The Importance of Taking Care of Self when trying to work through Getting Unstuck
So I’ve shared a lot about different approaches through working through trying to figure out “what next”. Just as important, is talking about the physical and mental toll the stress of doing so can take on an individual. One of the most challenging parts of this phase of my journey-between job hunting, networking, self-marketing, etc. is figuring out how to take care of myself in the process. Much of this experience has often even led me to question-who am I and am I on the right track? While it can be a very frustrating and a lonely process at times- it doesn’t have to be. In this next installment, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Rashanta Bledman, a counseling psychologist based in Washington, DC and in Maryland.
Like many, including Dr. Bledman, from an early age, we are told to “Follow the plan.” Plan is if you go to school, get a degree, get a job-success! But this isn’t the way it usually works. Being rigid in our “plan” can be limiting in some ways. It can lead to being afraid of testing out the waters so to speak. It can also lead to missing out on other potential opportunities. It keeps us from leaping, venturing out, and from just doing.
So what happens when one follows the plan and things move along smoothly for most of one’s life and then all of a sudden you’re faced with having to decide-right or left? For Dr. Bledman, the moment came when she began to feel “stuck” in her career.
“I didn’t really feel stuck initially. Things went pretty smoothly for the most part. The real feeling of being “stuck” or having to figure out what next came much later in life. It seemed like there was no room for movement. I had been so used to movement. It felt like there was a period instead of a comma. I told myself I could stay stuck in the feeling or I could do something different(ly).” And so she did. So what was the catalyst for change?
“Felt like there was period instead of a comma.”
Burnout: Importance of Health, Impact of Stress on Health and Well-Being
Ever feel like you’re “treading water instead of moving with the current”? Feel like you’re stuck in a routine? Doing the same thing day in and day out? Stressed? Overworked? For Dr. Bledman, many of these feelings were what helped her realize there was a real need for change. As time went on, there were certain signs and patterns she began to notice that also signaled a need to pivot. It wasn’t all just physical signs of health, but general signs as well. She began to notice and feel as if the training she was being offered no longer aligned with the need of her clients and therefore did not allow her to serve her clients the way she truly wanted to.
“It all became a routine. A routine I wasn’t enjoying.”
There are real, true consequences of feeling “stuck”. It can take a real toll on one’s overall health and well-being. Depression, anxiety, physical illness. In my previous interview with Monica Kang from Innovators Box, she discussed how the physical and emotional toll of being stuck and in determining what the next step should be, took on her overall well-being mentally and emotionally. This was an indication that something, anything had to change.
Since this journey is all about being transparent and vulnerable, I, too, have struggled with depression and anxiety. The overthinking, the constant comparing, the constant negative thinking. Fun it is not. Trust me. There are much better things I would rather be doing with my time. It also has played a huge role for me in figuring out my “identity” since completing grad school and honestly, a huge part of my life these past few years. However, one key part of working through it all has been recognizing and acknowledging it. As a public health practitioner, I am constantly speaking about the importance of healthy living and healthy behaviors. A big part of physical well-being is being healthy in both mind and body. When the mind is struggling, this can start to lead to more outward symptoms presenting themselves. All signs that change is necessary.
Remember that discussion about being vulnerable? When one is going through such experiences, it can make it extremely difficult to want to open up and share these parts of ourselves as well as our experiences. What if no one understands? How do I even explain what I am going through? What happens when even your closest support network and your most avid cheerleaders seem close but so far away?
Previously I discussed how we often get stuck because there is often not a sense of urgency to do anything differently. We may want to make a change, but because we have a stable job which allows us to take care of our basic needs, the sense of security, fear of failure-they all can play into not wanting to take a leap or try out some of those other parts of ourselves.
Sometimes it isn’t until we lose a job, have a life event, or suffer from disease or illness, that finally pushes us to figure out an alternative. When our physical and mental well-being and even our relationships with ourselves and others begin to become impacted this can be the catalyst to get us to make a change. To shift our perspective. Other than physical and/or mental health, what other things play a part in creating a sense of ‘urgency’/need for change?
When I presented this question to Dr. Bledman, she described that previously, what would have made her decide to leave was being presented with a position that met her needs. In this case, a position or opportunity that allowed for the upward movement she craved. A position that was up a level, or with an agency/organization with a reputation. However, the perspective shift allowed for seeing what was most valuable and most important. That prestige and reputation didn’t matter. It was more about being able to do fulfilling work, being in a position that allowed room for taking care of self, as well as creating/carving out some kind of work/life balance.
