I have always loved people and their feelings. My family told me that I did not make a sound until I turned two years old, because I spent so much time sitting and watching other people. As a kid, I felt drawn to television and video game characters who used magic to heal others, like Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Yuna from Final Fantasy X. Though I did not have the words for it then, around the age of eight I sensed that I wanted to be a psychologist when I grew up, if not a writer. My then best friend in high school and I loved playing amateur psychoanalyst, such that we would spend hours talking about our peers and our families and fictional characters and their emotions, their relationships, and what drove their behavior.
Flash forward to now, over a decade after I started high school: I provide therapy*, and I feel guilty about it. I only feel guilty about it because at times I wonder if I should do more to prevent and fight systemic injustice, on a broader level instead of an individual level. With so much racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other forms of oppression in the world, should I pursue a career in organizing, public policy, or some other avenue that may help prevent the infliction of harm in the first place? By focusing my efforts on helping people to help themselves on an individual level, am I complicit in the perpetuation of social injustice?
I can sit with these emotions and thoughts without judging them. I breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth, and I notice them. I think to myself: you know, I could drop out of my PhD program right now and do my best to switch careers into policy work or organizing if I wanted to. No one is pointing an emotionally constipated man gun at my head and forcing me to study psychology. I’m not sure if I could afford a career transition, but I could always spend some years saving up and change jobs later. When I sit with these thoughts and feelings, I realize though – I don’t want a career in policy work or organizing. I want to be a psychologist.
I want to be a psychologist because I still love people and their feelings. Sitting with people – or video chatting with them, in the age of Coronavirus – and processing their emotions, relationships, and lives overall feels like pure and utter magic to me, even when it’s hard. I love talking with the students I mentor about how they feel about the research process, about their ideas and hopes and dreams. I even enjoy research, as long as it’s about gender and race and how those identities influence mental health. Of course, I love people and their feelings outside of work too. One of the best things I did for myself in the past month was reread sections of A Little Life while listening to “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey and sobbing my eyes out.
I do think psychologists have a responsibility to advocate and agitate for social justice. Our healing work in and of itself can be part of the revolution. At the same time, especially as someone coming from a counseling psychology program, I believe that we must go beyond the therapy room to fight for change. I’m committed to providing feminist therapy, researching oppression and resilience within marginalized communities, mentoring underrepresented students, and learning how to organize. As second wave feminists said, the personal is political. While I’ve always been most drawn to the personal, I’m leaning into the political as well.
Anyone else reflecting on their life decisions during this global pandemic? Have you ever doubted your chosen career path (or general life path because careers are just one part of life and potentially an unimportant one for some), and how have you coped with that? Random shout out to my grandmother who taught me a lot about nurturance and compassion – if I can pass along what she gave to me to at least one person or a few people I will feel fulfilled. Until next post!
13 responses to “People and Their Feelings”
I never liked my major in college. I should’ve picked majors in Arts. But hey it’s not too late to learn! We can always restart and reset as many times as we need to 🙂 I hope you’re feeling alright!
Yes I so appreciate that message of restarting and resetting, even if there may be societal pressures that state that we should try to specialize and stick to one path. I am feeling alright, I hope you are too. (:
This is why my goal is to stay a classroom teacher for as long as possible — I don’t aspire to becoming an administrator because I know I can feel that direct impact on individuals.
Aw I love this Richard! From what I know of you and from what I’ve seen you tweet, it seems like you do genuinely care and are willing to go above and beyond to ensure you’re having a positive and compassionate impact on your students. I share that idea of not being an administrator even if it’s more “prestigious” or whatever – if I go into academia I don’t think I’d ever go for dean as I like having more of an impact on students as well.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have liked to be a school psychologist. I majored in special education, and mastered in administration. I love that you want to make a difference. We just had to find a gender affirming therapist for my teen- not easy to find!
Thank you for sharing your path! And thank you for validating my desire to make a difference. I’m glad it sounds like you were able to find a gender affirming therapist for your teen, I hope that goes as well as possible.
I was feeling a bit weird about working on so many celebrity biographies with my ghostwriter clients – however I now have some really useful and valid academic research coming in, plus people need stuff to entertain them and I can help to maintain the quality.
I was doubting my life decisions but a wise friend in my photography group said that we didn’t sign up for living in this precise way when we got married, etc., which is very true, so not coping that well with ARGH SOMEONE ELSE IS IN THE HOUSE ALL THE TIME is OK.
Yes Liz! I love that self-compassion about how it’s okay that you may not be coping well, sometimes it’s hard to cope, especially now in the middle of a literal global pandemic. Appreciate you sharing your process about that. And I’m glad you’re finding meaning in your work and are able to view it in a nuanced way. (:
I love the insight into your childhood and your attraction to characters who used their powers to heal. I think you are in the right career. You have the best way of using your talents and skills. I fell into my career in IT by accident. I wasn’t an IT guy, but I liked working with people and the business challenges.
Have a great week!
Thank you so much for that validation and encouragement Matt, it means a lot to me! And I’m glad that you’ve liked working with people and the business challenges of IT. Hope you’re having a great week as well.
It’s great that you make it a point to acknowledge people’s feelings and take the time to process these feelings. Not many people do that. Maybe one day you will become a psychologist. Agree with you when you say change goes beyond the therapy room. Healing ourselves is something that needs to be done everyday through the choices we make and the lifestyle we choose to live. Looking at the bigger picture, change at the society level comes from all of us shifting our mindset and be prepared to work together with our strengths.
Ah, yes, the personal is political, and anything political tends to be a touchy subject. I think both influence the other. Our personal self and belief influences our outlook on the world and our interests, and the groups and values we choose to associate with also make up who we are.
I’ve always though and re-thought my career moves. There are career paths which I do wish I thought twice or stayed right where I was. You are right. Careers are just one part of life. There are other parts of life too, such as down time, friends, family and, what many people tend to forget and feel, passion. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Thomas. Hope you are well and take care.
Thank you for validating my path, Mabel! And yes I agree with so much of what you write here, about change transcending the therapy room, as well as about how the personal and the political intersect. Your point about careers being malleable and just one part of life is so important, especially in a society that I feel like so often encourages us to make our careers the center of our world. Hope you’re doing as well as possible too.
It’s hard getting to the therapy room, but I think it’s harder for us to make strides and accept things as they are after and outside the therapy room. Others can judge our choices, but they can’t judge us personally as most of the time they don’t really know know us. Take care, Thomas.