I just realized today that every transition we go through in life also involves redefining our own definitions of ourselves. As I graduate from college in a week, I’m trying to see myself less as a student, which, to me, means that I’m a protégé still not ready to “face the world.” It’s a terrifying thing to face (although graduation next week is also terrifying for a whole other host of reasons that maybe I’ll elaborate on at some point). I’m trying to redefine myself as someone capable of taking on anything that is thrown at me, as making my own path, and as a professional. After struggling with the decision for a long time, I finally decided that it would be best if I took at least a year off before going to graduate school for Clinical Psychology, although I know that’s what I ultimately want to do. Even though graduate school is intimidating to me and seemed like something I’m not capable of doing, I also saw graduate school as maybe a way of avoiding becoming a “big girl.” I kept thinking to myself that if I went to graduate school, I was just avoiding life, because I was afraid I was still just a little girl and the world would conquer me. I also thought that I’d completely fail out of graduate school, because these past 4 years have been a sham. The fact that I’m graduating Summa Cum Laude means nothing, because I just faked my way through everything, I had easy classes and easy professors and I just got lucky; but the real truth would come out once I was honestly challenged in grad school.
But in the end, as you can see, I left myself with only two options – both of which resulted in me beating myself up over something or another. Now I can see, though, that maybe my decision wasn’t based on anything I have or don’t have, but it was ultimately based upon how I chose to redefine myself first. If I went immediately to graduate school, I would have needed to see myself as a capable researcher, someone with the ability and intelligence to digest hoards of information and be able to apply it successfully. Maybe (hopefully) I can eventually do that. But I ultimately decided that the more important thing to me right now is to feel capable enough to go into the world and get a job and assert myself as an independent, working adult. Besides, I know I wouldn’t trust a therapist who hadn’t had any life experience – so why would anyone trust me if I had only ever been in school my entire life? It’s become clear to me that the very reason transitions are so scary is because we have to change our definitions of ourselves, and we often cling very, very, very tightly to those. It’s a venture into the unknown or a rewriting of the entire Webster’s Dictionary of ourselves. Therapy is terrifying for the very same reasons (remind me again why I’m doing both at the same time!?).
Who knows, maybe I’m just rationalizing my decision in order to avoid the glaringly obvious fact that I’m just scared and too insecure and will never succeed. I may never even find a job. But my hope is that the very journey of finding a job and working full-time for a while will boost my confidence and allow me to feel much more capable of tackling graduate school – and help me decide what I ultimately want to do with my life. It’s funny, though, because 3 years ago I had started thinking that maybe I would go to graduate school, but now I can see that my decision had been based on what other people (namely my father – which now kind of makes me sick) wanted me to do. I didn’t know what I wanted. I was just wandering through life and following the road signs that other people placed there for me. After more than 3 years of therapy, I’m still far from feeling confident enough to do a whole lot, but I’m getting there.
The most important part of that journey has been to re-learn how to both feel emotion and recognize what those feelings are. When all of this first started, my therapist would ask me what I was feeling, and, invariably, I always said, “Well….I don’t know, really.” Sometimes I still say that, and there are still many times that I feel void of any feeling at all, but it’s better. I’m learning to listen to those little voices inside of me – and it’s those voices that have started to put out some road signs. Sometimes they are blurry and too far away, sometimes it’s not clear which direction they’re pointing, but their instructions get clearer every time I pay attention to them.