“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes like meaningful. “
– Joshua J. Marine
Psychology has a rather long history of focusing on the negative, focusing on what’s broken and in need of fixing. Last week I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous lecture by Tayyab Rashid, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist from the University of Toronto, who presented on the topic of Positive Psychology Interventions. Positive psychology is focused on strengths, virtues and talents. Rather than focusing on what is broken, positive psychology emphasizes what is working well. What strengths a person brings to the table and helping them make better use of those qualities.
Dr. Rashid began with an icebreaker. He asked us to think of a time when you handled adversity adaptively and write it in the form of a story. It was moving experience to say the least.
So I thought I might finish up the story I started that day and share it here. If you’re reading this and feel the desire to share your own story of overcoming adversity, I would absolutely love to hear it.
Here we go…
Several years ago a professor informed me that she strongly thought I should go on to get my PhD. My jaw hit the floor. Who me? That had never been in my plans. Still, my gut sense told me that this was what I needed to do.
But applying to clinical psychology programs is no joke. These programs on average accept only 3-6% of their applicants. Who was I to think I could be one of them? I was quiet, low in self-confidence, I didn’t have a psychology degree and my undergraduate grades were just average. Plus, I was not the “doctoral type”. What does that really mean? I don’t know. But whatever I thought it was, it sure wasn’t the girl I saw in the mirror.
Evenso, a day after this encounter, that still small voice whispered “this is your path, you just need the courage to follow where it takes you”.
Where did it lead? Through 3 more years of doubt, wandering, questioning, delaying, procrastinating, waiting for the perfect time. And then two years trying to overcome standardized test anxiety so that I could get a reasonably competitive score on the GRE. Eventually I did. Next came 20 drafts of my personal statement, and a mentor who graciously read them all. I still remember her final review that said “Now THAT is a personal statement”.
Then came applying (a costly venture), and then the waiting. When I got my first invitation to interview it was the first moment I allowed myself to think “oh, maybe this is happening.” When my top choice called to invite me to interview, I ran around the office with elation.
Traveling to interviews adds another level of challenge. You meet all of your potential competition and spend a whole day trying to impress upon the faculty why you would be a good fit for their program. After interviews all you can do is wait. There is no more follow-up, nothing you can work on, just silence. It was brutal, and to be honest, I didn’t handle it well (in the words of my father, “you are like a pressure cooker, and if you don’t let some steam out, the top is going off” Wise man). Late one night, I got a rejection letter from my first choice, and by that time, it was the only school left. Dreams dashed, hopes crushed. All that time invested, and nothing.
Now what? I just invested 5 years of my life building this thing and now what? But I wanted it so badly that there was no other option. Not really. I was going to go through the whole thing. Again.
One year later, when I was planning to submit applications again, I received some really scary health news about one of my dearest loved ones. Suddenly I couldn’t care less about applications or my future. None of it mattered. There was no way I could proceed with the next 8 applications that night, not when I didn’t care. But then, another mentor chimed in with support “some day you will care. Go ahead and do it anyway.” Wise woman.
And I did. Once again I was invited to interview at my new top choice. But that didn’t work out either.
And then, my current school called. “We’d like to offer you a spot in our program,’ they said. My heart was in my throat, pounding so hard I could barely hear the caller’s voice on the phone. The day was here. The next part of the path had opened up.
In the end, my program couldn’t be more perfect. I’m studying what I want to study with flexibility to change as I need, my clinical opportunities are so diverse I’m forced to creatively plan how to fit them all in (not a bad problem to have). And the people I’m surrounded by will no doubt be friends for life.
And I even got to go to Denmark
The path to get here has been one long, torturous adventure. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt like quitting at least once at every step along the way.
This process made me face many fears, including fear of rejection, and then actual rejection. It made me really look intimately close at who I was and what I really wanted in life. And then, it made me fight for it. It cost a lot of money, even more tears, and even potential risks to my own sanity. But it was worth it.
So thank you, adversity. In the end, you made me stronger and maybe a little wiser too.
What about you?
What’s your story? What has adversity taught you?
In closing, I’m reminded of yet another Hobbit scene that seems so relevant to this post. It reflects the Bilbo’s reluctance to go on the very adventure the Hobbit book is based on (and also the invention of the game of golf 🙂
Here’s hoping that if adversity meets you on your path today, that it only enhances the story you were meant to tell.