Archive for Grad School

The Meeting

God, December was a terrible month. So terrible, in fact, it rolled over into January. Here’s the crisis du jour.

Saturday, my boss calls me in to her office. She tells me that I’m not as far along as I should be in my job growth. I’m a headache for some of the other staff. She then tells me she, HR, and I have a meeting on Monday, which is now today. Which is, at press time, a couple hours from now. She wouldn’t tell me what the meeting is about, but she was fairly insistent it wasn’t about being fired.

So, boom. Another bomb dropped on whatever zen I’m trying to cultivate.

At first, I was pretty shook. When anyone is trying their hardest and gets told it’s not good enough, it hurts. And with as much as I struggled with confidence and competence in the past, this opened up some old wounds.

And then I started thinking. I worked my ass off for grad school. I spent time, money, and effort pushing limits past what I thought I could do. Because of that, I can say I am good at what I do. It’s just that what I do isn’t what my job is right now. My job right now is care-taking. I took it because they promised me that after a couple months, I could move into a job where I know I can do good.

I kept at it this long because for all their faults and my headaches, I do care about the kids at the ranch. I want to help them, and I want to learn how to help other kids in their position. The management has made it clear that I can’t do that where I’m at now, and I agree.

Now comes the hard part. I have a ticking clock on getting my license to be a therapist. On top of being told I can’t stand still where I’m at now, despite promises they made when they hired me. So, at this meeting today, I’m going to have a lot to talk about.

Stay tuned, I’ll do an addendum post to tell you how it went.

Grit

I left for work with writer’s block, and I came back exhausted. So I’ll be brief again.

The idea of grit has been on my mind for a while. They mentioned it in grad school, and it has stuck with me since. Not just courage, but aggressive courage. A challenge, a dare to the situation to become more difficult, So that you can rise to it more. Not just perseverance, but worldliness on top of it.

It’s certainly something I’ve needed a lot of since starting my new job.

My heart goes out to these kids. Less so recently, I’ll admit, because mentally ill children are insufferable, and I get paid to suffer them. But still, all of them come from terrible situations, and living at the ranch is more punishment than opportunity. But, sympathy and mercy won’t help them. What they need is accountability, character, and some of that same grit I use.

So I’ll rise to the challenge. Again and again. Until I prove to myself and the world it can be done. Then I teach it to these kids. Maybe then I can start making that difference I set out to make.

-Austin

Expansions

A week in to my new job and already I’m sure it’ll either be the best thing to ever happen to me, or it’ll kill me.

“Oh yeah, you will have to learn how to physically restrain the kids.”

“Oh yeah, we’ve had cutters.”

“Oh yeah, there have been suicides here.”

“Yeah, I’ve been spit on, kicked, hit in the face.”

And that was just the entrance interview.

Back in grad school, these were all distant, abstract. The worst I had to deal with were clients who didn’t come back. Now, those same clients may cause me, or themselves, serious physical harm.

The question arises- why haven’t I run screaming? I’m not sure I know the answer myself. But I do know that for the first time, I’m a part of something so much bigger than me. Adults can be set in their ways, but helping a kid through their problems might set them up for a much happier life. The inevitable heartbreak might be small price to pay.

You can’t run from the challenges in front of you. Well, you can, but if you start you never stop. The prospect of this work terrifies me, but I can’t let that slow me down. The chance to make a difference with these kids is too big a chance to pass up. And I have to admit, I like the idea of the person I’ll be if I can rise to the challenge.

New Job!

Today I started work at Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch. I kept it under wraps because, well, don’t count on anything until the check clears.

About five things off the Life Stressors Test go into a new job, from taking on new responsibilities, to the pleasant surprise of finding my net worth going up. You know, instead of my usual debt spiral.

Good stress is still stress, and I can feel the initial numbness of shock starting to wear off.

I seem to have a bad habit of putting myself into make or break situations. Going to grad school in a strange land. Taking what people told me was one of the hardest internships in that strange land. And now working with the population that I swore I would never work with? Forgive the humblebrag, but after kicking my own butt for going on two years now, I think I’ve earned it.

This new job is equal parts exciting and terrifying. Before two weeks ago I had never imagined working with any kids, never mind kids in need of a residential treatment facility. The color of my life has changed drastically overnight. I remember what one of my mentors used to say.

