Well, 2016 is here, and the airwaves are again filled with “New Year, New You!” commercials. It seems there is a lot of focus on change and a lot of advertising out there telling us how easy it is to become the person that other people will accept and/or look up to. If we just eat the right diet, lose the right amount of weight, and get enough exercise, we will have finally reached the goal. On a certain level, the idea of a New Year’s resolution feels a little arbitrary to me, and a part of me finds myself a bit irritated with the focus on change as desirable to make oneself acceptable. Most of these commercials don’t focus on what happens after you have lost x number of pounds or when you have been working out at the gym for a month. The change then has only started.
One change for me right now is that one of my offices is opening a satellite location. This is exciting for me, and I find myself enjoying being a part of that change. We did a presentation there this last weekend exploring the idea of change as a journey rather than a straightforward step. I think I like this better. As a counselor, I see people less as diagnoses and more as people who are in a certain point in their full lifespan. Wherever you are is where you are right now, and tomorrow you will be somewhere different. Change is a natural process rather than something manufactured.
Where does this leave me as a professional? If change is unavoidable, why is my position necessary? Well, I have been thinking about boat metaphors lately — hence the title above. If life is like a river or some other body of water with a natural motion, then each of us is in a vessel on that river on our own journeys. Occasionally, however, we have problems. Maybe we lose an oar. Maybe we’ve lost our maps or senses of direction. Maybe we are seasick and don’t have the energy to row. Maybe we are overwhelmed with the more turbulent passages behind and in front of us, or maybe we have a hole in the boat. I see my job as a counselor as an opportunity to pull my boat up next to yours, moor up for awhile, and help you build your skills, energy, and confidence to find your next destination.
I don’t get in your boat for a number of reasons. First, my journey and yours are different. If I am in your boat, I am not in mine. Second, if you have a hole in your boat and I get in, it will sink that much faster. If I bring you in my boat, then you are not in your own journey and you do not realize that you have your own capacity to guide your ship. You may have had friends or family that have tried to help but either took over your ship or were too worried about whether or not they did something to harm your ship to be able to hear you. As a person in my own boat, I cannot take over your vessel, and I do not have the emotional investment to feel overly responsible for what has happened in your life before.
If, however, we tie our boats together for a time, mine can help provide yours some stability until you can make the changes you need or want to make. Maybe I can help you find or create an extra oar. Maybe we study the map together to determine where you want to go and the best way to get there. Maybe I help you take the time to rest to help you get your energy and enthusiasm back. Maybe we work together to patch up your boat and to improve your boating skills such that your boat is less likely to be damaged in the same way again.
When you have accomplished the change that you need for that time, we will separate our boats and move on. Maybe we meet again, maybe we don’t, and maybe each of us moves on to moor up with other boats. Throughout this time, the river continues to flow and each of us has to make adjustments. Each of us must be aware and focused to handle the water safely.
I have been fortunate to have some good people to moor with me when I have needed it, and I am honored to be able to do the same for others. I have not always enjoyed the rapids, but I am grateful to have survived the experience. If your arms are tired, your compass is broken, or your rudder seems to have lost its effectiveness, I hope you will keep an eye out for my boat. I would be happy to join with you on your journey.