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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Becoming the Person You Want to Be

"It's never to late to be who you might have been."
George Elliott

When you were younger, did you have a fantasy about what you wanted to be when you grew up? Do you remember the reactions you got from the adults in your life? If you were fortunate enough to have adults who were emotionally attuned to you, you probably received encouragement and praise for having that dream. But many people were not so fortunate or they had parents who never fulfilled their own dreams and imposed their own unfulfilled wishes for themselves on their children.

Becoming the Person You Want to Be: Children Often Fantasize About Who They Want to Be

As a Child, I Wanted to Be a Writer
Like many children, when I was younger, I changed my ideas over time about who and what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I was five or six, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them that I wanted to be a writer. Right away, I could tell from their puzzled looks that this wasn't what they expected to hear.

If my mother happened to be in the room at the time, she would say to me, "You can't be a writer. You'll never make any money as a writer." Then, she would turn to the other adults in the room and explain with pride, "She's going to be a teacher." Then, the other adults would look at me with big smiles and say things like, "Ohhhh....a teeeeacher! That's very nice."

All the adults in the room, including and especially my mother, would nod their heads and talk on and on in glowing terms about how wonderful it would be to be a teacher--until they heard me respond with some annoyance in my voice, "I don't want to be a teacher! I want to be a writer!" Then, once again, my mother would try to patiently explain to me all the reasons why I couldn't be a writer and how much better it would be to become a teacher: It's a practical, secure job, you get the summers off, etc. Of course, what she never said is that it had always been her unfulfilled dream to become a teacher.

This writer-teacher power struggle between my mother and I went on for a few years. The longer it went on, the more defiant I became. To prove her wrong, when I was seven, I used to write short plays for my cousins and I to perform in my grandmother's backyard. To counter my mother's protestations that I'd never make money as a writer, I would charge my grandparents, uncles and aunts to come see our performances.

For 10 cents, they could watch us perform in plays with titles like "Mystery of the Mysterious Letters," a play about two sisters who were receiving anonymous scary letters (the mystery was resolved when they found out that the letters came from their long lost brother who wanted to surprise them so, by the end of the play, there was a happy ending when they all got together and laughed about their prankster brother).

For the same 10 cents, after the play, they could listen to my cousins and I sing at the top of our lungs songs like "Love and Marriage" and other popular tunes at the time. For that same 10 cents, we also threw in a can of soda for each guest. With all of that, we still turned a profit, which I never failed to point out to my mother.

Becoming the Person You Want to Be:  Children Have Dreams About Their Future

The only kink in our performances was that there was always one person who refused to pay: The only person who would not hand over that 10 cents was my Aunt Lizzie, who was known to be a very frugal person (may she rest in peace). She lived upstairs from my grandmother and, much to my annoyance and frustration, rather than pay the 10 cents, she just hung out her window and watched our performances like royalty sitting in the balcony, giving her royal wave whenever I glared up at her.

As the years went on, like most children, I changed my mind many times about what I wanted to be. All through those years, the one profession that I never wanted to be was a teacher. No matter how many different ways my mother tried to convince me, even though I had many influential teachers that I liked and admired, teaching was not for me.

In My Late Teens, I Wanted to Be a Psychotherapist
By the time I was in my late teens, I had decided that I wanted to be a psychotherapist. This really confused my mother and everyone else in my family. They thought it was odd. No one in my family had ever met a psychotherapist, let alone gone to one for help. Even though they weren't quite sure exactly what a psychotherapist did, generally, they viewed this profession with a strong degree of suspicion. My aunt would say to me, "But why would you want to talk to crazy people? They could be dangerous."

Becoming the Person You Want to Be:  In My Late Teens, I Wanted to Be a Therapist

By that time, I was reading books by the neo-Freudian psychoanalyst, Karen Horney. She was the first woman psychoanalyst in Freud's inner circle. I would try to talk to my family about what I was reading. But my family tended to be traditional and somewhat conservative in their views. To their way of thinking, the unconscious, if it existed at all, was better left unconscious: "Why stir things up? Leave it alone!" And I could tell that, by the time I decided I wanted to be a psychotherapist, they longed for the old days when I wanted to be a writer. They thought this new idea about becoming a psychotherapist was very strange, and I could tell that, on some level, they were worried about me.

