The MASTERS Process:Transforming Your Career and Life

Charles R. Figley, Ph.D.
Green Cross Foundation
The Foundation initiated a major program this year. It is called The You Too! Wellness Weekend ™. It involves participants coming together in a relaxed environment and for three days focusing on themselves. Most are professionals and volunteers who work with the most challenging of clients and situations. Most came to their work as a “calling.” Most have the tendency to help others and forget about themselves. These are the primary candidates for Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma.

But the The You Too! Wellness Weekend ™ is far more than educating the participants about burnout and the symptoms secondary traumatic stress. They learn about who is most vulnerable not only to job-related stress but also about themselves – not just professionally but personally, spiritually, interpersonally. In addition to negative stock-taking, but about positive stock-taking. Participants learn about what they want for the rest of their life. They develop a plan for getting there and identify those people, places, things (both real and imagined) that are blocking them from realizing their hopes and dreams.

Some of these things are associated with specific skills and knowledge (e.g., stress management, spiritual, intuition-development & self-healing) that is provided during the weekend as an elective. These features emerge directly from the research literature in the area of self improvement and career development because that is what so many in our field needs now. This is why the Foundation has focused so much energy and resources on this project.

The most challenging part of the The You Too! Wellness Weekend ™ is enabling participants to actually succeed in making changes in their lives. It is similar to keeping New Year’s resolutions. The intent is there what is lacking is follow-through. We think we have found the answer: The MASTERS process of wellness transformation. The Process requires adopting the right attitude toward wellness in our lives, starting with the intention of changing parts and patterns of our lives. The Process is challenging but well worth the effort because in the end the participants’ lives are transformed into one that is happier, healthier, and more productive. From more than two decades of research in the area of human resources, change required commitment, analysis, planning, and experimentation. The MASTERS Process of Wellness Transformation draws upon this body of research to provide a description (or prescription) of seven building blocks for life transformation. It is not easy, it is not based on faith or social support or anything other than a total commitment on the part of the participant to first recognize that they have neglected themselves too long and, as a result, neglected those they love and serve. Here then are the seven building blocks as related to our participants at the Foundation’s You Too! Wellness Weekend ™.

Building Block One: Motivation
Intention is setting your mind to a particular task. Motivation is the force needed to actually carryout the task. We make a New Year’s resolution as an intention but without the energy and action we never even try to satisfy the intention. Motivation is required not only to set your goals for your Life Plan for Wellness, but to establish a workable plan, carry it out, and fine tune it to actually acquire wellness at the most appropriate level. Thus, the MASTERS Process of Wellness Transformation will never happen unless there is sufficient motivation throughout the process. Thus, I define Motivation in the Process of Wellness Transformation as the intention, commitment, energy, and sustenance to complete the transformation to the most appropriate level.

Building Block Two: Assessment
The next building block, Assessment, requires motivation. It is completing a battery of tests and procedures that result in additional information about how you are functioning now with regard to stress, coping, and social support. It also includes efforts to discover our hopes and dreams about future functioning. This weekend, for example, we had to complete a battery of tests and exercises that provide an assessment of your current and potential functioning. Assessment in some ways is a mirror: providing images of our psychosocial and emotional functioning that, when observed, recognize where improvements are needed.

Thus, I define Assessment in the Process of Wellness Transformation as the gathering of factual and objective information that inform us about where we are now in contrast to where we want to transform that may lead to healthier and happier self.

Building Block Three: Self-reflection
The next building bock in the transformation process toward wellness is self-reflection. Self-Reflection begins after the process of assessment and involves careful consideration of what this information represents to the person in their journey toward transformation. Self-Reflection requires honesty, concentration, and vision. This building block is critical in fairly interpreting the self-assessment in not only identifying the areas that require change and development. Self-Reflection requires recognizing and retaining one’s strengths, satisfactions, and sustenance throughout the transformative process and for the rest of one’s life. Too often we ignore or do not appreciate our positive features – our kindness, compassion, sensitivity, civility, humor – and become transfixed by what we are missing and want to acquire. You now recognize that during this weekend we attempted through various exercises and assignments to facilitate Self-Reflection and to continue the process long after this weekend through your Goal-Monitoring Worksheets. Thus, I define Self-Reflection in the Process of Wellness Transformation as the process of stock-taking about what to keep and what to change to insure life-long wellness.

