I always thought life would be a straight line. I never knew there would be whole years of my life where I didn’t even know what I was working towards, or if I really wanted what I would receive at the finish line. I am a decisive person, so when I set out to do something, I do it until it is done. But this is a perspective of the young, of a person who doesn’t know yet that some things take a very long time, and you lose your way a bit in the middle of it. Life is not a bullet train.
I felt so sure about my path to becoming a therapist, for the first five years. That’s how long I thought it would take: three years of grad school, two years of an internship, then licensure. I had seen other people do it like that, so why not me? I was always the one bringing my test up first in class, always the one finished with the book before the group had discussed Chapter One.
It took me nearly double the time to become a licensed clinician than I thought it would. In those extra four years, I even spent two of them doing absolutely nothing towards my license, unsure if I wanted to continue on that path – there is a lot of investment of time, work, and money, and very little assurances that you will even finish, never mind have a career you like at the end of it.
At one point in this grueling process, I figured “Fine. If it’s so hard to have a career helping others, then I’ll learn how to help my own little family first.” I started this blog, and slowly built a career as a freelance writer. I wrote about parenting, about race, about housewares I couldn’t afford to buy, about clothes I had no personal investment in. I stayed away from books and articles about psychology. I stopped going to therapy. I spent so much time with my kid that my family wondered if she was too attached to me. I didn’t think about my future. I didn’t try to be first in the class.
My father was absolutely obsessed with me finishing things I started. “Don’t be a quitter” was his main advice about any life choices I had to make. For me, I needed to feel like I could quit doing therapy before I fully embraced it as a career, red tape and all. I needed to fully choose it, not just keep going because I had started.
For most of 2014, I was working towards goals, but never quite meeting them. Early in the year, I applied for a big corporate writing gig, and made it to the final stage of interviews, but didn’t get it. So I kept going with my Children’s Programming job at Holy Innocents, which is a gift to my life in many ways. I also redoubled my efforts to get published as a freelancer, and became a contributor at some new publications for me: The Bold Italic, Rad Dad, and Hip Mama. I also continued writing for Cinapse and here on this blog. Had I gotten that other job, I wouldn’t have had time to write those pieces. I’d be too busy writing about high-end clothing… not exactly a passion project.
Not getting that corporate gig also freed me up to pursue my license. I spent the entire summer studying for my first MFT exam, and gratefully passed it in the Fall, then spent another 6 weeks studying for the second one, and passed that as well. Then I set to the detailed work of setting up a private practice.
All year, I’ve been building this life that I figured out that I do want: a part-time arts-based psychotherapist, and a part-time freelance writer. This meant a lot of “Fake It Till You Make It” conversations, when the inevitable “What do you do?” question arose. There should be an answer to that question that is less awkward than, “Well, I’m just rebuilding my life right now, which is messy and slow, so can I tell you what I’m trying to do, rather than what I’m actually doing? Also, would you like to hear about all my self-doubt and struggling, and all the side gigs I do to make this happen? No? You’re just being polite? Okay, well then I’m a mom with a zillion jobs.”
As 2015 rolls into existence, it appears that the fruits of 2014’s life-scaffolding are ripening. I was offered a position as a Mental Health Consultant at a non-profit serving families in the Portola district, a one day/week job working with the staff there. This will allow me to keep one foot firmly planted in the non-profit world, while I open my business as a private practice therapist. It will also give me some steady income as I continue the crapshoot that is freelance writing. I grow weary of pitching and submitting, and asking my copywriting clients to respond to my invoices. Yet I love writing, and I’m going to continue it, even if I have no idea where it is taking me.
I have an office set up, and a few starter clients for my practice, as well! I am so looking forward to being in that liminal space with people one-on-one again. I will continue my Working Mothers Support Group at Natural Resources, as I find groups really exciting and nurturing as well.
I suppose what this scattered “career round-up” of a post is trying to say is: it’s okay if you had a rebuilding year. It’s okay if you’re about to have one. You might get to the end of it and say, “I may not have much to show for it now, but I can see what this all will bring… eventually.” Life can be slow at times, and really fast at others. All of that is more than okay – time is an illusion. Adulthood is a lot weirder than I thought it would be, and that is confusing sometimes, but I still like it that way. The main lesson 2014 taught me is: EMBRACE THE NON-LINEAR.