Attaining your goals or dreams of being a successful therapist or counselor may seem as far away as Ireland or Spain at this point. So much of what we do is in pursuit of some thing, some moment in time that we’ll reach and picture ourselves saying something like, “Okay, I did it!” And then we anticipate somehow putting a halt to the striving. We want to succeed, we want to reach our goals and fulfill our potential, and that deep desire contributes to our putting one foot in front of the other.
But really, how do you assess whether you’re successful or not? At what point do you say to yourself with conviction, “I’ve arrived?” For most of us, that illusive point of “arriving” continually gets pushed out. We reach a particular point and then sometimes unknowingly say, “Okay what’s next?” It seems we’re hardly ever in a satisfied state of being.
We go to college, learn, find jobs and strive to put all the pieces together to earn hours and find our place as clinicians. But at what point do you deem yourself as being successful? And, what is success anyhow?
My Therapeutic Answer
It really depends, because no one can define what it means for you. What success means for one person doesn’t equate to the next person. Someone in grad school desparately wishing they were finally done with classes is in pursuit of being done and ready to move on to being a Registered Marriage and Family Associate or Professional Clinical Counselor, or whichever title your licensing board gives you.
The Registered Marriage and Family Associate who’s in the midst of earning their hours is ready to be done earning hours, pass the licensing exams and become licensed so they can finally move on to having a career free of bosses and supervisors. The licensed therapist or counselor wants to earn more, grow their practices or figure out what next new challenge lies on the horizon. And so on and so on.
Two Keys to Ensure You’re Doing What You Want
The point is no one can exactly define what being successful means for you and it really is created by the decisions we make in our lives. Day by day and sometimes moment by moment. Reflection and living your life more aware of your motivations and desires are two keys to making adjustments in your life to ensure what you’re doing right now is cultivating what you want for yourself and your loved ones. Otherwise you can get caught up in a bunch of action without any reason or rationale behind it. And that’s where regret and despondency can even happen. Or we get frozen in certain ways afraid of moving forward or taking chances.
Where You’re at in the Process
Being an early career clinician means more than likely what you’re doing and setting out to do for a living is vitally important to you. If this is a second career, you’ve chosen to become a counselor or therapist because it fulfills some meaning for you perhaps that an earlier part of your life didn’t or it’s a way for you to continually evolve and find meaning in a different way. If you’re younger and this is a brand new road you’re on, there seems to be so much to learn and put together to create the career you want. You want something solid and secure, that can provide income, hours and fulfillment.
Our careers are important especially early on because we’re building and earning, working toward a goal and a dream all at the same time.
We’re All At Different Points
I don’t know about you, but I’ve wanted to achieve different types of goals or success based on what season of life I was in.
Wherever you are isn’t necessarily where your friends and colleagues are. Our lives and situations can vary significantly. There are so many details of our lives that are unique, so what you need or want, or decide to go after, is based on your priorities at any given time. The inner conflict or stress comes up because we often have competing priorities. We need to earn a decent income. We need to earn hours. We want to learn and advance our skills and capabilities. We want to help people and make a difference in the world.
And we want to either find our significant other, or if we’ve already done that, we want to enjoy life with him or her. Some want kids, some don’t or cannot, and those who are later on in life want or have grandkids.
We want to raise them and contribute to their well-being, both financially and emotionally. And we don’t want to be away from them more than we must. Or if we aren’t close to family, we want to feel connected to others or create our own form of family, be that friends or colleagues.
We want to be physically healthy. We want to feel good and experience longevity.
We want to have social lives.
Phew, all these competing areas of our life can bring stress! Because we each only have so many hours in a day, we are faced with the question of where we are going to spend our time on a regular basis. And if we aren’t thinking about this consciously we can easily get caught up in ruts and routines that may not serve our best interests. We can put too much effort forth in something that doesn’t serve our long term goals. We can be too short-sighted and continue on a path that a boss decides for us.
Comparing and Following
With social media being a big part of our lives, we can get caught up looking at how other people’s lives appear and start to feel like we “should” be like them. Though quite often they aren’t showing you the bad days or moments.
If we don’t act in conscious ways or stay mindful of our actions, we might make choices based on what we see others doing or not doing.
Life’s Short; How Are You Going to Spend It?
When we see successful people who seem to be of celebrity status or big personalities, we can look in awe, wondering how they accomplish all of that. What we don’t see are all the sacrifices that often come with bigger successes. That time they put into those things that aren’t spent elsewhere. Remember, we only have a limited time each day and life is short.
How are you going to spend it?
I was listening to Melvin Varghese’s recent podcast on Selling the Couch and he shared a profound quote from the book, The One Thing, “Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it it’ll bounce back. The other four balls–family, health, friends and integrity–are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.” He gently points out how often we treat our careers or worklife life like the glass ball, that it’s so fragile and breakable that we pour the majority of our time and energy into it while we treat friends, our family or health like it’ll bounce back–like a rubber ball we toss it to the side.
In the book, the writer points out how our family, health, friends and integrity should be the glass ball and work should be the rubber ball. (I know there’s a lot of shoulds in there and I’m not making a judgment or moral call on this. Just sharing this to stimulate some thought.)
We can tend to find our self worth in the work we do, which I don’t think is wrong necessarily, it’s just that if we put all of our self worth in our work, then we can put ourselves in a position to possibly work too much. It’s affirming to feel like we’re doing a good job and making a difference in people’s lives. It’s validating.
And while that is healthy, I try and draw from the wisdom within me and realize that my work and the income I earn is a means to an end as well. It’s both about the fulfillment and the practical aspects. As I’m helping people, the money will come. Whether that’s through my doing therapy or coaching. I know the income I earn is a means to contribute to my family and to feel good about providing and contributing. And working toward goals so I’m stretching myself and using my intelligence and creativity for both the betterment of others and myself and family.
Definition of Success
If we zoomed out and looked at the bigger picture of our life and what we really want, most of us probably want fulfilling work, that’s both growth and income-producing and allows for freedom with our time while doing something meaningful–that we have the ability to grow and downsize as needed; to work around our personal lives and priorities. This also means maximizing our income versus time ratio–to make the most amount of income for the time we spend.
The dictionary’s definition of success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, or the attainment of popularity or profit that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.
Others say it’s feeling that you are enough, similar to contentment. It’s also a matter of what success means for you right now. What it may mean two years from now might be different from what it is now. And, it’s also a merging of these two. What you want two years from now also means taking certain actions right now or in the very near future to create that future you want.
The Best Known Path for Pre-licensure Success
From my experience and those of other therapists I’ve worked with, we’ve found no better way to attain a successful career life that fits around our personal lives than being in a private practice while pre-licensed. By starting while you’re pre- and provisionally-licensed therapists, you have the opportunity to set yourself up for success, in a meaningful way that’ll get you established. If it’s legal and ethical in your state with your degree and licensure status, you can start a practice with supervision. You can hit the ground running as soon as you graduate from grad school and get your registration or provisional licensure number. You can be on your way to seeing clients of your choosing, practicing with them in the way you want and earning more per hour than you can in any other position within our field. Sound good?
In my upcoming course, How to Start and Grow Your Pre-licensed Practice: Step by Step Guidance on How to Hit the Ground Running,” I teach you a five step process for how to find your ideal site and supervisor, how to get clients and best handle the email and phone call inquiries along with an effective system for how to increase the likelihood your first sessions will go smoothly and result in clients coming back. Sign up now to get on the waitlist for your introductory rate!
Tyra Butler is