Letter to Young Roberta: Leaving St. Louis and Going to Columbia

So you’ve just gotten married, your husband has a new job that he is excited about, you are buying your first house – and you are moving to the South.  You don’t know it yet, but the road ahead involves lessons of letting go, blooming where you are planted, culture shock and the necessity of friendship and community.

Since you are so in love, your body is flooded with the feel-good hormone ocxytocin, and you don’t even realize that you are making decisions from rose-colored glasses.  Since it took so long to find true love, you think the high you feel now will last forever, and that there are only good times to be had ahead.  Sure you are filled with glee that your husband is happy to be heading up his own research group in his new job, but have you considered how it will hurt your heart to leave your new(-ish) job?  You feel like you are still in the process of proving yourself there, and you don’t understand the impact of pulling the plug prematurely and cutting things short.  You don’t know it yet but you will end up wondering if you could have been successful if you had stayed on.  You don’t know it yet but you will miss it, because so far in life you have defined yourself through your work.  You don’t know it yet but later you will say it felt like an abortion, with a premature termination.

But then again, you are all too willing to do anything for love.  Well, healthy love.  Having waited so long to get married, having once believed that there was no one out there for you - that you were doomed to singlehood your whole life, of course you would give it all up for love!  But what about all your friends?  And the network you worked so long to cultivate?  You think it will be easy to duplicate all that, but you don’t realize yet the difference geography makes.  Since you have lived in France, you understand the cultural difference between the United States and Europe, but you don’t appreciate the cultural difference between the Midwest and South in your own country.  You don’t know you are considered a “yankee” from the North and all that entails until you find yourself in Columbia, South Carolina.  The year you arrive there the city makes national news for continuing to fly the Confederate Flag on the steps of the State Capitol Building.  You watch the news and wonder what your St. Louis friends are thinking about your new home?  Surely you can barely believe it yourself.

The heady spell of adventure does not waiver until you arrive in Columbia on moving day, and realize that to you it feels like there is nothing there for you, except the Saturn dealership so you can get your new car serviced when necessary.  The startling realization of this makes you cry, and yet seriously you know you will be okay, because at least there is that Saturn dealership.

Without your work to give you a sense of identity, you find yourself lost, albeit happy in love.  You take 8 weeks lounging by the pool, trying to find yourself.  A book that you find in Columbia’s new (and actually impressive) library falls off the shelf for you (“A Bend in the Road is Not the End of the Road” by Joan Lunden) and reading it keeps you sane.  Joan’s story inspires you to embrace your passion and return to school to get an Educational Specialist Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.  Although it took an enormous amount of psychic energy to embrace this change, it was exciting as well as fearful, and it was a passionate time in your life.  It was the first time you felt you stepped into your authenticity:  being of service to others who value the wisdom you gain from your own life experiences.

This time was the first time in your life when you began to realize that once you are on your right path, the universe reaches out to support you in your choice.  For example, when you were overwhelmed trying to decide which school to attend, what program to enter, and what degree to get, the world made it easy for you and the answer fell in your lap through your relationships.  You could have skipped all the anxiety and indecision you put yourself through at that time by simply following the advice of the people you admired most.  In the end, it was through your trust of your new therapist that you found your perfect place at Converse College and Westgate Family Therapy Teaching Clinic.  With all the schools scattered throughout the states, who knew you would end up in the only one with a Jungian-oriented practicum, so perfect for you after having seen a Jungian-oriented therapist while living in St. Louis.

Therapy itself has been a guiding principle for you since the ‘90’s:  in seeking out a therapist yourself, you were lead to a hypnosis session in which you remembered wanting to be in psychology at age nine.  Observing your own transformation in therapy helped you make a solid commitment:  first to yourself, then to your husband.  Something you were not capable of before therapy.  Being frightened in Columbia gave you the incentive to seek therapeutic help there, too.  Who knew that the very person you sought help from would lead you to Converse College…and later show up as your instructor there?  Having experienced the joy of mystical change gave you the hunger to want to help others.  Helping others through sharing your own wounds is your gift, and something you are very good at. But then I get ahead of the story, because that is something you don’t discover until later down the road.


How to Work With Someone Who Hurt Your Feelings

Sometimes I forget to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and see things from their point of view.  John Gottman, famous couples researcher and therapist, tells us that being able to do this is imperative for a good relationship.  Usually this means being able to understand why the other person is feeling what they are feeling.  Sometimes I am actually too good at that, usually in the context of the therapy room.  Today I am thinking about it in a slightly different context, though it has similar results.

Recently I joined a committee for a professional organization that I have membership in where I really did not know anyone very well.  I have just moved back to town and am in the process of creating new relationships/business contacts with people.  I used to belong to this organization before, about 15 years ago.  It was good then so I thought I would give it another try.

When I lived here before I was in another profession and was well-connected by virtue of what I did.  I was in business development for a CPA firm as well as for a bank.  Since then I have transitioned into doing marriage and family therapy work for professionals/executives.  I have had my own business for the last 13 years.  I think to myself (which is too often) that no one knows me here for what I have been doing these last 15 years.  I think they only know me for what I did when I left.  I think about how well known I was where I was living in North Carolina, but how little known I am here for the kind of work I do now.  So I enter the first committee meeting leading with these negative thoughts, feeling inadequate and somewhat anxious despite the fact that I am very extroverted.

I was shy about volunteering my time to help, mostly because I have so much going on with the transition here, so I held back.  However, there was one event where I thought my field of expertise could be a plus.  So I stuck my toe in the water and offered to help, but someone else with a stronger voice took charge of the lead.  That was okay with me, but I have to admit feeling a little left out.  I felt so left out that by the time I pulled out of the parking garage at the end of the meeting, I didn’t pay full attention and scraped my front bumper against the concrete post!  That was like an exclamation mark to my feelings of frustration and I almost quit the committee right then and there.  Afterall, I figured, they didn’t really need me.  I wasn’t really contributing anything.

But I stuck with it and tried again by attending the next meeting.  Once again, I felt weak to the strength of the other committee members’ strong voice when it came to speaking out on planning this one event…they were taking on all the work and I did not have a part in it,  and I wasn’t speaking out and saying anything because I was listening to those negative voices in my head too much.

A few weeks went by, and it came to be the week of the event.  Imagine my surprise when the person with the strong voice e-mailed me to request my input re: the content of the events’ program.  We arranged a telephone call, and I was blown away by how it turned out.  During a forty-minute conversation, I found out that this person valued my opinion, and preferred to collaborate during the presentation part of the event.  They also suggested that we co-facilitate that evening.  I gave strong opinions on the content and was met with positive response.  I felt my anxieties wash away as I realized that I was the one with the problem:  I had failed to put myself in the other person’s shoes because I was too preoccupied with my own insecurities.  If I had done so sooner, I would have seen that they sought my input as a valuable contribution.  That they were not preventing me from participating in the planning at all, that I was doing that all by myself with my negative thinking.

Thank goodness I was open to the call of cooperation and was easily able to brush aside my hurt feelings.  The collaboration turned out to be a rich experience.  When the other person introduced me at the event, it was done in a flattering style, with attention called to my “many credentials”.  To say I was in disbelief at the moment was not too strong of a phrase.  I hope that I will be savoring this experience for months to come…what it teaches me is not to be so preoccupied with the negative voices in my head that I fail to notice when someone is extending a helping hand.