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October 2021

It’s not what you do that counts, but who you are; Self care, Personal Mission and Servant Leadership; Sunset of my career.

In SAVVY, my ‘first draft’ on meeting the challenge to write about the mix of spirit and psychology in a book – to articulate the spiritual context that gives structure to the core tools I have trained on full time for 25 years. It can be summarized by a phrase: “It’s not what you do that counts, but who you are.”  

In SKILLS, tips on ‘how to get there from here’ if you are committed to self care, clarity on your personal mission and are ready to be a servant leader.

In SOUL, trying to balance what I do in the sunset of my career to meet the goals of my personal life direction and my professional mission.


Recently, I had a life guidance consultation with an “experienced teacher who is passionate about helping spiritually curious women and men take their next step in unlocking their intuitive potential.”  Since I tend to stay in the cognitive world, unlocking my “intuitive potential” is a muscle I’d like to exercise. 

The teacher’s first intuitive question was “Do you write?”. We explored my 18 years of Tips and Topics content and her notion that I should write a book. We talked about core clinical tools that I have trained on for over 25 years full time in the training and consulting part of my career; and the content and purpose of a book I would write:

  • 25% of the book would cover the core tools I have trained on for years.
  • 75% should be the spiritual and transcendental context of those core tools to help readers make a “quantum leap” she said in using clinical tools.
  • Or put another way, I need to balance the ‘left brain’ aspects of what I train and teach with more ‘right brain’ context (a person who is “left-brained” is thought to be more logical, analytical, and objective. A person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, creative, emotional, thoughtful, and subjective.)

I don’t know if I will write this book. But I am reminded that the foundation of the practice of Motivational Interviewing (MI) begins with the “spirit of MI”: partnership, acceptance, compassion and evocation. (Miller, William R; Rollnick, Stephen (2013):  “Motivational Interviewing – Helping People Change” Third Edition, New York, NY. Guilford Press. pp 15-21). MI isn’t just about clinical skills of asking open-ended questions or being good at reflective listening or recognizing change talk or sustain talk. It is mixing the spirit of MI with the skills of MI.

Similarly, I was challenged to write about the mix of spirit and psychology in a book – to articulate the spiritual context that gives structure to the core tools I train on and improve implementation.

So here is my ‘first draft’ on meeting that challenge.  It can be summarized by a phrase I once heard: “It’s not what you do that counts, but who you are.”  

  • You can be in your ‘left brain’ and implement core clinical tools logically, analytically and objectively. (What you do….)
  • But you can increase your effectiveness if you are balanced in your ‘right brain’ to be more intuitive, creative, and subjective.  (Who you are….)

Tip 1

Be committed to Self Care so you don’t use your work and clients to make yourself feel whole

Self care in the context of the behavioral health work we do in helping people: 

  • Allows you to be fully present for the well being of the client without any negative interference of your unresolved personal issues.

For example, if you have unresolved anger or resentments about a parent, how can you be fully present for your client and not triggered when they are expressing their anger and resentments about their parents?

  • Ensures that you don’t ‘use’ your clients to compensate for your self esteem or identity deficits; or any personal challenge that could threaten your objectivity and caring detachment.

For example, if your self esteem is dependent on everybody ‘loving’ you or praising you, how can you be there for the client that may be projecting onto you anger that belongs to their parent (transference)? Can you keep separate your need to be admired from the client’s anger at you in their moments of ‘transference’?  Or will you react to their anger and shut it down because it is too uncomfortable and hurtful (countertransference)?

  • Keeps your therapeutic instruments sharp so you can be self aware, vulnerable and complete in who you are.  The major “therapeutic instruments” we have as behavioral health professionals are our feelings, reactions and listening skills. When you are feeling whole and complete within yourself, you can stay client-centered and objective, free from distracting personal issues.

For example, if you are feeling preoccupied about some stress or inadequacy in your life, it is hard to have the empathy, compassion and acceptance needed to serve your clients effectively.

Tip 2

Articulate your personal mission and values so you make decisions with intention and purpose rather than from reactivity

Your decisions and choices in work, love and play are focused and clear, when you know what you want; and what values drive your sense of purpose and direction.

In SKILLS of the October/November 2005 edition of Tips and Topics, I shared my personal mission and values.  It has helped me on numerous occasions to know what to do about job offers, business opportunities, career moves and where I want to live etc.

I was recently asked for my advice from someone who was trying to choose between two equally interesting job opportunities.  Here’s what I advised:

I am increasingly trying to be more intuitive and less cognitive in such choices. Here are a few thoughts – imagine yourself at each job and what you know of your duties and how the day would run on the job – what you will be spending most time and energy on in each moment.  Then notice what comes up for you in terms of joy, peace, serenity and what makes you happy in terms of your life mission, values and career direction.  

