Wonderful People, Fulfilling Work, and the Importance of Risk-Taking

Back in late August, doubt shrouded every aspect of my life – especially when it came to school and work. Am I in the right program? Can I handle a full-time job that requires working in new capacities? What if… What if…?

Sometimes, you must be vulnerable and take risks. You can only anticipate and plan for so much before you need to take a dive into the unknown. I’m exceptionally grateful for those who have encouraged me to leave my comfort zone.

In brief, I was confident I made the right decision in pursing an MSW on my second day of class. In the middle of everyone doing their cliché introductions, I experienced this overwhelming sense of reassurance that I was in the right place.

The people in my cohort are extraordinary individuals, from various walks of life, with the common hope that their efforts will improve the adverse conditions of the world for people. One amazing woman is the director of a homeless shelter, and she has been diligent and proactive in securing funding and expanding resources to those she serves. Another phenomenal individual is a disabled veteran, who works tirelessly for her family and for those who serve. Another works with adoption and foster children in Flint. I could go on-and-on, but the point is that I am constantly inspired by the people I’m surrounded with, and it lifts my so-called unrealistic optimism that we can leave a lasting, positive print on this globe.

In terms of work, I’m now a research assistant for a national study on suicide prevention. We work with pre-trial jail detainees, which I was apprehensive about, as I knew hardly anything about the criminal justice system or this population of people. It turns out that people who come to jail are extremely diverse; to my surprise, many are much more pleasant to speak with than some of the customers I had during my server days. While the topic of suicide isn’t necessarily pleasant to talk about, I finally feel that (1) I started my professional career and
(2) that I’m actually doing something meaningful for the betterment of humanity.

With this, I am beyond fortunate to have the most amazing work team. They are all exceptional humans, who are always considerate, kind, and caring – among each other and with our study participants.

So, basically, I’m constantly surrounded with positive energy and optimism for a better tomorrow, which strengthens my ambition to continue with my education and professional goals. I also ended my first semester with a 4.0 and an unexpected promise scholarship.

I will end with sharing a piece of knowledge one of my supervisors shared with me recently: Life becomes a lot easier when you stop doubting yourself. If I didn’t have my former supervisor and co-worker encourage me to take this job because “I don’t know if I can handle it,” I’d be working somewhere, part-time and stressed. Instead, I took a chance, and now I love what I do; and, so far, I never dread going into work.

TAKE THE DAMN RISK. We don’t have long to live on this planet. Playing it safe never translates to a sense of fulfillment.

20171127_140255-1

Advertisements

Resentment manifested by Perfectionism

Let’s stop pretending that striving for perfectionism comes without consequence. We are essentially socialized to believe that any form of mediocrity is equivalent to failure. We must excel at everything we do; if not, we’re either incompetent or not putting in enough effort. This has been my thinking for the past several years, and while I’ve enjoyed much success from firm discipline, I’ve also sacrificed personal welfare. Here’s what happens when you don’t allow any error:

Burnout

I have been academically, mentally, physically, and emotionally fatigued. When you don’t allow yourself to get an A- on a paper, because you know you can always do better, despite feeling depleted, burnout is inevitable. This mentality is compromising – in every way.

Resentment

When I see others having a relaxing weekend, I am happy for them yet resentful that I can’t have that, too. When you convince yourself that anything below 100% is threatening to your character, you will find yourself exhausted and angry, while perceiving that the lives of others are significantly more fulfilling than yours.

Psychological Crises
My first month and a half of graduate school were marked by weekly mental breakdowns, being overwhelmed and pressured from the workload in conjunction with my personal expectations. My boyfriend regularly had to calm me down from anger, sadness, and stress. It isn’t fair to him or me. It’s exhausting on everyone.

So, now what?

How can we reverse this dysfunctional thinking? Here are a few things I’ve been doing that work for me:

“Good enough usually is.”

I’m constantly challenging my faulty thinking by reminding myself of the best advice I received from one of my undergraduate mentors: “Good enough usually is.” Graduate school is a chance to start anew, and for me, that’s combatting perfectionistic tendencies by allowing some of my homework assignment to be half-ass. For me, that’s finishing the assignment without reading it 20 times to change the wording of a single sentence. And honestly, isn’t that much healthier than wasting time and stressing over superfluous detail?

Shifting back to Reality

Two mental practices have been helping me lately: grounding myself in reality, and remembering the importance of self-care. Doing daily guided-meditations before sleep have been aiding me in both self-care and gaining perspective. Remembering that all we truly have is this moment – right now – helps take my mind off the stress imposed by deadlines in my planner. Remembering that I have the privilege to be a conscious being, capable of perception, emotions, and cognition also pulls me back to the thought that life is to be enjoyed and cherished, which, by nature, deepens my spirituality (Pantheism), reminding me of the meaning of life… When that perception is achieved, my blood pressure, heart-rate, and adrenaline all drop substantially.

Here’s my point: we weren’t made to push ourselves to unnecessary, detrimental exhaustion. We’re here to live – right now. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Inner peace is an immediate necessity – one which we must strive for, moment-by-moment.

20171030_224753-e1509418314248.jpg

Top 10 Keys to Student Success

Allow me to prelude this by stating that I am not an expert, nor do I know about any of the personal barriers others may face during the course of their education. But I did graduate at the top of my class with the highest honor granted to graduates at my university. So, I do believe I’ve acquired at least some degree of knowledge on how to successfully navigate the college experience. My hopes are that you can apply at least part of my advice to your journey ahead, whether it be starting college or transitioning into a career. So, here we go!

10) Reward Yourself

Did you study hard for an exam? Get that iced coffee! Finally finished that seemingly endless paper? Give yourself the night off from schoolwork. The balance between work and pleasure must be maintained, or the power of stress and anxiety is going to manifest resentment. Been there. Don’t allow the constant work to diminish your college experience.

