How often do you have a great idea but hesitate to put it out to the world because "it's not ready, perfect, or complete?"
Sometimes you need to build the plane as you're flying it!
Do you remember a time when you've just put the idea out to the world and the pressure lifted, the fear disappeared, and the world didn't stop spinning?
I know that a lot of us, including myself, oftentimes hold ourselves back from stepping into the lives we want to live, the businesses we want to create, and the dreams that we have.
In this episode of the All Things Private Practice Podcast, I talk with TJ Walsh, owner of Bold Creatives Collective.
We talk about
"Imperfect Action is Better Than Perfect Inaction" - Harry Truman
More About TJ:
(LPC & Clini-Coach® / Artist and Creativity Coach / Executive Clinical Director for TJ Walsh Counseling)
TJ Walsh is an internationally exhibited artist who has nurtured creativity in heARTs and minds for decades. He received his BFA in graphic design and an MA in clinical counseling psychology. He regularly writes and speaks about art, culture, faith, & mental health and is an expert in human relationships, human creativity, the creative process, fear, and procrastination. He owns a group private practice and is on faculty at Eastern University, where he provides supervision for doctoral candidates.
Over the past 20 years, TJ has worked at the colorful intersection of creativity, art, therapy, and education. He is an innovative, out-of-the-box, creative clinician turned coach (Clini-Coach®) and Licensed Professional Counselor who helps others nurture their creative life so that they can be wholeheARTed life healers. He currently lives in Philadelphia, PA, with his partner and two sons, where together they share 55 houseplants and a very robust and growing collection of artwork from emerging Philadelphia-based artists.
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PATRICK CASALE: Hey everyone, you are listening to the All Things Private Practice Podcast. I'm your host, Patrick Casale, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist, here in Asheville, North Carolina. Also, a Private Practice Coach and Strategist, working with a lot of entrepreneurs on this podcast to talk about their journeys into their creative ventures, but really discussing obstacles, barriers, failures, and just really the insecurities that come up when we start our small businesses. Here with TJ Walsh, today, Licensed Professional Counselor in Philadelphia, also a grad school Adjunct Professor, a coach for artists who are helping them kind of move from point A to point B, and a group practice owner, so doing a lot. I’m really happy to have you here and on the podcast today, TJ.
TJ WALSH: Yeah, thanks so much, Patrick. I'm really excited to be hanging out with you. Whenever people kind of list out, it's almost like verbally or hearing a bullet points list of things that I'm doing, I always kind of have to take a step back, because I don't feel like I'm doing that much sometimes. And everybody around me is saying, “Holy shit, you're doing too much stuff. How do you have this? Or how do you have this?” And for somebody who has struggled with just fear of failure, or fear of not accomplishing much, whenever I get that perspective, in those first few seconds of an intro I'm like, “Yeah, okay, I think I’m doing okay right now.”
PATRICK CASALE: Are you able to take that in as you hear that from another source? Are you able to say to yourself, “Wow, TJ, you've come a long fucking way.”
TJ WALSH: Yeah, yeah, I try to take it in. I think that's something that I and probably many of us could do better at, especially, those of us who are coming from more of that kind of helping other people professional side of things. We're used to kind of always be looking at the other and ignoring ourselves. I'm starting to be able to take it in a little bit more, but it's really-
PATRICK CASALE: Good.
TJ WALSH: …hard, yeah.
PATRICK CASALE: I think we're on the same page, then. Because I get a lot of those comments too like, “Oh, my God, look how much you're doing. Look how much you've accomplished.” And I'm like, “It doesn't feel like I've done enough.” It doesn't feel like I can even sit with the fact that I've worked really hard to get to this place. I know you and I are going to talk about imperfect action and paralyzing fear, and in your journey, and I think so many people relate to that, just the fact that we hold ourselves back because of our lack of belief in our abilities, or even clarity into what's next, or what we want to grow into. Yeah, take it away. Tell us about point A to point B. I know it's a long journey. But let's hear some of the cool things that have happened along the way and where you started out.
TJ WALSH: Sure. I never really intended to be doing what I'm doing today back 15, 20 years ago, when I was being born an adult. When I was starting out as a person, going to undergrad, and starting his young adult life my plans for myself were very, very different than where I've landed. Life is a shit storm most of the time and I just got thrown into this spiral of just responding to it instead of kind of taking it by the horns and making decisions proactively for myself for a bit of time. My experience in undergrad was actually in art school. My undergrad degree is in fine arts, and I came out of there with a BFA in design. I worked in the design field for 8, 9, 10 years doing all different kinds of things from just being a staff designer, to being a creative director for international non-profit organizations developing brand strategy and that kind of thing for them.
