How To Get Out of Your Own Way

So…I have an intern. I’ve resisted having interns for a lot of years now. I’m a busy person. Busy people don’t look for protégés much but I have one. She’s brilliant – strong skills base, good knowledge of the field, excellent organization and communication skills…hell, I’d probably hire her if I had any money. Here’s the thing: She asks me how I do what I do. Here’s the problem with that: I dunno.

Kinda makes me sound ridiculous doesn’t it? Ask an artist how they paint. Ask a gambler how he knows what the other player’s cards are. It’s good to have technical skills and knowledge. Everything else is creative insight and expression. If you’re good it’s because what you do is an extension of who you are.

I’ve been a therapist for over ten years now. They told me in grad school that I’d be seven years into this thing before I got really comfortable. I hated that. I wanted to be really, really good and I wanted to not be scared from day one. Turned out like any other job I’ve ever had. You gotta pay your dues. I struggled. I worked hard. I learned a lot from every client I served and I learned a lot about myself. It took me a long time to realize that the more secure I am in who I am, the more patient, tolerant, and kind I became to the world. This outweighs anything I happen to know about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Fear makes us crave control. I pursued the illusion that if I had tons of technical knowledge, I wouldn’t be scared cuz I’d know what I was doing. This is akin to reading every book ever written about pottery but never picking up a handful of clay. What I learned in school was valuable but it wasn’t enough. People’s lives aren’t covered by text books and theoretical knowledge is of limited value. Get to know people on their terms, in their language, based on their comfort level. People want to be understood – they just fear the vulnerability it takes to share who they are.

Most of us are afraid to discover who we really are. (What if deep down I’m actually an asshole?) To access our true potential is terrifying because we don’t know where the limits are. Children derive a sense of security and well being from knowing what the rules and boundaries are –these are the lines they can’t cross. Those of us who raised ourselves didn’t get that sense of security and safety. For us to explore who we are and what is possible for us requires that we overcome our insecurities (reasons why we are not good enough). We have to get out of our own way in order to become something greater.

Ira Glass said “…the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.” He was referring to the creative process. Really connecting to people involves very little science and a whole lotta art. Artists of every type tend to be at least a little neurotic because when you’re judging what we create, you’re judging us. If you’re an accountant your spreadsheet is not who you are – it’s what you do – it’s your work. It’s important and ideally you take pride in it but it’s not who you are.

I’m good at what I do because I’m good with who I am. I had to do a lot of work to get here and that work was as a client in therapy and in connecting to something greater than myself spiritually. My work on me will never be done. I don’t ever wanna be done – that would be like settling and saying I’m not willing to get any healthier, any happier, or attain any more joy than I have. In much the same manner – for the artist a piece is never really done you just have to stop working on it and move on to the next piece.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.