In times of crisis, great stress, and disappointment, my mom has often told me, “Bren, that door was not meant for you.”
For many years, I was resistant to this idea. In fact, at times, it even felt dismissive. I mean, how can this possibly be right? I fought so hard, only to be passed over or experience a devastating loss—of course that door was meant for me! And with the slam of the door, there went my dream. I would feel scared and lost—and sometimes, angry over a perceived injustice.
It can feel paralyzing, demobilizing, and difficult to move forward—particularly if the loss is connected to your self-concept and how you experience yourself in this world.
The Role of Therapy in Developing Acceptance
I’m incredibly passionate about my work, making it a very important part of my identity. This is a strength in that it allows me to give one hundred percent to my clients and show up in the room in a way other clinicians may struggle with at times. It also buffers against burnout.
My identity as a trauma expert in this field grounds me and gives me an understanding of who I am in my core. This is not to say I believe my work is above that of my colleagues or that I never make a mistake. Clinical work is not a precision science—nor is it intended to be practiced in such a way.
It is imperative that clinicians engage in their own therapy, explore the experience of transference, and process their own history of trauma. Those that do their own vulnerable work are able to work at a depth with their own clients that can’t be substituted with training, education, or any other experience.
I find the one universal thing exceptional therapists share is a commitment to their own clinical work.
I find the one universal thing exceptional therapists share is a commitment to their own clinical work. My commitment to my own work is just as fierce as my commitment to my clients. My identity in my work is solid and, most of the time, unshakable. As much as I benefit from the strong identity I have built as a trauma therapist, this also leaves me vulnerable to injury.
Learning to Embrace the Unexpected
Over the years, with a number of highs and a few very significant lows, I have learned to embrace the belief that life has this funny way of course-correcting when we veer too far off path. It’s a funny paradigm shift—and yet, there’s an unusual peace that washes over you in the moment. It doesn’t allow you to avert the difficult feelings; it doesn’t take away the loss and grief. It does, however, shift you into a state of mobilization which allows you to channel your energy into an option available to you—it gives you access to forward movement. It moves you out of self-preservation and into a space where you can envision, create, and connect to new possibilities.
Let me share a personal example with you.
A number of years ago, I found myself newly licensed, working full-time in a community mental health setting, and also working to build a private practice on the side. This is a common experience for newly licensed clinicians, but it is definitely demanding!
The commitment to building a private practice means very long days, an authentic and consistent devotion to networking, and often, limited time for family, friends, and self-care, which can result in burnout. It’s not for the weak of heart—and it’s not something you can successfully achieve with half-hearted effort. But I believe in playing an infinite game, so there’s no room for a finite game mentality!
Although exhausted and spread thin, I was aware of the importance in paying my dues within the field, and I knew the demand of a full-time job on top or private practice clients was not the endpoint for me. It simply wasn’t sustainable long-term, nor intended to be so, and it wasn’t aligned with my long-term career goals. Nevertheless, the security of a full-time agency job, with a health care plan and benefits, can be incredibly seductive when the decision to leap into full-time private practice comes with no promises and no guarantees.
Prior to grad school, I had always thrived in employment settings, and this agency was no different. I built relationships with upper management and secured a place on several committees, garnering me visibility in front of the most senior employees. I stepped into a role that capitalized on my clinical and diagnostic strengths. Shortly after joining the agency team, I was winning awards internally and externally and being publicly acknowledged for my work by the Department of Mental Health.
My position working for a community mental health agency was intended to be a touchstone along the way to my own private practice. Although I never lost sight of the bigger picture, I struggled (like many do) to find the “right time” to make the leap into private practice full-time.
Shortly after my one year anniversary with the agency, there were a slew of changes in upper management, resulting in a significant change in the culture, and the work environment quickly became toxic. Nevertheless, these changes opened the door for me to apply for a management position running the very program in which I had experienced such success.
At the time, there was no one else in the company more qualified to run this program, and I had the support of both upper management and those within Department of Mental Health—but there was a problem. The new clinic director, who would become my immediate supervisor, didn’t want to promote someone licensed and more qualified over another internal applicant that was unlicensed and without a background knowledge of the program, but who had more seniority.
Ultimately, I was passed over for the promotion. I was devastated. Within less than a year, I left the agency.
Years later, as I reflect back on that experience, I realize it was actually a blessing in disguise. In this case, protection came in the form of rejection. At that time, I had every reason to believe the door to that position was meant for me. It appeared to be a perfectly timed opportunity—but that opportunity was only a distractor, masking my fear of taking such a big leap without security or any safety net. It was an excuse for me to stay small and comfortable, and it would have delayed me stepping out on my own, placing all my bets on me.
Embrace the Unexpected: Live Your Strength
Today, when I experience a traumatic loss, I honor the grief, but I also rebound much faster. I have learned to trust that when a door I was positive was meant for me slams shut, the world is course-correcting—and it’s scary, because when this happens, I don’t know what the correct path looks like.
Living in my own strength means stepping forward and trusting the path will reveal itself in time. My job in the moment is not to identify the touchstones to the finish line, but instead, to simply take one small step forward.
When I think about the doors that have slammed shut in my past, I’m able to clearly see why those doors weren’t meant for me. In fact, had I been granted access, I firmly believe they would have held me back and potentially derailed me from realizing my dreams. Today, I’m so grateful those doors refused to open. Had they not, I would have walked through them, and my true path would have been further disrupted by factors I simply couldn’t see at the time.
I challenge you: the next time you experience a door slam shut, honor your feelings and simultaneously hold a space for the possibility that something far greater is in your future. Step forward. I know it’s scary, and I know you can’t yet see the whole path, but I promise it will reveal itself in time. This is what it means to truly live in your own strength!
© Copyright 2020 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.