Jessica Chinn McMurdie of Stepping Stones Therapy Network: “Pace yourself”

Pace yourself. Avoid the pitfalls of growing too rapidly by creating systems and processes to keep your company running smoothly and efficiently. Understand the key metrics that drive a thriving and successful business or therapy practice. Set the pace of your business growth by analyzing those key metrics for success. How does a successful, strong, and […]

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Pace yourself. Avoid the pitfalls of growing too rapidly by creating systems and processes to keep your company running smoothly and efficiently. Understand the key metrics that drive a thriving and successful business or therapy practice. Set the pace of your business growth by analyzing those key metrics for success.

How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jessica Chinn McMurdie.

Jessica Chinn McMurdie is a pediatric occupational therapist and the owner of Stepping Stones Therapy Network in the Seattle area. She is also the founder of Play It Forward Therapy which provides online therapy resources and consulting services for health care entrepreneurs. Jessica is passionate about teaching therapy entrepreneurs how to start and grow a successful private practice

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I’m a Pacific Northwest Native and grew up in Bellevue, WA which is just outside of Seattle. I’m the second oldest of 4 kids. I credit a lot of my ability to negotiate and find diplomatic solutions to problems because of constantly having to work things out growing up with 3 siblings… from having to share a bathroom to listening and waiting my turn during conversations at the dinner table. My parent’s minimum expectations were always high expectations. My mother, Emily, who was a preschool teacher was very nurturing, but she also pushed us to go outside of our comfort zone when it came to trying new things and not being afraid to fail and how to learn from those challenges.

Now that I’m parent myself, I can appreciate how my mom intentionally cultivated a growth mindset in her children. Looking back, I can see how she taught me ongoing lessons in resilience, which ultimately helped prepare me to overcome challenges in both my personal life and career as an entrepreneur.

My father, Terry Chinn, is a psychiatrist. I inherited his interest in neuroscience and his passion for helping people; particularly when it comes to the role that mental health plays in the well-being of us as individuals, but also in society. The main drawback of having a psychiatrist for a father is that I always dreaded bringing boyfriends home because he always ended up over analyzing them. As a teen, it was super annoying. But I realize now that he was just being a protective father. My siblings and I eventually coined these boyfriend interrogations as the dreaded “Chinn-quisition”

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

As an occupational therapist by trade, I love the challenge of finding ways to help people to live as independently as possible using a holistic and strengths-based approach. Occupational therapy is a beautiful blend of art and science along with creative, practical problem solving. As a pediatric occupational therapist or OT, my career is incredibly rewarding because I help children to achieve their developmental milestones and reach their potential in their daily life and activities.

My clinical path was strongly influenced the first two years of my career working at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, I remember every single one of my patients on the traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury rehab unit. All the children were perfectly typical until a tragic accident interrupted their normal development. I had the privilege of working with the best pediatric rehab doctors, nurses, and therapists. This early part of my career was a steep learning curve which also pushed me to find creative strategies quickly. I found it incredibly rewarding to help my patients regain function or to find solutions to make their environment more accessible to them.

As for my business career path, it evolved after I started to feel burnt out after six years working in a variety of pediatric therapy settings. Tired of feeling like I worked in a “therapy factory” with high productivity standards, I wondered how I could start my own family yet have my own career that allowed me to still have quality time with my children. So, in 2006 I started my private practice out of the trunk of my car. Since then, it’s grown into a 7-figure business with multiple locations.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I remember it was March 17, 2020, when the repercussions of the pandemic hit my business hard. I felt panicked knowing that we had to immediately stop providing in-person therapy services within 24 hours according to state mandate. How could everything I had worked for the past 15 years come undone overnight? Before I tell you what ended up happening, let’s go back a few years before the pandemic hit.

You probably already know that Seattleites have no problem dealing with rain, but whenever there’s a big snowstorm, it always seems to paralyze the city. A few years ago, one of these winter snowstorms resulted in my clinic being shut down for over 2 weeks. The loss of work, the loss of income for my employees along with delays in clients receiving the care they desperately needed, was not something I wanted to repeat ever again. Even though I had no control over the weather forecast, I knew that I could at least be better prepared for the next emergency by developing a telehealth program.

Little did I know that my preparation for inclement weather is what ultimately saved my company four years later when the global pandemic hit.

As a medical provider, the idea of telehealth and making therapy services more accessible to folks had always intrigued me. So back in 2016, I started developing a telehealth program so my private practice could expand its reach beyond the clinic’s walls.

Thinking ahead, hoping for the best, yet planning of the worst, ultimately saved my practice from shutting down completely. It enabled our clients to continue receiving virtual therapy services and it allowed my team to continue providing financially for themselves and for their families while the economy tanked.

It soon became apparent that my therapy colleagues were suffering because they didn’t have the systems in place to pivot their practices. So, I got to work and created a comprehensive training course in 2 weeks. There were days when I didn’t come until after midnight because I was writing and recording the course modules after work. I know it sounds crazy, but I felt an urgency to share my telehealth program which was how my online course “T-School- Telehealth Training for Therapists” came to be.

