A Shrink, Serendipity, and a Start-up
Part of my job as a psychologist is holding privileged information, but last week I spilled a secret. I shared with the world that for the last six months I’ve been working with Shaping Wealth, a start-up that I have had the honor of co-founding with four brilliant minds who have become respected friends.
I continue to work in private practice alongside of the new avenue that I have transitioned to. When people learn about my professional pivot, I’m often asked I’ve how I ended up where I am today. It is curious, I suppose, that a shrink is now smack dab in the middle of the world of finance. I’ve spent considerable time reflecting on the circuitous route that has led me to this place. All of our lives, in some ways, are a series of Sliding Doors serendipitous moments. When I look back to my professional path to date, I can identify five key relationships that built the bridge I’ve had the joy of walking across as a psychologist. Their lives lined up like dominoes. I’m so glad they each fortuitously toppled into mine when and how they did. Sonia -> Aaron -> Dave -> Daniel -> Brian
Sonia was one of my best friends in graduate school, and we worked side-by-side in the earliest stage of our clinical careers. She remains one of my closest confidants as we’ve been together on the professional rollercoaster ride of practicing psychology and the sometimes confusing journey of trying to figure out how to be a thriving human in this wild world.
My first interactions with Sonia occurred when my dream of earning my doctorate was still a hope and a prayer. I composed my first message to her from a computer in a hotel outside of Munich, Germany. It was 2010. I had traveled for a weekend to visit my husband who was in the midst of some training for his first deployment to Iraq. We were living in the United Kingdom at the time, and I was closing in on the completion of my master’s degree. Graduation was five months away, but I knew I wasn’t ready to be done with school. Through my academic work and clinical experiences, I had reached the point on the Dunning-Kruger curve where I began to realize how much I still didn’t know about humanity.
As I sat in my room at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, I started my application for the Psy.D. program at George Washington University. My fingers feverishly typed out a personal statement about why I wanted to be a psychologist. I pushed the bounds of my creativity and stubbornly refused to say “to help people” like I knew most people in my position do. In a moment of social media time confetti, I also sent a Facebook note to a stranger-turned-lifelong-friend who I found listed among the student profiles on the university department page—Sonia Kahn. She had an impressive background. Upon exchanging messages with her about her experiences as a first-year student, I was convinced I had found the program I was looking for.
As much as my nerd heart wanted the next degree, I wasn’t sure it would be possible. Two weeks after turning twenty-two, I had walked down the aisle and married the man of my childhood dreams. He had commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force ten days before we exchanged rings. Committing to military marriage meant relinquishing control over where I would live or how long I would live there for the duration of my husband’s active duty service commitment. When I changed my last name, I knew I signed up for a new address every two to three years for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t sure how I could squeeze a complete doctorate program into a single assignment, but I sure was going to try. I’m willful and determined like that. George Washington University was the one program in the country that offered an intense, accelerated program that crammed 4-6 years of graduate coursework into three, followed by a one-year clinical residency. It was my only shot.
I applied to GWU in January. Several weeks later, I realized that there was a hiccup in my application and that it hadn’t been processed properly. The application window had closed. I sent Sonia a message, and she graciously connected me with faculty members who quickly cut some bureaucratic red tape on my behalf. The right people looked at my application and liked what they read. Before I knew it, I was on a plane across the Atlantic for an admissions interview. I hopped back across the pond, doubting I’d get in. A fortnight later I received a phone call of congratulations letting me know that I had been accepted for the fall term. I was elated. Kind of. We were slated to move in November. Unfortunately, there was no military assignment that would allow us to live in D.C. My heart hurt.
One morning in May I received a call from my husband in Iraq. I’ll never forget the conversation, even though I was half asleep. Leadership in his chain of command had worked some magic to secure Philip an assignment at Andrews Air Force Base upon his return from the hot sandbox. I screamed. Three months later, I moved myself back to the U.S. and started school while Philip spent his final months in Taji.
For the next four years, Sonia was a secure base and supportive friend through an experience that stretched me beyond what I could have ever anticipated when I initially applied. Graduate school was hard. Really hard. (My husband still refers to those four years as “the dark times.”) And, I’d do it all over again if I had to. In a heartbeat. My graduate education was one of the best investments I have ever made.
I matched to a predoc internship in Princeton and spent a year in New Jersey while Philip completed his first of two tours to Afghanistan. I was working on an inpatient eating disorder unit while he was carrying an M4 and getting lit up in the valleys of the Hindu Kush. We both saw all kinds of unimaginable wild that year. Every day, we were each working with people waging war and fighting for their lives. Throughout the year, I explored options for employment following the conferral of my degree. Sonia spoke highly of her experience at a group practice in Arlington and encouraged me to consider a position on the team. Late in the spring, she introduced me to the next important individual in this cast of characters—Aaron Dodini.
Aaron was my first boss and arguably the supervisor who had the most profound impact on shaping who I have become as a clinician.
My first conversation with Aaron took place one evening on my way home from working at the hospital. He called me after coaching one of his boys’ baseball games. I pulled into my church parking to answer my phone. We talked about therapy, faith, and family. The intersection of topics gave me a window into the man Aaron was. I knew somewhere deep inside, instinctively, that this was someone I wanted to work for.
