Daniel Catalaa

Professional Development

(Authored by Daniel Catalaa on January 13th, 2009)
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Note: This commencement speech was given by Daniel Catalaa on January 14, 2009, in San Francisco, California, during the California Pacific Medical Center professional development graduation ceremony.


Dear classmates and colleagues,

I was asked to address you today to tell you how the educational programs and classes available at CPMC have positively impacted my professional life. But I want to do more than that; I want to tell you the story of what happens when an internal desire to grow is met by an external environment that promotes development.

Sometimes the individual is ready for growth but the environment isn't, like a seed in the dead of winter. Other times the environment is ready but the individual isn't. That's when a horse lead to water just stares at it, but drinks none of it. And other times we get a convergence, an appointment with destiny.

Crash
My professional journey really began 7 years ago, and, if you had met me back then in May of 2001, you would not have recognized me. I was sad, depressed, and felt defeated. I was returning after a 4 year stay in Florida back to San Francisco during what was one of the most trying times in my life. I had just dropped out of a Ph.D. program in Cell and Molecular Biology. I had divorced my wife, broken up with my girlfriend, I was leaving behind a group of close friends, and I was broke. I felt burned out professionally, and I was abandoning a career in research where I had invested 12 years. I had no idea what I would do next.

Reflection and Realizations
So, as a grown man in my 30's, I moved back to San Francisco to live with my mother. I knew that I had crashed, and notwithstanding the mental haze I was in, I just had to find out why. Trust me, nothing gets you thinking faster then having to live again with one of your parents :o). How could a smart, talented, positive person end up like this? After deep reflection I realized that I had defied one of the cardinal rules in science that states "do not ignore the data". This is in reference to a human tendency to ignore information that contradicts our current beliefs. I was blinded by the prestige of the degree that I was pursuing and the external approval that it would surely have garnered. I had ignored my exceedingly social nature and created a situation where I spent most of my days in a laboratory peering at Eppendorf tubes and Petri dishes instead of interacting with people. I had suppressed the inner voice that clamored for more creative work and settled for the endless repetition of the same experiment under slightly different conditions. The monotony of this routine was as compelling as collecting bridge tolls while watching slightly different cars driving through. My occupation was mostly disconnected with my true nature, and this happened because I stopped asking whether I was happy or felt fulfilled. I confused what people wanted for me with what was good for me. Also, in this case, my intellectual intelligence worked against me because it allowed me to make steady progress climbing up a professional ladder only to find out that it was leaning up against the wrong building. The main reasons that I grossly veered off-course was that I was operating from a low level of self-awareness and, in that state, I let things proceed on auto-pilot and I failed to make the necessary adjustments that would have engaged, honored, and integrated my true nature into my professional life.

Experimentation and Self discovery
What followed Florida was 2 years of experimentation where I took odd jobs. I worked a graveyard shift doing international customer service, I did tech support for a biotech company, and I worked with technical trainers from Silicon Valley to set up seminar venues. I was not completely happy with these jobs, but they were a better match. Now I was working with people, instead of things. And that was my first realization: I prefer to work with people than to work with things. In my free time I went camping on my own to Northern California, I composed music and sang at open mikes in San Francisco, and I took German lessons at City College. I engaged in these activities reluctantly because, as a former scientist, I was used to doing experiments, but not being the experiment. However, that is exactly what happened. The tables had turned, and now I was the mouse, the rabbit, being tested by life. I began for the first time to actively and consciously observe myself.

Eventually, by using my knowledge of foreign languages, I started interpreting and assisted people with different nationalities and cultural backgrounds to understand each other and converse. This was the second realization: I prefer to communicate than to do physical work. Once I discovered that I could get paid just to talk, there was noooo going back :o). Gradually this experimentation lead to progressively better results, including coming on board at CPMC as a Certified Health Care Interpreter.

Growth at CPMC
Early last year I had been making significant strides in my private life, getting my finances in order, becoming more healthy, focusing on positive thoughts, reading professional development books, organizing events, and inspiring my friends to seek more out of life and to reach for higher goals. Interpreting was losing it's appeal because it was an inadequate medium to bring to life and carry over these new skills to the work environment. In my mind a transformation had taken place, and this was my third realization: I had began to see myself as a leader and in consequence started acting like one. This new understanding prompted me to go see Laura Gooler, my current supervisor, and I asked her for a benefited position in management where I could boss around people :o). She smiled and told me "Daniel, that is not possible right now". Well, my heart sank. But then she went on to say "We do have a project you could help us out with". That project was the little opening, the crack in the door, all I needed to keep my hopes alive and to grow in this new direction.

I then found myself in an awkward professional limbo having declared my dissatisfaction with interpreting but not having a new role to transition to. It is during this time when I got an email from Emily Garnett advertising professional development classes at CPMC. I pounced on the opportunity and signed up for all 12 of them, like: "Project Management", "Conflict Resolution", and "How to be a Super Communicator". At the classes I was very enthusiastic, the first to arrive, the last to leave, always raising my hand. It got to the point where, when the instructors needed a volunteer, they would say "No, not you. Anyone else. Anyone. Anybody." :o) While completing the coursework fate stepped in and my former supervisor, Judy Lee, after 2 decades of service, retired and I was promoted to Coordinator for Interpreter Services.

Big Picture
When an external environment encourages development and it is matched by an individual's internal desire to grow, that is when the horse drinks copiously from the water laid before it, when the seed sprouts and dashes for the sky above it. This happened when Laura gave me the authority and resources to work on projects that extended beyond my traditional duties. It happened when Emily organized and advertised professional development classes. It happened when Wanda, the head of our department, created the supervisory position that I currently hold. And it will happen again as I identify within my team our future leaders and help them to grow.

It is beautiful to be on this journey where you get lost, and then you find yourself, where you fail, and then you succeed, where you doubt, and then you witness your greatness and the greatness of others come to life. Thank you CPMC for growing with me, I hope that we will have a long journey together. And now I leave you with these words of guidance: Your development is a process that you can actively direct and when you do so, have the courage to make choices that are coherent with your true authentic self.

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.
Grow. Grow. Grow.
Thank you.