3 months off to just - decompress - from some intense 3 years of nonstop of study. During that time I studied even more for the national nutrition exam (and passed!). So, late spring of 2012, I started job hunting.

(Ensue: Massive struggle. Major frustration. Annoyance with the western medical system.)

No one is really hiring “herbalists”, and even with a license in nutrition, most places only wanted Registered Dietitians. The more I looked into jobs I was qualified (and sometimes overly qualified) for, the more I actually really didn't want them, and the less I wanted to conform my unique degree and holistic nutrition expertise into someone else's box. So after a couple of months of being really turned off by job hunting, I decided to start my own business and do exactly what I wanted to do: clinical herbal medicine and holistic nutrition for my dream client in my dream location: Charlottesville, VA. The only small snag in the plan was that I had absolutely no idea how to start or run a business and paperwork and red tape turn me off almost as much as job hunting.

So I asked for help, and got some basic advice to get myself going, like what forms to fill out, what type of business I wanted to be, how to file business taxes, what insurance I needed, how to make a basic website - you know - the basics. All of this, of course, on a teeny tiny budget as a brand new graduate with no money (and I could write an entire second blog post on how to starts a biz on a shoe string budget - but that’s for another time). My main investment was stocking an herb dispensary with dried herbs, powders and tinctures which is a pretty major up front cost, and totally necessary for the end result of my herbal medicine offerings. I found a little office space in Charlottesville, packed up and moved on over to the Blue Ridge. Joyous things ensued, and the universe started making a niche for me.

I was lucky to make a great connection with a small medical practice in Charlottesville that really took me under their wing and we worked very closely together. I ended up compounding herbal formulas for them on a regular basis and consulting with them on herbs for their patients. Over the course of a year, I actually compounded about 80% more than I actually saw clients, which was an unexpected shift for me, but I loved it all the same. All the while in the background was the financial struggle of advertising, making overhead rent, keeping the lights on, paying my own rent and all the other grown up expenses during the first year of a business. I’ll be honest, things were tight. But I never once wanted to throw in the towel.

Like I said, the universe kind of aligned, (and quite often when shifts need to happen, opportunities present themselves at just the right time). In the early spring of 2013, I was invited to join my dream practice in Richmond - Richmond Natural Medicine. It had always been a lofty dream that I could integrate my own little biz in with a slightly larger one and work side by side with other holistic practitioners. So few places like this actually exist in Virginia, and when I heard about these amazing naturopathic doctors, I checked out their open house early in the year, and we just stayed in touch. Come spring, I decided to pack up my little office in Charlottesville and move just a little bit east to land in Richmond. Now that I’ve been here for about a year and half, I have to say that both I (and my business entity) love it here.

Working in a collaborative practice is such a joyful experience, and I am constantly learning so much from my colleagues (three amazingly gifted naturopathic doctors). Going to “work” every day is more like my living out my ideal day while serving people at the same time. Sure, I still have all the same paperwork to do and business behind-the-scenes stuff to take care of, and now that seems like small potatoes having done it a few times before. There are still challenges that come up every so often, like having an “energy vampire client”, or over-scheduling my days or just taking on too darn much. As a small business owner - I still easily slip in to the “do it all myself” mentality and take work home over weekends or after 5:00. There always seems like there’s so much to do or improve on. But I’ve found my stride this past year, and love how the journey is feeling.

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