“Good Job” is dangerous

One day, when I stalked out of my economics class crying, one of my classmates found me. In a display of empathy that I admire, she reminded me that getting your masters degree is hard. She reminded that the grade in my econ course was not a judgment on me personally.

I had fallen into the trap of thinking that the challenges before me (like life/education/family integration) were problems that were caused by flaws in my own personality. I was in the trap of a “Bright Girl.

A bright girl is someone for whom life always came easily, and they were praised for doing the right thing even if they didn’t know what they were doing. And as a result, they grow up thinking that if they have to try, if they have to make more than one attempt, then they probably are not capable. I have lived this way for many years. Luckily, things had come easily for me.

Until I became a parent. Through therapy, I became aware of the possibility of not taking things personally. I began looking at problems objectively. I was so thankful for my classmate’s reminder.

Baby crying? The baby crying is not a reflection on me. She is communicating, and it is hard to understand her. That doesn’t mean that I should let her cry, but instead of blaming myself, realizing that it isn’t my fault opens me up for persistence and problem solving. Does feeding her help? Picking her up? Etc?

The original example: Grad school is hard. There is a reason why not everyone goes. The fact that it is hard is not a reflection on me, it is objectively hard. I don’t have to change myself to make grad school easier. No matter what I do, it will stay hard. But I might be able to manage it, I may be able to problem solve, I may be able to ask for help.

So, Practitioners, what do you take personally? How can you look at it objectively? And how does that change your strategies for coping?



Thinking About Communication: We Should

How many times do you turn to your friends, family, and partner and say something along the lines of, “We should have a party”?

Tim and I have been saying it a lot to each other, as we try to navigate having a small child. “We should do the dishes.” “We should change her diaper.” “We should get food.”

It’s a really interesting statement, if you think about it. First, it identifies a need between two people or a group, or a desire. Second, it completely abdicates responsibility for that need or desire by the person making the statement. “We should” do something often means “you should” do it. (Sometimes, it really does mean “we” — but that requires someone taking a leadership role and taking point on collaborating.) And because no one is taking responsibility, whatever need or desire that is aired doesn’t happen.

Listen to yourself as you talk about household responsibilities with your partners. How often do you say “we should” do something, instead of asking your partner directly? How often does the thing you say “we should” about not happen at all?