This summer, we pioneered a new Summer Snapshot series that shared brief reflections from people in our network on their experience this summer. The series was so well received we’ve decided to expand it to other seasons. We’re delighted to share this Fall Snapshot from an emerging scholar in psychology. Written a bit earlier this fall, this piece is deeply relevant as November busyness takes off.
As an aspiring psychologist, I was recently in a training session that taught us how to validate clients’ feelings—to show respect for their feelings, display empathy, and exhibit active listening so that they feel heard. While learning how to empathize with the feelings of others, however, I’ve also been reflecting on my own feelings, especially transitioning into my first year in a Master’s program in New York City. I think one thing I have to learn if I want to survive in graduate school is that I am not perfect, that I don’t always have to get the “right” answer right away, but that I need to have persistence and endurance and resilience. I need to be able to not fall apart when things don’t work out my way right away, and understand that sometimes I make mistakes—I am human, after all. I need to be able to take constructive feedback and grow from it, not just be hurt or oversensitive.
Let me backtrack and explain myself a bit. I am currently in a Master’s program for clinical psychology, but my goal is to eventually apply to PhD programs, so that I can find a job as a professor in a university. It has been almost a month since I have started, and since then I have joined a research lab, started volunteering at a suicide hotline, gotten into the swing of my classes, made new friends, and started working part-time. However, these first weeks, I also sprained my ankle, missed the first lab meeting (because of spraining my ankle), and have not yet settled into a comfortable routine. Most pressingly, I have not found a consistent small group to be accountable to, though I am looking forward to the Discipleship Training that is starting at my church.
Actually, even though it is only the first semester into my Master’s, I have been stressing out a lot lately about applying to clinical psychology PhD programs and how to make myself competitive. A constant struggle that I’ve always had is measuring myself by my grades, by my status and what I am doing, rather than who I am in Christ, basing my identity on achievements rather than my worth as God’s daughter. I think one of my biggest problems is my lack of faith—my trust in God. I want to plan out my own life and pursue the “perfect” path, but the truth is that in this life there is no one way or path that is perfect, and I can’t be afraid to stumble and take zigzags. For example, I want to set myself apart and impress my professor so that I can be more competitive when applying to PhD programs, but I realize fixating on that too much, and depending my self worth on her approval, is ultimately going to fail me at one point or another. So why stress myself out now over the uncertain future, when I can focus on God, and the mercies and grace that He has for me every morning? Why idolize getting a PhD when I can seek Him first and His righteousness – because He promised that all other things will be added? Why seek love in man and in other places, when He has shown me how much He loved me by dying on the cross, and shedding His blood so that my sins could be covered?
After a conversation with a clinical psychology doctoral student (and after grilling her for advice), the one thing she said that helped me the most was that even she didn’t completely know what she wants to do after her program. And that was when I realized—why am I being so frantic and asking all these questions about PhD programs—how to plan, how to be competitive, what classes to take, etc.? I realized that I was comparing myself to others, and was idealizing being in a PhD program because that is the stage of life I eventually want to be in too. But I also realized that being in a PhD program does not necessarily give your more peace, or security, or happiness. Yes, when you are in a PhD program, maybe people are slightly more impressed than when you say that you are in a Master’s program, and you do get funding (sometimes), and you have a better sense of what you will specialize in, but even then, you have to think about if you want to go into academia or be a clinician, where you will go after you graduate, if you will find a job, if you will find a summer externship, obtain a faculty position, if your research will work out, if you will get published, etc. And even if you get a tenure-track position as a professor, you have to worry about maintaining your lab and getting enough publications out there to obtain tenure; if you become a clinician, you have to worry about having enough clients to maintain your practice. I realize that in any stage of life, there will always be more to worry about for the next step, because there is always more that we can potentially become and gain, and therefore there will always be more pressure that we can put on ourselves. And I realized, once again, that in this life we will never experience perfection—outside of Christ. So why do I need to worry? By worrying, has anyone added a cubit to his stature?
I have to remind myself that it’s okay to make mistakes. After all, Simon Peter made the ultimate mistake of denying he knew Jesus, yet Jesus ultimately forgave him and reinstated him. And I realize that this is also the kind of grace I’m living under—Jesus forgave me, so why can’t I forgive myself? Actually, I think it’s a bit selfish and prideful of me to hold on to my “mistakes” as if I am a failure—in God’ eyes, I am not a failure. He created me for His good purpose, and He promised that all things will work together for good. And part of learning not to fear man is to let go of perceived offenses, apologize where I need to, and move on and try to be better, not be paralyzed by what I should have done in the past, such as missed deadlines, sprained ankles, and confrontations at work. What’s done is done, but true grace is moving on from the past and into the freedom that God has in store starting from now, knowing that I am in the process of sanctification and that He is making me more and more into His image, from now until the day that He returns.
My prayer request for this semester is to seek God in everything I do—in my personal life, in DT, and in my relationships with others. I want to show Him how much I love Him, just as He has shown us how much that He loves us, by His faithfulness and mercy from the beginning of time to the end of eternity. I know that the very least I can do is offer up a part of my life as an offering back to Him, as a portion to represent giving all of my life to Him. The life I live is not my own, but He has purchased me with His blood, and so everything I am and everything I own belongs to Him. This is what I need to continue to remind myself each and every day—in my devotions, in prayer, in reading His word, in serving. There’s only one life to live, and I pray that I may live it for Christ.
Photo courtesy of tpsdave at Pixabay.com
An anonymous contributor to the Emerging Scholars Blog.