I was doing that, I just wasn't ever really satisfied. But I really didn't know how to make any changes. This was like a thing that I was supposed to be doing. I went to the school for this, and so, of course, I'm going to keep doing this kind of thing forever. And then, somewhere along the way I decided that I should probably get a master's degree of some sort, because I guess that's like the next natural step, right? And I came to this crossroads where I was either going to get a Masters of Fine Arts, or I was going to completely change course and direction, and go the psychology route. Now, my own personal history of mental health, I don't have to go into it right now, I will, I do, if that's of interest. But really, the crux of it is if I were at that time to go get my Master's in Fine Arts, that would just be a recipe for disaster, because it's all looking at myself and kind of navel-gazing, and kind of just getting wrapped up in a whole bunch of darkness that I probably didn't need to be doing at that time, and I would be better served helping other people where I could grow myself as an individual while also seeing other people grow. And so ultimately, I decided to go that route.
While I was doing that I got canned from my position as an art director and non-profit organization, no idea really why. At the end of the day it was budgetary. But it came on really suddenly. And I was forced then, Patrick, to make some critical decisions.
PATRICK CASALE: I bet.
TJ WALSH: But do I want to get back into the stream of what I've been doing for the past decade? Or do I really want to kind of hold my breath and start taking steps in a direction that might be, and has turned out to be more fulfilling and more true to who I am as a person?
PATRICK CASALE: Sounds like quite the existential crossroads, and one that you didn't necessarily expect to happen to you at that time? What was it like to just have everything you knew kind of unravel in a way and step into the unknown of, “I'm going to pursue something completely different.” Not saying that art isn't therapeutic, but just pursuing a masters and completely different realm and world?
TJ WALSH: Yeah, the type of art that I was doing was commercial art. And so, it wasn't the therapeutic kind of thing that some people might consider artistic, therapeutic kind of endeavors. It was taking other people's messaging, translating it into something that was appealing and effective, and putting it out in the world in hopes that they would either do a few things with it, either purchase something, donate something, whatever it was to reach that kind of very monetized or structured endpoint and goal. So that was not fulfilling to me anymore either. What was more fulfilling to me was when I was sitting across a conference table from a client, at that time, whoever was the account owner of the project that I was working on, and hearing the story of that person, and why they were trying to put this thing out into the world, or why this program was so important to them, and learning then about that person, and helping them tell the story better themselves. So, it wasn't actually the making of the thing, it was the learning about the person behind the thing.
And so, that was my kind of bridge there, was like, man, like it's these human to human kind of interactions and relationships that I really, really jive on. And so, that helped me get across the bridge to making that decision that I did make for furthering the education that I have. Also, I'm somebody who has been really, really affected positively by therapists and therapy-like people. I have a history of eating disorders and bipolar 2 diagnosis at some point, and had really gone through some dark shit, and some really tough stuff. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for those people, and maybe the literal sense of not being here. And so, all those things kind of started to come together in a way that made sense for me to step back into that kind of counseling, therapy, coaching world.
Yeah, but it was a sudden shift. One day in July, I got called into the office, felt like I was going to the principal's office, I had no idea why. It's always a bad sign everybody when your HR department is not on-site usually. They're usually in some other office and you walk in in the morning, and you see the HR person, whoever drew the short straw, they go to the office that day, walking around the place, you're like, “Man, why is she here?” Well, she was there for me that day. It was a sudden thing. But I'm really happy with it at the end of the day. Now, this occurred all those years ago.
PATRICK CASALE: I appreciate you sharing that part of your story. I think that a lot of us that get into this field have definitely been positively impacted by mental health work and therapy based on our own struggles and challenges. And it sounds like that allows you to have a lot of curiosity in your prior profession. And then, essentially, unfortunately, like dead man walking situation when you walk into the office that day unexpectedly, so then life changes quite a bit and you pursue your masters in the helping profession. Tell me about where that takes you today in terms of businesses and just working through, like we talked about, overanalyzing, overthinking, almost creating this paralyzing fear process for ourselves where we get stuck in our heads and convince ourselves, “Do not grow. You can't and it's not possible for you anyway.”
