Cart Before the Horse: the Messy Way to Succeed at Life

Cart Before the Horse: the Messy Way to Succeed at Life

October 6, 2017                     Cart Before the Horse

Cara O. Frank, L.OM

Updated May 29th 2023

Last Tuesday I treated myself ticket to the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. It was a big sacrifice for me. Usually on Tuesdays, I treat over 20 patients with acupuncture and herbs across a long work day. 

But, Michelle Obama was the keynote speaker (among many other amazing women). I love her and wanted the experience of seeing her speak in person. I also wanted the opportunity to network with other talented women. It was an epic experience, unlike any other I’ve attended. There were 12,500 attendees, almost all women. the keynote speakers were strong and there were many memorable moments. the day was uplifting and I’m glad I gave myself the gift of a day for me. 

One woman, Carla Harris, spoke like a preacher in church. She’s positive and her words resonated with me when she encouraged us to show up, be heard and seen, be unafraid to make mistakes. Shonda Rhimes, the prolific screen writer, spoke of breaking free of “imposter syndrome”, which, no matter how much I achieve in my profession, is feeling I have often experienced. Brené Brown (watch her TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability- it’s only had 6.7 million views) talked about belonging to everything and nothing; to everyone and to no one. Michelle spoke in human terms of balancing work and personal life. She and Shonda spoke of creating strong boundaries between both. Even Michelle Obama was striving to do it right, but not always getting it perfect. (yes! Even her!) 

This led me to reflect on myself, as a practitioner, as a teacher, and as an accidental businesswoman. 

In Chinese herbology, there’s a simple herb: Plantain seeds. The Pin Yin name is Che Qian Zi, which translates to “Cart before the Horse herb”.

Accented pinyin:chē qián zǐ
Unaccented Pinyin:che qian zi
English:plantago seed
 Plantaginis Semen
Simplified Chinese:车前子

We use this gentle herb to clear hear, promote urination, stop diarrhea, brighten the eyes, and transform phlegm.  We often combine it with other seeds to support fertility. 

I say accidental businesswoman because, while, by all measures I am successful, I haven’t always planned things out well. Or at all. Here’s examples of this:

  • I have the gift of curiosity. I am hungry to learn. I study nearly every day. But, I didn’t go to a regular college in the usual way. I arrived late to my SAT’s and then I never took them. So, I didn’t go to college after high school. 
  • I ran away to Boston and, with little training, I cooked my heart out to in some of the city’s finest restaurants and learned a decent trade. 
  • I enrolled in acupuncture school at the age of 20, after having had one treatment at 17 and then “deciding’ (overnight) that I wanted to do learn Chinese medicine.
  • Upon graduation, I decided to move and practice in NYC, where it was not legal to practice (so practical- but I’m a NY’er) and actually built a successful practice. (Until I was investigated for practicing without a license and shut down over night). 
  • I escaped NYC to the Catskills and was gifted $2000 from a friend. I spent it to study herbology in China. I fell in love with Chinese herbology and never looked back. 
  • I pursued my bachelor’s degree in, of course, a university without walls so I could curate my own program (and I was a royal pain in the ass because I couldn’t grasp or adhere the rules). 
  • I moved to Philadelphia, pregnant and having to live somewhere, and was generously referred many patients to get me started in my practice and, with a funny turn of events, opened China Herb Company.
  • I learned to teach because I was asked to create a local Chinese herb program. This is also when I learned to type (remember Mavis Beacon?!)
  • I moved my entire practice because I changed my life and relocated to a different area in Philly. I lost patients and gained so many more. (For those patients who still make the schlep to see me- thank you so much. I am deeply grateful to be in service to you)
  • I learned to write when I agreed to write a book. (Hey! That’s great idea! It’s time for me to have a book!) This is also where I learned to translate Chinglish- a very important life skill. 
  • On a whim, I decided to open a second office with a vision of providing affordable health care and creating jobs for acupuncturist. I found an awesome space in a growing neighborhood, only 8 blocks from my other office. I did this without a business plan, a budget or even a team (and then I stopped sleeping for a long time- but we’re good now). It’s a flourishing happy healing space. And I’ve achieved my mission. 
  • Now- I’m on the precipice of China Herb Company’s biggest leap forward- creating a huge new online ordering system. Something I’ve been trying to make work for many years. So- I’m scared to death. Let’s see how this ends up .

Why this list? Because it reflects my business philosophy, which I’ve come to call “The Cart Before the Horse” method. It means I’ve jumped into many of my life’s work on impulse, with little training. I’ve envisioned goals and pursued them without a clear path. Time and time again, I’ve put the cart before the horse.  And even, with years of experience, as much as I try to ask careful questions, seek expert advice, I am a leader in making BIG FAT MISTAKES. 

I know, from the deepest place in my being, what mistakes mean. My mistakes mean I’ve learned and grown; That I’ve gained knowledge and perspective. And I know- because it’s my habit- that at some point, I’ll Che Qian Zi again and dive head deep into a new challenge without enough research, but that I can make it OK because I’ll bring heart and passion and a vision of a better world. 

What have I learned? I have learned that life is messy and it’s OK to do things imperfectly. My life is pretty imperfect.  It’s better to move forward, keep learning and keep growing than to be paralyzed waiting for a time when everything will be perfect. I have learned to seek advice and counsel and even then- the experts don’t have all the answers. I’ve learned to stay mobilized in the face of fear and insecurity. I know that it’s OK to jump off a cliff and not know where the ground is. I have gained resilience. 

Despite the incredible challenges that I have faced in my personal life and my business life, I have prevailed. I have not wavered from my mission of healing, of sharing knowledge. 

I can bring this mess to my clinic and use these experiences to council my patients. 

With love,