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I’ve been experiencing a personal and professional limbo this summer. Limbo is always that awkward time where I feel like I’m trudging along through life without really embracing it. I’ve been doing a lot of positive self-talk the past two months and through this personal discourse I’ve learned that limbo isn’t all bad. I finished my coursework for my graduate degree in April, and while waiting for my internship to begin in August, I’m working in retail, which has absolutely nothing and everything in common with counseling. Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned while selling shoes: 1. Every customer has a story. One customer I served came shopping because she needed retail therapy after her home suffered tornado damage. Several customers I served came to town because their children were attending orientation at the local university. Another customer – a 70-year-old woman – was shopping for shoes for her upcoming wedding to her high school sweetheart. I am constantly amazed how every person I meet contains so much depth. 2. Customers do not mind using you to vent their frustrations. And that’s okay. They’re not really mad at me per se – just the situation. Learning to not take their anger personally has been a much needed lesson in my life. 3. Retail runs on a tight schedule, but it demands flexibility. I cover extra shifts when needed, delay lunch breaks when customers’ needs overrule mine, and work nights and weekends. 4. I love diversity. My retail work environment is the most diverse workplace in which I have partaken. All of my previous jobs were composed of colleagues like myself – middle class and White. Working with people from a variety of socioeconomic, racial, educational, and other cultural backgrounds adds a new level of joy to my life. 5. You must meet the customers where they are. What are their needs? What are their wants? For example, some customers I recently served spoke Spanish as their native language, so when they checked out their items, I did my best to converse with them in Spanish. (Thank you, Spanish minor.) Some customers come to me with a specific need, and I work to meet it. Some customers come to me with, “I’m just looking”, and I respect their space. They come around to me when they’re ready. 6. Don’t be afraid of speaking up about suspicious behavior. Making a phone call to security when I suspected a customer of shoplifting was the most uncomfortable phone call of my life, but the integrity of our store is more important than my emotional discomfort. How do these six lessons apply to counseling? 1. Every client I will see in my upcoming internship and future career is a human being containing depth. I must embrace that depth. 2. Clients will use me to vent their frustrations (and other emotions), and that’s okay. 3. Maintain a schedule, but be flexible. Crises in my clients’ lives are to be expected. 4. The diversity of my clients are to be considered a joy. 5. Meet clients where they are. Enough said. 6. The integrity and welfare of my clients are more important than any emotional discomfort I personally experience during a time of confrontation. I am thankful for my summer of limbo. Or, more aptly named, my summer of preparation. What have you experienced that appears to be completely unrelated to counseling that has made you a better counselor? How do you embrace your times of limbo/preparation?
Courtnay Veazey is a counselor in training pursuing a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling. She is an intern with the University of Mississippi's University Counseling Center