I have yet to meet someone without ambition. Or at least I choose to believe that if you let me talk to you long enough I'll catch a spark in your eye about something you had once longed to do. Unfortunately all too often I have to strain myself to look incredibly close to see the faintest trace of that spark. At times I have to imagine you in another place and time, when you were younger and that spark was much more bright, and much more warm. The strain on my part is always worth it to me, because if I can see it, even for a moment, well, that is why I do the work I do. And if you can see your own spark again, well, then we are both heating up.
There are many ways to define what mental health treatment/therapy/counseling is. To me, one simple definition is that it is where you go or it is what you do when something has gotten in the way of finding and living true to your inner spark, or your inner purpose. How we end up in such a place, is incredibly complex and the subject of volumes of theory and research. One common factor in virtually every person I meet with is a struggle to trust themselves.
This is where ambition comes in to play. "I don't trust myself to act on my ambition. Last time I tried it was only a set up for pain, disappointment, and ridicule. This is what happens when I go for something, or make my own decisions. I am the one to blame, and specifically it is my foolish ambition that is to blame." Ouch right? Well, if this is your conclusion then I understand you are likely in a dark place, and hope is pretty bleak, if not gone all together. But wait! You are reading this, so that tells us both that somewhere some part of you hoped reading this might help you. Or you've reached out to begin to meet with me or another therapist. Or you are talking to a trusted someone about how you feel. All of this says there is hope somewhere, for something, else you wouldn't be flirting with change.
But hope for what exactly? Well, probably an ambtion you've had. It's ok to not know what exactly. It's ok to not know for a while. But, whether or not you are ready to admit it yet, you are here because somewhere, on some level, you aspire to something different out of life. Even if that "something" scares the pant off of you. It might be something quite specific, such as applying for a particular graduate school program. It might be more broad such as one day having people listen to you and respect how you feel. Either way, these ambitions are uniquely yours and worth every ounce of energy it takes to pursue them.
Once again, that pursuit, more than likely will take you to a crossroads of whether or not to trust yourself. Can I trust my emotions. Can I trust that my ambitions aren't crazy/selfish/foolish, etc? Can I trust myself to keep myself safe? Well if not you, then who are you going to trust? Sure, you might decide to trust a mentor's assessment of you and what they think you can accomplish, but ultimately you are the one making your own plays. So again, how do you trust yourself in those moments? Well, this kind of trust, I believe is a choice, is not born out of solid proof that things will go well, but comes from ultimately choosing to trust yourself and give yourself the benefit of the doubt, regardless of the outcome. So why not go for it, with gusto and without shame? I deeply admire the courage, regardless of the outcome.
For more ideas, including the steps I went through in trusting myself as therapist following a rough start to my career, please see my article published in Pollen Magazine here.
Best of luck,
Tyler Andrus, LCSW