The creation of T School was the first product of my second company “Play It Forward Therapy”. Despite the challenges of adapting a service based during the pandemic, I came to realize that I can serve as a resource for other health care entrepreneurs who want to grow a successful private practice.

I especially want to share my experience with other women owned and minority owned therapy businesses.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

One of the most instrumental traits I’ve noticed in exceptional business leaders is that they’re acutely self-aware. I think personal growth and professional growth go hand in hand, and sometimes that means taking ownership of areas that you need to improve upon. Some characteristics of natural born leaders seem to be inherent personality traits, while other characteristics that pave the way to success can be learned and cultivated over time.

The first characteristic that’s essential to becoming a successful business leader is having a growth mindset. For example, we all have this little voice in our head that can serve us positively or negatively when it comes to self-talk. The reality is… if you’re a business owner, you’re bound to experience obstacles, make mistakes, and suffer failed attempts. This can be expected. It’s all part of the entrepreneurial journey.

I believe that the key to cultivating a growth mindset is understanding which valuable lessons you’ve learned from your mistakes. These lessons learned will help guide your decision making in the future. Everyone has a choice when it comes to listening to their inner coach or their inner critic. The question is… Who dominates the conversation in your head? How will you leverage that voice to help you become a better leader?

The second characteristic that has supported my success is creativity. There are many forms of creativity, but when it comes to entrepreneurial success, the companies that move beyond surviving to thriving are led by CEOS who know how to solve problems creatively. For example, these business owners are not afraid to think outside of the box. Entrepreneurs are often the most creative people on the planet because they find innovative solutions to problems no one else has thought of. One of the characteristics that differentiates a good therapist from an amazing therapist is the ability to think creatively to help others get unstuck. I’ve found that this same principle applies to business leadership especially when it comes to effectively leading and positively influencing your team.

The third instrumental characteristic that’s helped shape my career path, originated from my younger years as a diver on my high school swim/dive team. At the end of the year banquet, “Alphabet Awards” were given to athletes who were best known for a specific or outstanding personal characteristic. The team had nominated me for the letter “D”. D stood for “Determined”. Even as a high school athlete I didn’t give up easily and I didn’t psych myself out from taking risks. Even if bombed a dive with a loud, painful smack on the water, I’d get back up onto the board and try again. I suppose my determination to succeed is why they awarded me letter the “D”. It was the first time I’d ever felt proud of getting a D in school!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

This is a complex question! When it comes to why our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women, I personally don’t think there’s one simple answer.

The first reason that comes to mind is our own long-standing history of a patriarchal society. Men have long held the dominate roles and positions of power when it comes to our country’s leadership in politics, religion, and moral authority. When it comes to placing more women in positions of power, many people are fearful of change.

Challenging long standing social norms and patterns of behavior takes time. That’s why, as a woman and a minority business owner, I’m incredibly grateful for our mothers and grandmothers who challenged these societal norms to pave the way for the women of the next generation.

On a personal note, when my pediatric clients come into my office, they’ll instantly notice my collection of Wonder Woman Funko pop figurines. They always ask, “Miss Jessica, why do you have so many Wonder Woman dolls?” My reply is always the same. “Because I believe that women are strong and we can do anything we set our minds to… and you can too!”

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

When I shared my idea of starting my own private practice, a close family member told me, “Jessica, that’s a pipe dream. You’ll never be able to earn anything close to 6 figures. You’ll never be able to save enough money to buy a home.”

This felt like a punch in the gut. But I didn’t get that “D for determined” for no reason. As a matter of fact, I looked forward to the day I could prove him wrong. And that I did.

The lesson I learned was that you may not always be able to control your circumstances or what other people think of you, but you can always control how you respond.

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

When I think of the term “powerful woman”, I don’t envision a domineering, pretentious or power-hungry woman who tries to bull doze her way to the top. It’s this type of personality that undoubtedly will make other people feel uneasy and it’s not the best approach to leading a team either.

Women in leadership can exert their power while remaining relatable and approachable. I think to truly be successful as a powerful woman you must have a really strong sense of self. You must be comfortable with the fact that some people are not going to be comfortable with you, your success, or your ambition.

If people feel uncomfortable because you are a successful woman, then that’s a reflection upon them and their own insecurities and issues. When I was a little girl, I had a sticker collection and one of my all-time favorite stickers said, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” Thirty years later, I still find that saying holds true.

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

When it comes to changing society’s unease around powerful women, I think the best catalyst for change starts with women first. It begins on an individual level with how we view ourselves and the value we place on our own role in society.

