Turn Flow Into Meaning: Do what you love, and do it as much as possible. Flow for you is any activity when time ceases to exist and all that matters is what you are currently doing. You are fully immersed in it, and you are in the zone if you will. It should come naturally and just be an extension of who you are. Do that as much as you can in life….then make it bigger than yourself. Take something you love, your passion, your gifts and give it away. Find a way to turn your flow into meaning!
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Wes Cain. Wes is the President and Founder of The Becoming: Counseling and Wellness, PLLC, a community of practitioners that offer mental health services to individuals, couples, families, groups, and organizations. As a former collegiate athlete, he also co-founded The Becoming Athletics with the mission of helping athletes live their best lives, increase awareness around athlete mental health and wellness, and make a positive impact in the culture of sports. With an M.S. in Accounting and an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Wes is a former CPA, a former college instructor, a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, a Nationally Certified Counselor, and an Integrative Health and Wellness Coach, who has worked in various industries including wealth management, education, sports and entertainment, and behavioral healthcare.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Absolutely. The truth is I have no idea how I got here. I’ve always been a bit jealous of people who knew exactly what path they wanted to go down and had clarity around the specific role they wanted to play in life. I consider my personality type to be more like a Swiss Army Knife, as I have a lot of different interests and passions, so this has all been a process for me. The big thing for me was just continuing to say “yes,” even when it hurt, so that I could meet life halfway, explore various opportunities, and find ways to use ALL of me. I call our company The Becoming for a reason, as in we are all in the process of “Becoming” who we are meant to be. Now I have a career that is really just an extension of who I am as a person. It’s really cool, and I’m grateful!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As a therapist, it’s hard to separate me from the headspace of reflecting on the human experience, so what comes to mind for me is more of an interesting concept that I experienced in my career rather than a single story. With all the various career pursuits, roles, and settings, I learned a ton about myself and about people in general. It was really fascinating (and hard) for me to see life through so many different lenses and to see myself reflected back to me by so many types of people, depending on my circumstances as I tried new things. When you change jobs/careers/industries, you shift roles and go from being a student to expert, intern to executive, and back again. That being said, I have been at the “bottom” and the “top” multiple times now and those experiences are very different. In those various settings, I have been a member of the majority, then a member of the minority, in power, then with no power. What I learned from those different experiences is that I was still me, no matter how I was being treated or perceived by others based on my title, role, or position in the pecking order. Whether I was an intern in this company or the president of another, I learned that I don’t want to get too high or low, be too elastic or impressionable, or let external circumstances and opinions dictate how I perceive myself or life. I want to believe in my own truth and reflection.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I remember when I was finishing my Master’s in Accounting, I was being interviewed for my first “real” job by one of the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young. I remember they asked me what my five-year plan was, and I told them that I only wanted to do this for a bit while I pursued a career in comedic acoustic rock. That didn’t go over so well if you could imagine haha. What I should have told them was, “Do you know how to make God laugh…by revealing your plans!” In all seriousness though, getting my accounting degree and having that experience really served me in building my business to where it is today. I still don’t believe in the five-year plan though…who came up with that ridiculous question anyway?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many remarkable people to thank and reference here it is overwhelming. I am beyond fortunate to have been blessed with so many great mentors, family, friends, colleagues, pets, etc., and I truly believe it takes a village. That “village” has been with me every step of the way and has helped shape this company and the person that I am today. I truly believe that you are only as good as the people around you, and I am proud of who I am surrounded by. Thank you to those who have been a sounding board, affirmed me when I took risks, picked me up when I was down, supported me, believed in me, pushed me, been patient with me, and modeled what it means to be a good person. I love you all.