Building Block Four: Transformation
The fourth building block, transformation, is one of the most important. Transformation reflections lead to constructing the first draft of a Life Plan for wellness and transformation for the rest of one’s life. It is a process by which we make explicit what we perceived in the assessment results and considered in the self-reflection process. It is transforming information and insight into a solid, measureable, useable wellness Life Plan. I define a person’s Life Plan as a never ending, always evolving set of standards and activities that assure wellness for him or her. I define a wellness transformation as a process of shifting from one mind set that lacks wellness to one that embraces and moves toward wellness. I define Transformation Reflections as is the process by which we concentrate on what we need to acquire and retain wellness in contrast to where we are at the time and do this reflecting in a state of peace and calmness (i.e., being centered) rather than under duress distress.

Building Block Five: Evaluating
The fifth building block in the MASTERS process of wellness transformation is Evaluation in the process of seeking, finding, and learning about those life skills that are tools for achieving our Life Plan for wellness. Life skills for wellness I define as those skills that help us become and remain healthy and happy and in a constant state of wellness. These life skills include but are not limited to our ability to select and consume the right (1) physical activities (2) nutrition, (3) stress management and desensitization, (4) spirituality, (5) sense of humor, (6) self awareness and (7) other resources, skills, and techniques to acquire and retain wellness. (see compassion fatigue book eg assertiveness, relationship (friendship) work building/maintineance.) I define Evaluating for wellness as the process of learning about the life skills necessary for acquiring and retaining wellness, learning these skills, and practicing them on a regular basis.

Building Block Six: Reviewing
The sixth building block, Reviewing for Wellness, includes two review processes following the acquisition and practicing the necessary life skills. The first review involves reviewing one’s life until the present time. This Life Review process involves identifying the major life achievements and catastrophes and considering when they happened, why they happened, what one learned from the experience at the time and now. The second review process involves reviewing and (if needed) revising the current draft of one’s Life Plan for Wellness, in light of the newly acquired skills and the results of the Life Review. I define Reviewing for Wellness and Transformation as the dual process of learning from the past with newly acquired life skills and formulating the best Life Plan to complete and retain the transformative process.

Building Block Seven: Studying
The final building block of the MASTERS Wellness Transformation process is Studying and begins when the Wellness Life Plan is implemented. Rarely are plans perfect and most often require some adjustments. What one studies is how the Life Plan is working and any obvious adjustments that are required to make it work better. The longer time goes by in living with the Life Plan for Wellness the fewer the changes and adjustments. However, in the first year, studying the Life Plan will lead to many, many changes and adjustments for peak wellness. I define Studying the Wellness Plan as the process of carefully measuring the benefits and costs of each element of the plan toward improvement and longevity of the Plan.

It is not easy to change. Often life change is reactive rather than proactive. That is, most of us change as a result of a catastrophe – death of a loved one, ill health, and accident or other calamity. Often changing requires the help of others – be they friends, colleagues, or professionals you pay for their services. Some people have little difficulty seeking help. Others find it nearly impossible. While others – for various reasons – rarely consider that they need help. Yet, the You Too! Wellness Weekend ™ transformation requires some form of reaching out and securing help. In subsequent essays I will discuss some stumbling blocks to transformation, including what I have described as the Stress Coping Personalities. I define them as a set of traits and characteristics that are associated with the way stress is perceived and managed with special attention to the way people seek, secure, and use help. Change is never easy, you need a plan. The Green Cross Foundation believes that more than any other education and training for those who work with the traumatized, they need to first turn inward and examine if and how things need to change and a strategy for doing so — for the benefit of everyone.

1Plenary Address at the Green Cross Foundation’s You Too! Wellness Training, St. Simons Island, Georgia. June 29, 2003

2Professor, Florida State University School of Social Work and President of the Foundation.

3Tallahassee, FL … The Foundation was established in 1997 with the mission: Helping the traumatized through research, education and professional development.

Charles Figley is a member of Gift From Within’s Professional Advisory Board