“Whatever you don’t want to do, go and do it.”

I was squeamish about the idea of working with kids, in part because of how tough my own childhood was. And once again, my old mentors have a point. If I want to grow, I have to step outside of my comfort zone. In the Austin Logan way of no half-measures, I took that step and turned it into a flying leap. Let’s hope I land on my feet and not my face.

Nerd Herd

Two years ago, around this time, I introduced myself to the people who would become my cohort. My first words to them were, more or less, “Hi, I’m Austin. I am a colossal geek.” I was really saying “I defy you to tell me I don’t belong here” was what I was saying. Luckily, it got big laughs instead.

Back then, I wasn’t sure nerds, geeks, introverts, and other part time social pariahs had a place in the helping professions. I still struggle with the idea sometimes. After all, what difference could one awkward nerd make?

Except, it’s not a problem unique to me, or even to all of nerd-dom. We all struggle with enough-ness, as one of my old teachers called it. I can promise you that every person in the history of creation has wondered whether or not they are enough. It took me a year’s worth of client’s and a life’s worth of self-doubt to teach me that.

But this isn’t about every person ever, this is about me. Am I enough to actually get out there and help others, despite being a bit (a lot) geeky? And the bigger question, does the helper need to figure themselves out before helping others? As I see it, the answer is a resounding “no”.

Wounded healers are still healers, maybe more-so because we at least have some perspective. The truth is that none of us have our act together. Maybe we should celebrate that instead of trying as hard as we do to hide it. So, I’m a nerd, a geek, and at times cringe-worthy. Probably going to keep that up.

Let ye who is without awkward throw the first stone.

-Austin

Compass

I’m back in my home town with two more degrees than I started with. I find myself asking; what now?

I already have quite a few plans for the next month: a Paul McCartney concert, planning for my best friends wedding, loan repayments, job hunting, apartment hunting, and helping my parents repair a house which had been befouled by years of incontinent cats.

Funny thing is, I never really planned for anything past Grad School. Part of me must have thought that the minute I got the degree, I would fall down dead, my life’s work complete. A month later I think I can call it. Not dead yet, with my whole future ahead of me.

Oh crap.

There’s no real compass for life other than what we give ourselves. Other people may weigh in on what they expect from you, but at the end of the day you only have yourself to answer to. My compass, and for the most part society’s, has been “get some schooling” for about as long as I’ve been alive. Well, mission accomplished. School gotten.

Which leaves me between life goals at the present. “Help others” is a good start, but its just vague enough to be restrictive, and so doesn’t really point me where I need to go.

But then again, and like my itinerary for this month implies, life never really slows down. I had the good fortune of attending Gonzaga, and that turned out pretty well. And like I mentioned before, sometimes lives can be changed by things we could never see coming. I need a plan, sure, but for August, I think my plan is to do all that stuff at the top. I may not have a compass yet, but I have a laundry list. It’s a start.

Life Support

Friday marked the last day of my internship. Today, I’m a free man with with my entire future ahead of me. Well technically, a free man with one more oral exam before I am all-the-way, one hundred percent done, but I’m not worried about it.

A year ago, I thought this moment was too far away to ever happen. Six months ago, I was driving myself crazy with the anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to get here.

But now that I’m here, all I can think about is how much I’ll miss what I’m leaving behind.

There were times my internship was a trial by fire and a sea of red tape. Sometimes those were the good days. But once I got used to it I realized that it was one of the few chances I’ll get to practice what I want to do, the way I want to do it.

And you know what? I grew into the role, and I did it well.

I remember my professors saying some variation of the following: “Why do you want to do this? You know it’s really hard and really long-term, right?” And I never really had any conviction behind the answers I gave them, nothing with anything real behind it. Lately that has been changing, and today I saw another way it has changed.

I know I want to be a counselor for as long as anyone will let me. I know this, because now that I won’t be seeing clients for a while, I feel something missing in my life. A part of myself that I really love has gone dim, and I know I won’t feel whole again until I can get it back.

But as far as problems go, how awesome is that? Who among the entire population of the world can say that their job makes them feel whole? In  a world where a job is more or less that thing you do for your kids until you die, I am unbelievably lucky to have that thing be something I love.

