While most of us take comfort that the Mayan calendar was incorrect, we cannot ignore the epidemic of local, regional, national, and international issues vying for our involvement in 2013. The ravages of Super Storm Sandy are not yet repaired, senseless shootings continue, “Equal Rights” remains little more than a bumper sticker in some areas, our military personnel remain in harm’s way, too few children have the benefit of being read to at night (knowing more of the words to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” than the name of their governor (this may not be an age-restricted fact)), and federal budgetary woes impact a nation’s future. These are today’s realities. Fortunately, with increasing frequency, psychologists are viewed as essential responders, recognized for the breadth of our expertise. Community and legislative leaders realize that psychologists integrate evolving knowledge from a variety of domains to inform a) behavioral interventions, b) the building and sustaining of group cohesion, c) methods to effectively integrate pharmacotherapy, and d) the development and conduct of front-line prevention, intervention, and therapy, for some of the most devastating illnesses that we face. Psychologists have never had so great an opportunity to engage and so great a responsibility to engage effectively throughout our communities. This “call” for engagement for our Society is too loud to be missed! Understanding risk and resilience, exploring the similarities between substance and process addictions, working with other health professionals in screening development and interpretation, ensuring that quality, integrated care is available and accessible, recruiting, training, and retaining the best and brightest of our graduates to ensure a diverse and qualified professional base. And on and on.
This growth brings with it a cost. We must be efficient consumers of information and more effectively work within and across networks to secure maximum benefit. All of this while sustaining our existing tasks, client loads, and families. No wonder many of us are simply tired and wondering “Why am I doing this?”
Good question. The immediate answers typically center on job definition (e.g., “Well, it’s my job”), or a Belief in improving outcomes for others (e.g., “We want to nurture recovery”). These responses are perfectly acceptable reasons. But they don’t speak to the personal investment that accompanies the action. Too often, we sacrifice what are the best parts of our own “selves” without realizing it until we find ourselves unhappy, burned-out and angry. We cannot be maximally effective in this new “world” under these circumstances.
I understand that some of our colleagues avoid or at least minimize the time they spend in this pit. Perhaps their success lies in their ability to appreciate their core qualities, regardless of what task they undertake. In reviewing the potential depth of these issues, it is clear that professional help may be required, particularly if the workplace or home is abusive with emotional bullying, for example. However, for others of us, it is simply a matter of losing ourselves in our jobs. We like(d) our jobs, the challenge, and the pace. Then one day, we found we were one with the job! Perhaps there is something we can do to help us meet our increasing responsibilities and retain an appreciation of ourselves. Without using professional labels, try something please, identify at least three characteristics that you like about yourself. Don’t rely on the last week or last 6 months: Think back, maybe to when you were in high school (too ugly?, okay, try graduate school). Quick wit? Trusted? Enjoy helping friends? Generous? Empathic? Accepting? Gentle? Laid-back?
After making a list, consider to what extent you currently experience these characteristics on a regular basis. If you’re not happy with the extent to which these qualities are currently expressed, think about what circumstances are constraining them. Talk with a trusted friend who might help you examine your options and follow-through with your ideas. For me, the answer wasn’t difficult (I need to be more involved in community efforts). BUT the trick is getting someone to hold me accountable!