Having maintained what I considered to be my independence all of those years, I thought I would have been better equipped to actually make a career choice when I was in my 20s. But little did I know that some of my mother's and other family member's persistent advice to be practical and choose a more traditional profession had seeped into my psyche, so that by the time I was in my early 20s, I was in a state of conflict about what I wanted to do.

I started out as a psychology major in college. I loved my courses and my professors at Hunter College. But, in the back of my mind, I kept feeling a growing inner conflict about my choice. As that inner conflict grew, I lost confidence in my choice to be psychotherapist. By my sophomore year, that inner conflict was raging in my mind. It was as if there were two forces in my mind pulling me in two different directions. If they could speak, one force would have said, "You love psychology. Pursue your dreams" and the other one would have said, "Be practical. Become a business major."

A Detour to Be "Practical"


A Detour to be "Practical"
At some point in my sophomore year, the second force won out and I left Hunter and pursued a business degree at Baruch College. My family seemed much relieved that I was finally being practical. Now, Baruch was, and still is, a very fine school for business. But I hated most of my business courses, especially accounting. It was torturous for me. Despite all of my grim determination, I could never get my debits and credits to balance out. And, more importantly, I didn't care.

A Career in Human Resources
Eventually, I left Baruch College and pursued a career in human resources. At the time, you didn't need a college degree to become an interviewer. And over time, I was promoted to become an assistant human resources manager for a financial institution.

I enjoyed my work. But, in the back of my mind, I still felt a passion for psychology. From time to time, I thought about going back to college and pursuing a psychology degree. But whenever those thoughts came up, I told myself that I was already in my late 30s and I was too old to go back to school. I didn't want to sit in classrooms with 18 year olds.

The Unthinkable:  Losing My Job
Then, the unthinkable happened: I lost my job. If you've ever lost a job, you know how shocking and disturbing this can be. For most people, losing your job can precipitate a crisis, especially if there were no signs or hints of an impending job loss. Despite excellent performance reviews and overall praise from my superiors and colleagues, I was laid off. I can still remember how disorienting it was to collect my possessions and leave the building. One minute you're following your daily routine at work and going about your life as usual, and the next minute you're unemployed.

Even though I was shocked by this turn of events, what's interesting is that it took me only a couple of hours to decide that, rather than looking for another job in human resources, I would return to Hunter College and complete my psychology degree. Prior to getting laid off, whenever I thought about going back for my psychology degree, I gave myself all of the "practical reasons" why I couldn't do it.

Times of Crisis Can Be Opportunities for Change
But times of crisis can also be opportunities for change. And once I made my decision, I knew it felt right and I never looked back. I threw myself into my studies with abandon. To my surprise, many of the same professors were still in the psychology department. And even though I was much older than most of the other students, I became accustomed to being the oldest student in the class relatively quickly. And I realized that, as a student in my late 30s, I had more depth and life experience than I ever had when I was in my late teens and 20s, so I had a lot more to offer.

Training to Become a Psychotherapist
I love to learn. So, after I completed my undergraduate degree, I went on the graduate school and then postgraduate psychoanalytic training. Attending psychoanalytic training was like coming home for me. I reread articles by Karen Horney, among other psychoanalysts, and remembered how much joy I felt reading this material when I was 18.

While I was in the adult psychoanalytic program at Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, I saw clients. It was then that I really knew that I was on the right path. Eventually, I set up my own private practice with some of the clients that I had been seeing from Postgraduate Center.

I Learn By Listening to My Psychotherapy Clients
Today, I continue to learn and grow from various professional trainings. I also learn by listening to my clients. I am continually expanding my knowledge in areas like EMDR and clinical hypnosis. And I continue to be curious and fascinated by the different areas in psychology. In May, I'll be training in Somatic Experiencing.

The point of my self disclosure in this blog post is that, as long as you're alive and in reasonably good health, it's never too late to pursue your dreams. You might get derailed by obstacles in your path, but usually you can find a way to get back to your dreams.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you feel stuck and conflicted about "what you want to be when you grow up," no matter what age you are, you could benefit from seeing a licensed psychotherapist who can help you overcome those obstacles so that you can pursue your passion.

About Me
I am a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR therapist in NYC.  I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients overcome obstacles that kept them from leading fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me:josephineolivia@aol.com




photo credit: jjjj56cp via photopin cc

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