Be wary of compliments. Compliments are fun to receive. They feel good at the time, but sometimes, they can be life changing. Sometimes a compliment can be placed on you that changes the way you think about yourself, and the way you behave. I received such a compliment in the summer of 1998. It is a burden and an honor that haunts me to this day.
I graduated with my doctorate in 1996 and passed my state board exam in 1997. I had been working for Boss for ten years, and was at that stage where conflict between the two of us was growing.
My degree empowered me to think about an independent future. It was a little like going through adolescence all over. I was full of knowledge, and it seemed like the more I knew, the less Boss knew. He noticed, and talked to me about this. Of course, I realized that he was right, and attempted to adjust my attitude.
Still, I wanted to leave, but knew I couldn’t because I needed Boss to supervise me for a year to become fully licensed.
Feeling trapped in a job is the quickest way to grow resentment toward that job. I now felt trapped, and was becoming unhappy.
With school debt added to the normal every day bills to pay, I continued to work for Boss while swallowing the desire to be somewhere else.
Then Providence stepped in. Providence came in the form of an older, respected psychologist from a nearby town. She invited me to start a new practice in her small non-profit center.
Providence was a strong proponent of a new treatment for mental health, especially for Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, called Neurofeedback. She and I had both spent time going to workshops and trainings across the country. I had studied Neurofeedback and had written my dissertation on its use. Providence wanted to offer this newly emerging form of treatment to her community and hoped I would come to work for her. Providence was licensed and she was prepared to do the one-year supervision I needed.
My heart leapt for joy, but I needed to think about it. Starting a practice is hard. It takes a while for money to start coming in. A contract from somewhere might make a difference.
I contacted the school district where I was about to start my practice. Practice Town School was interested, and understood that I could start in two weeks.
With support from Wife, I (actually, WE), took a huge leap of faith. Despite young children, car payments, a house payment, and despite a student loan that probably wouldn’t get paid until I was 75, I agreed to work with Providence.
I was nervous as I walked into Boss’s office the next day and gave him my two weeks’ notice.
Boss gave me two hours to move out of my office.
My anxiety morphed into anger.
My friends from the office were saying sad goodbyes as I packed my things. In the middle of all of this commiseration, I was told I had a phone call.
Practice Town school didn’t want to wait for two weeks. They wanted me tomorrow!
My anger evaporated. I was smiling while my friends continued their angry glares toward Boss’s office.
My practice took off. It grew, and I eventually had a practice that was larger than I had ever thought I wanted.
The summer after I started working at the nonprofit center, I thanked Providence for helping me to get launched in my own practice. Then I asked her “Why did you ask me to come to Practice Town? There were others who could have done this for you.”
Her response surprised me.
“Because you have integrity.”
I was stunned. I’d never thought about myself in this manner before.
“You have integrity.”
That is both a compliment that I value, and a goal that I now feel obligated to live up to.
This revered old psychologist knighted me with this label one hot summer day in the cramped quarters of my office in an old house that was serving as offices for a nonprofit counseling center. It was the humblest of settings, yet I will always remember her words.
Those words guided me as I built my practice. They were with me as I greeted each new client, and every time I went before a judge to testify. I will always remember that summer.
I will always strive to live up to Providence’s expectation.
This compliment could have become a burden. In truth, it is an honor that I hope I always remember.