TJ WALSH: In the intro you told everybody that I have a small group practice clinical counseling, and then, I have this coaching business that I'm starting, this other endeavor, and then, I also have a fine arts practice as well where I do show, and sell my artwork on a national level as well. I have multiple things going on. The businesses are great because they give me focus, and they give me things to do, and they give me money, and the ability to feed myself and my family, and all of those great things that are essential to survival. But at the end of the day, they are the biggest personal growth project, self-guided program, I guess, you can say that I could ever give myself. I'm learning so much about myself and who I am. I'm learning about my strengths and my weaknesses, and where I thrive and where I don't. And it is uncomfortable as hell every day to be enrolled in that program that I've developed for myself and have thrown myself in. It can be really debilitating.
In Philadelphia, you're either Italian or Irish. I'm the Irish version of that, and we are a very blue-collar family. My cousins, and myself, and my siblings are pretty much the first people in our family to go to college to get master's degrees afterwards, and to have this kind of existence. And so, I come from a pretty firmly rooted scarcity mindset, where there's not ever going to be enough. If I stopped taking on things, then that's going to be it, the faucets turned off forever. I'm never going to be able to get more clients or grow more programs, or anything like that, so I have to keep going, keep going, keep going. And that's the biggest thing that has been a growth point for me recently, because I've started this other project and my clinical work, my one-on-one FaceTime with clients has really had to kind of shift gears and be reduced, which is really fucking scary for me. Because I'm like, “Man, if I'm saying I'm not taking on more clients, one-on-one, FaceTime, right? That is the bulk of my income, or that is my first business. Am I saying no to this all of a sudden? What's going to happen?”
But I’m noticing the more I kind of push into that fear, and the more pockets of time kind of open up for me, the more alive I feel. I don't feel quite as dead anymore, because I was burning the hell out of myself or burning myself out like crazy. And pushing into that fear of scarcity and saying, “No, that's not true. That's a falsehood for me.” And living into, “There's going to be more on the other side that's better, or that's more appropriate for this time.” Has been so amazingly important for me to learn. I think I lost track of your question there. But hopefully, that made at least a little bit of sense, I don't know.
PATRICK CASALE: No, that's actually a perfect answer for people to hear. Because what I'm hearing is there's ancestral family of origin trauma with money, scarcity, poverty, and the fear of like, “I can't stop, right? Like, I have to provide. If I stopped doing these direct client hours of, you know, 60 minutes of my time, how the hell am I going to pay my bills? Like, we're going to lose our house, we're going to lose everything. Like, we're going to be in poverty.” I think we revert back to that mentality, because it's like fight or flight almost with our money trauma, then to step into that unknown, recognizing, “Hey, I'm burning the hell out. I'm feeling really overwhelmed with doing clinical work. I can start to create more when I allow myself to have more space, because it creates more energy.” But it's kind of like a double-edged sword, because stepping into the unknown, creating more space is fucking scary, because you're like, “I don't know if this is going to be successful.”
TJ WALSH: 100%, 100% . The way I developed and got into private practice work was very incremental. It was like, I start full-time, kind of within somebody else's setup. And then, I build up my caseload, and I'm also obtaining my licensure, and all of that kind of stuff. And then eventually, I kind of hold out a three quarter time, and then, I start bringing in a little bit of my own. So, it's very incremental until the point where I'm able to say, “Okay, I think I have enough foundation or floor to stand on. I'm going to actually go full-time on my own.” And so, I was able to pace myself a little bit there with that, and I think that that would be my advice for many people, that there's never an all the people or all the time kind of answer. But for many people, that is kind of a nice way to be able to do it, to build up incrementally, to hold on to some of your benefits or your income, and your other place while you get ready to go.
But with this other stuff that I'm doing right now, it is not a sure-fire thing in the sense that all I need to do is, be personable enough, be effective enough, and people will come, and sit in front of me, and I give them therapy or work with them on their therapeutic goals for an hour, and then the next person comes in. This is like developing something literally from scratch that nobody knows anything really about. They don't even know that they necessarily need it yet. Well, they know but they don't. And I need to build it all out, and have it all ready to go, and then launch it, and then, hope they click by. And I'm putting a lot of time, effort, and money into this effort while I'm also, because one of those things I just said was time, reducing kind of my guaranteed income generator to give myself time to work on this thing that I'm going to launch at some point, and will it be effective? That is really scary for me.
