If you were a software developer working in Washington, DC, where would you end up after a decade-long journey inspired by the healing power of acupuncture?
I met with Michael at the Laughing Goat Coffeehouse, over a cup of chai, to bring you the answer. His insights and experience are both enjoyable and thought-provoking. They are a tale of growth, seeking, and transformation.
You can learn more about Michael Dabrowski and his practice at wholepersonacu.com.
Octavian: What did you say you were building? A passport app..?
Michael: I work for a passport and visa company. We help expedite people’s applications. So if you can’t show up at the embassy to file the paperwork, we do it for you.
Octavian: Right, I’m originally from Romania. It took about a decade to get a green card, an expedited process using technology sounds like a blessing.
Definitely, I mean with all the complexity that is involved nobody likes to do their own paperwork. We take care of it for them. So yeah I help make the website work for them.
That’s really awesome are you from a European country by any chance?
I’m from Poland and I grew up in England, so kind of a little bit all over the place.
How did you like England?
I liked it, I was there from age 7 until 16 and when I came to the U.S. I moved to D.C.
Oh I just came from there. I was there for about a decade.
Oh yeah? Nice. How did you like D.C.?
Uh, it’s a little bit more uptight than here. People are busier, they’re not smoking as much pot.
That’s true, that’s true. This place is definitely way more relaxed.
Right, just today in the newspaper I saw it said that residents are complaining about the skunky smell of pot, and a dispensary or something got fined $12,000 just for the smell.
Wow! Just for the smell. That’s a pretty small change in comparison to what they’re making.
I want to ask you, I mean since you work with visas and passports, or at least the process, an opinion on something I experienced myself with the Romanian embassy. They don’t want to issue me a new passport because my middle name isn’t on my green card in the format they want, as Octavian-Andrei. Have you experienced that before with countries not wanting to give their citizens a new passport?
Yeah I mean, that I don’t know because I don’t deal with the processing myself. Certainly we deal with a lot of issues where people don’t have the right paperwork, there’s name confusion. It’s really funny because my name is Michael, it’s spelled without the “e” in Polish spelling. When I came here I’ve been spelling it with the “e” because it’s kind of easier, because people look at it [otherwise] and they’re confused. Every time I use it in a legal document, I have to use the legal spelling so people get confused because I’ve been spelling it one way and it’s actually written a different way. So yeah, there’s definitely a lot of confusion with names.
I’m so glad I’m not the only one with this sort of thing. I figured it was some sort of “Ellis-island” thing and they were just out to get me, from my own country too.
Yeah, bureaucracy is always a pain in the butt. I mean, I know. So how long have you been here now?
I’ve been here about three weeks. I met a friend here while moving to the West coast a while ago and it’s stood out to me so here I am.
Nice. It’s a good place.
Yeah I just went hiking yesterday at Chatauqua, that was amazing. I mean I’ve done it before but I didn’t know there’s more and more peaks.
There’s definitely a lot, yeah. So you’re here for?
Just looking for jobs, the first application got screwed up because of my middle name. Twice actually declined by HR. It was a bit nerve-wracking, I was a bit nervous so now I’m just waiting to hear back from them. The funny thing is that at the driver-license office they did the same thing, they wanted my name a different way. My entire life I’ve had my middle name on licenses, I come here and they say no why is that on there?
I have the same thing [with three of my own documents]. I’m sure I’ll end up with some sort of problems.
Yeah, that’s what my friend was saying. She was saying you gotta be careful, maybe your employer is trying to protect you to make sure that your social security ends up in the right place and not some different account that you can’t access.
Yeah, knock on wood.
Right, that would be a big nightmare.
I kind of want to look into this now because of the syntax in the way my birth certificate is written, with a dash between my first and middle name, simply because they didn’t have a “middle” name line to fill in back then. It’s a clerical style difference. I guess it’s lost in translation between offices and countries.
One office over here is not going to believe dash is different in America.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know.
So aside from programming what do you like to do?
Well, I’m an acupuncturist.
