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Happy Birthday To Me!

So I’ve made it to the first anniversary of starting my own business and I’m chuffed as hell about it.

From starting out mildly terrified that I’d never get any work to getting to the point of having to turn work away, it’s been quite a journey. Here’s a few things that I’ve learnt so far:

  1. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you

I’m a lawyer by background. What that means is that my natural tendency is to work, work, work and then, when the weekend comes, do a little bit more work besides. It also means that I’m inclined to judge my worth on the basis of productivity. I’m hard wired to bustle around like one of my kids’ wind-up toys until one day the batteries run out and the music slows down to that creepy drawn out whine (OK, so I don’t do the last bit. But I do go a bit wonky).

Even though I know this, I still find it excruciating when people (and by ‘people’ I mean my husband) ask me to slow down. It goes against the grain. It feels weird and uncomfortable to go easy on myself.

But I now understand that having spaces in the diary is precisely what’s needed to be a decent therapist. It’s during those spaces that the right-hand brain (the bit more inclined towards creativity and emotions) comes out to play (‘play’ being the operative word – various studies have shown how crucial it is for mental health and growth).

My job, more than anything else, is about encouraging clients to turn away from ‘fixity’ in their thinking about whatever situation has brought them to therapy and to inspire them to develop their curiosity and imagination about their lives. Trying to stimulate that mindset in clients while spending my own time in my logical business-sided brain just does not compute. It’s also a tad hypocritical.

So my own ‘homework’  has increasingly become to encourage my own creativity and inspiration to come out; I do this by being outside in nature, listening to different forms of music, being in my body in some way. None of this is about immersion in theory and books (although I do still love that bit as well – after all, you can take the girl out of law etc etc…). But my real homework these days is all about feeling and experiencing.

And for those of you who like measurable outcomes, all this messing about does lead to tangible progress. What I’ve realised is that those ‘peak moments’ or changes of heart, those realisations, breakthroughs and shifts that we all hope for arrive mostly when approached via the side door, in the gaps, in the silences, in the inbetweenness, when we’re feeling and experiencing. They don’t come around when we’re trying to force it using intellect and clever words.

  1. Trying to be all things to all people makes you just a bit beige

It’s a classic trend for those starting out in business isn’t it – to say ‘yes’ to everything and everyone. It’s borne out of good intentions but also fear. Fear of not having enough and fear of not being enough.

It’s also really hard to say no to people. Especially, I think, for women. Women seem to be particularly programmed to seek to create cohesion. As a natural people-pleaser, rescuer, fixer, whatever you want to call it, I’m no exception to this rule.

Left to my own devices, I could give myself sciatica bending over backwards in an effort to get you to like me.

But in recent years I’ve learnt better. I’m no longer everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ (and I’m not sure I ever was really). And nor is everyone mine. And if I say yes to everyone then I become like a watered-down Green Tea (sorry Green Tea aficionados but it makes me want to vom) not a full-bodied English Breakfast. The more thinly spread I am, the less substance I have. And I want to have substance.

Becoming more discerning about what you take on is not about arrogance. It’s an acknowledgment that, when we have faith and put ourselves in the right situations, the work comes and it’s the right work and the right clients for you at that particular time. It’s a natural unforced process, a lot like those sessions I have sometimes with clients where it feels brilliantly effortless; like they are almost doing the work themselves, gently guided by me. While all sessions are rewarding, those are particularly so and I emerge feeling that I’ve learnt as much from the client as they have from me.

  1. No one likes an ending

British people, it seems to me, will literally do anything to avoid an ending. Endings in whatever form they may take are uncomfortable, they’re weird and frankly what’s the point of wasting time dwelling on them?

I get it.

During my therapeutic training, I was more sceptical than most about the amount of time I felt we  ‘wasted’ on talking about managing endings. To give you some context, I’m the sort of person who is up and out of her seat before the credits have even started rolling at the end of the film, leaving the other suckers to sit in those queues in the car park whingeing about the price of popcorn. And, speaking of cars, anyone who’s ever sat in one with me for any length of time will know that I’m an annoying ‘flicker’, switching from station to station before the song’s even finished. And (most embarrassingly) my relationship history used to be peppered with ‘overlaps’ with me seemingly unable to end one relationship before starting another, (something which, in these days of Brexit could be referred to as suitor ‘stockpiling’).

I used to do all I could do avoid endings. I’ve noticed that this is often the way with clients as well. The final sessions of therapy are often characterised by cancellations, illnesses and interruptions; various ways, consciously and unconsciously of avoiding the reality of an ending.

I don’t mean to sound critical (please see above for evidence that I have literally no leg to stand on). I just notice that tendency in us to avoid things that are uncomfortable.

What I now know is that when I allow myself to sit with the discomfort of bringing something to a close in my own life, whether it’s by having an awkward conversation, responding to an email or ending a relationship in some other way, I get a ‘clean’ feeling of something being brought to a close in a proper way. That’s very different to the murky emotional hangovers I used to experience where I knew, having not ended things ‘well’, that I’d feel slightly awkward if I ever bumped into that person in the street again.

I tend to agree with the Gestalt therapists on this (for whom life is seen as being all about patterns, with each ‘Gestalt’ or situation a type of circle to be completed), that it’s crucial psychologically not to leave ‘unfinished business’ in our relationships. If we do then it stops us from being able to focus on the here and now, as we’ve got too many loose ends to live fully in the present.

So, in summary, I’m a convert to the importance of endings. And so you’d think I’d have a good idea about how to end this blog. But I’m sorry, I’ve just had an idea for the next one so let me just write that down and I’ll finish this one later…