The one where I met Donna

About 15 years ago, I said to a friend that I wanted to be remembered for being good at something. I recall a side-wise glance, which I read as “that seems to be a self-serving comment”.

I had always found study difficult, not understanding that just about everyone regardless of whether they are an average or a HD student finds it difficult. I can clearly remember the couple of times that I scored an “A” and the subjects that they were for. I never won an award for academic achievement, or for sporting or artistic pursuits. I failed my first two years of physio school, having to take “specials” in my summer holidays. Through my school and university career, I never felt that I was good enough.

As my self- belief and confidence grew, so did my ambition to be recognised for being good at what I do. This was not a bad thing as it fuelled my drive to achieve something worthwhile. It was the instigator of a different pathway for me.

As it turned out, I did not turn to this in a hurry. Progressively, through my work as an employee in a private practice, I was moving away from what were the traditional forms of Physiotherapy. The “doing” to people was not satisfying me or even making sense. I had recognised fairly early in my career, that I did not like the pressure and expectation of the “fixing” model. I felt that it was important that the patient had ownership of their health and recovery. Fortunately, evidence eventually caught up and supported this philosophy or I likely would have been lost to the profession.

I wanted to start a private practice of my own, where I could make a meaningful difference to people’s lives. I had conceived an idea of helping injured workers to regain their confidence and capacity for work and other activities in their life, by using the specific tools of their trade and lives.

My ambition was to use the practice as a vehicle to prove to my clients, peers and referrers that I was excellent at helping people to achieve meaningful outcomes. However, I remained insecure and was not sure about my own ability to achieve this ambition or whether I was good enough. I sought affirmation.

Through the course of my clinical work, I had come across an occupational therapist. Donna was a rehabilitation provider. She had grown a small business to employ about 10 people with an annual turnover of more than $1 million. (Impressive in 2004).  Everyone, I spoke to talked highly of her. With nothing to lose, I walked in off the street and pitched my idea to her. The rest as they say is history.

For 6 months we worked together on the concept, leased premises, recruited quality staff and within 12 months, Donna had sold her successful rehabilitation providing business and was working full time as a partner.

Donna and I had a shared vision. She did not share my unspoken ambition of wanting to be known as being good at something.  Donna bought with her complementary skills, from her knowledge of recruitment and staff management to business processes. She was the yin to my yang. I worked on the clinical development and she worked on the business. We worked together on nurturing, educating and growing our referral base. Relationships were important.

Donna brought something very special to the business beyond her knowledge of how to operate it. Donna led and modelled through her kindness, empathy, intuition and strength. These attributes were uncommon in business, in those days.  Her style was very different to mine.

Donna left many years ago. With her departure, I was left with a foundation of what good, kind, strong empathetic leadership looks like. To this day, I continue strive to be that kind of leader.

Just as Donna has moved onto a relaxing and fulfilling retirement, gone too, is my original ambition. Over time, I realised that I do not need to be recognised as being good at something.

Today, I am so grateful, that I have had the opportunity to make a difference by helping people to recapture the important things in life.

Dianna Howell CertMgr MIML MAPA

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