Oh do you have a business card?
I do, yeah.
Once I get started with my job I’ll be in there. I love running and my back is flaring up all the time.
Well I’m sorry to hear that, I would be happy to help you. So yeah, I do acupuncture. My former career is as a software developer and it payed the bills, but it wasn’t as satisfying. I wanted to do something that was more hands on, so I started studying acupuncture.
That’s awesome, thank you so much [for the business card.] I build websites so if I see anything that could be improved I’ll just go ahead and shoot it over to you. Hopefully you don’t think it’s annoying.
No, it’s fine. I’m always looking for additional advice.
You know I’m really glad I met you, because here I am as a journalist just trying to inspire others through the people I meet, and here you are inspiring me. I do acupuncture but I also do software development. You can be fluid.
Exactly, you know? One is the left side of the brain, the other is the right side of the brain, but both are pushing buttons, that’s what I tell people.
How did you get into acupuncture? When and where?
Well, I was living in DC. I was working as a software developer, pretty overweight, and really stressed out. One day I just decided to walk into an acupuncturist’s office, and I started eating better, sleeping better. I went into more treatments and within a couple of days I noticed that I wasn’t as stressed at work. Things were going more smoothly. It made it a lot easier for me to change habits and not be so stressed out.
Then I became fascinated with how it works. I started studying it and so it was three years later of just studying it by myself, and going up to Chinatown, visiting different apothecaries.
Oh sweet, took the bus or something?
I would drive up there, I had some friends up there so I’d go up to NY and visit all the different herb shops and see what’s there. It’s always an adventure and I guess it was three years after getting my first acupuncture treatment I decided I want to study it. I moved to Hawaii and I studied with a Japanese master of acupuncture, she’s this really cool lady. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen The Karate Kid movies, like Miyagi Sensei, and that kind of thing, it was very much like that. As students we would come in and prepare the clinic, set the mood, welcome all the patients, clean the clinic, make lunch for the teacher and for ourselves. At the end of the day we would sit down, have tea, and discuss what happened during the day. It was a really cool way of learning.
In addition to that we also had a formal school and at the end of the day, it’s a 4 years Master’s program to get an acupuncture license and you have licensing exams. It’s been about 10 years since I started studying.
Okay, you know to me it sounds like paradise. Being in Hawaii, learning from this really intelligent figure, and having tea and discussing how to heal the body. At any point did it not feel like paradise? Were there any challenges?
Oh yeah, I mean living on an island, having come from living in the middle of DC in a thriving big city, going to live on a small island with a small population: it got a little crazy after a while. It was nice to be studying, and idyllic. I knew it was temporary and after I while I would want to move back to the city. Eventually I quit the program over there, the school, and I came here to study a different style of acupuncture. There’s many different styles. This allowed me to get more of a well rounded education.
I see, wow. What do your friends think about going from software development to acupuncture?
Well, many of them thought I was nuts. Many of them thought good for you, you’re taking your ticket out of software and doing something for you, something different. For many people it’s like “you’re following your dream, you’re doing what you want to do.” My parents were always very supportive of any decision I made.
Yeah that definitely helps too. It’s such a different context working in a large corporation, working on a big team, and working by yourself. You get to set your own hours and your own schedule. There’s a lot of benefits to that.
Did you build your own website by the way?
Yeah I did. In some ways I would like to outsource to somebody else.
Yeah that’s what I started realizing, some people are just specialists.
Yeah you know, at this point “I’m spending some of my time coding, some of my time doing acupuncture,” it would be nice to pick one or the other.
That’s what I’m realizing. I don’t know if you have any tips on how to figure out “when to clean the gutters yourself, or when to call someone to do it.” Kind of hard to see the pay off at times, risk, and so forth.
I don’t know that’s a tough call. I think that’s the call that people make in any industry. If you’re a software programmer you can be a generalist, you can be a full-stack developer, you can do the whole thing from the ground up. You can do all of it yourself. It helps to understand how things work, in order to be able to make good decisions. Then you have to be able to know what to outsource and who to outsource it to. There are a lot of stories I hear as an independent contractor when I do software development, from small business owners that don’t know how to make choices about hiring a software developer. They don’t know what’s involved.
