Applying the PBI Formula© to All Professionals

Applying the PBI Formula© to All Professionals

November 2021

The following is a real story from a course graduate who shares their journey after working with PBI Education. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

After her license was suspended, attorney Jessica Crawford lost her job, her career, her significant other, and her self-confidence. It took her more than five years to put herself and her life back together. When she was finally ready to apply for reinstatement, Jessica’s therapist suggested she could use some help explaining to the bar what she had learned and how she would use her new understanding to guard against any future misjudgments or bad decisions. The journey had been so involved, with so many intertwining paths, Jessica didn’t know where to begin. At her therapist’s suggestion, she enrolled in the PBI Ethics and Professionalism course.

The PBI Formula©: A Framework for Understanding One’s Journey

Most of the others in the course were healthcare practitioners, but Jessica quickly realized that the PBI approach applied to anyone facing discipline. It didn’t matter what their profession was — health care, education, or law.

Jessica had always loved math, so she was delighted when the instructor introduced the PBI Formula©. It offered a conceptual framework for understanding what she had experienced.

The PBI Formula©

The first term, Violation Potential (VP), was liberating. Everyone, she learned, has a VP. It doesn’t matter how virtuous or accomplished you are, or if you are a lawyer, clinician, teacher, or other licensed professional with a fiduciary responsibility. Everyone contends with the same constellation of pressures and everyone has a tipping point past which those pressures can be too much for them.

People who have not faced discipline often have a hard time accepting that they have any VP at all. For professionals like Jessica and her fellow course participants, the universality of the concept was humanizing. Their misdeeds didn’t mean they were horrible people, just fallible human beings. The Formula also “reminded us,” Jessica said, “that stuff happens, that all it takes is one life event to throw you off course, so you have to remain vigilant.”

As the instructor walked participants through the remainder of the Formula, Jessica began to see how each term applied to her situation. Each person has their own Risk Factors and Vulnerabilities (external and internal pressures) that interact to increase their VP. For Jessica, who earned a modest salary working for a local non-profit and had two growing boys at home, financial stress was a major risk factor. So was her position as an officer of the organization, which gave her easy access to large sums of money.

Jessica shared another risk with several other people in the course: she devoted so much time and energy to her job that her personal life had withered dramatically. That left her with no way to escape work pressures, relieve stress, or recharge her batteries.

Jessica’s internal pressures, referred to in the PBI Formula as Vulnerabilities, made these Risk Factors far more powerful. (That’s why the Formula has the two terms multiplied rather than just added together.) Like many of her classmates, Jessica had unresolved issues from her childhood. Having grown up in a low-income family, she was intensely eager for professional and financial success. She also realized during her therapy how traumatized she had been as a young girl when her father deserted their family. When her romantic partner walked out on her, it reawakened those painful feelings of abandonment, sending Jessica into a deep depression. As she listened to classmates’ experiences, she saw more clearly than ever before how such emotional turmoil interferes with clear thinking and good decision making.

Accountability, the one force that could have helped lower Jessica’s VP, was almost non-existent where she worked. Oversight was absent to the point that her employer did not realize anything was amiss until Jessica herself disclosed what she had done.

When Professional Identity Is Threatened, One May Feel Lost

Resistance takes many forms. One of the most common is rationalization. Rather than confront her painful situation, Jessica said, she “just tried to power through it,” telling herself she was simply borrowing the money and would pay it back. She was so convinced her actions were benign that she was shocked when she was summarily fired, and her theft reported to both the bar association and the state prosecutor.

“I had no clue,” she says now. “I was so detached from my circumstances that I really thought it was fine.”

After Jessica paid back the money she had stolen, the prosecutor decided not to pursue the case. But the bar association suspended her license for a year and the state supreme court extended the suspension to two years. Appalled at what she had done, Jessica decided she would not even try to regain her license. Her career was over.

Jessica’s depression deepened into near suicidal despair. Without her career, she felt utterly lost. Jessica could barely remember a time when she was not focused on becoming a lawyer. It was all she had ever known; it was who she was. And now it was gone.

Fortunately, she had started seeing a therapist by this point, who helped her start looking at what had happened and what she could do to reclaim her life. Jessica says now, “I think it took like two years to admit to myself, ‘Oh my God, I do not know who I am outside of this profession.” She had no idea what to do, what she wanted to do or even what she might be good at.

Discovering One’s Authentic Self

To make ends meet, Jessica took a temporary job as a substitute teacher. One day, the assistant principal stopped by to observe her class. She was so impressed by Jessica’s teaching that she called her into her office and encouraged her to consider a career change. “She told me, ‘I don’t think you realize how great you are at teaching,’” recalls Jessica.

Jessica took advantage of an accelerated training program and began a job teaching math, a subject she had always enjoyed. School administrators continued to praise her work, and gradually Jessica began to realize not just how good a teacher she was, but how much she loved teaching. In fact, upon reflection, Jessica realized she had always enjoyed teaching. She had tutored kids in math and law students studying for bar exams. People in her church had often told her how much they enjoyed the Sunday school classes she taught. Jessica had found not just a new career, but what she refers to as “her authentic self.”

She also came to see how she could combine her passion for teaching with her knowledge of the law. She decided to go back for her law license not for the money or prestige but to teach minority entrepreneurs, struggling to realize their dreams, what she knew about intellectual property.

PBI Extended Follow-up Seminars Prepare Professionals to Move Forward

With feedback from faculty and classmates, Jessica created a Personalized Protection Plan© that detailed what she would do to lessen her Vulnerabilities, reduce her Risk Factors, and increase her Accountability. The instructor explained that Protection Plans were meant to be “living, breathing documents” that would need to be revisited on a regular basis. Jessica schedules periodic updates to ensure she has the support system and resources she needs to constructively and appropriately address whatever is happening in her life and career.

After completing the PBI Ethics and Professionalism course, Jessica enrolled in PBI’s Maintenance and Accountability Seminars (MAS), an extended follow-up course. During these weekly conference calls with other PBI graduates and faculty, Jessica deepened her understanding of her own violation and what she had learned about herself and her responsibilities since then. As she laid out what she planned to say to the bar association, other MAS participants offered hard-won advice and constructive criticism. Over the weeks, Jessica solidified what she planned to say to the bar. Listening to a few participants who were still near the beginning of their journeys also helped her realize how far she had come since her violation.  With the insights, her Protection Plan, and the confidence she had gained through her course, Jessica was fully prepared to present her case.

Today, Jessica teaches math full time and, in the evenings, works with minority entrepreneurs on their intellectual property issues. She says she is happier than she has been in a very long time. Jessica has not forgotten how agonizing her journey has been, but she is grateful for where it has taken her. “I mean this whole experience has transformed my entire life for the better, made me a better person,” she says. “So yeah, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but at the end of the day, I am grateful, because the outcome for me has been so amazing.”

This story is part of a collection of graduate success stories in celebration of our 20 Year Anniversary. Click here to learn more about what we are doing to celebrate our 20th year of providing impactful education.

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