I got into this profession to create spaces and provide mentorship I wish I had when I was younger. I was a Korean American Adoptee born in the 80s, raised in Wisconsin, wasn’t much to choose from.
I remember my fall semester 2011, exhausted, weeping, daily, in a dimly lit basement lab on campus, for about 2 weeks, buried alive under 18 credits, struggling to be faithful with that vision for adoptees in addition to all my other callings, and working a full time job to save up $$$ for my trip to Korea where I was hoping to meet my birth mother. It was a lot to carry. I’d cry, then pray, cry some more, and pray.
I felt like a wreck.
Some of our clients and the people we serve might feel like this soon. Some of us might feel like this soon.
Looking back 7 years later, here are some practical strategies I was forced to learn during that fall semester. I got through it. And many more like it. Still use them today. My hope is we crush it this season despite whatever overwhelming forces of school and work and family and life might be headed our way.
Ah, here’s a visual from my personal notebook. Every semester, I’d invest one hour during the first week, find a sweet spot at the library, snacks, music, get in the zone, record important due dates from every syllabus into iCalendar, and then draw pictures to help me emotionally and mentally prepare for those high-stress weeks. Those pink lines. Felt like I was walking my way to the cross.
Stress is our body’s response to things that threaten us or tax our coping abilities. There’s this mechanism not invented by me called “Cognitive Appraisal” where we ask ourselves:
Is this situation going to be stressful?
How well can I handle it? How well can I do it?
As you approach new projects this season, fresh deadlines, heavier demands on executive functioning, anxious parents, irresistible social opportunities, how would you adapt this cognitive appraisal exercise to fit your or your client’s specific needs, goals, and challenges?
The next step is follow-through. I’m real good at making lists and calendars. Not good at doing them. Stuff gets in the way. Pressfield’s War of Art is a bit dramatic at times, but I love it. Even after we finish our appraisal process, we need to be honest and give space for those barriers that actively shape our clients’ capacity to follow through. Some things are beyond their control. Some of it rests completely within their responsibility. We need to learn to sit with both. And come up with a plan for how we’ll remove barriers when they come up, or get through them when they won’t go away.
Even with a vision that meant so much to me, I still had barriers/distractions to face.
Mine were parties of any kind, excessive personal pleasure, procrastination, fear, pride, and laziness. How about yours? Yes we need to have fun and rest (see #4), and we gotta help each other overcome resistance. Why? So that we can get back to sharing our unique and precious gifts with the world!!!!
Many of our clients have limited access to helpful resources. But we can help. Make a phone call to the school. Write a letter to the county. Advocate. Recommend accommodations. Keep listening. Refer to someone who can help. Help them find office hours. Get a tutor. Watch tutorials. For me, I struggled with writing. I couldn’t figure out why all my papers were coming back with such low scores. Then, I found out there was a “Writing Center” on campus. These blessed people read through all my papers with me, and helped me decide what changes to make. Pretty much every paper after that was an A. Seriously. And it saved me so much time in the long run, no need to pour hours into a final paper any more! Something as simple as connecting your clients to an appropriate resource could make all the difference.
4) Celebrate. I have a teen who comes in each week, it’s taken almost a year for his mom to see how much he comes back to life when she opens with the positives rather than all the dirt she’s got on him. Yes, we need to talk about where he needs to change and grow. But his presence completely lights up when she finds the best in him and shares it with me. If you see something say something!!! They got a D when last year they failed? YES!!!!!!! OMG YES YES YES YES!!!!
In Letters to a Young Therapist, Mary Pipher says, “Help them see the good that can happen!!!”
I love that scene near the end of Silver Linings Playbook (3:37). They made a bet with a friend and the family business and fortune is on the line in a dance competition. They finish like last place or something. But they got the score they needed, and that’s all that mattered. Look at the way they celebrated!!! Rather than compare themselves with others, they went after it with infinite perspective. They had their own goals to go after. Let’s bring something like that for our clients. Help your client find their goals for the school year. Go for it. And find your own ways to celebrate often 🙂
I’d love to hear from you! What are some back to school tips you’ve found helpful in the past or presently? Please share!