“Well, there is one in every class, so don’t be discouraged, Sarah!”
My head snapped up. I was sitting in graduate school, mere weeks away from starting a year-long internship program where I’d be practicing therapy in a private practice, a psychiatric hospital with adolescents, and a group home for kids in custody of the state. Our class had just taken intensive personality assessments the previous week, and we were receiving our results.
Apparently, I had scored painfully low in categories of compassion, warmth, and empathy. Pretty classic attributes we hope a therapist would embody, right? Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I had doubted my decision to become a therapist based on my personality and the stereotype I believed a therapist should fit.
A few weeks after I had been accepted to graduate school to get my master’s in counseling, I freaked out. I was driving around Atlanta with one of my best friends, bemoaning the fact that I don’t look, think, or act like a “real therapist.” Therapists should wear flowing pastel skirts and have soft voices, right? Yet, I was once asked to leave a high school tennis match as a spectator because I was talking too loud, and my way of showing warmth and affection typically involves sarcasm and cackling.
I let all my anxious fears out to my friend:
What if no one connects with me?
What if none of my clients even like me?
What if I’m totally different from everyone else in grad school?
How in the world did I delude myself into thinking that a career in listening to people’s pain was a good fit for me?
My friend, Allie, simply looked at me and said, “Not everyone needs the same therapist … The people who will come across your path are the people who will click with you and connect with you because of all those characteristics that make you who you are.”
Every single one of us fights the battle to accept who we are—and to extend the same grace to those around us. Accepting the parts of me that make me who I am will be a lifelong process, I think. But being in relationships and a community that affirms and validates my worth makes all the difference. I don’t have to apologize for my loud laugh or hide my deep, deep love for all books when I feel safe and loved in a community.
Part of my personality is that I don’t immediately connect with people without looking them in the eye and making a deliberate choice to be compassionate. I have to daily choose to treat my clients, co-workers, and friends with respect and love. But to walk in the light of hope of recovery and healing, day after day, is the career I’ve chosen, and because that doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to first experience this kind of grace and acceptance with my friends and family before I can share it with other people.
All you can be is the person you were created to be. You don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be perfect, and I won’t do myself, my friends, or my clients any good by pushing myself toward an invisible standard which in fact isn’t even true or attainable. So I’m going to quit striving for perfection, and instead strive for my best.
I am the best version of myself when I can laugh at the foolish things I say in a therapy session by accident because I was trying to look smart.
I am the best version of myself when I can apologize for when I have been insensitive toward the people I care about.
And I am the best version of myself when I build connection and relationship with my teenage clients as we crack up playing Jenga during group.
That is my prayer for you. That you would find a safe group of people who point out the things they love about who you are and encourage you not to hide them. That you would find a relationship with a friend—or a therapist—who will gently help you rest in the best version of yourself.
Perfect therapists don’t exist. Perfect students, perfect parents, perfect spouses and significant others, perfect employees—they don’t exist. No matter how hard we strive for unrelenting perfection in every part of our lives, we will not succeed. And believe it or not, that’s a good thing. Because it is in our moments of imperfection and insecurity that we can lean on others to remind us of our worth and dignity.
Sarah B. is a therapist, a listener, and an advocate. Raised in the Midwest and now living in the South, she’s made it her life’s work to point people to hope and healing.