Happy New Year!
I’m sitting on the couch in my fleece pjs on a chilly Sunday morning, drinking coffee and still waking up. It’s the New Year and I’m preparing to return to work after a holiday hiatus, during which I filled myself up with reading (fiction–not self-help or psychology books, for a change!), silence and solitude, bike rides, yoga, and cooking, and now I feel like I have something to give to others, again.
This is the first time I’ve used this blog feature. Somehow the podcast feels safer than just straight writing, maybe because on the podcast, I always have a co-conspirator in the conversation, whereas in writing, it’s just me exposing myself.
Despite a lot of support and encouragement from friends, family, and colleagues for the Counselor as a Person project, I still fear judgment and have a certain sense of shame that slows me down in developing this part of the website. The shame is not so much about not having it all together; thankfully, through mentorship and clinical experience, for the most part anyway, I see that my own imperfections and struggles help me sustain empathy, connection, and genuineness as a therapist. The shame is about my very need to connect with other therapists about Counselor as a Person issues. There’s the “Who do you think you are?” voice and the “Why can’t you just close your door, do your work, and keep your head down?” voice. I haven’t entirely figured out why I need to communicate out, but when I drop into the shame, it comes down to the fear that there must just be something fundamentally wrong with me for needing this.
But here I am, alarming my own personal judge and jury, writing about it anyway. And so far, the sky isn’t falling and blows aren’t raining down.
My nephew Mason, who is twelve, recently asked me if I had any New Year’s resolutions. I told him that I usually do, but this year I don’t. After some reflection, though, I actually do have one. This year, I resolve not to read any books expressly for the goal of personal growth or self-improvement.
Do I think I’m so evolved that I don’t need to keep growing, keep improving? Hardly. But, for me, all that reading can be an obstacle itself. Maybe you know what I’m talking about? Thing is, I’ve got a bit of a compulsion for reading the self-help/self-improvement genre. While these books have helped me a lot over the years, reading them can get in the way of implementation, including my own writing. Take, for example, the wonderful Mindfulness in Plain English book I’ve been reading. Great book, but I haven’t meditated once, even though I’ve been thinking about how useful meditation would be. I even bought myself a meditation cushion for Christmas. I’m like the person who buys the gym membership and starts expecting the pounds to fall off without actually going to the gym and sweating. Basically, I can read and think and reflect only so much. There’s a point at which acting on the things I read about is the only way to grow. Writing, too, can quickly become intimidating if I read too much. It’s like I convince myself that everyone else has already said it, and said it better than me, or that the things I want to talk about aren’t the important things. So yeah, time to temporarily shelve the self-improvement books.
There’s another part to this, too. During my work hiatus, I read three books of fiction. Three! That’s more fiction than I read all of the rest of last year. (In case you’re curious, I read The Night Circus, The High Mountains of Portugal, and I am Charlotte Simmons.) Each book gave me something I didn’t have before, helped me appreciate the human condition in a way that wasn’t just instructive but highly pleasurable. (Counselor Tina Tannen talks about the psychological value of reading fiction in her interview on the podcast.)
For me, there was beauty and relief in giving my imagination over to stories about other people’s lives, their rich characters and dilemmas, without needing to do or say anything to “help.” I could just observe and experience, relate or not relate, feel wonder or disgust, and I didn’t have to do anything about it–the process or the outcome.
When I told my husband that my intention this year is to take a break from personal growth and self-improvement books, he flat out laughed at me. I asked him why he was laughing and he said, “You’re so funny, Sara. Only a counselor, right? You’re planning to not read self-improvement books as an act of self-improvement.”
Which on some level is true, I guess. But at heart, I’m not so much hoping for self-improvement as I am wanting less thinking, more living. Less contemplation, more participation. Less straining, more allowing.
Anyway, one day when I’m on my way out of this world, I doubt I’ll wish I’d spent more time reading self-help books.
Whatever your resolutions or non-resolutions are in the coming year, whatever growth and setbacks, joys and sorrows await you, thanks for being part of the Counselor as a Person project and community.
Also, this Spring I intend to figure out how to record podcast episodes remotely, so my guests don’t always have to be in the same room with me. So, if you live somewhere other than Gainesville, FL and want to come on the podcast, please get in touch. Hearing from you will no doubt help motivate me to figure out this next technological piece.
I also look forward to interviewing more Gainesville-based therapists, too. Stay tuned, and please keep in touch!