Note from the Editor: Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH, is a Naturopathic Doctor, Registered Herbalist, and Certified Yoga Instructor. He is the Botanical Medicine Coordinator at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, as well as an academic instructor.
He is the owner of Perfect Herbs, a herbal clinic and dispensary that focuses on providing affordable herbs to clinics and practitioners, and maintains a private practice at the Roncesvalles Community Acupuncture Clinic.
Dr. Pickrell is an excellent case study of how you can lay the groundwork to find and invest in your passion.
How did you decide to go into Naturopathic Medicine?
Pickrell: I suppose any ND gets asked this often. The best answer I’ve found to this question came from reading a student banner several years after I graduated. A large sheet and some markers had been placed in the CCNM hallway for anyone to add their answer to exactly this question. One student had written, “I wanted to be part of the solution,” and ever since, I’ve felt like this is the truest answer I can give to that question.
How did you decide to do a Naturopathic residency AND become a registered herbalist at the same time? Isn’t that a lot of work?
P: Yes, I’ve been plagued my whole life by a totally unrealistic assessment of my own skills and capabilities, so at the time I signed up to start training as an herbalist, it seemed like a totally reasonable idea to be a full-time resident through the week, and a full time student through most weekends. I had to take a few extra adaptogens and some naps, but it all worked out.
Do you consider it work if you enjoy what you do? Or did you see all of your education specifically as an ROI (return of investment)?
P: I’ve thought about this question often, and I think loving my work simply means that the usual loss of energy that goes into stress and dissatisfaction is able to be re-invested in other areas of my life, which lead to further balance and happiness. I once had a patient ask, “Quick, on a scale of one-to-ten, how happy are you?” Without thinking, I answered, “nine”, and as I reflected on that later, it felt pretty good. At the end of a long day, I’m certainly very tired, but my favourite ROI from all of the investments is that, being happy, I’m a very good sleeper.
What advice would you give others trying to decide on whether to invest further into their education or to launch right into a business?
P: Leave your dreams, forget your heart, and follow your skills. Is that too callous? I once had a meditation teacher who was fond of saying something like, “forget this follow-your-heart stuff. Who here has a heart of unalloyed gold? First you have to know your heart, then you have to train your heart, and by then, the answers as to how best to proceed will already be clear.”
What are some of your day-to-day obstacles and how do you overcome them?
P: Well, I used to find I was always running out of socks, but then I doubled the number, and ever since it’s been pretty good. I also struggle with not eating lunches, but recently they opened up a pizza place a few doors down from my clinic, so now I have to keep a close eye on my weekly dough-and-cheese intake.
Do you have any actionable items that you’d recommend practitioners apply immediately?
P: One of the most useful things I remember from my fourth year as a student was reframing the question “Who do you want to work with?” into “Who works best with you?” I originally thought I wanted to focus in pediatrics, but upon reflection, I realized I did my best work and saw the best results with adult patients, particularly in counseling cases.
In asking myself ‘why?’ this shed useful insight into my natural strengths and skill sets as a practitioner. To put this into business words, this would sound something like “know your product”. When I started more clearly defining what that product was, and who were its natural consumers, it allowed me to position myself more closely with those that are my natural patients.
Knowing what integrity meant for me in life and practice meant any marketing I did could be done without compromise to this, and this led to me spending less time and resources on marketing. More importantly, by knowing my product and placing it near to its consumers, it led to greater satisfaction in practice because most of the people I see tend to match my style of practice quite well, and stay while we get some real work done.
How do you manage your time and schedule your life?
P: I don’t think there are any profound insights on this one. I use a basic online calendar and set plenty of reminders, though I still forget plenty of things. I’m pretty into efficiency, so I try to use what time I have as well and as enjoyably as possible.
I haven’t owned a TV since 2005, and I suspect this is where I’ve reclaimed the greatest number of hours, though I don’t use them all for work; I have band practice on Wednesdays, flag football on Sundays, a good amount of quality time with my partner (at least according to me), and I usually get through a novel most weeks as well. Probably the key to doing lots of things is to only ever do one of them at a time, and to avoid multitasking.
Your herb company has grown exponentially since you launched it. How did you decide to begin this venture, and how have you grown it successfully so quickly?