I’ve been told that I come from a long line of strong women. One of my favorite stories is about my great grandmother on my mother’s side. At the turn of the century in a small village outside of Shanghai, China my great grandmother Fenze took control over her future. The story goes that Fenze threw her wedding dress down the toilet, sought a divorce from her philandering husband and raised my grandfather all on her own as a single mother. She eventually pursued a degree in chemistry and became a professor. This was almost unheard of during that time in China.

I admire my great grandmother’s courage to get out of a bad situation, and to pursue her own passions and fortitude despite living within such a strong patriarchal society. Fenze’s legacy is an example of how the decisions we make today as independent women, will continue to inspire future generations of women to take a stand and fulfill their roles as leaders at home, work and in society.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

Nothing really stands out in my mind in terms of having to endure a ridiculous situation to achieve success. I suppose that being my own boss is a big advantage when it comes to avoiding such situations that may be more common other workplace settings.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

One of the biggest challenges faced by women leaders is that we are still in the minority when it comes to positions of leadership. The gap is even bigger for women of color.

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

One of the primary reasons I started my own business was to have more freedom and flexibility to balance work and family life. Every business will go through different stages of growth. Some periods may require more time and attention to focus on the business which means that family commitments are also affected.

One of the struggles I’ve had as a working mother and entrepreneur is whenever I find myself wishing that there were more hours in the day. I’ve realized that the crux of the issue comes down to priorities. We’re all given the same amount of time in a day, so being efficient, organized, knowing when to ask for support and to when delegate tasks at home or work can buy you the time you need to focus more achieving your priorities at whether it’s spending time with family or working on your career.

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

The tipping point for me was when I found myself running payroll from the hospital bed while I was pregnant and on bedrest with my second daughter. It was at that moment in the middle of QuickBooks, that I realized I needed to make some changes to achieve a better separation between my work and personal life.

To reach a more balanced equilibrium between work and home, I realized that this imbalance was negatively impacting my health. I found hard to ask for help. I came to realize that as mothers, we need to remember that we need to take care of ourselves first and that we don’t have to do it all. Being able to delegate and taking time for self-care, even if it’s only a few minutes a day, is time well spent so we can be fully engaged in our dual roles at home and work.

I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?

My personal perspective on beauty is to be your best self whether that means dressing in your favorite “power suit”, putting on a full face of makeup or letting your natural beauty shine through.

For women who are leaders in a public context, it never hurts to leverage what you’ve got, take pride in your appearance, and show up as the best version of yourself… (even if that means adding a swipe of lipstick!)

How is this similar or different for men?

I think men face similar superficial judgements when it comes to their appearance. However, they can get away with a lot more because our society seems to put less focus on men’s appearance than women’s.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need to Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

The 5 things you need to thrive and succeed as a powerful woman entrepreneur.

Here’s my advice…

#1: Know where you are going.

Take some time to think big and dream big! Imagine incredible success for yourself. What does that look like in one year, five years, and ten years? Why does your company exist? What is your vision for the company? How will it serve the needs in your community?

It’s very important to do a market analysis and know who your customers are and what they are looking for. How can you set yourself apart to become the first, the only, or the best service for your clients?

# 2: Stay on track.

Set specific and measurable goals for your business. What do you want to achieve in the short term and the long term? How will you get there?

Setting goals will help you stay on track to achieve your vision for the future. Work with a business counselor or an executive coach to support you and hold you accountable to achieving your goals.

# 3: Pace yourself.

Avoid the pitfalls of growing too rapidly by creating systems and processes to keep your company running smoothly and efficiently. Understand the key metrics that drive a thriving and successful business or therapy practice. Set the pace of your business growth by analyzing those key metrics for success.

Set aside time every week to work ON your business, not just IN your business. By taking the time to grow your business at a healthy pace, you have a greater chance of success in the long run.

#4: If you stumble, get up and keep going!

Keep in mind there are no mistakes, just lessons to be learned. If you make a mistake, it’s OK, nobody’s perfect. Cultivate a growth mindset. Strive to be self-aware and learn from your mistakes to come back stronger and wiser.

# 5: Don’t run alone.

Sometimes as the owner of a small business, it can feel overwhelming and even lonely “at the top”. You may even wonder, “How did I get myself into this gig?” Sometimes I felt as if I was running in a hamster wheel, spinning my wheels, yet going nowhere! You know what, those feelings are all normal! I can assure you that at some point in their career, all business owners have felt a sense of loneliness and solitude. That’s why it is so important for you to seek out the company and camaraderie of other like-minded women who can support you during those lows and celebrate your wins.

With today’s technology, you’re not limited by geography to connect with other people who can commiserate, collaborate, and encourage you to persevere on your entrepreneurial journey.

One day you will be able to sit back, relax and appreciate how far you’ve come on your journey as an entrepreneur and leader. Go the distance and keep up the good work!

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have a conversation with Brene Brown! It’s an ongoing goal of mine to learn how to become a better leader. I’m fascinated by how one can find that balance between mental resilience and emotional vulnerability and how she helps people to shed their feelings of shame. Her work is all so fascinating yet empowering at the same time.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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