I grew up in a small seaside town in Massachusetts. The youngest of six kids, I was fortunate to be raised in a close-knit, loving, board-game-playing family. My childhood home was full of fun and unconditional love. Within this happiness-promoting environment, the powerful values of hard work, resilience, gratitude, and service to others were instilled in me. My parents taught, through their actions and words, that it was important to make time and find ways to help people. To encourage. Uplift. The memories of accompanying my mom in frequently making bag lunches to hand out at our local soup kitchen will stay with me forever.
My family also embraced athletics. I played Varsity girls’ golf and rowed crew in high school. It was also in high school when I wrote my first “self-help book.” It was the final assignment for the very first psychology class I’d ever taken. I loved that class. I was fascinated by psychological concepts and how they could be used. But I had no idea when I signed up for that class, that it would ultimately direct the course of my life.
Indeed, it was the reaction of my psychology teacher to my final project (a long essay, I entitled “The Journey”—my sixteen-year-old-self’s version of a guidance-providing, self-improvement-focused manuscript) that changed everything. He pulled me aside at the end of class and said in a clear, steady manner, “Mary, this is really good. You need to go get a Ph.D. You go get a Ph.D. and you put your name on this. People will read this. You can help people.” That was all it took. With my parents as inspiration, I always knew I wanted to help people—now I knew my “how.”
So, I earned my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Florida, with a specialty in Health Psychology. It was there I learned how to use psychology, science-backed treatments, and my love of learning and helping others to assist patients in becoming happier and healthier.
After my time in Florida, I returned home to the Northeast and completed my internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the VA Boston Healthcare System with appointments at Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine. I became a licensed provider in 2008 and spent many years helping clients at a private group practice in Boston’s Financial District.
High-achieving, anxious patients graced the cushions of my therapy couch every day in Boston. Overwhelmed attorneys, dedicated doctors with overextended schedules, burnt-out analysts and accountants, successful executives with failing family relationships, and chronically-on-edge law school and med school students—individuals who were driven, determined and also riddled with stress, self-doubt, and worry. They struggled with unhelpful self-talk and behavioral habits that kept them stuck, mired in anxiety. I call it: high-achiever’s anxiety.
Utilizing my expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT; an empirically-supported treatment for anxiety and depression), I helped my patients with overcoming their high-achiever’s anxiety. I taught them how to conquer the cognitive errors that were fueling their anxiety (I found three specific self-talk traps that were essential to target). Also, I showed them how to optimize their lifestyles and finally achieve better work-life balance and self-care despite busy schedules.
After years of teaching the same science-based strategies and skills to my chronically-stressed, goal-oriented patients, I thought: There must be a book that covers this to recommend to them. But there wasn’t. No single book contained information specifically tailored for high achievers with ways to slay negative self-talk and integrate self-care into already jam-packed workweeks. So, I decided to write one.
Soon after, in 2016, I moved to California and started writing. I also found as I began treating local patients, that my ambitious, anxious West Coast clients battled the same self-talk and lifestyle issues that plagued my productivity-loving East Coast patients. It further motivated me to do the work, persevere, and finish my book. Because I knew my book could reach and help many more people, a larger audience of anxious high achievers—everywhere.
I’m excited to share that my self-improvement book, The Happy High Achiever, is now finished. So, just as I assisted my high-achieving, anxious patients in powerfully changing their lives for the better, now countless readers can become happy high achievers as well.
I am back on the East Coast, working at LifeStance Health. I consider each day a gift as I help patients find healthy ways to manage their stress and anxiety.
A few last notes about me:
I meditate for 20 minutes every morning. (I learned Transcendental Meditation in California. Cliché sounding perhaps. But it’s absolutely been one of the best investments of my time and energy I’ve ever made in my life.) I also enjoy: music, art, chocolate, nature, dancing, flip flops, books, green tea, travel, time with friends and family, spontaneously problem solving while in the shower, and spending time near the ocean. Writing, being grateful, staying connected with others, and consistent self-care keep me moving forward every day.
My main goal in life is to help as many people as possible. Encouraging others (to overcome challenges, create excellent lives they enjoy, know their own inherent worth, be happier and healthier, be sustainably high achieving, be their best selves) is my superpower. My personal motto is: Just focus on what I can do to make the world a better place—today—now.