Aaron was initially hesitant to hire me. There would be a clear expiration to the time I would be able to spend working at the practice. The transient constraints that the military places on my life often make things more challenging for me professionally. He was building a group of practitioners focused on long-term psychodynamic therapy. When he articulated his concern, I vowed that if he was willing to take a chance on me, I would make sure he never regretted his decision.
Aaron modeled for me experientially what it is to be an exceptional clinician. I channeled what I observed him do. He was judicious with his boundaries. He was unapologetic about how he valued himself and his time. When I talk to people about Aaron, I explain that not only is he one of the best clinicians I know, but he has incredible business prowess. Aaron taught me that it is not enough to be outstanding at your craft. To experience success, you must have business acumen to match. While working at Dodini Behavioral Health, I met and found the professional yin to my yang—Dave Dayton.
Dave was my teammate at Dodini Behavioral Health who became a for-always friend.
Dave and I worked closely as a co-therapy team facilitating long-term interpersonal process groups and conducting conjoint couples therapy together. In many ways, he and I are polar personality opposites but our fire-and-ice fusion turned out to be a recipe for therapeutic success. He challenged me and helped chill me out. As Dave and I became friends, he often remarked to me that I reminded him a lot of one of his former classmates. For several years, he vaguely referenced “this guy” he went to grad school with who “does stuff with people and money.” People? Money? “That sounds fun!” I said. Dave introduced me to his classmate, Daniel Crosby. And from there, the rest is history.
Upon becoming fast friends, Daniel extended an invite to me to the weird, wild, wonderful world of finance.
Daniel Crosby is one of the world’s leading experts in behavioral finance, but I didn’t fully appreciate this the first time I talked with him on the phone. In fact, I didn’t really understand it at all. The day Dave inbox introduced us, Daniel texted me, and I called him on my way home from the base hospital where I was working as a staff psychologist. I nonchalantly chatted with him while I raced through the commissary, tossing essentials into my cart to keep me, my twin tiny humans, and my husband fed for the next few days. Daniel shared with me that he thought the finance industry could use another shrink. He also explained that there was a paucity of smart, strong female voices in the space. As I raced through the freezer aisle, we talked about finance, his befi brainchild Tulip, speaking, and future possibilities for me if I stepped into a new industry. In true Daniel form, he offered several pieces of sage wisdom that I still think of often today.
Daniel and I both love Yalom, Kierkegaard, and Frankl. Inkblots are our jam. We are endlessly fascinated by the way that money intersects with the way people make meaning in their lives. We disagree whether important life events should be celebrated at Chipotle or Chic-Fil-A but will each choose Diet Coke over a cocktail any day.
Following our first discussion, Daniel extended an invitation for me to join him on his podcast, Standard Deviations. I laugh to think of it now. It was my very first podcast interview. We recorded at 4:45 am. I had been vomited on by a sick baby seven times and got a scant amount of sleep on the eve of the recording. Our first interview was not my finest hour. I returned to his podcast couch for another shrink chat several months later for a much more coherent conversation.
Ready for a challenge, I dipped a toe in new professional water. Before I knew it, I had plunged face-first into a new sea of relationships and information. After my introduction to the world of behavioral finance by Daniel, I devoured all of the relevant literature I could. One of the books at the top of my que was penned by Daniel’s friend Brian Portnoy.
Brian is my business partner and an iron-sharpens-iron friend who pushes me to be better every single day.
We live in a world where people are quick to speak up when they are dissatisfied or have a negative reaction to something. Far less often, people expend energy and effort to explicitly say something about excellence. As much as possible, I try to make a concerted effort to tell people (and their bosses) when I'm impressed by something they’ve said, done, or created. Brian’s book, Geometry of Wealth, left a mark on me. His references to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory alone were enough to make me a diehard fan. I listened to GOW twice in one week while I was going on pandemic hikes with a 40 lb. ruck on my back. I let Brian’s carefully crafted words sink into my head while the sun hit my skin and the world seemingly unraveled around me.
After I finished reading to his book, I was spurred to say thanks to Brian for putting his thoughts and ideas into the universe for the rest of our benefit. I slid into his LinkedIn DMs and sent this message:
Before I knew it, I appeared in his Twitter feed:
We chatted on Zoom, and something clicked. Copious phone, Zoom, and inbox conversations later, we are building a dream together with our partner Neil Bage.
Shaping Wealth is a learning technology platform designed to transform the human experience of money. We are now working with our first cohort of wealth management and corporate clients around the globe. They are leveraging our curated content and experiences to shape the lives of those they serve. We are meeting the unmet demand for the practical application of behavioral insights for making better decisions and leading more meaningful lives. We understand that peoples' relationships with money are inextricably linked to deeper things: security, purpose, connection, legacy, and freedom.
Already, the Shaping Wealth journey has been an exhilarating, gratifying ride. As I embark on this endeavor, it is my hope and my heart to continue to steward the experiences, education, and opportunities I have been afforded in my life in a way that translates to meaningful life change for others.
So often in life and in our careers, we focus on the destination—the “what’s next.” I think this is a mistake. Life is The Journey. As I reflect on my own path and the people who have been formative pillars in my own personal and professional development, I am reminded of a few of things…
People will make or break any job. Everywhere I have gone, I have had the good fortune of being part of a remarkable team. Surround yourself with people who push you to be a better version of yourself every day.
Be kind. Really kind. My occupational Sliding Door moments would have been very different if people had not generously given their time to me. Speak to people who can’t help you. Open doors for them, and announce their entrance in new rooms.
Remember, relationships make the world go round.