I had a lot of trouble throughout high school deciding a career path. Not trying to brag, but there really was not a subject that I was “bad” at. Across the board, my grades were A’s and high B’s. Being a nerd had its perks, but it also made process of elimination difficult. My elective courses surprisingly played a huge part in helping me determine my future.
I toyed around with different courses like design and technology, oceanography, astronomy, and psychology. By my senior year, my choices narrowed to psychology and engineering. Unfortunately, this was also the same year shit hit the fan with my family and my mental health. I will spare you the details, but I missed nearly the entire first half of my senior year as a result. By the time college applications were due, I only applied to two local universities.
Thankfully, both of them accepted me. After deciding the better fit, the paperwork came in the mail to finalize my registration and prep for orientation. As I moved my way down the first page, the pivotal line with the word “major” came to my attention. I thought about it for a second. During my senior year, I got a taste of the calculus and designing involved in engineering, and it was not cut out for me. On the other hand, I took AP psychology that year and fell in love with it. I enjoyed learning about the brain, behavior, and what made people tick. As cliche as it sounded, I wanted to help people and saw how this material could be used in that way. Feeling good about my decision, I wrote “psychology” in big print across that line.
Fast forward two years. Most of my general education courses were out of the way, and I was finally getting into the “meat” of my major. My sophomore year I took a course called Psychology as a Profession and Practice. To this day, I still think that it was one of the most valuable, unique courses offered. In a vast field like psychology, knowing the available options and how to get there benefited the students.
Our grade relied heavily on a portfolio complete with a curriculum vitae, setting goals, and potential graduate school programs. Most students went through the motions with the assignment, but I put effort into mine. I remember the goal setting portion that outlined your professional plans over the next year, five years, and ten years. Realistically, my blue print followed the professional counselor trajectory by the age of 30. This required completing my master’s by the age of 25, taking a national level exam, completing 4,500 hours (or nearly three years) of supervised experience, and then obtaining my professional license.
This shit was not going to be easy.
It was done. All done. Ten years of hard work and jumping through hoops finally coming to a close. The only thing that stood between my dreams and me was an application packet. I sat down with my clinical supervisor back in May to review everything, and I literally mean EVERYTHING. I wanted to have all my ducks in a row when my packet reached the hands of my state board.
We filled out the paperwork together and slid it into envelope. That night it was in the mail. The waiting game began.
I honestly did not know what to expect. I heard of colleagues being approved in the matter of weeks. I also heard horror stories about others taking close to a year due to stupid miscommunications. It did not help that the board only met once a month on the second Tuesday of the month. I dreaded it but remained optimistic.
Within six weeks, I received a letter in the mail. I frantically ripped it open. Sadly, it was not the letter of approval, but the board completed its initial review of my application. They needed a re-submission of my fingerprints, which was easy enough, and my hours from my graduate school internship. Fuck. I could have sworn those were sent in years ago when I applied for my “junior” license. This meant I needed to reach out to my former professor. It was not that I did not like him, but he was notorious for taking weeks to respond to emails, especially in the middle of summer break.
I called the department secretary. She was sweet as can be. She instructed me to email him and to copy the new program head and her on the email to “make sure he got the email.” I could almost feel her wink through the phone, suggesting that she would make sure he got the message.
A week later, I emailed my professor for confirmation. Like I said, this guy took WEEKS to get back to people. He responded within fifteen minutes, “I sent the letter two days ago. Hope all is well.” The planets aligned. This was it. I just waited on the state board at this point.
A few weeks went by. I gave the state time to receive and process my missing paperwork. I was antsy though. I called the office and spoke to the board secretary. I kindly asked if my missing paperwork was received. She said, “We cannot share the results over the phone.” I repeated myself again and got the same response. I gave up and thanked her for her time.
A few more weeks passed. We were into early August. For shits and giggles, I figured I would try again. This time a different secretary answered my call. She was a bit nicer than her coworker. I asked her the same question. “We received your paperwork and sent your letter of approval on July 24th.”
“Wait, I was approved.”
“I never received anything, but thank you for the good news.” She sent a copy of the letter to my email along with the instructions to pay for the license. A week later, they processed my payment and provided me with my license.
You’re right, Jeff. I did it. I fucking did it. I reached a goal I set forth over ten years ago. I succeeded.
It took reality a few minutes to set in, but once it did, I proudly wore an ear-to-ear grin. I was so fucking happy. I called my parents. I told my coworkers and supervisors. I posted that shit on Facebook. I deserved it. This is what true success tasted like.
I was also proud of myself for another reason. I did not feel guilty for an accomplishment. In the past, I often felt selfish for doing something for myself. I thought I was being greedy by putting my needs and desires ahead of others. It also came from a deeper belief that I did not deserve to be happy and that something bad was going to happen if I was. I minimized my accomplishments as a result and swept them under the rug whenever someone acknowledged them.
This time around, I was going to let myself be happy. I worked my ass off for this, and you are goddamn right I am going to savor it. There was no reason to feel guilty or selfish. I always celebrated my loved ones’ special moments, and now it was my turn to be celebrated. That is what we do for each other. We cheer for and lift each other up. It should not be the other way around. On top of that, my profession in itself benefits the greater good and others’ mental health. Where in the hell is the selfishness in that?
Even though I reached one major milestone, there are many more ahead of me. I am going to let this one serve as a future reminder of how to handle success.
-The Caring Counselor