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Guest Blog Post: Set Yourself Up, To Show Up

Introducing our Guest:

Sydney is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge at the PEDAL Research Center. She previously received her Master's in Psychology at Seattle University, Bachelors in Science at Michigan State University, and completed a Play Therapy Certificate at Antioch University Seattle. Her current work centers children's voice and experience in play therapy sessions as well as topics including trauma, COVID-19 pandemic, and collective distress. Sydney has worked as a therapist with youth & families in both a community agency setting and private practice at Eastside Play Therapy.

I know the saying is usually “set yourself up for success”, but not today. A reframe that I believe does ultimately and often lead to success, but my focus and encouragement to you is not about the end goal but setting yourself up well for the process.

Being a grad student, therapist, psychiatrist have all come into different iterations, with changing expectations, as time goes on. It is common for grad students now to have websites or academic social media accounts, for therapists to host podcasts, for psychologists in training to make psychoeducation accounts, for psychiatrists to write memoirs. An impact of the ‘loudness’ (and the being out in public) of these opportunities can lead many people to feel confused, unworthy, behind, lost, burnt out, and a range of other feelings.

There are plenty of tips and tricks across sites and accounts that say “just be yourself” or “don’t compare yourself to your peers” but those are HUGE statements that frequently leave people discouraged by how unrealistic or unattainable that advice feels. How does one even begin?

How do you consider the new opportunities and expectations of the field, practically, and specifically for yourself? Well, I don’t have your answers to that question, but I have considerations to offer to support your process of choosing opportunities for yourself.

You are still in the room, even if it’s a new room

Any life transition can be foundations for idealising. Idealising you ask? Think of the stories you tell yourself internally that essentially tell this narrative: ‘I’m going to be different now’ ‘things are going to be so much better now’ ‘I am going to be so much happier once I start doing x’. And while I don’t mean to say you don’t have flexibility around the choices you make when you move into something new, because you do and likely some things will change. AND you still have a history, preferences, and insights into your success that come with you, even if you do adopt new routines or habits.

So what do I mean by you’re still in the room?

Let your history be present and use your strengths

There are many times throughout academic programs and in new careers where you are pushed outside of your comfort zone to try and do new things. There are constant learning curves and mistakes. These things can weigh down on self-esteem and confidence levels, even if they are good and helpful new things. Use your history to support yourself in choosing the extra opportunities that are easy or maybe just not so scary (because we don’t often have much say in the mandatory, required stuff). Setting yourself up to show up means allowing yourself to increase your confidence and feel proud and capable as often as possible. There is absolutely no law that setting yourself up for success has to be hard or a never ending push outside of your comfort zone.

This is also true of using your history. If you’re in grad school now and you learned in undergrad that you write best in the mornings, set yourself up to show up your best by making that your schedule whenever possible. If you learned during your internship that you need to eat small snacks between sessions instead of eating a full lunch, stock up a snack drawer at your desk. If you know from high school that taking paper notes is helpful, it’s okay to show up to class in a sea of laptops with colourful pens and notebooks. This is about you and what you know about yourself and what you know works.

Be mindful of your emotions

This includes some self-honesty around anxiety and stress levels. As a personal example, I have had the opportunity to guest speak on a couple podcasts. I really enjoy the way communicating my research feels in this setting so I classify this as an opportunity that both supports me and my work. What I’ve also noticed though, along with that, is that my anxiety is up a few hours before recording. For me that looks like cleaning - all of the sudden my bathroom surfaces need wiping down right now, laundry, wow I need to wipe the dust off my plants leaves.

Why is this important? Because it means when I know I am accepting an opportunity such as a podcast or to give a virtual talk, I have to account in my week for the couple ‘work hours’ where I know I will be doing life admin activities because it supports managing my anxiety. It means scheduling them in the morning so I don’t spend all day with my anxiety levels up. It is being honest about who I am, the emotions that come up, and being gentle enough to support that.

Listen to how you are speaking to yourself

Now I’m not on the brutally honest, tough love team when it comes to how we talk to ourselves. If you are taking opportunities that have variations of - ‘why am I not good enough’ ‘this should be easier’ ‘this wouldn’t be so hard for them’ ‘I shouldn’t be this emotional about this’ - running through your head, I would encourage you to return to the first point.

In another personal example, I realised early that time blocking is a really popular piece of advice given by PhD students with huge followings and communities. I time blocked my calendar for two weeks when I first started and found myself with quiet but constant narratives of “why can’t you focus like other people” “maybe you’re not cut out for a PhD”. That’s a sign for me that I’m not aligned with the first or second points above. So while time blocking works for some, even though it’s popular, it’s not for me! Be mindful of what your brain is telling you.

Louis Cozolino, a neuroscientist at Pepperdine University, says “life isn’t survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the nurtured”. The ways in which you nurture yourself and let others nurture you, are directly related to your success and the experience of the process of being successful.

Set yourself up to show up for yourself.


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