By Wendell Robinson, CPA Student Member
In July 2018, I got engaged. Amidst the excitement and reveling in the love I felt, I had a realization that stopped me in my tracks—I was too tired, too burnt out, and to overworked to enjoy the moment. When my fiancé and I were starting to plan the wedding date, I asked him if we could put the wedding off for two years because I didn’t think I had time in my graduate school schedule to show up for a wedding, much less plan one. He took a deep sigh, one look at me and said, “Are you going to put your life on hold forever? If it isn’t graduate school, it will be your career. When will we come first? When will you come first?”
His comment came at the end of a week where I turned in another report late, rushed into another, okay multiple, counseling sessions without thorough preparation, and wasn’t able to take my dog to the vet for a paw injury he had. As cliché as it sounds, when he said that, things fell into focus. I was averaging 30 direct client hours a week, plus at least 7 supervision hours, and clocking countless more with documentation, report writing, school assignments, being a TA and being in class. All great things for my resume, right?
For me, everything I was doing was tied to my desire to be “good-enough.” A good enough student. A good enough clinician-in-training. If I could just do it all then maybe my imposter syndrome would melt away. Maybe looking good on paper would translate to being good. Turns out, I could not have been more wrong.
It is not my proudest moment, by any means, but it was the moment when things started to change. I had been so busy being insecure in my roles—as a supervisee, a student-therapist, a graduate school student, that I had stretched myself too thin. Sure, on paper I looked great but looking past the paper, at the actual work I was doing and the person I was being, was a grim sight. I was doing too much, and I was doing most of it poorly. I realized then that I had to cut back, say no, and slow down. I needed to be present.
A recent supervisor had been encouraging me to “show up” in the room with my clients. Frustrated at the feedback, I floundered to implement this in the room. I AM showing up, I would think angrily to myself. I watched and re-watched clips of myself in therapy and began to notice how not present I actually was. I watched myself try too hard to get things “right.” In essence, I was far from showing up, I was hiding out. Hiding behind theory, insecurity, and a desire to be a “good” therapist.
One day I was hiking with my dogs and took time to watch my yellow lab, Diamond. She had her nose to the ground, as she usually does, when she caught the scent of a rabbit several feet in front of her. She lifted her head, saw the rabbit, and chased. She didn’t catch the rabbit, but she put all of her effort into catching it in that moment. Diamond hadn’t been thinking about catching the rabbit before and probably wouldn’t think about it again after, but she poured herself into catching it in that moment. I thought to myself: that is what “showing up” really looked like. It wasn’t about planning, having the answers, or worrying about the future. Diamond showed me it is about being present for the chase. Being present enough to notice the smells, sights and sounds and only then can you pursue the chase wholly.
So, I’ve started emulating Diamond. I cut back my schedule so that I could take in the sights and smells, so that I could be present. I’ve been working to not “do” so much but to “be” more. It’s an uncomfortable place for me to be and I’ve noticed my mind trying to hook me with thoughts of not being good enough. Just yesterday I had the thought—what if this slowed-down schedule costs me the internship I want? What if I am missing out on an opportunity that will make me look like a better applicant?
Although the thoughts are present, I am not letting them hook me into behaviors that were not working. I could add another thing to my schedule, but I probably wouldn’t learn much from it because it would be too much. I may miss out on an opportunity by saying no to something, but I am gaining opportunities to truly learn, immerse myself in my training, and my relationships. Over the last several months I have begun to truly become the graduate student and clinician in training that I have wanted to be.
I’ve stopped worrying about how I look on paper and started focusing on who I am right now. I work every day to show up—with my supervisors, with my clients, my peers, my friends, my partner. I work to be present and like Diamond, to enjoy the chase.