Advice for becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be

You learn a lot as the director of The Everett Clinic’s Behavioral Health department for 25 years.

I recently retired from my job as director of the Behavioral Health department of The Everett Clinic.

I was hired 25 years ago to start the department, and for a quarter of a century I was at the helm. It was a great job. Sure, I had my ups and downs, but I loved having the opportunity to try out different ways of providing beneficial services to our patients.

During those years, I also saw patients half-time as a psychologist. I had the privilege of working with many kids, who then became adults and had their own children. They thought of me as their family psychologist and would come in periodically for help.

I helped build our psych-social support program for the Providence Regional Cancer Center. I had the pleasure of working with scores of committed, caring physicians. From time to time, I helped my colleagues cope with difficult and sometimes traumatic life events.

I am continuing to work part-time at the clinic, seeing patients and working on some projects that are important to me. And I will continue to write this column. It’s an honor for me to share my experience and knowledge with readers.

But most importantly, during these 25 years, I’ve grown up with my children, my patients, my colleagues and The Everett Clinic. Slowly, over time, I’ve become more of the person that I hoped to be. I have accumulated more knowledge about myself, about life and about what’s important. Trust me, at times it’s been a rough road.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

Whenever possible, take the high road. Sure, it’s easy to let our emotions have their way with our feet, especially when we’re disappointed or frustrated with others. But when we nudge ourselves upward, and take the higher path, we feel good about ourselves. And we see that it’s always a better choice.

Learn from your mistakes. As a leader, I made many mistakes — some of them pretty big. But I learned from each one, and tried to incorporate those learnings into my future decision-making. Sure, sometimes I made the same mistakes more than once. I’m a slow learner, but I do eventually get it.

Admit when you’re wrong. Why is it so hard to admit when we make a mistake? Making a misstep is not a crime. Taking responsibility for our actions is key to becoming who we want to be. While apologizing doesn’t undo a misdeed, it does help forge forgiveness in ourselves and others.

Listen more. So often we work hard to convince our friends, family and co-workers of what we think rather than to listen deeply to them. Listening well helps us have a deeper understanding of the other person. I am still working on being a better listener and I have a way to go.

Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. It’s hard to see yourself as you are rather than to see yourself as you wish to be. Human beings are masters at self-deception. Solicit feedback from others and seriously consider what they have to say. Don’t let your sensitivity to criticism prevent you from seeing where you might improve. And make sure to acknowledge your strengths.

Water what you want to grow. As an adult, we get to choose what qualities we want to nurture in ourselves. We are not dependent on others to do this for us. Consider carefully what you want to develop in yourself.

Be generous to others and to yourself. Take care of others, but take care of yourself just as well as you take care of everyone else — no more and no less. You are just as important.

Don’t stay in your comfort zone. Challenge yourself with new experiences, new activities and new interests. Don’t let your fear stop you from doing something you aspire to do.

Paul Schoenfeld is a psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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