I work in higher education, but this is not your grandpa’s higher education establishment. I work at an institution that has a majority minority population, is part of a larger system where half of the students served are the first in their family to graduate from a four-year institution, 3 out of 5 students deal with hunger, and 1 out of 11 students deal with homelessness. This means, I see a lot of students and clients dealing with Imposter Syndrome. Common in females, people of color, and first generation college students, Imposter Syndrome leaves people plagued by the belief that it was luck that got them to where they are and at any moment, they could be discovered to be a fraud. It doesn’t matter how much competence someone with Imposter Syndrome exhibits or how much success they experience, their minds are too entrenched in insecurity to see this evidence. What many of my students don’t know is how often I, too, deal with this phenomenon. I’ve been dealing with it much of my life, but lately, it’s been presenting itself in a new and unexpected way.
My job is people and I am good at my job. Despite it taking what seems like forever to get all the hours needed for licensure, I feel confident in my therapeutic skills. Not an arrogant confidence that is unwilling to reflect or grow or acknowledge mistakes, but the kind of confidence that allows me to admit that I’m actually a really good counselor. I may be better at it than anything else I’ve tried or will try in my life. I used to dream of being ambitious and entrepreneurial. Now, most days I think I’ll be content doing good work and helping new clinicians grow for the rest of my life. While that could change anytime, what won’t change is my ability to be a good therapist. I firmly believe this will only grow as I do.
There is a strange experience that therapists have to navigate, however. A good therapist has to help clients gain insight about experiences they have never shared. Whether related to addiction, death, or divorce, a talented therapist must learn and grow through professional development and consultation in ways that allow them to process effectively with a client regarding circumstances they have never themselves lived. It’s not uncommon for certain populations to make accusations such as “but do you even have children?” or “but you can’t understand unless you’ve dealt with addiction!” and the best therapists must be prepared to answer.
Working at a university means I hear a great deal about relationships. I have to be comfortable talking about any situation you could possibly imagine in the context of romantic relationships without judgment and ready with psychoeducation on on countless predicaments. As I said already, I am good at it, too. But lately, I’ve been feeling that maybe I am better at being a counselor than I am at living my own life. So often, as I hear my clients talking, I hear my own story in different forms. The client with minimal relationship experience, the client who bases their value on whether or not someone likes them, the client who wants companionship, I see myself in them. Beyond that, I feel myself longing that I could be as good at living out this relationship stuff in real life as I am at guiding clients through it. Why can’t I demonstrate the awareness and insight I’m so adept at spotting for others? Because of my deftness at work, it is not uncommon for someone who sees me in one setting to be surprised at how bad I am at boys in another. At work, I seem confident, composed, self-assured, so why am I so clueless and self-conscious in my dating life?
As I’ve shared, I can struggle with vulnerability, so I utilize this trick I’m really good at. When I’m not ready to share about something, I ask others as many questions about themselves as I can so that they fill the airspace and I don’t have to. If they turn the questioning back on me, I might laugh, give a quick answer, then switch it back to them. My endless ability to ask meaningful questions and allow others to feel heard is probably a huge part of what makes me a great therapist. However, on dates, I’ve been told it can make people feel like they are being interviewed. My lack of ability to flirt (as flirting takes a certain amount of confidence and vulnerability) and my difficulty relaxing and letting my guard down, turns off anyone and everyone who doesn’t doesn’t have a fantasy of dating more of a teacher or old sage type. Unfortunately, when I finally am comfortable enough to turn off counselor mode, this usually means we’ve still only hit the phase when I engage in excessive nervous chatter and self-deprecation. To actually let my guard down, allow myself to believe someone could really like me for me, find me attractive, relax with someone, that takes much, much, much longer. Probably longer than most are willing to wait and longer than I’m willing to endure. I want to skip over all the nonsense in the beginning and get straight to the part when I’m comfortable. I know that’s not how it works, but I keep looking for the secret formula, the love potion, the instant fix.
I like feeling confident and in my element, therefore, I avoid what is risky. I steer clear of any circumstance in which I might be labeled a fraud. My deepest fear is that the facade will crack and all my inconvenient bits will be peeking out from underneath. However, I know that’s what a true, meaningful relationship requires. I must risk making a total fool out of myself and hope someone may actually find my foolishness attractive if I am ever going to grow. I must exhibit patience when it would be easier to cut and run. I must answer truthfully when it would be easier to listen to others speak instead. I must do this, because no one (okay, maybe no one healthy) wants to date their therapist.
Final Disclaimer: This is the final post for now in my series about boys, dating, etc. Thanks for reading along with my rambling thoughts. For anyone who thought the series would wrap up with a pretty little bow, I apologize. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how this all works yet, and that’s just not how my life seems to go. It would be fun to write about online dating escapades, but let’s be real, that’s way too large of a disclosure for a public forum like the internet. However, if you are a trusted friend, I’d be happy to chat about the ways I have already changed and grown as I’ve been writing this series.