Kennesaw, GA

The Most Thought-Provoking Question a Professor Has Asked Me

Zachary Walston

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“Whose am I?”

This was the primary question provided me prior to speaking to a group of graduate students at Kennesaw State University. Every year, Dr. Calloway, the professor of the leadership course, invited local leaders to share their stories for the benefit of the students. This would be my first of several opportunities to speak to his class. 

To prepare, Dr. Calloway provides his invited speakers with a couple of suggested questions or speaking points. I pondered his question “whose am I” for some time prior to building my slide deck and running through many rehearsals. 

How would you answer the question?

Set priorities and maintain them

In reviewing my notes for the presentation, this is what I wrote at the top of the page:

“Who do I represent? My family, PT Solutions, the profession of physical therapy, healthcare”

My interpretation of the question was to evaluate my influence and connections. Rather than the question “who am I” — Christian, husband, father, friend, leader, physical therapist (in that order) — the question of “whose” implied a focus on more than myself alone. This interpretation has not changed, but the intricacy has grown.

“Action expresses priorities” — Mohandas Ghandi

My core values are faith and growth. My faith is my foundation and the filter for everything in my life. It modulates every interaction. It is far from a perfectly applied filter, as I succumb to temptation and my emotions often, but I aim to stay true to my beliefs every day.

Family is next. My first responsibility is to my wife. She is my partner in life.

Following her are my children. At the time of the first presentation, I had only my son. With the addition of my daughter, the gap between father and friend has widened.

You could put the list “whose” into tiers: faith/identity, family, community, career. It is a short and simple list that helps me prioritize actions.

The year prior to being asked, “Whose am I?”, I ran a region of 10 clinics. I was treating, teaching, and managing from 6 am to 8 pm. I was grinding to excel my career. Our practice was — and still is — fast growing and full of opportunity. I intended to seize the opportunity, fulfilling a desire for personal and professional growth. Then something changed: my son was born.

I didn’t want my son to grow up with a weekend-only father. This is where my priorities were my guiding principle. I took a different career path, one that pulled my out of operations and afforded me more flexibility with my schedule.

Did the move cost my career and earnings potential in the long run? Perhaps. Was it the right decision for me? Absolutely.

To achieve personal and professional fulfillment and provide for my family, I still need to work my ass off and occasionally travel. But I never let work become the priority. The moment work becomes more important than my faith, family, or community, I know it is time for a career shift.

What are your core values?

“A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important. Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them.” — Brené Brown

My core value of growth is driven my two principles: silver linings and overload principle.

I look for the positive in anything, even if the only positive is “I know not to do that ever again,”. There is no benefit of ruminating on the past. Learn from past experiences and apply it to future events.

The overload principle comes from exercise science. It states one must continue to challenge the body — through a combination of intensity, duration, or type of exercise — to experience adaptations. The only way I will continue to grow as a person is to challenge myself. To understand how to adapt, I must constantly reflect on past actions.

In it is endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. — Marcus Aurelius

The growth value is how I transitioned from a staff physical therapist with no discernible interest in research to the National Director of Research at one of the largest physical therapy practices in the United States. 

Growth is not simply a measure of title or compensation; growth is my development as a Christian, a husband, a father, a friend, a leader, and a physical therapist. Learning, whether it be through books, podcasts, research manuscripts, or conversations with a mentor, is an everyday focus. Learning through action, such as learning to write better, is part of the growth process as well. 

In grade school, I had to be bribed to read a book, and when my mother — a published novelist and former magazine editor — edited my school essays, the document would return with twice the amount of red ink as black. Today, I have to remember to put away my books prior to getting the stink eye from my wife. Apparently, it is frowned upon to read in the presence of company — never mind the fact everyone is looking at their phones 75% of the time.

In addition to the learning and training, I have gathered valuable experiences that prepared me for future phases of my career, even if they were paths I never intended to follow.

I never wanted to be a researcher. Now, I am the National Director of Quality and Research for PT Solutions Physical Therapy.

In high school and college, I vowed to avoid any career that involved sitting behind a desk. Now, roughly 75% of my job — and 100% of my side hustles — involve sitting behind a desk.

Opportunity is partly to blame for the shifts in career path. Changing goals and priorities are the primary reasons, however. The changes do not occur on a whim. They are the result of changing circumstances — such as the birth of a child — interacting with firm core values.

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I am a physical therapist, researcher, and educator whose mission is to challenge health misinformation. You will find articles about health, fitness, medical care, psychology, and professional development on my site. As the husband of a real estate agent, you will also find real estate and housing tips.

Atlanta, GA
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