If there is one choice that immediately brings you more joy, that might be the one to choose.  If they feel equally joyful, then you can make the deciding factors be your values about salary, commuting time, employee benefits, colleagues you’ll be working with etc.  But pay attention first to whether one job offer feels more in alignment with who you are and what your life’s purpose is.”

Tip 3

Embrace the practice of Servant Leadership so that you lead by empowering others to reach their full potential

“The term “servant leadership” has been around for decades, referring to a  “philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring world,” according to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.”

Instead of telling people what to do, the role of servant leaders is to make sure that their team’s needs are being met…… They focus on helping individuals make better decisions and be more innovative.

While traditional leadership is focused on helping an organization thrive, servant leaders put the needs of their employees first. They focus on developing individuals who perform their best.” 


Here are some SKILLS on ‘how to get there from here’ if you are committed to self care, clarity on your personal mission and are ready to be a servant leader.

Tip 1 

Find a daily practice that keeps you happy, joyful and centered

As a young psychiatrist, I once had a mentor who told me that I would encounter many very ill patients. But if I took care of myself, improved my knowledge and skills to a level of competence and confidence then he advised, “You will be able to sleep at night without worrying about your challenging patients.”

But if you are feeling off balance, unsure about your competence and not taking care of yourself, even the least challenging patient can disturb your rest and sleep. 

I have had a daily practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) for over seven years. I wrote about Transcendental Meditation and Mindful Meditation in SAVVY and SKILLS in the January 2018 edition of Tips and Topics. Whether you practice TM or some other kind of mindful meditation, choose a regular practice of whatever will keep you happy, joyful, serene and centered.

Tip 2

See if you can summarize your Mission in two words

Over 25 years ago, I created my mission statement as regards my career that still applies today:

I am actively creating a unique forum using my talents of bridging the gap for people between disparate fields and concepts, in a very persuasive, challenging and inspiring manner; simultaneously influencing systems in a global way for the greater good, with rich personal satisfaction and financial reward.

You can see why my two word summary is Building Bridges.

Describe your primary aim or personal mission in two words e.g., Caring Compassion; Creating Opportunities; Promoting Education; Assuring Safety; Feeling Happy; Finding Safety – you get the idea. 

Is your personal mission in alignment with the mission of where you work; who you relate to; or where you are headed in life?

Tip 3

Be proud of who you are and what you have done if it empowers you to be a “servant leader”; and doesn’t diminish others in order to elevate yourself

Once ego and narcissism gets in the way, and it’s all about you, you lose effectiveness. Pride in who you are and what you have achieved is good if it empowers you to confidently lead.  But if that pride diminishes others in order to elevate yourself, then remember the “servant” part – serving others to elevate them to the best they can be, not you.

If you are a therapist, counselor or in any position where you are a mentor, facilitator or leader, being a “servant leader” means making ourselves as obsolete as soon as possible. How do we enrich the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and help others make better decisions and be more innovative? How do we nurture and lead to help people help themselves and not need us to lead anymore?


I am in the sunset of my career.  I want more time to read and write, to travel and expand my horizons.  I have been blessed to be able to have a mission-driven life and not just a money-driven career.  But being mission-driven has it dilemmas:

  • How do you say ‘no’ to continuing opportunities to train and consult about topics and projects that matter so much to Building Bridges?
  • For 2022, two of those opportunities would reach 5,000 – 6,000 participants* at each conference. For one invitation, I practiced saying ‘no’ and declined; the other is a ‘yes’ because I still can’t sunset my part of what I think is important to contribute.
  • How do you trust that while the mission isn’t accomplished, there are others who will be just as committed and passionate who can carry on what matters most?

I doubt that I will ever abandon a mission-driven life. What may change is the mission. There are other bridges to build between people, places and things that matter as much as, or even more than what I have focused on in the nearly 50 years since I graduated from medical school.

I am in the sunset of my career, not the sunset of my life (I hope and pray).

(*NatCon22 is the 2022 National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s annual conference. This is the largest conference in health care for mental health and substance use treatment leaders and each year brings more than 6,000 stakeholders together. 

*RISE22 is the 2022 National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) annual conference and is the world’s largest conference on addiction, mental health and justice system reform. RISE conferences draw more than 5,000 attendees each year, and brings together leaders from all models of treatment courts, the recovery community, law enforcement, veteran service organizations, legislators and other key stakeholders to learn the latest evidence-based practices for serving individuals with substance use and mental health disorders in the justice system.)

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