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Personal Reflection Essay


One of the basic lessons for succeeding in Life is to understand and accept that one will never really know enough to master the process of growth. The best one can hope for is to be open to growth as it may be based on a easily-recognized moments and patterns along with events and experiences that seem to be anything but growth-oriented.

Starting out as a student provides a sense of freedom and fear. The freedom comes from knowing one is open and willing to learn, to strive for mastery, and that the goal is a powerful driver of purpose. The fear, if one admits it, is that one may find the challenge too difficult to overcome.

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As first year blends into second and so on, the sense of freedom fades, and the sense of fear changes. Freedom fades because one is now locked into a path of progress, the options are reduced to a more linear progression, and the acceptance of this narrower focus is liberating, but it is not freeing. On the other hand, the fear of failure morphs from that of failing on a personal level to a fear of failing the person we are engaged to help. This is a more layered fear, a deeper one, because wanting to help others is what leads to taking on this challenge, so becoming more aware of what failure could mean sharpens the fear. The path to growth is to channel it as part of one’s guides, and not the only one.

In the midst of this academic and professional growth came the ultimate challenge of personal growth: I had a baby. Looking back on the freedom/fear balance that framed my beginnings as a student, all I could do was smile as the perspectives I held were changed so drastically. The freedom I felt at the start of my education were based on the comfort level of having experts, people with depths of experience, to help me along the way. In essence, my sense of freedom was based on giving up my judgment in favor of what other people would tell me. This doesn’t mean that I was going to be a mindless drone, only that I saw freedom as “relying on others.”

Having a baby teaches you in stark and unrelenting fashion that relying on others is not freedom. I also reappraised my fears from my student and clinical environment in the light of bringing a baby into the world. The reassessment was simple: No one in the world needed me more than my child, and no one depended more on me than this baby. If my fear of failing a person I wanted to help was placed on a numerical scale from 1-10, I would have said I was feeling “ a quiet 8 or 9” sometimes. With a baby, I was feeling a jangling 15 almost all the time.

To my relief, this is normal. The realization that a life literally depends on you in physical and emotional terms, is (or should be) a sobering realization and a motivation to rise to the challenge. There was no doubt in my mind that I would, but there is always the doubt, if one is honest and self-aware, about whether one can do the job well. It is often noted that the first step towards being a good parent is being aware that perfection is neither expected nor needed, but the willingness to improve as a parent is (Turner, 2014).

To take a step back for a moment, I was at that point in the midst of my career development and the beginning of nurturing a child. What I thought would be the difficult part of the next few years was the career development path. That path represented not just my chosen purpose, but also defined my self-image. The demands of academic and clinical practice were rising as my knowledge base increased, so I felt I was equipped to proceed and was self-identifying with this progress. In a word, I was feeling challenged close to my limits.

Then the baby arrives, and I realize that I was nowhere near my personal limits. In fact, by focusing so strongly on my academic and professional development, I had lost sight of the fact that there is an entire world of experiences I had opted to ignore. This was not a conscious decision on my part, or I least I don’t feel that I said to myself at any point: “I will only focus on this and nothing else.” And yet it happened. If I had been told to do so, I’m sure I would have rejected the idea outright. One cannot truly grow if self-limitation is a core process (Becker 2014).

Looking back on that time, I realize I had not lost my self-belief or self-confidence, so my narrowing of focus was not based on fear. I knew and could identify/define the fear I felt, and none of that was holding me back. If anything, it was helping me learn more and prepare myself more deeply for my professional future. So seeing myself as “limited” when the baby arrived was based on something else.

Slowly it dawned on me that what led me to a narrowed focus was my drive to maintain high standards. I don’t say that as a humble-brag: I believe most of my peers would nod in recognition of the statement. In fact, it is almost a requirement to have a drive for consistent high standards when the goal of one’s service is to help people in very fundamental ways. Would anyone want to have their well-being entrusted to someone who does not have high standards for their performance and the results?

In my push to sustain the standards I wanted at all times, I had shunted the arrival of the baby aside, in a way, by “parking” it to keep making progress in my academic and professional efforts. This was a way of maintaining control over the elements I felt I could control (Carbonell, 2016). In a vague way, I was uncomfortably aware that Life would change with the baby’s birth, and in the meantime, I was making every effort count in terms of “personal high standards.”

And yet, in retrospect, I can see I was falling short in certain ways. As the pace of my daily activities increased, I neglected to maintain as healthy a diet as possible. It became increasingly easier to replace a good meal with a quick snack or a drive-thru purchase, because it was only once or twice, until it became a bit too routine.

The flip-side of having high standards is that they automatically demand that every element that can support the intended results fall into line to support the pursuit of those standards. If my goal was to be the best student and clinician possible to help other people, then the same high standards of care intended for my clients had to be applied to me. If I could not or would not take excellent care of myself, how could I be expected to take excellent care of others?

