Years ago, when I was building a corporate marketing career, I was intensively focused on how to attain ultimate “success.” For me, that success was measured in outer things such as title, money, bonuses, leadership responsibility, retirement plans and more. Sadly, what happened is that as years went by, while I grew more “successful” by those outer measures, I also grew more depressed, angry, chronically ill and lost. Those ways of evaluating my success ended up being completely wrong for me, and pointed me in a direction that led me far away from core self.
One deep, chronic challenge I faced no how many different jobs I held, was that I seemed to have a toxic relationship with every boss. Every day there was some form of narcissism, conflict, toxicity, and other emotional experiences that left me drained and demoralized.
One day, a dear friend was over at my house listening to me complain bitterly (for the fifth time in five years) about the toxic challenges I was having in my work-life.
Then she said something I’ll never forget:
“Kathy, I love you dearly, and you know I support you. But it seems to me that you’re having these types of problems over and over, no matter what job you have. I wonder if you might find therapy helpful?”
Let me tell you, when she said that, I was not only hurt, but really angry. I thought to myself, “What kind of friend tells you that YOU are the problem, the one who needs help, when things are going so badly? Why can’t she be more compassionate?”
But as the days wore on, her comment nagged at me like an itch from a wound that was scabbing over. I started to think more and more about what she shared, and it slowly and quietly dawned on me that she might be right. Maybe she was onto something here. Just maybe this wasn’t some random experience – of feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, disrespected and hurt by every boss and so many corporate colleagues. Maybe I was somehow involved in (dare I say “co-creating” or attracting) this negative pattern that just kept repeating.
So I took her advice, and found a powerful therapist in my area who focused on helping people get in touch with who they really are and heal the traumas and pain of their past and present so they could free themselves to become who they longed to be. I spent two years engaged in a powerfully-helpful therapeutic relationship with him, and it was transformative and eye-opening.
But one day, the therapy took a different turn that changed the course of my life forever. It was a beautiful, crisp sunny day in October, the month after the tragedies of 9/11, and I had been laid off in a way that was just brutal to my ego and self-confidence. I was so shaken, flattened, and I was crying in my therapist’s office.
And then he said this to me:
“Kathy, I know from where you sit this is the worst crisis you’ve ever faced. But from where I sit, this is the first moment in your adult life that you can choose who you want to be in the world. Now who do you want to be?”
I had been stuck in career misery for so long that I just didn’t know the answer. But I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind: “I want to be YOU!”
We both laughed a bit, and then he said, “What does that mean to you?”
And I answered, “I want to help people. Not hurt people and be hurt.”
He then shared something he’d never said before, which was that after knowing me for 2 years, he thought I’d make a good therapist and might enjoy it. We then began exploring what that might look like for me.
From that one fateful conversation, I left behind corporate life forever. I earned a Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and became a practicing therapist. I moved forward into coaching as well, then into writing, speaking, leadership training and delivering courses. While I no longer practice therapy, I use every single principle and idea that I learned in my therapy training and work in everything I do today. I draw on these concepts in my personal life as well, in my relationships as a parent, ex-spouse, friend, mentor, sister, adult child, and more.
What did therapy do for me specifically, and what can it do for others?
Here’s what therapy gave me:
Therapy helped me live more bravely, wholeheartedly and lovingly. It helped me let go of the pain and trauma from my past, and learn to love and embrace what’s in front of me rather than break myself against it. And it starting me on the path to “Finding Brave,” to live more bravely in these 10 powerful ways:
- See bravely
- Speak bravely
- Ask bravely
- Connect bravely
- Serve bravely
- Protect Bravely
- Heal bravely
- Stretch bravely
- Challenge bravely
- Love bravely
And now my work focuses on helping others do the same.
One of the most powerful concepts I learned as a therapist is this:
Greater awareness equals great choice.
And greater choice means learning to stop running from your fears and pain, or letting them run you. It means seeing very clearly (even though you don’t want to) how you operate in the world, how you relate to others, and how your boundaries need development so you can say “No!” to what is not acceptable for you. And it means that you stop allowing the negative and damaging messages and experiences from your childhood affect you every minute of the day.
I’ve seen that there comes a time in every single human being’s life where they need some from of outside help to heal, shift and live their fullest, to reach their highest potential, and to become the best version of themselves. We just don’t get there all by ourselves, or in a vacuum.
To me, as one who engaged in therapy, been a therapist and now uses therapeutic principles daily, there’s absolutely no stigma to getting therapeutic help. No shame, embarrassment or humiliation. No hesitation.
To me, there’s only bravery – to recognize when we need help to thrive, and to be courageous enough to ask for it.
For more about finding a great therapeutic helper near you, check out the therapist locator at the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.