People say your profession should be a calling. Something you feel compelled or drawn to. I don’t think this is always true. I’ve been drawn to many things, a variety of interests. Like many young girls, I guess, at one point I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then a police officer. I remember taking interest inventories along the way in school which always resulted in me being matched up with social work. I always dismissed this idea, each time hoping the results would turn out differently, but they never did. I was too shy and insecure to help other people. A social worker was the last thing I wanted to be.
Years later as a young mother of a one year old, I realized I needed a career. I needed to become something. Just what, I had no clue. At that time I was a bank teller and knew there was no future or money in that (pun not intended). So I enrolled in the local technical college and got an associates degree in liberal arts. I quickly learned that an associates degree in nothing was worthless as far as me getting ahead in life and finding a better job. It was there that I met Debbie, my soon to be best friend and inspiration. She helped me and encouraged me to believe I could do more than I ever imagined.
After we got our associates degrees together, Debbie and I decided on going further academically, moving on to work on a bachelors degrees. We were both interested in psychology so we forged ahead working on getting our bachelors degree in psychology. At that time, I thought once I had a bachelors degree I would really have made it. Hit the big time, the sky’s the limit, job opportunities would be in abundance. Naive as I was, it didn’t occur to me there are no jobs for people with bachelors degrees in psychology – at least no jobs that will pay the bills. Debbie and I both loved academia and while both working full time and raising kids, we also went to school together at night. Debbie was so smart, always a step ahead of me, always getting just a little better test grade than me. I didn’t even own a computer at that time and I would go to her house, borrowing hers to type my papers.
In the midst of working on my bachelors degree, I was faced with some unanticipated roadblocks – a husband who didn’t want to support us and a newborn baby with medical problems. I had to drop out of school for a semester and eventually realized I would not be able to go back to work for some time, as my son was too ill to go in daycare. So, while being a stay at home, a broke stay at home mom, I continued school. Debbie and I graduated from the University of South Carolina together, proud as peacocks.
We weren’t out of school long before she called me one day. I was still spending my time at home, taking care of my son. She asked me if I was bored. I answered, “Yes!” School had really become our social life and we both missed it. She stated, “Good. Then come to Clemson with me and we’ll get a masters degree.” I had never even considered getting a masters degree, even knowing I had a bachelors degree I couldn’t do a thing with. After all, masters degrees are for smart people. Not average people like me. I responded to her,”In what?” She said, “In counseling.” I replied in shock, “Counseling? What in the world am I going to do with that?” Debbie’s answer was, “Oh don’t worry about that. People don’t care what your degree is in as long as you have one!” Of course that sounded completely logical to me after living the life of baby bottle washing for weeks and months on end. Off we went to Clemson University to get a masters degree in counseling.
Yes, I was interested in psychology but I quickly learned counseling was a whole different ball game. It’s amazing to me now, 17 years later how far I’ve come. I could tell you about my variety of job experiences that have been really interesting, or about the letters behind my name, or the licenses that hang on my wall, but that’s not the good part, nor do you care.
I believe now that counseling was a calling for me. I didn’t know it, but God did. It was his plan for me. There’s nothing magical about it. Yes, there is a lot to know but there really is nothing magical about it. I don’t wave a wand and fix things. I don’t have the answers for people. I don’t give advice. So what in the world do I do?
I recently had a pastor who preached one day on missions. She talked about going to Haiti after the earthquake and handing out water bottles. She shared that at first many of those in her group didn’t feel they were doing something important enough. Here they were, pastors, missionaries, having come a long way to change these broken people’s lives and they were handing out water bottles. The lesson she learned is that the smallest of things can mean the most and it wasn’t what she was doing that was important. It was the fact that she was there. Her presence was what was important. The fact that she cared enough to come all that way just to hand out water bottles was important to the Haitians. Her mere presence.
That was an important lesson for me. Sometimes, as a counselor, I would wonder if I was doing the right thing. If I should be doing something different. Why this kid wasn’t getting better. I realized that I can’t fix everything and sometimes I can’t fix anything. I can’t make things all better for people and I can’t change the entirety of people’s lives. I’m only human myself. What I can do is offer my presence. I can be there with them through their hardships and let them know they are not alone. Just the knowledge that someone else cares is sometimes all one needs to push through. I can listen. Really listen. Really listening means really hearing. Really hearing means understanding. When I really listen, hear, and understand, my client feels cared about and this produces an environment that induces change. Those skills produce compassion and client’s can feel compassion. Rapport between counselor and client in my opinion (and in the opinion of many researchers) is the single most important factor in determining the success of counseling. It’s not the theory I believe most strongly in. It’s not what I say. It’s not a technique I use. It’s showing that I care.
I never thought counseling was a calling for me. I do now. Each morning I ask God to help me touch somebody’s life that day, whether it be a client, an employee, or a homeless person. I don’t think playing the role of counselor is restricted to my office. It’s a way of life. Kindness. Caring. Helping.
Through counseling I became a college professor. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought I would teach college. I was the student that, even in college, would almost pass out having to give a presentation. Teaching was the furthest from my mind. Becoming an astronaut more plausible. Another, fluke happenstance. My mentor who had provided me with supervision to become licensed called me one day. She was the director of a university counseling program. She told me she’d be unable to teach an Ethics course she had scheduled to start in a few weeks and wondered if I’d teach it for her. Quite flattered but lacking belief in myself (which happens to be a pattern in my life if you haven’t read my other stuff), I shared it with another encouraging friend of mine. I asked her what in the world I would have to offer or teach this class? She stated, “Kristi, what don’t you have to offer?” I ended up teaching that class and now ten years of teaching later, I have moved on to a more prestigious university. I love teaching even more than counseling. I show that same compassion to my students and that makes all the difference in the effort they put into the course.
Counseling has been a double reward for me. Through counseling I’ve learned about myself. I’ve grown. I’ve gained confidence. I’ve been offered new opportunities. But most of all I’ve learned to give of myself and in return I get more back from my clients and students than they ever get from me. Do we always know what our calling is? No. Does our calling find us? I think so.