9) Don’t Pull All-Nighters – Plan Ahead

Unfortunately, there will be many times you’re going to have to skip things you want to do. Three papers, but all your friends want to go drinking? Should you? It depends. Again, it goes back to balance: will you resent yourself in the future, if you don’t work on these papers? Will it cause an all-nighter? Don’t go. Or, are you fairly caught-up with the coursework and will only be a little unconvinced tomorrow? Give yourself the time off!

Also, get a planner or use the calendar on your phone. I cannot function or plan without one. As soon as you get an assignment, record the deadline, then breakdown the assignment into manageable daily chunks. DO THIS. You will save yourself so much stress. From time-to-time you’ll wake-up, go to class, go to work, come home, do homework, then sleep. Yes, these days suck – they’re awful. But, I promise you won’t be as tired as you would be otherwise. And if you’re massively tired, you’re not going to maintain as much information during class, which may feed an ugly cycle.

8) Express Gratitude

It is impossible to get a degree without a support system, whether it be friends, your grandma, significant other, peers, professors, or your boss. Give thanks to these people, from time to time. Write them a nice note. Invite them out to coffee. Or, simply, tell them! Say, “Hey, I just want you to know that I appreciate when you let me vent to you.” Or, “Thank you so much for always accommodating my schooling in the work schedule.” Or, “I can’t imagine getting through this semester without you.” They will hear it. Be sincere. Plus, research suggests expressing gratitude enhances our sense of well-being.

7) Remember that It’s Not a Race

Life gets in the way. Sometimes we can’t afford to go full-time. Sometimes keeping the lights on takes priority over studying. Sometimes we have kids at home than need us to be parents before students. It’s okay. You’re not falling behind. You’re doing the best you can do, considering the circumstances; and, if others dare judge you because of that, politely tell them where to stick it.

6) Stay Connected with Friends and Family

If we don’t regularly see our close friends and family, that social disconnection begins to take a toll. School is stressful, and it is awful when you feel stressed AND alone. Personally, I manage this by scheduling (remember that planner?) time to spend with friends and family. Sometimes it’s only a meal, an hour, or a 15-minute Skype date. No matter the circumstance, it’s always rejuvenating. Sometimes it’s only once every month or two, but these instances reinforce your support system. Your time together is helping them, too!

5) Don’t Settle – Stay Open to Alternatives

Refrain from staying dead-set on a specific career, major, or school. I have a degree in Research Psychology, but my experiences during school taught me that I’m actually more concerned with social welfare, meaning a degree in Social Work (which I’ll be pursing in graduate school) may have been more appropriate. If I would have been inflexible, which I initially was, I would not have given myself the opportunities to explore different avenues. I have a friend who left her initial university because a career-college better suited her needs. This is good. Remain flexible when learning new information or different perspectives, because it could be key to figuring out a path tailored to your personal ambitions.

4) Leave Your Comfort Zone

When you don’t allow yourself to get uncomfortable, you don’t learn much. Take that internship. Study abroad. Attend dialogues with diverse people. Challenge your dearly held beliefs. You’ll learn more about other and yourself. Empathy is what we need in this world, and there is no better way of being more empathic than genuinely listening to people who have beliefs and experiences that don’t match yours.

3) Be Passionate about Your Field

If you don’t like what you’re studying, why are you doing this? Life is too short to invest this much time, money, and energy into something you don’t really care about. You’ll be significantly more engaged when you actually have an interest in your field of study. Don’t pick a major just because the career prospects suggest you’ll make a lot of money.

I’ve been told many times that my psychology degree is useless and that I’ll never find a job. But, my love of the field led me to pursing an internship, conducting my own research projects, joining a research lab, connecting with faculty, and taking on field-related leadership positions – all of which built a strong resume of experiences that eventually equated to acceptance to my graduate program and leaving my undergraduate career at the very top. So, tell me who has low career prospects now! Ha!

2) Focus on Learning, rather than Grades

When we stop fixating on getting a good grade, points, and rubrics, and shift focus to genuinely trying to learn the content, those good grades “magically” follow.  Be mindful of your mindset. If you think “I’m never go to use this” – Hi, algebra peeps – chances are that you’re not going to retain much information, meaning you’ll probably do more poorly than you would have otherwise.

Rather, ask yourself, “How can I apply this class/topic to my skillset as a future professional?” I’ll give an example: I took “Introduction to Logic,” which is basically math with statements. Though I won’t directly use the course content in the future, I decided that the course would allow me to think more dynamically, since I had to think about “absolutes” and “what-ifs” much differently. As a future clinician, these skills will help me navigate some clients through their own thought patterns, helping them recognize inconsistencies or contradictions in their thinking, which then aids in the CBT process.

1) Breathe – Appreciate the Moment

Here’s something I’m personally working on, daily. I have yet to master living in the moment. I’m always worried about what I have to get done when I get home, where I plan to be a year from now, what I have to get done this weekend, that I still have another 2 pages to write on an assignment before I can blah, blah, blah… This is such a dangerous way to live life, as it doesn’t allow you to actually live.

So, I suppose this point makes everything come full-circle: it’s not a race, enjoy the journey. Believe me: it will be done before you know it. Some of these things are not easy, and some of our external obligations make these unrealistic at times. Sometimes you’ll come home with zero motivation to do anything, pour a glass of wine, lay on the floor, stare at the ceiling, and contemplate why the hell you decided to invest your entire life into going to school for several years, with the end seeming so far away… Then you’ll graduate, with the entire journey seeming to have flown by in the blink of an eye. You will make it. But you MUST make changes in your life, if you want to do it well.