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Steven J. Chen & Associates

Executive Excellence Coaching.

My Love Of Learning Is Rooted In Deep Family Tradition

In 1931 a tiny Chinese woman stepped down from a train, the last leg of her travels halfway around the world. My grandmother came from Shanghai for her studies at Michigan State University (MSU)and met my grandfather.  She was the the first female Chinese student to attend MSU- and she and grandpa had a natural affinity. Imagine the kind of courage it took these two young people to travel so far from everything they knew to study in a foreign country, then meet and connect.

Their courtship and marriage began a long family tradition of erudition, love of learning, and the pursuit of excellence. My father’s father had made his way to Michigan from Shanghai, and became a chemistry professor who wrote ten books and spoke five languages. Grandmother bore him six children, and was Mother of the Year in 1964. Of their children, three went to medical school and became physicians; one got a PhD and worked at the National Institutes of Health; and two of his daughters married physicians.

Of Course, I Was Going To Be A Medical Doctor

My mom and dad met in medical school. He was an ophthalmologist who did cataract surgery, and owned a medical practice and an optical shop. From the time I was 12 or 13, I worked in the shop as an optician, learning a strong work ethic. He taught me to value work and to understand the importance of working. He was very insistent about the necessity of doing everything within your power to make the customer feel you have provided exceptional service.My parents were very lively and social, and entertained every weekend. Inevitably, the question came up, “Steven, what will you be when you grow up?” Of course I was going to be a medical doctor. From the earliest time, that was clearly my path. I always said, “I’m going to be a doctor.”

College Brought a Crisis Of Confidence

Obviously, my family valued education and learning, and I was always encouraged to work hard and pursue learning opportunities. I was a good student, near or at the top of my classes. Imagine the crisis of confidence I had in college when the hard sciences-required for pre-med-were  difficult and a struggle for me. I’d been high school Valedictorian, voted most likely to succeed, and went to college on a scholarship. Yet, for first time in my life, I started getting B’s in the sciences-and I had to work much harder in those classes.

As the accomplished first born, I was very much a perfectionist. I felt like a failure for getting a 3.0 grade average in sciences, even though all my other courses were 4.0. This brought on a crisis of confidence as I realized I did not want to be struggling all my life. All my circle of friends were pre-med, and together we’d pursued the dream of a medical career through college. However, at 22, I had my own questions about what I wanted to do with my life.

A Serious Setback Devastated Me…

When I took the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), I did not do well and did not score high enough to be given an offer to medical school. You can imagine how devastating this would be to a young man watching all his friends make their plans to go on to medical school. However-as is frequently true in life-this misfortune started me on a path of helping others understand and pursue their true gifts.

I had taken a psychology class in my senior year and had loved it, and was fascinated by the subject. It was easy to learn, and came naturally to me. I understood it in a way that hadn’t happened with those pre-med sciences. Once I discovered that I could take a PhD and be a doctor of psychology, I wanted to make the shift to the psychology track. There was one obstacle in the way-my perception of my father’s expectations for me.

…And Set Me On A New Path

Finally, I told my father. Struggling with my fears of disappointing him, I told him that I did not want to go into medicine. You can imagine how afraid I was to disappoint my father after all those years. He was a very wise and loving man, and said, “That’s OK you can do whatever you want.” Those words released me from my self-made prison and set me on the adventure of human discovery I’ve lived. They also informed the essence of my work helping clients work to their strengths.

I finished my BA in Washington state and moved on to Boise State in Idaho, and started taking business and psychology courses, completing a B.A. in Psychology. Then, I moved on to the College of Idaho and completed most coursework for a Masters in Psychology. I went to Brigham Young University and completed my PhD in Psychology there.

Armed With My Doctorate of Psychology, I Began To Study Business

I began to be intensely curious and interested in applying Psychology to Business and studied for an MBA at Westminster College in Salt Lake. I completed all the coursework that applied to my areas of interest, yet still thirsted for more knowledge. I dived into neuropsychology and medical psychology because I wanted to understand how the brain works, and how that information could help my clients get the best from their potential.

A Defining Moment Occurred At A Psychology Conference

My professional life took another turn in 1994 at an American Psychological Association (APA) conference. I was perusing the after-hours events for something that looked interesting, and found a breakout session about Consulting Psychology. As I walked in the door of the meeting, I was greeted by the President of what was then known as Division 13 (one of 19 charter divisions-specialty subgroups-in the APA). I casually asked him, “What is Consulting Psychology?”

The answer he gave me completely changed my life, and I felt that I had finally found the professional “home” I had been training for. He said to me, “We work with CEO’s, Presidents, and other business leaders and help them improve their lives and the lives of their employees by making their businesses more effective.” Instantly, I said, “That’s what I want to do!” I knew that the melding together of the disciplines of psychology and business could create highly effective and efficient processes to help business leaders.

Everything I Had Learned To That Point Had Trained Me For Consulting Psychology

Suddenly my life of learning made perfect sense in the context of working with leaders to foster their unique excellence and effectiveness through business. In those days, there wasn’t yet a degree program in Consulting Psychology. It was more a matter of discovering the needed expertise and acquiring it. It didn’t take any encouraging to get me to join Division 13 that night, and begin to immerse myself in every bit of learning available through them.When I got home from the conference, I started doing research about Consulting Psychology. I discovered that there were three areas: the individual, team and organizational level. Over the next few years, I trained through classes, and going to conferences both within and outside of APA. In my mind, I basically got a degree in Consulting Psychology.

Consulting Psychology Is The Perfect Mix of People-Oriented Applied Business

At last, there was a way for me to merge the two areas that lit me on fire, and to fire up my clients’ results. The business expertise I loved most-strategy, case studies, best practices, problem analysis and solving-was also where my strongest gifts were. Combining that with my psychological training, clinical experience, and understanding of neuropsychology (how the brain works) gave me very powerful tools to offer to corporate leaders.

It became obvious that my own strengths of research, investigation, exploration, and analysis naturally generated alternatives for organizational issues. Looking at new challenges and opportunities has always gotten me excited. One of the biggest thrills for me in this work is being able to develop a variety of solutions with my clients, and help them work out the best solution from among those alternatives.

My Career Hasn’t Been Only Studying-I’ve Applied That Knowledge

This page may seem to focus mainly on my education and training, but don’t misunderstand that emphasis. Alongside all that learning, I was constantly taking action as well.

To give you a brief summary, please read about my experience.


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