Now if I “have” to say one person….it’s Mike Cain. Dad, you are what it means to be a loving, good, integrated man. To me you represent masculinity at its most ideal and evolved form, one where you can cry during every movie and listen to Joni Mitchell! Watching you build your business (LBMC) and conduct yourself with integrity, humility, and respect for EVERYONE no matter what, has made a profound impact on who I am and what I do in my life. Remember those bracelets that said “WWJD” (What Would Jesus Do)? I used to say “WWMCD” (What Would Mike Cain Do). Now I say “WWWD” (What Would Wes Do). Thank you, Dad.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
A huge part of our company’s mission is not only to serve our clients but to serve our clinicians as well. As I went through the education, training, and licensure process, as well as worked in the field in agency and private practice settings, I felt inspired to help create a paradigm shift in the system of mental health. In my opinion, the mental health field is undervalued and still somewhat stigmatized, and mental health professionals in agency settings are poorly paid, burned out, and often times not able to take care of themselves, thus not able to provide quality care for their clients. Because of this, many practitioners leave to start private practices, but some have issues securing clients, running a business, or feeling isolated. The Becoming tries to be a sweet spot between agency and private practice by offering community, autonomy, balance, a referral network, business services, and financial upside. So my advice is to try and break the system, create something, or join something that gives you the lifestyle that you need to be happy, healthy, and to make the most out of your gifts. Plus, it is also worth mentioning that this work is already inherently very challenging as you have to confront your own “stuff” when working with clients, and compassion fatigue can set in, which is why self-care is even more important in this field. The “system” will talk about self-care, but often times fails to truly prioritize or implement it, which means we as practitioners have to find ways to support one another in walking the walk around taking care of ourselves, finding balance, setting boundaries, not settling, and not letting our careers be an obstacle to health and happiness but rather a catalyst.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I think the first thing you do is surround yourself with great people. When we are considering adding another clinician to our organization, my team and I are looking for candidates that have, first and foremost, solid character, values, and a strong moral compass. Then we are looking for people who are highly competent (especially in their specialty areas), flexible/adaptable, autonomous, and low maintenance. We want self-starters, but those who also value and support each other and our community.
Secondly, I think you prioritize helping the members of your team reach their individual goals and dreams and then align your organizational efforts around what they are passionate about pursuing. I feel like I have an obligation to support our therapists to thrive personally and in their careers. I don’t get too caught up in long-term organizational goals, but rather the health and happiness of our group/people. When the goals, passions, strengths, and dreams of successful individuals guide our organization, then the organization becomes a result and reflection of that.
Third, I think ultimately it is about Love and Respect. I want our team to know that it is not about me, or titles, or roles, etc. I want everyone to have a voice, to feel a sense of power in this, and to have authorship over their own careers and this company’s narrative. It is about Serving each other and our clients. Using our strengths, passions, and experiences together, through an organizational platform, we can make a bigger difference!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Let Go of Perfection: One of my favorite teachers, Richard Rohr, says that “The greatest enemy of ordinary daily goodness and joy is not imperfection, but the demand for some supposed perfection or order.” I don’t know how we got the idea that we were intended to be perfect, or that our worth is built around what we do versus who we are. Is there really anything in life that is perfect? If you look hard enough you can always find something wrong, and I am still learning that it is ok to fail, make mistakes, to see the good in something versus always trying to “fix” the wrong. Breaking this programming is a work in process for me and probably always will be!
- Forgive: Wow is this a tough one. This is a complicated process, and one that needs our own effort but a lot of patience as well. This requires a lot of compassion, tact, discernment, humility, strength, support, etc. I’ve been on both sides of the pendulum with this concept, being “too quick” to forgive (not discerning enough/lack of boundaries) or holding onto resentments too long (too discerning/too strict of a boundary), or trying to force a square peg in a round hole with someone or avoiding a person entirely. It is so hard to get this down “perfectly.” I would say that we all have our unique situations and personality types, so nothing is really universal about this except that we are all better off and better versions of ourselves without holding onto baggage. If you buy into accepting imperfection then this is way easier, for yourself and others, and if you can get to a point where you are grateful for the lessons learned, then you are on your way…and if you are not there, that’s ok too! Also, just to be clear, I’m mainly talking about the internal process of forgiveness, not the external actions of reconciliation or not, which is a different topic altogether.
- Redefine What Success Means to You: Our country is all about “winning.” I personally believe that millions of Americans suffer from anxiety or depression because we are consumed by it. Whether it is the pressure to perform, the need for perfection, or the external reward that dictates our inner state and self-worth, nothing is ever enough. We need to take the time and discover what “winning” or success really is for us as individuals. We have to think critically, establish our values, discover our purpose, and pursue our truth. In doing this, we build upon our internal validation, intrinsic value, and we learn to be happy with and love ourselves. Our motivation in life needs to be love and purpose, not because we are “never satisfied.” Then we need to do something with it…
- Do Your Inner Work: They say that your outer world reflects your inner self, but we spend way more time sculpting or fixing our external circumstances in our attempts to be happy than we do look within. Like Austin Powers says, “Wherever you go, there you are” we can’t escape ourselves no matter what our job is, who we are with, where we live, etc. so why don’t we focus more on that? We need to reflect, spend time alone, hang out with ourselves, and get to know ourselves better. We need to realize our beauty and face our darkness, and then learn to love it all. Carl Jung says, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Who or What is running your life? Do your inner work and find out, and the truth will set you free.