PATRICK CASALE: It's fucking horrifying to step away from the consistent, secure, I know what I'm going to get to the unknown, I'm going to build it, this is a passion project. I know people can use it and need it and are they going to buy it? I think we almost start to connect our self-worth and value to are they going to buy it? Because if they don't, does that mean what I have to offer sucks? Is it just not valuable? And it's really scary. I think what you're doing is really courageous, and I see a lot of entrepreneurs start to do this as they start to get more creative, as they start to see that there are more options out there other than 60-minute chunks of their time. And that doesn't make it any less horrifying. I want to loop it back around, though. What you told me you did in the art world was like bringing other people's visions to life and selling people or the value, and the brand, and the mission. It sounds like having to do that for yourself now, but also having that self-doubt, inner critic, potential-like freakout moment of, is this going to work? And that is really scary stuff.
TJ WALSH: Or even, there's all of that, but for me it's, do I have enough experience, and world knowledge, and direct applied stuff to actually be a voice of authority in some of these areas? Do I have enough experience to be a group practice owner? I have the people that work with me calling me because I'm on all virtual practice online, so I have my folks calling me and saying, “Hey, I need to run this by you.” Or, “What would you do in this situation?” And I'm like, “I would do this.” But it's really weird when people are coming to me because my name is on this thing, and they suppose I have the right answer. Or in the art stuff, I've been a professional artist for 20 some years, and I have all of this stuff. I've developed my own personal voice and everything like that. But now I'm going to tell people and work with people to develop their own goals, and look at their own realities, and look at their own options, and find their own ways forward by using an authoritative kind of voice. Who the hell told me I could do that. But here I am, and I hope that they want it.
People come to me all the time for this, and I don't charge them a penny when they come to me for this stuff. But now all of a sudden, I'm going to label a price. I'm going to put a price on the thing and all those people all of a sudden won't want to work with me again, that's my fear.
PATRICK CASALE: All that insecurity goes through the roof. That imposter syndrome or whatever we want to call it starts to ramp in of like, “I don't have enough letters behind my name or enough experience, or if I'm not giving it away for free people won't buy it. Who the hell am I to be the voice or the expert in this role?” Right?
TJ WALSH: Right.
PATRICK CASALE: It's really interesting how that shifts psychologically when we start to grow. But what I hear from you is a lot of humility around it of, “I'm really concerned and I'm really genuinely interested in the outcome for people.” And that means like in your group practice, in your coaching, in whatever you're doing, being concerned about the outcome because you want people to have results, and you want them damn successful.
TJ WALSH: Right, and I want to be successful too. I want to be the best that I can be, and this imposter syndrome thing that we talk about, so I hire still, and this is also a PSA for everybody out there who is a clinician, who is at the point where they can own their own business, and practice, and everything. You need to be still getting supervision. That's kind of a little PSA for everybody. I hire this supervisor for myself that I see every other week. I pay her money, and she's been in the field for like 45 years. She's awesome. But we talked about this imposter syndrome kind of concept that I experience, and that so many of us experience, and she said, if you have imposter syndrome, this isn't a direct quote, this is like a paraphrase everyone. But if you have imposter syndrome, that's usually a good sign. Because it means that you care, and it means that you're probably pretty good. Because if you're over estimating the quality of the work that you're doing, and not having any fear, not having any self-doubt, and not having any kind of self-evaluation, you're probably not that good.
And she's like, “The fact that you are questioning yourself all the time, the fact that you are kind of looking under the rocks, and kind of inspecting them is a sign that you want the best for yourself, and the people that trust you to help them.” Where it becomes a challenge… and this is TJ talking again, not his supervisor. Where it becomes a challenge though is if you stay in that place for too long, and that's all you see, and you discount all of the facts and figures that are being presented to you that show you are okay, you are pretty good, you do help people, you are making a difference, and not letting yourself move forward. That becomes a bit of a problem at that point.
PATRICK CASALE: I think your supervisor’s spot on. I know we see that term thrown around a lot these days, and I think you're absolutely right. And there's a duality of, we need humility, we need to question competency, we need to have a little anxiety and insecurity, because we don't want to go into everything feeling like we just know it all without the ability to learn. And I think clinically, that is also true. But then, there's the other side of, can I get stuck in that? Is that going to be so overwhelming, that fear or insecurity that I can never put the idea out there in the first place? So, that can be crippling. And I've lived that fucking life for a long time. And I'm sure you have too in a lot of ways, and it can be really painful. We talked a little bit about imperfect action. You want to talk for a couple minutes about what that means to you.