Having a baby drives this point home with stunning force. To an extent I never believed possible, the need to care for the child placed my health and caring for it as a major priority in my life. All of sudden, nutritional concerns were paramount, for not only the baby, but for me as well. I began to see nutrition from the dietary aspect of a child’s growing needs and from the preventive medicine aspect that would help me sustain personal health and well-being (Godwyn, 2014). It is one thing to carry a baby for nine months knowing that their health needs are connected to you: it is another to realize that now the baby’s health needs depend on you in ways you have to be more proactive about.

It is the proactive part that worried me. To be blunt, I procrastinate. I know I do, and I procrastinate about dealing with my procrastination. I am not happy about it, it often infuriates

me, but I continue to procrastinate. But a baby does not understand or respond well to procrastination. The immediate needs of a baby are made resoundingly clear and demand attention right this instant. I discovered no tendency to procrastination there, which was something of a relief. But I did find myself applying my idea of high standards and wondering if the bay was crying too often, if I was feeding and changing her on the right schedule, and a whole host of other concerns that seemed to occupy the mental space that procrastination did.

In other ways, the baby worsened my procrastination. Or more precisely, I used the baby to procrastinate. I would find my mind wandering to the bay when trying to learn new material or analyze a case. Conversations with my husband about any other topics instead of the baby would be interrupted by a remark about the baby. If I felt that my life’s bubble was fairly big and mainly filled with “academic and professional concerns”, I noticed that having the baby made the bubble immensely larger and most of it was now “baby concerns.”

That altered my personal primary role from “student/future professional” to “mother,” but I also have another role: wife. It is no less an important role than the other two, but I tended to see myself as self-defined better on my own terms than on the “shared” terms of being someone’ spouse. But “mother” is a role that is intrinsically defined by another person’s presence in one’s life, and in personal terms, it became the primary role. However, the high standards that drive my zeal in academia and motherhood are not switched off in terms of being a wife, and their pressure was leading me to see myself as falling short in all roles, first as a wife, then as a student-future professional, and as a mother.

The hollowed-out feeling of falling short with a loved one is a feeling of despondency. One feels hopeless and afraid to confront the issue, fearful of being confronted with the enormity of failure and of being the target of possible retribution. It is the feeling I feared at the beginning of my academic career, but writ large and in sharper relief. My self-image as a wife was crumbling, I felt I was slipping as a student, and the natural doubts of caring for a newborn were undermining my sense of self (Johnson, 2017).

However, as with many feelings, the facts were not in accord. Having a baby forces a couple to make adjustments in the relationship. This is not necessarily a negative, and in fact, it is a neutral consequence of a major event in life. To continue to see the relationship as defined by previous standards, which I was largely doing, is to create stress factors that can impede the adjustment process (Johnson, 2017). From my point of view, caring for and interacting with my baby was a separate “process” from caring for and interacting my husband. In effect, I was seeing it from the perspective that time given to one was time “taken” from the other.

The shift in perspective was understanding that my husband did not see the relationship the same way I did, and that caring for “our baby” was a way to show caring for each other. It wasn’t a case of “the baby or me” but of “us.” The key was to continue redefining the personal relationship between us that the baby did not become a proxy for the relationship (Johnson, 2017).

As a student, I understood that the increased demands on my time would not continue to tolerate procrastination. Therefore I integrated more extensive use of one of my favorite techniques: deadlines. As the baby had yet to develop a consistent feeding and sleeping routine, I began using deadlines to focus my attention on completing the needed tasks and assignments, driven by the reality that I was not sure when the baby would need me again. As the child settled into consistent routines, the deadlines helped me focus on my career development and schedule a wider range of other tasks and commitments, including “personal time” with my husband. It might sound mechanical, but in the discipline I found freedom to act on my choices, and a lessening of fears.

This is probably the largest benefit of these few years of growth: they have given me a broader perspective on how one can adapt and change to circumstances. All too often people become paralyzed as they feel they have no choices left, that their lives are a chaotic rocket out control. Rather than pretend I know what that is like and try to help based on theoretical concepts, I can think back to the days when I felt somewhat the same, as a student poised to take on a career but more so as the mother of a newborn tending the baby in the dark hours of the night. The sense of being overwhelmed and lost was not a dream or a nightmare: it was part of my reality, as it is for the people who face a physical, mental, or emotional challenge. I need not share my personal experiences with them, but I know that by having lived, analyzed, and come to grips with the feelings these experiences fostered, I can truly be more understanding, helpful, and ultimately successful with and for my clients, the very thing I wanted to ensure when I started out years ago.

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Becker, C. (2014). The Heart of the Matter: Individuation as an Ethical Process. Boston: Steiner Books.
Carbonell, D. (2016). The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It. New York: New Harbinger Books.
Godwyn, A. (2014). A Closer Look At Nutrition & Wellbeing. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services.
Johnson, K.A. (2017). The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality. Los Angeles: Shambala.
Turner, R. (2014). The Art of Being A Good Parent: 20 Case Studies in Human Development and the Influence Parents Have on the Mental and Emotional Health of Their Children. Washington, DC: Clearwater Publishing.

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