Four years ago, I first walked into what will soon be your new office.
I’d had a terrible year of job-hopping leading up to that day. I’d gone from a boss who was abusive to a boss who was a criminal to a boss who “accidentally” underpaid me on every paycheck.
I didn’t know it then, as I nervously stepped in here bracing for the worst, but this would be the first place to treat me well. This would be the job that saved me.
A lot is about to happen to you in this little office.
If you’re doing it right, this job will change you. It will take your perceptions of the world and flip them upside down. Especially if it’s your first real therapy job out of school. Especially if you grew up with any privilege at all, which I presume you did, since you went to school. Your heart will soften and your skin will thicken simultaneously. You’ll find yourself empathizing with felons and abusers and parents who neglect their children. But you’ll also grow tough. I went from being someone who believed everyone’s “I-wasn’t-using-drugs-I-was-just-around-them” positive drug test stories to someone who has a reputation, I’m told, for “not taking any shit.”
This job is unique in that it constantly toes the line between the intense and the mundane.
There will be days when you do nothing but read celebrity gossip. There will be days when you help someone change their whole life. There will be weeks you get so bogged down in data-entry that you won’t feel like a human anymore. There will be moments you’ll realize you have become the only support in somebody’s life, just because you’re the first one who listened.
Many of your favorite clients will go to prison. Some will get better. A few will die.
Just keep working.
You’ll watch lots of good co-workers leave, briefly get jealous that they appear to be on their way to better opportunities, sporadically browse job listings on your lunch breaks, and then gradually hear that everyone who left is unhappy at their new jobs. You’ll even watch old co-workers come back. Try to tune out the noise; there are complaints to be had at every workplace. Find one trustworthy co-worker to vent to once a week about the things that really are bullshit, and then let it go.
Keep the job to 40 hours. Paperwork waits for you; life does not. Cultivate your hobbies, take vacations, read books and watch movies that have nothing to do with death or drug addiction. You don’t stay in this field by burning yourself out.
Your new office comes with more baggage than most. You’ll soon hear about the beloved counselor who had this job before me—the one who killed himself.
Don’t dwell on this, don’t let it creep you out, but don’t pretend it never happened either. Find one small way to privately honor his memory, even though you never knew him. Just by sitting in that chair and gazing out that window and doing the job every day, you’ll come to share an experience with him that even those who knew and grieved him have not.
You are getting the best boss in the world. He will go to bat for you a million different times in a million different ways, all the while weaving humor into heavy situations—a rare and refreshing reminder, in a world that usually forgets, that life need not be taken so seriously. You’ll never have a boss quite like him again; let that be the reason you stay here longer than you otherwise would have. It will be worth it.
I think it’s a sign of a good job when you feel conflicted to leave it even when you know, logically, that it’s time. I feel torn. I question my decision. I have to tell myself that I could always return, even though, as Robert Frost said, “…knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”
So, it’s on you now. I hope you and this job are finding each other at just the right time. I hope you can take this tough but amazing gig and make it your own. A co-worker of mine once observed, amid the turnover, that the employees who thrive here tend to share the same two qualities: the ability to let things slide off their back, and a dark sense of humor.
It’s true. I hope you have both.
Best of luck,