TJ WALSH: Yeah, so imperfect action, again, I guess it's like another term that is swimming around in some of our pools right now. Basically, for me it's just do something. I work with a person who's helping me develop this other business, this coaching business, I think, that you also know, that she's all about imperfect action, and just like put this thing out there. If you don't put it out there, you can't test it and validate it, and see if it stands, and if it falls over, then you know what to do. You can kind of pick it back up, and fix it. But if you're just sitting on it forever, and ever, it's not going to go anywhere. I can spend forever sitting on something, and I have no idea why I use this analogy all the time, but I use it anyway. I really have no right to use it, because I will never give birth to a human child. I don't have the ability to do that. But here I am talking about this labor and delivery analogy. It's like forever I sit on something, and it's like this really painful laboring process, and it takes me forever, and ever, and ever. And I'm like in pain about it, I'm talking to my therapist about it in this existential disaster Ville, I'm talking to my supervisor about it.
And she's saying the same thing everybody else says, which is should I get off the pot? And eventually, I just like explode and birth this thing, and it's in existence. But it has been so painful for me in ways that it probably didn't have to be. Now what I'm starting to do is when I start to feel the pressure of this thing has to move or has to come out, I just put something out there. And it doesn't necessarily have to go live into the real world. But it could be put out there in to a smaller space of trusted individuals that can assess it and give me feedback on it. That's still an action because it's not just staying with me. And so, I'm planning this thing that should be coming up in the winter, and I just needed some accountability around it. I created this quick graphic thing, and listed out where I am with stuff, and I put it into a hive-mind kind of group that I'm in just for accountability. And it gave me the ability to say, “Okay, I made this action and now I can take more steps.” And that was so helpful for me to get me dislodged from a part of this process that I was starting to kind of over-analyze, and sit on for too long. So, to answer your question, again, imperfect action is just really putting something out there and seeing what it does.
PATRICK CASALE: Well said. I think I want everyone to really think about that, as you're listening to this, that I think, so often, we believe that we have to have everything, all the pieces in place to launch an idea. We have to know exactly from A to Z how this is going to work, how it's going to operate, how to kind of structure it, and by just putting it out there, even if you don't have any of the pieces in place, it alleviates anxiety and fear, but it also creates that accountability, like you're saying. And to be honest with you, this last year for me, I launched my coaching and consulting business, Facebook group, podcast, and I just launched an Ireland retreat. All of that was from imperfect action, though, because it was in my head for so fucking long. And I convinced myself all of these reasons why it would not work. And I just put it out there on Facebook, like who gives a shit who likes it or comments? But that felt so scary at the time. And then ultimately, now it's like, oh, some of this stuff is going to work and some of it is not, and the stuff that's going to work, great, and the stuff that's not we can change, we can fix, we can edit and improve. I hope everyone can hear that, because I know we can get stuck in our process and it's really paralyzing. I appreciate that perspective very much. I would love for you to tell the audience a little bit about where they can find your stuff? Your upcoming offerings and more about you, so that they can certainly pursue any of those opportunities?
TJ WALSH: Yeah, so I love connecting with people. I’m all about relationships and knowing people. There's a number of ways that y'all can find me. My practice website is tjwalshtherapy.com. That will be where you can find out all about my clinical practice and the people that work alongside of me there. You can also find me at boldcreativescollective.com. On there right now is a little place for you to put your email in, and in your email, you'll get a free guide called Four Steps for Your Creative Life. It's a really basic starter guide on setting goals, looking at realities, checking out and discovering options, and then, taking steps forward, ways forward to grow your creative life. Whatever creative life looks like for you, whether it's entrepreneurship, or being an actual fine artist, it doesn't matter. We all can kind of identify goals and go through this process. You'll get that in your inbox.
But also, in the winter I'll be launching a special program for artists and creative people to grow their creative lives. It'll be a year-long program. But I'm excited to talk more about that when it gets closer by going to boldcreativescollective.com and joining the Facebook group, Bold Creatives Collective, is a way to keep in the loop of all of that and interact with me.
PATRICK CASALE: Really cool offerings, and I'm really excited to see how your launch goes, and you've clearly put a lot of yourself into that. All of TJ’s links and information will be in the podcast description, so please feel free to check his stuff out. Go to his Facebook group, go to boldcreatives.com. Check out his group practice in Pennsylvania if you know of anyone who's in need of support in the Pennsylvania State and area, and if you want to find more of me you can go to my Facebook group, All Things Private Practice, or my website allthingspractice.com for individual and group private practice building and coaching, retreats, and courses. Feel free to download and subscribe wherever you're listening to podcasts and share this episode where we have conversations about the journeys of entrepreneurs, the struggles, the insecurities, and then, the successes. See you next time. Thanks for listening.