Coming into a Graduate School program, it’s the assumption that we come in knowing how to get things done. Looking back over this first year, figuring how to accomplish the next task at hand with the plethora of other roles has been a richer experience than I would have thought. Professors take special care to set things to maximize our learning and construct assignments to help us become effective counselors. You can all remember this, or maybe are the midst of this now. Sometimes, there’s a lot to do. Sometimes there’s more to do than you feel you have hours in the day. Sometimes it’s necessary to be very thoughtful in our plans in order to get where we’re going. For some of us this thoughtfulness involves careful plotting and strategizing our workload in a planner. For me, the magic really came--wait for it…when I threw away the planner.
To be fair, my planners and I did not have a longstanding relationship. I made it a general rule to buy 3 or 4 at the beginning of the school year--that would usually carry me through to the end of Spring Semester. Having extras would alleviate the inevitable coffee spilling and puddle dropping, or that one particularly tragic incident where in throwing out my garbage I also threw out my planner—along with my car keys. But, more than anywhere, it seemed like there was this massive black hole where my planners would inevitably end up.
One day after searching the trunk of my car for this planner…I kept asking myself, “Why can’t I hold on to this stupid book”? Then that tiny very wise voice in my head, answered softly, “Maybe because it’s not that important to you”. During the time of discernment that followed it came to the surface that, I saw having a planner as a method of being highly structured that in turn served as the gateway to success. Essentially what I was doing was putting all kinds of energy into being something that doesn’t increase my effectiveness. Further still, that feels stifling and adds to the undercurrent of shoulds. Those subtle shoulds that serve as the tiny pricks of shame that I can inflict on myself. That I could be doing better, I could have a better grasp on the landscape of the class if I only did a better job of listing what I needed to do. Completely ignoring the fact that, when I keep track of things through a syllabus and keep in conversation with my colleagues who are, let’s face it, way more organized than I am much more content. Content because I can put my energy in places that do increase my effectiveness, like relationships and conversation.
The freeing up of that energy wasn’t so much about the number of minutes that I spent glancing through my planner, or fretting over what I needed to put in it. But, about honoring where I am as a perfectly imperfect place to be. That I don’t have to be more vigilant about writing down deadlines or assignments to be completed. Or making intricate to-do lists based on my life priorities. That I could just, do what’s in front of me and enjoy the simple freedom in that. That I can trust what feels right for me. Maybe someday it will feel right, or be necessary to have thoughtfully lay things out on paper. But, for today, I am basking in the comfort of occasional star shaped post-it notes and conversations with my colleagues.
I have no doubt there will people reading this, who find great comfort in compiling lists, or keeping a pristine planner. To these folks, who include some of my favorite people, I say, how wonderful that you found something that works for you. Thank you for creating the patchwork of process that enriches a working environment. Thank you for bringing your gifts to our community of counseling so that I can also bring mine. Which includes remembering that my ethics manual is snugly placed in my mom’s old Crockpot located strategically in my backseat…you know for safekeeping.
But, that’s a story for another day!
Michelle Wilson is a counselor in training in North Dakota. She is passionate about chemical health, recovery, and continuing to develop gender and cultural informed approaches to treatment.