What would it be like if we weren’t afraid of mistakes? If somehow we could have the foresight to recognize that this horrendous, smelly mistake is just what we need to be able to have a space to grow from. That’s really and truly what they are. Mistakes exist for the sole purpose of giving us opportunities to NOT make that mistake again.
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was leaving clinical work to go and work for an insurance company. I worked from home and for almost two years had virtually no human contact during my work hours. That’s a very curious choice for a therapist who spends the bulk of their days in front of someone or a group of someone’s and has also spent a ton of money on education to get them in front of those someones. I’m enough of a therapist to know that this “curious” choice isn’t necessarily an accident. I didn’t know it at the time that I said yes to the insurance job that what I was really saying yes to was fear. I imagine these blogs will have lots of references to Fear and honestly, I’m capitalizing the word because it has become personified in many ways for me and lots of others like me. The interesting thing about Fear is that it is so present almost always (maybe always) and we often are unaware of the influence Fear has on our choices. It wouldn’t be “Therapy for Showing Up” if we didn’t talk about Fear!
I didn’t know I was saying yes to Fear because I wasn’t really present with my choices at that time in my life. I had done some therapeutic work, but I had not learned about Fear as the ever present, looming imp that it can be. Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t a therapist, she’s an author, however she is therapeutic in her approach to life. What I mean by that is that she sees the connections in her life between her behaviors and what’s going on under the surface. She wrote a book entitled “Big Magic” and it’s largely about the creative process. There is a section in the book where she addresses Fear. She comments on how Fear is with us on the road trip of life. How Fear serves a big purpose – to keep us safe and to keep us alive. However, Fear gets a little confused in thinking that all the events we have to show up for in our lives need Fear to step in and keep us safe. Fear is sort of narcissistic that way. Just because we need Fear when we’re being chased down the street, doesn’t mean we need Fear when we’re doing a presentation or trying to make a change in our lives. Gilbert suggests that we address Fear and when we do that we let the little narcissist know that on this road trip of life Fear is able to come along. We even acknowledge that we need Fear. However, we let Fear know clearly what it’s place is. We say to Fear “you can come along on the trip, but you do not get to pick the radio station, you do not get a say in which snacks we pack and you, FEAR, definitely do not get to do any of the driving.” This is why I adore Liz. She talks to me in language I can understand.
So the day I said yes to the insurance company I was scared. My practice had slowed some, which is completely normal in this business, especially in the summer when it’s too hot to work on personal issues. I had been scared for a while. I was probably scared from the day I opened the practice. Scared that I didn’t have what it took to be successful, scared that other therapists were better at this than I was and scared that I couldn’t sustain helping people, let alone sustain a business. I can see how scared I was now. At the moment I had convinced myself that this was what I needed to do to be a responsible parent to my family. I almost died at that insurance company trying to be a responsible parent. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but there were some Mondays that it felt like death.
This brings me back to my original point. I think we all can agree that I didn’t belong at the insurance company. However, what that beautiful, boring job gave me was exactly the push I needed to understand that as I walk this life on this earth, I must be a therapist. That job was so terrible and working for someone else goes so against my out-of-the-box self that having to fit in that box for almost two years was just the mistake I needed. I had to get even more excited about being a therapist and now I’m having to find ways, all the ways, any of the ways to have a successful private practice. I’m doing the things I didn’t do the first time around. I’m showing up in my therapist community and telling people what I do. And this introvert meets new people every week and is only moderately awkward in her presentation.
I couldn’t have gotten the drive and the desire to seek out the information and the help on how to be a business person if I hadn’t made the mistake of working for the insurance company. I didn’t know until I made that mistake just how much being a therapist is part of my makeup and just how much I’m willing to do to be a great therapist and a successful private practitioner. And even though there were some excruciating days at the insurance company (especially Mondays), I couldn’t have the gratitude I have now for the people that show up to work with me and the space that I have to do the work I do and all the wonderful therapists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and the renewed passion I have to do the best work I can in service of my clients.
Lydia Kickliter, LPC
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