There are always landmines at work. What I mean by this, is there are always people who are going to try to throw you under the bus, or situations that you think you are ready to tackle, but you aren’t ready, or bosses that don’t like you for no reason, or whatever it may be. There are always landmines. I have run into this in the past when I naively thought that everyone wanted to be a therapist, that everyone was happy to go to work everyday. I am not saying this so that you’re jaded, I am saying this because it’s hard. It’s sad when you get to a job where you realize that the boss is miserable or that all your colleagues don’t want to be there. It’s so important to stay focused on your goals so that you do not fall into these negativity traps.
As part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Maryellen Dance, LMHC.
Maryellen is an Okay-ish Therapist. From being a 21-year-old drug and alcohol counselor with no experience to getting fired from a supervisory job where she was in way over her head, to owning her own business at the age of 26 to basically fumbling through her career.
But then she realized, those are the things that actually made her a good therapist. Those are the things that get to the point of mental health, the deeper level of mental health.
We are currently living in a crippling self-improvement culture. This era of self-care, is great…but it’s often making things worse. It’s adding pressure to be perfect and it’s simplifying true, deep mental health concerns.
That’s where Maryellen comes in. She challenges our thoughts and ideals on mental health, educates us about what mental health truly is, and yes, talks about how we can use the culture of self-improvement for our benefit rather than our demise.
Maryellen does this through her private therapy practice, through teaching at the college level, through the Okay-ish podcast, and other speaking engagements.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Absolutely! I grew up in a very suburban, “Leave it to Beaver” type way. Both my parents were public school teachers, I lived a mile away from the school I went to in a cute little village where yes, I walked to school (but definitely not uphill both ways). I had a milkman and a swimming pool, equally as important. I am the youngest of three and am still very close with my family.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, I kind of felt like I “fell” into my career path. As a therapist, so many others in my field have “sob” stories of a therapist that changed their life and made them want to become a therapist themselves or something like that. I didn’t have this. I simply went to college, found psychology really interesting, and went with it. This definitely created serious imposter syndrome…but I have realized that my reasons for being a therapist have changed over the years and I’m sure will continue to change as I change and grow. Yes, it maybe started out as simply an interest, but it’s definitely not that now.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the most interesting stories that happened for me also felt very tragic at the time. It was when I was let go from a job. I was finally in a position of management (I say finally fictitiously since I was all of 26 years old) but in my mind, that was the goal. I felt as though I had to move up and up and that was all that mattered. Well, as you may have guessed already, I found myself in way over my head and miserable. I was so miserable that I didn’t even realize I was miserable. I kept telling myself that I was living my dream by moving up in my career so quickly. After about 6 months, the company, very kindly, let me go. They told me what I already knew, that they liked me and I had potential, but I was in over my head and not ready for that level of responsibility. I was crushed. My ego was deflated. I felt like more of an imposter than I ever had before. I cried, a lot. But this did a few things for me: It forced me to be honest with myself that I had actually been really miserable. But it also forced me to realize that the path I wanted my career to take was not what I thought. I had this idea in my mind of how my career “should” go and I was simply following that idea. I didn’t want to be a manager. I hate managing people, it’s the worst…but I thought I “should”. This experience set me free from those unrealistic expectations on myself and allowed me to follow what I actually wanted to follow. After that is when I started my private practice and became an entrepreneur.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh there are so many fun stories that I am incredibly thankful for. I’d like to share that a few of my favorite stories involve my first job as a drug and alcohol counselor. I was 21 years old, had never even been near a drug in my life, and was working with people who were very deep into drug addiction. Talk about a learning experience. But some of the funniest times from this were when I was trying to fake my way through understanding the drug “lingo” and failing massively. A patient at this time had told me that pens were a trigger for her since she had used pens in her addiction, and as I nodded and smiled trying to act like I knew what she meant, she finally threw me a bone and said that hollowed pens are a good thing to snort drugs out of. Turns out…I wasn’t fooling anyone!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently working on publishing some workbooks! I myself love guided journals, or workbooks to help focus on a specific problem. It allows me to do things on my own time, have a record of it, and learn. So I am really excited to offer these!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Asking for three reasons is really interesting because at the end of the day I believe that the biggest reason is that we are all humans, we can all learn from each other, and we’re all just doing our best. Diversity allows so many more amazing people to share their stories, to help others, to learn from others, and to share all of our talents that we are meant to share with the world. I struggle with this question because I can’t think of a reason that diversity would not be the number one priority.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Stop trying to sound smart. I so often tried to use big words or name drop psychology theorists or something I had read in a textbook. No one cares. Plus, it prevented me from just being my authentic self.
- No one knows what they’re doing. Don’t worry when you get to your first job in your field and forget everything you learned in school, that’s normal.
- There are always landmines at work. What I mean by this, is there are always people who are going to try to throw you under the bus, or situations that you think you are ready to tackle, but you aren’t ready, or bosses that don’t like you for no reason, or whatever it may be. There are always landmines. I have run into this in the past when I naively thought that everyone wanted to be a therapist, that everyone was happy to go to work everyday. I am not saying this so that you’re jaded, I am saying this because it’s hard. It’s sad when you get to a job where you realize that the boss is miserable or that all your colleagues don’t want to be there. It’s so important to stay focused on your goals so that you do not fall into these negativity traps.
- Fail fast. Fail a lot. Get used to failing. I, like many others, am a recovering perfectionist. And recovering is a very loose term, I still struggle often with perfectionism. You will fail. We all do. It’s okay. But if we fail fast and get used to failing then we won’t waste lots of time (like I and many others have) feeling sorry for ourselves. We will be able to recognize it as a learning experience.
- Get a mentor. We need people. We are designed to need people. Most likely, you’ll have a supervisor at your job, and if you get along with them, awesome. But still have an outside mentor to help you focus on your own goals, to teach you, for you to learn from and lean on.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The biggest tip I have is to recognize burnout and do something about it immediately. For some reason, we are taught that burnout is “bad”. It’s not bad, it’s very normal. But the more we fight it, the more burnt out we get.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have so many movements I want to start, but my biggest focus right now is debunking the myths around this culture of self-improvement that we are living in. I hear people say that the answer to all mental health problems is just some more “self-care”…that is not the answer. That is simply a term that became really trendy. Unfortunately, this self-improvement culture has led to a lot of guilt, shame, and anxiety when we “fail” to always be improving ourselves. I want to teach the world how we can continually improve ourselves and our mental health without falling into these traps.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been really lucky to have had a lot of wonderful supervisors, mentors, and colleagues along the way. But the people who have made me who I am today are the people who have allowed me into their brains, into their lives, into their traumas. The people who give me a chance to help them feel better. The people who trust me with some of their innermost thoughts. My clients are amazing and I would not be who I am without them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Chin up, queen or the crown slips”…I forget how powerful I am all the time. I forget how influential I am. I focus on the negative and how I perceive myself to be falling short. If only I can remember the metaphorical crown on my head, I’ll be able to be my best self and help others be their best selves.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
100% Glennon Doyle. No question.
How can our readers follow you online?
Subscribe to the Okay-ish podcast!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!