Setting Yourself up for Success – A Therapist’s Reflection

It started with a therapy student.

I was feeling energized while in a mentoring session with a graduate student at my alma mater. She expressed her ambition to eventually find herself as a therapist in private practice. Her questions were insightful, and her energy was infectious.  

I have enjoyed my work as a psychotherapist in solo private practice for over 10 years. In the past year, I have been reconfiguring my simple solo private practice into a complex group practice. I am enjoying the clinical aspect, continuing my own work as a therapist, as well as hiring and supervising early career therapists.  

But learning the accounting and legal aspects of running a business like this has been steep,  and for me, doesn’t come naturally. Truthfully, it has been outright humbling. I’ve been forced to recognize how little I know about family and medical leave insurance, unemployment insurance, employer sponsored health insurance, and payroll taxes. I’ve had to acknowledge the need to educate myself on these things, enough to find and hire professionals to support me in these areas. 

And what about marketing?  

I have barely scratched the surface on this new world. All of these things are running through my head when I was asked this question:  

“How did you set yourself up for success?”  

GoodTherapy | Success

My mind rewound back to when I was a graduate student, followed by the years working in nonprofits and hospitals while earning my clinical hours towards my license.  

How did I set myself up for success? I’m not even sure what that means. “I suppose,” I said slowly, “I didn’t…”  

When you take any kind of professional or personal risk, there really isn’t an insurance, or “assurance”, that you will be successful. There are plenty of coaches and consultants who can guide you, at least in the professional realm; but, I made a lot of clumsy moves along the way, learning along the way. Some of them were quite costly in terms of time and finances.  

Some of my choices, I realize in hindsight, appeared a bit unpolished. For instance, I  built my own first website before there was Wix or SquareSpace. It was a Yahoo Small Business website, and I called it Yogalena Therapeutics. What even is that??  

I chuckle to myself now when I think about it. But I was PROUD of it then.  

Was that going to set me up for success? Were people googling words like “Yogalena” and “Therapeutics” in their search for a psychotherapist who loves yoga? 

What does it mean to be successful?

In our never-ending quest for success, there really isn’t a recipe. You take a step in the direction in which you are either energetically driven, or even just a little curious. And then make your move. Sometimes you don’t necessarily know what your next move beyond that will be.  

 We refer to this as the proverbial “leap of faith.”  

The thing that often stops us the most from pursuing the thing that we most desire is the fear that we aren’t “set up for success,” so why even bother trying?  

 That is your anxiety talking. Your anxiety wants to keep you stuck, spinning your wheels, wishing you could get past your fears and “level up.” Much of the work of therapy is identifying these fears, and then taking small steps in the direction of your goals.  

 Of course you need to lay a foundation for any professional goals you have. You must do the work, and recognize that learning never stops. But worry less about doing so perfectly, or you will likely never start. 

GoodTherapy | Goals

An evolving concept.

In the end, I told my interviewer that there is no formula for success. There is only continuing education, vision, inspiration, creativity, and energy. There will also be setbacks, anxiety, fears, and yes, some losses. There may even be some failures, which sometimes require time to heal. Then you can reevaluate before determining next steps. 

But please, I implored her, do not let that stop you! If you want to be successful at something, first, decide what type of success you are looking for. What does success mean to you? Is there a financial benchmark, or a professional milestone of accomplishment that means you are successful? Then, not fearlessly, but in spite of your fears, go in that direction.  

Keep in mind, the mark of “success” is always moving. You may reach one milestone and find you already have your next milestone in your sights. Celebrate the victories before moving on to that next level of success. And remember, there is no “there, there.” Few people arrive at their personal pinnacle and think to themselves, “Ok, I did it! I’m successful!” And then stop.

My hope for you is that you will enjoy your wins along the way, and continue setting your sights on the next peak to climb. Rather than setting yourself up for success, set your goals and continue moving towards them. And find some time to enjoy the ride! 

© Copyright 2023 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT in New York, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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