Something I've sought to convey to my students--be they career clients, res hall supervisees, or students in my classes--is to trust the deepest part of themselves. What I mean by this is that when these fabulous potential-full students feel unable to choose between many possible paths (what I remind them can be considered a "good problem") they can look at the patterns across their life experience to give grounding and direction. Their personality is the unifying thread between even seemingly disparate choices they've made over time.
I was gratified recently to see that someone else was able to phrase this more clearly than I may have been doing! Emilie Wapnick has created this inspiring blog and community, Puttylike, which focuses on the plight and possibility of multipotentialites. That is, people with many options, like my students! Though they may feel they are pulled in many directions, one of the options Emilie suggests for these folks (among a few other great ones) is the "group hug" approach to career, in which someone finds the meaningful intersections of their varied interests instead of just picking one. There's a great, short post by a Puttylike writer on the intersection option here. I agree with other posts on this site that these intersections are a space of creativity and bridging between parts--things I love and am drawn to, but which are challenging, too, especially for some.
The existence or meaningfulness of these intersections is not evident right up-front. It takes time to get to know yourself and to trust the deeper unity in yourself to see the validity and value of these sometimes-odd intersections within our varied expressions of ourselves (interests, values, even our personality). We may need to provide space for some creative wandering and exploration to imagine what these intersections may have to offer. In my experience, it's taken all the self-reflection investment afforded to me by nature of being a practicing counselor and career instructor to figure this out--which is to say, no small amount of time and reflection. (I practice things on myself before trying them on clients or students, so I've career-therapized myself quite a bit, as well as I can.)
I encourage those who feel they are many parts pieced together--like a "Frankenstein" as a client put it once--to seek to get beneath the perceptions and expectations of others (however subtle or well-ingrained in you) and to spend some time with your own self. And let it speak. Give it time to start to make sense, too; when we haven't been listening, these things might be easy to reject at first while we are still encumbered by lifelong lessons of what "won't work" or "is stupid." But these things are from far too intimate and valuable a source to take lightly or beat down. That's your inner compass; in there is YOU. And I hope we all get to meet more of YOU soon.
I hadn't danced in a while, but a couple months ago a friend told me about a place in town that offers low-commitment adult classes. I had previously only taken classes with the department at school, trusting them to teach technique for safety, and to keep me challenged. Unfortunately, grad school has interfered with my ability to keep up with that schedule, so a drop-in evening class is just the thing for me now!
The years of dancing in college was a great time in my life as a dancer, because the challenges the dance professors offered were not just physical, but emotional. And they embraced the challenges I set up for myself, too. I discovered the intersection of my lifelong love for dancing and my deepening commitment to learning and personal growth as part of helping others through an unlikely project. It was unlikely in that it was one of those fortunate accidents I've come to be more prepared for now. Back then, I thought it was going to be a disaster.
You know how the creative process goes... Step 1. This is awesome, Step 2. This is hard, Step 3. This is crap, Step 4. I am crap, Step 5. This might work, (then cycle back) Step 1: This is awesome (and by the end, add: I am awesome).
I experienced that all for the first time in this dance project I proposed. It was supposed to be a sort of empirical study of emotional reactions to dance stimuli (nerd alert!). Unfortunately, my original plan started falling through: audience members weren't responding as I'd hoped in feedback showings, and I realized I was terribly off track. I became anxious and had a constant fear of failure that lived in my stomach (I'd later name that feeling Thesis Guilt when I got to grad school). I was funded to be doing this project, which was a great honor. But that meant if I bailed I would owe back more money than an undergrad cares to part with. That threat was enough: there was no way out but forward. I'm grateful to the dancers who stuck with me through this challenging time, when I hadn't yet built the confidence I have today to manage a creative team or call myself a choreographer or researcher. In spite of that, I stuck to this fantasy of being a scientist-choreographer and gained a lot from it. I hope that I also gave to others through the results of this project.
Though in a very different way than I imagined, I essentially did what I had set out to do: make something in the meeting of my dance-minor and psych-major selves. In fact, I did it twice: I created both the original group work I had proposed to make, and out of all the emotion of that process I created a solo composed about and of personal growth that I'm still proud of to this day.
As my career clients and I often learn, there's sometimes already a name for the thing we thought we invented to fit our intersections. In this case, it's artistic inquiry, a kind of research not taught in my grad programs, but beautifully valuable in my experiences. The whole processes of this dance coming-of-age are already recorded in a blog I wrote during the experience at USPpsychdance.blogspot.com. (For kicks, you can also find my blog from my stint dancing in NYC at my2280pints.blogspot.com.)
After all of this amazing experience with dance, it's so much a part of me and how I've grown that I refuse to give it up. I learn and gain too much from it. It keeps my heart happy and creative, and is healing when I need that, too. So while I'm doing grad student stuff instead of taking morning ballet or mid-day modern in the studios of the UF School of Theater and Dance, I can still connect to the gifts of being embodied through weekly evening lessons at this in-town studio. It's been a perfect opportunity to get beyond technique and move into embracing time, space, motion, fun, and wellness. Those things were always there in dance, but each time school calls for a hiatus and I return, I re-meet dance as a new person, and dance brings me into even more new growth and fullness.
