Put on those smart pants of yours!

Ah October, you beautiful month you, here I am, sitting down at my kitchen table in an empty house, two spice-spiked autumn breeze candles with hints of ginger, amber and bergamot, plus a base note of musk (I don’t think autumn candle scents are overrated at all!) glow subtly beside me as the crisp autumn air is punctuated by the remaining warmth of the summer sun……

So where to begin this Fall…how about with education, or perhaps backing that up, let’s begin with the feelings of doubt and hesitation one feels about formal education. I write this post because it’s not only a boat I have talked with many clients about being in, it’s also a boat that I have been in myself that I had to step out of. The boat of doubt. The boat of, “I’m doing what I’m doing in life right now because the fear of doing anything else is paralyzing me and stopping me from stepping out of the boat.”

I was definitely there six years ago. I had graduated with an undergrad in psychology in 2002 and then worked with my family for years, always knowing that I wanted to be a Clinical Counsellor but never actually thinking that I was smart enough to pursue a Master degree. That fear of not feeling good enough, smart enough, capable enough, held me back and kept me in a very small boat on a giant sea of possibilities with little sense of direction.

In addition to the feelings of doubt and worry came a feeling of being pregnant, and it actually was more than a feeling, it was a reality. I was 29, pregnant and not living my dream. Then one day, the small, faint voice that sounded oddly enough like Stuart Smalley, got loud enough to convince me to pull up my boots and apply to the Gonzaga Masters of Counselling program.

On a chilly April morning at 4.5 months pregnant I headed into the Gonzaga University “pageant weekend”. It was like a very toned down Miss America….no bathing suit or evening gown portion, but certainly lots of time with the “judges”, (the profs of the Masters of Counselling program), and lots of time chatting up, figuring out and eyeing your fellow contestants, a portion of whom would be the lucky few to make it into the two year graduate program. If ever there was a time that I felt incompetent and doubtful, it was that weekend, not knowing if I would be worthy enough to make it into the program.

Fast forward 5 months and one, one week old baby girl later, I started the Gonzaga Masters of Counselling program. A two year journey of intense learning, personal and professional growth and moments of extreme relief followed by periods of stress and anxiety. To make this story “pithy” (a nod to my prof Elizabeth’s favorite expression), I did it! I received my Masters in Counselling Psychology and today I can say that I am confidently in the place that I know God wants me to be -raising a family and collaborating with others to help them live their best life.

I tell you that story because, as I mentioned above, my story of self doubt is not unique. I have had the privilege of counselling and coaching many amazing individuals who for various reasons have stopped short of pursuing their dreams, many of which involve pursuing higher education. The reasons vary: the timing is not right, the cost is too high, they are too young/old, but underlying most is the common ground of fear and doubt that they are not good or smart enough.

Let me be the first to tell you from personal experience that you ARE good enough. You CAN do it! It is a step by step process. It is a staggering mountain to look at from the base, but by breaking down the journey into one step at a time and literally just putting one foot in front of the other day after day and pacing yourself, that once unattainable peak becomes more and more within reach.

In the past year I have had the opportunity of seeing six clients begin formal education that they once thought was an unrealistic goal. Each one is now invested in education that is meaningful to them and pursuing goals in fields they are truly passionate about.

For other clients, the education may not be in a formal setting such as a college or university classroom; however, I believe education plays a massive role in the therapeutic process. First, there is the learning about one’s own self – how you process information about yourself and others, how you form your set of beliefs and values, and why you make the conclusions that you do. The first part of therapy is really an education about you, dissecting all the parts that make you tick and then tuning the parts up and putting them all back together in a way that makes sense for you.

Second, education is gained through various forms that can include but are not limited to reading, in session teaching, exposure therapy (a fancy way of saying trying things that you have been scared to try in the past out), journaling, meditating, and praying.

The ways in which we learn to grow are endless. Most of us just need to take the giant leap of faith and believe that once we jump, we can actually soar!

DID YOU KNOW: For those in universities such as UBC-O, many counselling services, including those by yours truly, are either fully or partially covered? If ever there is a time to seek counselling it is during the strain and stress of school! Check out your benefit package today to see if you qualify. Here is UBC-O’s information for current students.

Did you know counselling is synonymous with being awesome?!

The emotion that floods most clients when they contact me for the first time is fear/shame/anxiety/embarrassment followed by a deep, wonderful, relaxing sense of total relief…..they have made the first step, and to quote Lou-tzu, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” For most, contacting a therapist/counsellor/friend/fellow human being who has “been there, done that” is that first step. When thinking about therapy, most wouldn’t assume that it can be awesome – but alas, it absolutely can!

For so many, New Years resolutions include working on their bodies, spending countless hours spinning, shredding, lifting, pumping yet few lists include spending even a fraction of the time we spend working our bodies working out our minds – and yet we use our minds all day, every. single. day and for some, we need to get back into the practice of working out our minds as much – or perhaps more – than we are working out our bodies.

So then, now that half the year is through, may I challenge you to a New Years “we’re half way though” resolution to work out your brain. I challenge you to commit over the next several months to train your brain. Your own personalized program will be as unique as you are and can start with a variety of steps that may look like:

  • picking up a book to better help you understand Boundaries in your own life
  • subscribing to Podcasts you can listen to on your commute or when the kiddos are down for a nap that cover an area where you need personal strengthening
  • unselfishly taking 39 minutes to yourself at the end (or start) of the day when you get to do exactly what will charge your batteries
  • taking a break from social media (perhaps for a day, a week, or ideally the whole summer!)
  • taking time to understand what fills and what drains your proverbial tank and then get busy doing more filling and less draining
  • investing in a relationship you have been neglecting
  • creating a budget (as painful as the process may be to start), it will give you a solid foundation of what you are working with and how you spend your money as a family
  • starting a gratitude journal and writing down or saying out loud, five things a day that you are thankful for
  • Creating time limits of how many minutes (not hours!) a day you will spend on your phone
  • or my personal favorite….book a coffee with a counsellor

These are just a handful of ideas to kick start your focus on working your mind out….

In his New York time bestseller, “What the Dog Saw”, Malcolm Gladwell quoted a Yiddish Proverb, “To a worm in horseradish, the whole world is horseradish.” and so it is with life, unless we are able to bring ourselves out of our current situations and see – from an outsider perspective – what we are dealing with, little change will happen, we will always feel like that worm in horseradish. This summer, make it your goal to gain fresh and new perspective. Get out of the horseradish and start living the life you have dreamed of!