Grilling My Start-Up Shrink
Every Tuesday I meet with a start-up psychologist. Well, she’s not actually a start-up psychologist, but she happens to work in downtown San Francisco and so her clients are pretty much exclusively start-up employees. She’s nice, but stern, which I like. During sessions we tend to pore over the usual things: my obsessions (tidying, friendships, word count), my anxieties (illness, death, a weird conversation I had three days ago), and occasionally the day-to-day goings-on at my small, yet-to-launch company.
This past week, while going over the things on my plate and expressing my fear of falling short of the inflexible writing goals I always set for myself, it occurred to me that I could get one of those goals out of the way right here, right now — with my therapist’s help.
“Do you think I could maybe like interview you, actually, for that bizarre interview series I’ve been doing?” I asked, biting the pad of my thumb.
She raised one eyebrow, incredulous. “Do you really think that’s the best use of your time?”
“Yes,” I said firmly. “Let’s cross it off the list.”
“Fine,” she responded. “Just don’t use my name.”
MFA PROGRAMS ARE FOR RICH, SENSITIVE DANDIES
Kathleen: What are your thoughts on MFA programs?
Anonymous Psychologist (AP): You mean the programs you just defined for me five seconds ago?
K: I love how sarcastic you are. It’s why my insurance pays you the big bucks.
AP: Uh huh. It doesn’t necessarily sound pre-professional enough to assure me that going into debt in pursuit an MFA would be substantiated by the ultimate job security of having earned one. But if it’s affordable for you, then there are a lot of psychological advantages. I do think that what’s often unexplored in the human experience is the arts — both in education and in life. It’s a big part of the human condition, and it’s something that can tie us to humans throughout time. And so that aspect, the mindfulness of it, is important for someone to explore.
TEN-YEAR REUNIONS ARE FLUSH WITH BIG EGOS
K: What does it say about you if you go to your ten-year reunion?
AP: That you felt some level of connection to the people in that environment, and probably also that you feel good about the place you’re at in life right now, and have a sense of pride about your current situation, and want to share that.
BEFORE YOU MOVE IN WITH SOMEONE, ASK YOURSELF A SERIES OF OPEN-ENDED, PROBING QUESTIONS
K: Should couples move in together if the sole purpose is to save on rent?
AP: I guess my initial reaction is, “No.” But I never say, “should” or “shouldn’t,” about any person, or couple, because there are so many variables. If it were a client of mine, or clients of mine, in the case of a couple, I would ask the following questions:
- What is it that you like about living alone?
- What do you enjoy about this person you’re moving in with?
- What do you imagine the challenges will be, living with that person, and how do you plan to cope with those challenges?
- What will you do when you realize that you need space?
- What are your outside relationships like?
- What are your existing coping mechanisms for negative feelings?
PSYCHOLOGISTS WILL NOT REVEAL THEIR MOST CLOSELY KEPT SECRET: THE IDEAL AGE TO GET MARRIED
K: What’s the right age to get married?
AP: What? How do I know?
K: What would you say if a client asked that, I guess.
AP: Oh, okay. I would say to them, “What do you think is the right age for yourself, and why do you think that?”
K: And then you would sort of go from there and spin out that question for 45 minutes.
K: Hey, when I’m talking do you watch the clock and add up how much money you’re making on every one of my inane questions?
AP: Do you want to talk about that question?
K: Nope, let’s keep going.
TAKE HIS NAME IF YOU HATE YOURS
K: Should a woman take a man’s name when she gets married?
AP: If she wants to.
K: You’re looking at me like that was the stupidest question in the world.
K: It’s fine! It’s interesting.
AP: How about this for an answer: She should do it if she hates her name. And I mean, let’s unpack that for a second. If someone is doing something because of a tradition, they should also find the place in themselves that they connect with that tradition. Maybe it’s as simple as you like the other name better. Maybe you want it to be simpler for the children — but I think it’s always important in every single tradition to find the place where you personally connect with it.
ANY DEBT IS TOO MUCH DEBT UNLESS IT’S $100K TO BECOME A PSYCHOLOGIST
K: How much debt is too much debt?
AP: Any debt — well, no. Any debt besides student loan debt is too much debt.
K: Why is student loan debt exempt?
AP: Uh huh. (Thoughtful look on face.)
K: What if it’s like $100,000 in student loan debt?
AP: Like what it takes to get a Ph.D?
K: Oh right, you have one of those.
AP: (Glances at my recording device.) I think it’s important to make conscious decisions. I think that what happens a lot is that there’s no education, no consciousness behind the decision to take out money. There should be a plan attached to debt. An awareness of what it means. Debt is something that my clients don’t talk about — there’s a lot of shame behind it. And it’s an accepted part of our culture. People often don’t tell me how much they make, how in debt they are — it’s vague, there aren’t any numbers — and I think that’s what’s missing in the conversation about it. They’re not precise about it. They get advice and reassure themselves with generalities. It becomes a hard thing to speak about.
GET A JOB BUT LIVE HOLISTICALLY SO AS NOT TO DISAPPOINT YOUR PSYCHOLOGIST
K: Should you keep waiting for your dream job, if you’ve been unemployed for a while, or should you take the first job that becomes available to you?
AP: I think people should take what’s available and keep working toward what they hope for. A lot of my clients are unfulfilled. It’s important to have a holistic approach to your life — which is to say that happiness is not just about your job. It’s a multifaceted approach to your day-to-day that involves a dedication to living well while also honoring that your job is important.