I reflect on my days back in graduate school quite a bit. I learned a lot in the academic sense, but mostly I learned exactly what I'm made of. Challenges came daily, whether intellectual or personal. There is no hiding from yourself when you are being trained to treat the psychological dilemmas of others. You are stuck, staring yourself in the face. All the time.
In retrospect I'm not sure that San Francisco State had very many students like myself. I was coming off of a long and wonderful artist-in-residency at UCSF Cancer Center, and years of teaching gigs at various city schools and organizations. The first day of graduate school when we chose our office mates, I picked the guy who said he was really a soccer player, but was doing this just for fun. Yeah, me too. I had a great job, a fun life, if this whole psych thing didn't work out, I'd go back to filling out my California Arts Council Grant Apps and fulfilling my residency work. I didn't think of myself as a maverick, but I suppose to the newly acquainted psychological realm, blue high heels and super mod glasses were a bit outside the box. Surely there was room for me and psychology together. I didn't need to be someone else, right? Turns out I was in for a long battle and one that took years of experience and making a name for myself before I was given a pass for the glasses and the Marc Jacobs dresses. I had no idea going in the expectation was for me to dress like a senior citizen and have a bad haircut. Whew, dodged that bullet.
During my first month of school. once we had started seeing patients, I was told by one of my supervisors that my glasses were maybe a little too interesting. Wait, what? Well, what does that mean? Of course that's my response now. At the time, I was neck deep in learning a whole new language, skill set, and discipline and my heart sank right down to my shoes. I was told they might be distracting to my patients and take away from my clinical skills. Now to be clear, we are not talking about neon orange glasses with flashing lights. My glasses were brown. Yeah, brown and kind of mod. Whoa. I went home and cried. Completely rethought my decision to return to school. Why hadn't I just gone to that MFA program at NYU instead? I was heartbroken. I called my office mate, the soccer player one. He gave me the same advice he still gives me today, which is, "F@$k it." After trying to gather every possible interpretation of the whole glasses scandal I realized I had no other choice but to follow his advice. If it truly was a problem for my patients I would be the first to hear about it. What really burns me is that at the time I did not have enough experience to know that it was a bunch of bull. Deep down I knew it, but I pushed my feelings aside and believed the hype. There is plenty of room in all disciplines for people to be themselves and do things a little differently. I wasn't trying to rewrite the rules, or be inappropriate, I just wanted to be a psychotherapist, one that looked and felt like me.
Luckily I had a wonderful mentor later in my training who reinforced my individuality and taught me that our patients want us to be true. They can sense when we are full of it. They work real damn hard in that room and deserve to see us as we are. Not as we are trying to be. That's not to say throw professionalism out the window, no way, but that it's okay to wear interesting glasses and really kick ass shoes. If your patients think that maybe you might like shoes, that's okay.
I bring this to attention because it is my hope for all of us out there building things from scratch, burning the midnight oil and following our dreams that we know there is room for all of us. Your way of doing things, your uniqueness, make whatever it is that you are doing, yours. People will sense that honesty and hire you, buy your products, and read your work because there is truth to it. Don't try to be someone you are not and don't let others convince you that the world isn't ready for your idea. Trust me, there is always someone who is ready and has been waiting for you all along, funky glasses and all.