I get so frustrated when people are on GoDaddy! I go ah!!! Use anything but them.
I know right, I mean you’re going to be taken…
They’ve got 6,000 sites on one server!
Right, you could be taken for a ride. It’s not necessarily that anyone wants to take you for a ride. It’s a communication problem. For me, from a software developer behind a desk, I went into project management, and then into product management. Because I realized a majority of the problem wasn’t a technology problem. We had over-technology, we knew how to do it. It was always a communication problem, and it was always a translation problem. So being able to speak the language of the software developer, and then being able to speak business language and figure out what the requirements are; I mean that’s kind of the bread and better of making something successful. At that point you know what your limitations are, or you know what you have to do.
So you go “I know I’d like to be a software developer, I’ll just do software. I’ll do behind the scenes, if I love project management, I’ll do that. Then you outsource. You hire the minds that love what it is that they do. I think that’s ultimately how you choose, based on what your passion is and what you don’t want to do, you give it to someone else that’s passionate about that.
Uh, that really helps me personally because I’ve been kicking myself in the butt recently. I said “why haven’t you for the past five years just been studying one thing, like iOS development. Instead of doing like web development, setting up DNS, email, marketing, just wearing all the hats but not really being a specialist in some way. So that really helps me because it says “hey you can delegate sometimes, it’s okay.”
You can delegate, absolutely. Being a generalist is, I mean from your own experience, you have a good idea of how the whole thing works. Right? And you can, as an iOS developer, know how to speak to other developers. There’s always going to be the “grass is greener on the other side of the hill” kind of problem. “Oh man, I chose to specialize in this. I really want to have all of my cake and eat it too. I want to do all of this, I want to be an expert in everything.” The truth is, I mean maybe some people are excellent at everything. There’s only so many hours in the day, there’s only so many of you. So whenever you focus on something you become really good at that and you know, if making an income is a concern, I don’t think that’s an issue. If you become really good at one thing, or a couple of things, then people will find you for the skills you have.
I’m curious if somebody was reading this, like ten people were reading it [this interview] and one person was actively engaged, and the knowledge that you have to share, what would be two big tips that you have for someone? Not necessarily for software, as much as making the world a better place, personal growth?
Let’s see. Two? Just two life tips, out of the blue. It seems like you’ve got a lot of experience under your belt, anything that the readers can benefit from.
I think to remember that you’re not on your own. That you have help, you have friends, and you don’t have to do everything by yourself. And to not worry so much. Things have a tendency of working themselves out, so maybe in a summary, be here now, enjoy what you do, and don’t worry so much. It’s more than two things [laughs].
I love it! I’ve got these two books, one by Dale Carnegie about not worrying, and then the book that I read before that was Be Here Now by Ram Dass. So literally the two things you said, I’ve got my hands on, trying to squeeze the knowledge of out them.
Yeah, I think those are kind of the underpinnings, no matter what we do. It’s what comes to many of us, being either in the future or the past.
Right, experiencing the present. That’s a real struggle sometimes.
Yeah, that’s why meditation is a tool in my life amongst other things to remind me to enjoy some chai.
I love meditation as well. I recently got into it, I started writing daily, and the way I noticed that was changing me is that I was more intentional throughout the day. You decide to throw this on the ground and stomp on it in the store, sure if you don’t care about the people around you it’s one thing, but if you have to write about it, it’s like an extra layer of consciousness.
It’s useful to be mindful. We can get very militant about it, there’s a wrong way or a right way, we should meditate. There’s some kind of simple opportunity in doing it, as a pleasure.
Speaking of chai and it being a pleasure, it was as simple as sitting down with you and you enlarged my world. I’m really grateful for it. I have some chai actually to give to you, if I had any idea where I put it. Here it is.
Nice, thank you.