Recently, as I left the office of my newly opened private practice, I was struck with a realization: despite having worked a thirteen hour day, I was feeling energized. In fact, I realized I had been feeling this way for a few weeks now. It didn’t make sense. I had worked shorter days at my agency and yet felt infinitely more miserable and exhausted. That’s when my internal therapist piped up, reminding me that this was probably something to pay attention to. I want to share my reflections on this with you because I’ve talked to enough therapists recently to know my experience isn’t nearly as unique as I once believed. In fact, I’d be willing to bet you a cheeseburger that you, or a colleague close to you, has felt similarly.
Here’s my story:
In the spring of this year, I was making plans to leave my agency job, come hell or high water. In fact, I was making plans to leave this field altogether. I had recently taken a free computer programming twelve week intensive to get me ready to launch into what had to be greener pastures. I bought the new programmer ready laptop, devoted all of my time to mastering my new skill, and networked with the fervor of a man with nothing to lose. I even pulled down my old career counseling books and inventories from grad school, certain that the answers and confirmation of my new life lay within those pages.
Despite my enthusiasm in my new endeavor, I did all this with a constant nagging sense that I must be missing something. Could it really be the wisest choice for me to leave behind my years of experience, my degrees, and my professional identity, while still paying the mountain of debt I had accumulated to obtain those things, all for the uncertain hope of a life I didn’t dread? Something didn’t feel right. Again, I was faced with the question I had grappled with many times: what could have driven me to this point?
Most of my professional life had been built around my experiences in community mental health agencies. Sure, there were many rewarding experiences in these jobs. And through these experiences, I did learn things that I perhaps may not have otherwise learned about this field. However, there were also the chronic late nights, low pay requiring multiple jobs to make ends meet, and supervisors that made it necessary to keep a “screaming pillow” under your desk. There was the growing dread for Monday that used to wash over me on Sunday, before it began creeping into Saturday, until it finally reached a point that I dreaded Friday because Monday would be here all too soon. I felt like a captive in my own life, to my own choices. I was miserable.
After ten years in community mental health, working in various agencies, I was sure I had reached the end of my usefulness, and I hated my job. I hated the daily frustrations of working with a population I didn’t have a passion to serve, and I had a supervisor with whom I rarely found myself on the same page. I was just done.
So, after a moment of crisis and consulting with a friend in the field, I took a chance and decided to open my own practice before I threw in the towel. It had been my dream, and I couldn’t just give up on it without trying. I once again became an avid learner, this time turning my attention to the ins and outs of building a successful practice. I went after it like it was reality…not just a dream. No more jealously languishing in the shadows of my colleagues who built their ideal practices. It was my turn to stare down the fear and step out in faith. And I did!
Now, several months later, I’m working late in the evenings, building my practice after my day job at an agency, and I’m working with my ideal population. I’m not miserable anymore—I’m building my dream. My passion has returned, and I look at these long days with a smile and wonder how I could have come so close to throwing away a career I love. To those of you struggling with launching your practice, working in agencies, or just building slowly, hang in there. Don’t give up. You deserve to see your dream become a reality. Every day that you get to live your passion makes the struggle worth it.
Leo is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Greenville, South Carolina with a passion for helping those with chronic health/pain issues, difficult life transitions, and those seeking EMDR focused therapy for these and related traumas. He lives in beautiful Travelers Rest with his wife and son, who are his heroes and inspiration. He enjoys the outdoors, a good book, and a strong cup of coffee. Connect with Leo at www.legacycounselingllc.com, via Facebook, or via Instagram.