- Turn Flow Into Meaning: Do what you love, and do it as much as possible. Flow for you is any activity when time ceases to exist and all that matters is what you are currently doing. You are fully immersed in it, and you are in the zone if you will. It should come naturally and just be an extension of who you are. Do that as much as you can in life….then make it bigger than yourself. Take something you love, your passion, your gifts and give it away. Find a way to turn your flow into meaning!
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
Prominent Developmental Psychologist, Erik Erikson, believed that we have certain tasks in front of us depending upon our age and what life stage we are in. The psychosocial stage associated with retirement age is labeled as Generativity versus Stagnation. To me, he is saying the task of someone just retired is to give back or find meaning and purpose in nurturing or enriching others. The identity work needs to be done as they get closure on their career identities, but transcending that by giving back seems to be a helpful tool for optimal wellness. So maybe volunteer, get involved in your community, teach or coach younger generations, be open to new experiences, spend quality time with loved ones, and stay connected.
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
Some themes that come to mind are related to self-esteem, socialization, technology, hobbies, autonomy, and critical thinking. This is a really complex time for everyone, and they’re probably isn’t a clear and easy pathway here so it should involve a lot of patience and grace. I have a niece who is now 14 and a nephew who is 12, and I would definitely need to customize my advice to them based on a lot of things, including social factors, gender roles, and personality styles, but here are a few general ideas I would say to this age group: 1. Take a break from technology and get outside in nature 2. Learn to have personal, intimate, face to face conversations and connections 3. Start asking the question, what is this teaching me? 4. Be ok with not knowing or feeling confused 5. Learn to trust and think for yourself (not all those adult figures have it figured out) 6. Find a hobby or activity you love 7. Love yourself through it all and find your worth within yourself…Do not rely on others to give that to you or comments, likes, grades, performances, etc. For parents, I would say, anytime you want to give your opinion about something related to your teen, maybe consider asking them what they think first. That way they learn to think for themselves, trust their own opinions, and rely less on the approval of others.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
There are so many books and authors I want to reference, but the theme that keeps popping up for me is the same…pursuing who you are meant to be and your life purpose. I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho a few years back, and it inspired me to pursue my “Personal Legend.” It describes how we have an obligation to realize this, to work hand in hand with the universe to achieve it, then to do something with it that is greater than ourselves.
Another book with a similar message for me was Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. His book describes his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and his primary means for survival was having a purpose or a “Why.” In one of the book’s central quotes, he cites Nietzsche, who wrote, “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
I feel if you identify that purpose (which should be a natural extension of who you are), believe in it, and set that intention, everything will fall into place as you pursue it…and if it doesn’t, it’ll be worth it anyway! It is about the responsibility of using yourself and your gifts fully, in a way that honors life. It’s “flow” turned into Meaning.
The Becoming is currently my “Why.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is a tough question! Hhmm, conceptually some areas that come to mind are protecting our Earth, improving healthcare and education, tackling homelessness, finding more ways to really and deeply connect, and cultivating more health and wellness in our daily lives. Maybe a strategic move could be to develop a “good deed” fund, system, and tracking app that people can opt in to. “Good deeds” could be anything from helping a neighbor, picking up a piece of trash, telling a joke/making someone laugh, listening, eating something healthy, reaching a threshold of physical activity, reading a book….basically anything that ultimately serves the greater good. We could have a fund and a reward system where you could earn money based on the points you get. Have a leaderboard, make it a competition (because we love that), and distribute payments accordingly. Reward the right things! Also, an obviously biased idea would be to get creative on how we can reach more people with mental and emotional health services to heal society, which would prevent a lot of side effects. Can you imagine a world that is more mentally and emotionally healthy? I wouldn’t have a job!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
John Wooden (among others) said that, “Things turn out best for those who make the best out of the way things turn out.” As a young athlete, I used to naively believe in the “make it happen” philosophy, which I feel is limited. It implies that I am in complete control of the outcome, which can result in narcissistic and controlling thoughts and behaviors, as well as depression and anxiety after Life does what IT wants. It’s a false expectation and a slippery slope. I had to get knocked around by the storm or the ocean, and while I had a pretty good boat, there’s no stopping it. I needed to see that. I needed to fail, to make mistakes, to be truly humbled and powerless. I think John Wooden’s quote is saying that you need to do your part, build your best boat, and pursue your purpose, but meet life halfway with what it is teaching you. Action and Acceptance are both equally important…and like the Alchemist, take what life gives you and turn it into gold.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
The Becoming Counseling — https://www.facebook.com/thebecomingcounseling/
The Becoming Athletics
Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/BecomingAthletics
Twitter — https://twitter.com/BecomeAthletics
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/becomingathletics
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!