As I like to say, I'm a dancer in my heart and mind, even if I'm not dancing. But these days, I'm happy to say I'm both.
As I'm doing my lit review for my dissertation, I'm reading a lot of references about how people who go into doc programs worry about their ability to do research and stats. Why is that?
It makes me wonder: How can we teach people earlier in life that math and science and critical thinking are things they can engage in and find interesting?
Not everyone's going to be a researcher, but why shouldn't more of us be able to look at the research process and say "I get enough of what that's about to take something away"? And maybe a few more of us would be prepared to say "I want us to know about something, and I'm going to find out and tell people about it!" This barrier between researchers and everyone else doesn't have to be there, not in such an opaque way. From what I've read, there's a major divide, and it hurts our ability as a society to use our hardest-gained knowledge to our own benefit (that is, using research to inform policy).
I'm still climbing the ivory tower, but I'm also thinking about how to make useful connections from the research perspective to the rest of life and to people who are not only not trained in it, but might even feel anxious around it. Making that connection to the rest of life is what it's about, after all: across any discipline, we research things that are part of life and our world in some way. As I practice speaking the research lingo, it gets harder to translate back into everyday words and reference points, but I keep reminding myself that that's going to be the most valuable part of all that I'm learning in this PhD program. I don't plan to be a faculty member (at least not at first), so I need to be able to take this degree and use it in ways that people will see the value of in other settings. I need to be able to answer the real important question under all research: what's the point? What does that mean for us? I've been practicing when I share my proposal topic, things I've researched that I put into terms of practice, and in how I presented the results of my first semester teaching a new course.
As a doc student there are so many questions I am learning how to answer--a lifetime's worth! It's exciting to see that as my independence as a researcher grows and as I practice offering these gifts to others, doors are opening already. I like learning with friends, and opportunities seem to find me. I'm glad I'm on a path to sharing the gifts of research with others, and I look forward to the ways I can keep doing that in any roles and opportunities to come.
Research doesn't have to be scary! It's curious, speaks languages besides numbers, and has a lot to offer if we can help each other get to know it better.
I've made a couple of blog posts so far here, and there will be more to come as I share reflections and lessons. There's advice out there that says I should blog daily for a while to establish a following, but this isn't so much about that right now. My primary writing will be my dissertation for a while. (I'll try not to talk about it too much.) Instead this will be a different format for me to process and express. You're welcome to get to know me here :)
There are a lot of things I hope to reflect on and share in this blog. Here are a few that come to mind for us to look forward to...
I just got back from the National Career Development Association conference, which gave me many great sessions on career development, with topics that focused on college students, counseling interns, trauma in career, career courses, and private practice! It was a rich three days!
One of my biggest take-aways as a counselor was the Career Construction Interview. I valued hearing it applied to a case study, learning about how clients and counselors react to it, and then seeing it put into action with a volunteer client. I enjoyed realizing how much the technique has in common with the sandtray career sessions I've implemented with Dr. Swank at our career center.
In all, I especially love the qualitative and personal nature of this intervention. I can see how its storying approach can help clients get a sense of themselves in a humanistic way. I agree that it could be of use in counseling outside of career concerns, too. At the moment, I don't think I'll implement it directly with my current clients (since my career work is not as a counselor, and my counseling work is for crisis/trauma clients). However, I think I'll certainly be drawing on the questions and processing considerations, as well as re-grounding myself in some of its underlying principles.
In particular, I'll be thinking about the sense of coherence that comes through considering the client's experience over time. Last night while unwinding after the conference, I read a bit about van der Kolk's work and how his approach helps re-create an internal sense of time for the client that is missing after trauma. I can imagine combining these ideas in my work. Importantly, both of these approaches consider a creative aspect that helps clients connect with themselves in novel ways to process their concerns. The van der Kolk reading emphasized the importance of nonverbal processing such as through creative and body-focused interventions, which I am gradually leaning more and more into. In connection with that, I think that the CCI's strong use of metaphor takes it out of the typical linear-verbal realm into a more symbolic way of processing that has value for processing trauma.
I believe I currently sit in that area, often naturally using metaphor to help clients feel heard and to better understand their experiences. I also use connection to the body (tension, breath) as a way for clients to recognize their reactions within the process, both physical and emotional. With my lifetime of arts involvement and education, I want to keep bringing in more artistic-based creative interventions, too. Something I am working on growing in is my sense of offering trauma-informed care; I have learned so much about this already, and as my learning grows my respect for what I don't know also grows. The needs of clients with trauma are so important, I want to keep improving how I serve them.
I'm grateful that NCDA gave me a chance to grow not only as a career counselor but as a whole counselor. I'll definitely be thinking about what I learned for some time to come, and look forward to sharing resources and ideas with others! What it offered me in terms of my career course deserves its own entry another day...