Be on the lookout for Behavior Change Secret Agents in your life. I had one for 40 years by the name of Frank W. Tate. I didn’t call him a Behavior Change Secret Agent back then. I called him my close friend. In truth, all close friends are secret agents in the way they infiltrate our toughest defenses, surprise us with their honesty and support and create a lasting influence on our lives that we often cannot fathom.

Those of you working in justice services, addiction treatment and healthcare fields certainly recognize the important role friends play in helping individuals through the stages of personal change. Moving away from relationships that encourage self-destructive behaviors toward relationships that support a healthier and more responsible lifestyle is one of the keys to successful outcomes.

It is rare that I apply this logic to my own life, which brings me back to Frank Tate. Frank was approaching 50 when he became my professor at The Hiram Scott College. We were close friends for nearly four decades. Early on, he told me I was worthy and capable. In later years, he encouraged me to be humble and open to diversity. In return, I always hounded him for being too trusting, too generous and overweight. (Guess who got the best in that exchange!)

In many ways, Frank shaped my life. He gave me an appreciation for psychology, literature and higher education. He took me to dinner with Carl Rogers, demanded I pick up Gwendolyn Brooks from the airport and drove me to Wahoo, Nebraska to meet George Beadle.

Too often I take my friends for granted. I expect them to show up when I need them, to robustly inform me when I’m doing something stupid and to appreciate my limited talents that others ignore. Looking back, however, I recognize the greatest gift Frank and other friends have offered is to gently guide me toward thoughts and behaviors that make me comfortable with who I am becoming.

It would be a joy if you would share with me the story behind your most treasured Behavior Change Secret Agent.