And though I feel some anxiety from all the changes that are about to happen both to and around me, namely two moves, a friend’s wedding, and some startlingly high monthly bill payments, I can’t help but think it’s all worth it.

Because at the end of the day, that job I complain about sometimes, the one that can really stress me out? I can’t live without it.

Sticker Shock

As I continue to take my first steps outside of the grad school world, I have to pause to consider what brought me to this point.

I often imagine there are people who would think that the choices I have made up to this point are bad ones. The idea of having spent more than 80,000 dollars on what is often considered the lowest paying Master’s degree in the country strikes some people as a stupid move.

If I had known that from at the outset of my education, I probably would have agreed with them. Truth be told, the only reason I tried for a Counseling degree was because it was the fastest way to flip my Psychology degree into a paying job. At first.

But luckily for me and my clients, the program I went to challenged me in ways I could have never seen coming. It forced me to take a long hard view at myself, my choices, and the world around me which shaped the two.

We have a societal view, I think, to see a career as something you do during the day that earns you money. There’s no reason for personal growth beyond what you need to do to keep earning a paycheck. But, from this blog and from the struggles I have seen, I am finding firmer footing to challenge that view.

My logic is simple, a person will spend most of their life working in their chosen field. An existence spent in a cubicle waiting for the day to be over doesn’t leave a lot of room for existential fulfillment. Which is probably why it pays so well.

I’ll never be a rich man. This degree is the vow of poverty I’ve taken for the shot at living something real and unique. To me, that’s a bargain at any price.

Of course, this may all be me trying to cope with the shock of the price tag, so take it with a grain of salt.

My takeaway is this: a career should be something that gives us meaning, not just a bank account. At the end of the day, money just does not equal a life well lived.

Finding a deeper meaning to life, however, is the only way to live.

Endings

First off, my theory paper. Read it at your leisure. But be warned; it’s a door-stopper.

Now, I want to mention a few things I’ve learned over the past week. Foremost, theory papers are exhausting. A close second, I’ve noticed closure is something you have to make happen.

During the very last week of grad classes that I will (hopefully) ever do, I noticed how much of it was the same song and dance that we’d been doing for years. That sense of finality in having reached the zenith was surprisingly absent, and the absence felt a little sore.

Maybe I was hoping for, I don’t know, more fanfare from the world at large? “Hey, look at that guy!” they would scream, “He has his Masters Degree!”

Cognitively, I know the world doesn’t work that way. Emotionally, I was hoping for the clouds to part, the heavens to thunder, and the Almighty to come down from on high to give me a high five. Instead, I’ll be in Spokane for half the summer finishing my internship hours . Funny the effect expectations have.

As I keep telling myself, this is not the end, it is the beginning. The beginning of my career as a counselor.

Still, meaning is what you make it, and here’s mine: everything ends, from grad school to the milk in the fridge to life itself.

You can’t avoid that. But, that doesn’t mean that endings are bad. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s those endings that give meaning to what we do accomplish. I may not have the clear-cut closure I would like from my education, but here’s the irony.

Because of that education, I can see the importance of closure.

Optimism and Term Papers

In what I hope is the last academic week of my life, I’m writing one last theory paper. When it’s done, I’ll put it up on GiTH for the whole world to see, if only as a told-you-so to the people who think writing a paper can’t be that stressful.

Until then, I want to highlight what I’m finding important throughout this process. Mostly as an exercise in holding on to my admittedly flagging optimism.

First, self-awareness is huge. For everyone really, but especially to a counselor. I don’t need to be perfect, but I do need to realize when four hours of classes is making me cranky. In becoming aware that something is an issue, I can actually deal with it. I can allocate resources and cope in a healthy way instead of trying to power through.

We all saw how well trying to power through was going for me.

Second: resilience might be even bigger than self-awareness. We all know there are moments  (like right now) that can only suck, where optimism seems not only unrealistic, but downright stupid.

It’s times like these where a positive outlook isn’t just helpful, it’s necessary.

I don’t have to believe that everything is all sunshine and rainbows all the time, but I do have to believe that the sucky things will get better. Especially during times of hardship (or just plain tedium, as the case may be). I’m not going to tell you that bad stuff doesn’t hurt like hell. I will tell you that it’s temporary, and filled with lessons that make you a better person.