For some reason I feel compelled to put things on the door of my refrigerator. I do not think I am alone in doing this, and I believe that the refrigerator door can sometimes represent where we are in our lives. On my refrigerator, I have about 20 magnets of various shapes and sizes. Some of the magnets hold up pictures of people important to me and others hold up sayings or cartoons that I find funny. I have some inspirational magnets – like “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” and “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.” I also have a fortune from a cookie that I had a while ago. A cute, tiny bee magnet holds it on the door. It says,”You can’t ride in all directions at once.” I remember when I broke open the cookie and read the fortune I thought, hmm, what is this fortune telling me? Slow down, focus, plan, and don’t bite off more than you can chew? I guess it could be all of these. That is why the fortune earned a place on my refrigerator. So each day, when I see that fortune, it reminds me to pay attention to what I am doing and to be careful to not do too many things at once.
In my personal life, I have used the fortune to remind me that I need to stay on task and finish one thing I am working on before I start another. This has made a huge difference in me not ending up in the living room wondering why I am there, and finally recalling that I started out putting a load of wash in the dryer, in the laundry room. The fortune also reminds me that it is okay to let some things wait a day or two. The world will not end because I did not multitask. I have to say, that fortune helps me to stay solidly in place as the busy-ness of a day whirls around me.
The one place where the fortune has guided me the most has been as a counselor. I think those of us in the helping professions have a strong desire to make things better for the people that reach out to us. I know as an intern, I would often feel powerless when clients would share a list of the unbearable things they were dealing with and ask to work on all of them – immediately. As a new professional, I would respond to their urgency with my own urgency, that somehow, unless I offered solutions to all of their problems, I was not a very good counselor. Often though, I would later learn, some of the clients had been living with their emotional pain for a long time before they sought counseling, they just had reached their breaking point. Over time, and with solid supervision, I learned that encouraging them to slow down and prioritize their problems would help them to feel some power over the situation. This would result, most times, in a reduction in their feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. It would also help clarify the issues at hand, making things seem more manageable. The mountain becomes a molehill.
The beauty of this though, is that it is a mutual exercise. The client’s decisions and the counselor’s guidance, working together, side by side reap the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. I believe what is most important to the client is that they have a direction to go and they have a plan of how to get there. Once they reach that first destination, they know that it is always possible to go somewhere else. They learn that “you just can’t ride in all directions at once” and that it is best not to.
I am wondering, what’s on your refrigerator?
Kathy Renfree is a counselor in a community mental health setting, teaches in a graduate counseling program as needed, and is looking forward to building a private practice.