P: After finishing my training as an herbalist, I started making my own tinctures for patients so I could be sure of the quality and potency. Soon, a few friend-colleagues were interested, so I started to take requests and share .
My goal from there was twofold:
- to make top-quality tinctures at affordable cost, and
- to support practitioners in using botanicals more effectively and more profitably in their practices
Instead of setting cost at the highest the market could sustain, I decided to set it at the lowest cost that was sustainable. I’d say this philosophy underlies many of the things we do in Naturopathic medicine, so I try to extend it into all areas of my life.
Working with some local farmers (three of whom are also NDs!), we’ve come up with some innovative ideas that help us increasingly grow and gather beautiful local herbs using sustainable and favourable practices for the growers. Although there are always ways to improve, truthfully, we’re pretty proud of what we do.
Last year we started running “Labour ‘n’ Learns“, where we take a group of ND students into the woods, and myself and one of our ND farmers plant, harvest, wildcraft and teach about the herbs as we work with them.
Do you aim to make lots of money, or do you aim to provide value and anticipate the money will come later on?
P: I’m definitely not afraid of making money, and don’t advocate the mentality that to try to good in the world means always being poor. Lots of people working with integrity gain wealth, and lots of people working without it struggle to succeed.
I try to umbrella the definitions of wealth, success, and happiness under the broader concept of abundance. The working practice of abundance is the foundation on which our affordable access care clinic rests and grows. We offer everyone everything we can, every time, for whatever they can afford and we never turn anyone away for insufficient funds.
We know our value, and we choose to offer it openly to everyone at whatever rate they can afford. Abundance is the opposite of scarcity and fear. It takes courage and practice to do it well, and it’s an ongoing challenge to hold that openness with everyone. We’ve seen it many times at our clinic, and I think I can say I’ve observed both personally and professionally that where abundance flows, success and wealth are sure to follow – I’m pretty sure some version of that line is out of the tao te ching.
What are some successes and challenges you’ve experienced with your company?
P: I learned from my experience with woodworking that the best way to estimate the time a project will take is to start with a seemingly reasonable number, then triple it.
I’d say this has held true in most of the business projects I’ve been involved with as well. There is always more work to do, and there is always an unforeseen obstacle that will need a solution before the next step can be taken.
I think part of the reason I like business is that I like the challenge of solving problems by trying to come up with innovative solutions, and I love trying to find everybody-wins answers. It is immensely rewarding to see some of these solutions blossom into working models that have real positive outcomes.
However, the ratio of non-successes to success is probably about 3:1, and the 5+ hours I spent one Saturday morning trying (unsuccessfully) to fix the plumbing in an industrial sink only to eventually call a plumber who fixed it fifteen minutes probably holds some kind of lesson.
What would you tell someone who has no passion in anything? How does one ‘find their passion’? And is it important to do so?
P: This is a great question, and one that comes up clinically all the time. Yes, I think it is important to have something in your life that you care about, that excites you. One of the greatest freedoms for many people is that it doesn’t have to be your job. It can be anything, as long as it’s something. Many people think they have to love their job, that their job defines them, and that their job should provide some sort of intrinsic sense of meaning. Very few jobs are able to do this.
Although it’s best to avoid jobs that are soul-crushing wherever realistically possible, fulfillment can come from any quarter. For some people, it’s their family, for others, an engaging hobby, rock-climbing, yoga, meditation. If someone is looking for their passion, the best answer is probably “keep looking, and broaden the search”.
It’s also worth mentioning that just about everything that provides a sense of fulfillment requires some effort and investment in order to gain proficiency; even something like reading or board games become ultimately more rewarding as you gain practice and skill.
Is there anything you would change if you could go back in time 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, knowing what you know now?
P: “If our mistakes make us who we are, and we’re happy with who we are, then how can we regret our mistakes?”
I’m not sure who said that or if it’s even true, but overall, there’s not much I’d change. I’ve always tried to live from the idea that we more often regret the things we don’t do than the things we do (with some notable exceptions), so beyond a few bleary mornings and awkward conversations in my younger years that probably weren’t really necessary, I don’t think I’d change much.