For me, I have had to take a true backseat and consider-what is it I value? What is most important to me? What is my “why?” Taking time out to answer such questions will help guide you to determine your next steps.
Thoughts and beliefs about success and societal and familial pressures play a large role in such decisions and the way in which we think and act. When we discussed further what was behind the original perspectives of only wanting to leave for that “magical opportunity”, one of the main reasons included seeking “prestige”, rooted somewhat in some preconceived notions of what that would bring. Mostly the idea that we should seek out these types of roles and positions because it would bring social capital. Previously I also talked about how societal pressures play a very large part in our decision-making, as well feed our fears into pursuing paths outside of the “norm”. In addition, there is also the idea/perspective that pursuing these paths will increase access and access to social power and social capital.
Like Dr. Bledman, I also am a first-generation college grad/higher ed graduate. I am the first in my family to obtain a doctoral degree. My mom and family were immigrants from Central America, Belize to be exact. My identity, and mostly my need to do well, some say perfection, is because well I don’t want to fuck up. My mother and grandmother sacrificed a lot for both my sister and I. It wasn’t until adulthood that I truly understood the weight I carried. Why my mom pushed me so hard. So my metric for measuring success was by grades, education, and all the awards. Life is filled with competition. Perfection. It can be hard to identify other parts of oneself when that is what you’ve been used to using as a metric for measuring yourself. Follow the plan and all will be well. Well, what happens when those plans change? It can make it very difficult to learn how to navigate.
Okay, okay, I’ve gone on and on about how hard shit is. So what can I actually DO in order to dig myself out of the pits of what feels like quicksand? Well, you gotta do the work.
- Make a list. 2. Research. 3. Action.
One strategy Dr. Bledman used was to make a pro and con list. This included research, research, and more research. Before making the decision to branch out into private practice, Dr. Bledman decided to do her research. She wanted to determine practically what would working for herself exactly look like. This involved looking into the necessary requirements, reaching out to others in private practice to ask how they had done it and how they were doing it, and identifying the benefits of working for oneself. Phone calls, lunches, cups of coffee. Be strategic in making the next move. In order to do that guess what? You must act. Do it shy, afraid, worried. Just do it. You’ll mess up along the way. It’s fine. Sure, many people just leap, quit their job, start fresh and new. However, this isn’t the reality for many. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can’t do to help you along in the process.
You may even find your con list is much longer than the pro list. Your pro list will probably be more like a list of questions. This was the case for Dr. Bledman. She found that when she sat down to maker her list, it ended up with a lot more questions and a list of what she “hoped” versus “knew”. She noticed that for her, the “cons “were more like facts, whereas the “pro” list were things she hoped would happen. In other words, it wasn’t clear-cut. However, the overall sense and feeling that something needed to change was again what kept her moving forward.
Was their fear? Of course! Tons of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of being wrong, fear of making the choice and realizing nothing had changed. Feeling the need to see more than just the first stair, but the whole staircase. However, she did it anyway. How so?
Set a Time Limit
One way to help one through the process is to set a time limit for oneself. Give it a shot and then if it isn’t working, on to plan B. And maybe even Plan C and D. This was discussed in the first part of the series in the interview with Grant Schroll. We talked about how often individuals feel like if it doesn’t work they need to force it to work and end up more stuck than they originally started.
How did Dr. Bledman get over the “fear” of the unknown? Well, she focused again on how she was feeling instead of making the “safe choice”. Making this decision was counter to anything she had learned growing up. Imagine telling your family and friends that you were going to leave this secure position and go and follow, what deep down, her gut was telling her it was time to move on. Most people would look at you like you had a horn growing out of your forehead.
However, despite the fear, she began to set things up. “Fear became the accessory”. In other words, she didn’t try to push it away-fear was going to have to be part of the ride. Doing it in spite of fear. She decided to make the “not so safe choice”-the ones aligned with her values, her intuition, and what she knew was best for “her”.
- You never know until you try.
- Possible may fail but it is also possible that you’ll succeed.
- Try it and see what happens. Confront the fear. Go on. Make it your accessory.
Follow along with me on this journey and let’s chat. I’m Dr. Tiffany Gray. Public health nerd, a coffee lover, chasing marathon goals and setting out to do some good and make some change in the world around me. I think. I run. I do. Find me on twitter @drgrayhealth, LinkedIn, and at drgrayhealth.com