The right change at the right time

Susan Tesch, MS, LMFT | Psychotherapy & Counseling

Susan Tesch, MS, LMFT | Psychotherapy & Counseling

Face Time

As I get older, I notice my face…dropping. Gravity happens and my face proves it! And my emotional life has etched itself into my face as well, telling a story about who I am. Sometimes I’m okay with my aging face (like when I’m feeling good about myself) and sometimes I’m uncomfortable with it (like when I’m feeling some shame). You may think that therapists are people who are at perfect peace with themselves, but you are wrong! Therapists are an insecure bunch! I’m at better peace with myself than I used to be, but my war with my “defects” just won’t die (until I do)! 

It’s always been ironic to me that Facebook is a place where you’re guaranteed never to see, nor be seen by another face; you can only see a photo of someone’s face, and vice-versa, at best. But in my profession, all day long, clients look right into my face and I look right back into theirs. What a strange privilege—and burden—to work in the business of faces.

My face is now etched with my life history. It’s easy to see some deep vertical indentations between my eyes. They’re my “worry lines.” Those lines mean I care, but those lines also show I’m an intense person and a worrier. It’s also easy to read when I haven’t slept well. It’s easy to see when I’m happy or sad. It’s all on my face, especially now that I don’t have the resilient, perky skin of my youth!

I guess anyone who has had a difficult childhood, as I have, or you may have had, will somehow wear that pain and shame on their face, especially as they age. Maybe that’s why so many seek plastic surgery and other interventions to hide all of that. I understand that impulse, but I’d rather sacrifice some beauty and wear the face that tells my story. I hope that by being who I am, I can help you be who you are.

To me, authenticity is show-stoppingly beautiful!

Inspiration v. Perspiration

Well, my turning point has been profitable. Here are the follow-up thoughts after my last post:

Thomas Edison famously said "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." I don't know if these are the exact proportions, but I do think a lot of endeavors--not just genius--require much more perspiration than inspiration.

As I mentioned in my last post, music is one of my passions. But up until recently my relationship with music had been more about "inspiration" than "perspiration." I didn't grow up making music; I listened to music on the radio and bought records and sang along. It was inspiring! With a simple press of a button or two, I could hear any sort of music I was in the mood for. And the music was usually beautiful. "One day" I thought I'd make beautiful music too, but I didn't connect the dots as to exactly how that would happen; I just dreamed.

Now that I'm doing it, I know how to develop music skills: work really hard, i.e., "perspire." It turns out that it's not sexy business to practice scales and learn new pieces or compose new pieces! It's nothing like listening to one of my favorite songs, which is all pleasure! But this hard work is surprisingly more fulfilling than I ever could have known, even if I'm not that great as yet. Developing better fluency and an ability to express myself through music is a dream come true--but it's a reality-based dream! And that's a very different dream from my fantasy-dreams. I couldn't have described this to my past self. My past self wouldn't have understood even if I tried.

This feels exactly like therapy. Once clients begin to really develop emotionally and psychologically, they "get it" about what we're working for in session, and it becomes extremely fulfilling. But it takes a while to get there. Until then, they can only "dream" about "happiness" as they grill me about why they would want to slog through their pain in therapy. I try to sell to them on the advantages of personal growth through making emotional connects, and blah-blah-blah, but they don't really get it until it starts working. Some clients become angry by even the second or third session because they haven't totally transformed and they are impatient to get to the "happy" part of their life. I understand.

"Fulfillment" is a word you don't hear thrown around very much. You hear other mental-health words thrown around, like "happiness," or "self-esteem," but these words don't speak to the importance of working for something. I think the greatest feelings of fulfillment come from working at something (perspiring) and having some real-world success. 

After feeling down, Music is alive again for me, but in less glitzy way than I imagined it would be. It's just a ton of work. How fulfilling that work turns out to be!

 

Turning Points

I spend quite a bit of time working on songwriting. I did this early in adulthood, but stopped for a few decades and have returned to it in a more feverish way. Though I don't have delusions, I joke a lot that it's going to lead to something BIG and grand during my "empty nest" years. Music feels endlessly interesting and like it will never grow tiresome. Except when it does. Lately, it's been striking me that it's exhausting to always be working on song lyrics in my head, or pieces of a melody. (It seems the worse the song, the more I fuss and obsess over it, trying desperately to make it good.) I feel like I'm always pregnant with some new song I'm trying to give birth to and it requires a kind of preoccupation that is wearing on me as I write. Meanwhile, a young person I know from community college where I took some music classes just invited me to like his band's Facebook page. As I did so, I listened to several of their songs, and acknowledged again to myself that my songs belong to a different era--the singer-songwriter era--where songs served a different purpose from what they do now. Do we really need more songs like the ones from the 1960-70s? I'm not so sure. So now what? I'm tired. I'm middle-aged. My generation is dying off, and these are probably the people who would most relate to my songs. So...it's time to regroup. I need to change something about what I'm doing and how I'm doing it so that I get more enjoyment out of it, but so that it still feels important somehow. I'm at a turning point. 

I always appreciate the difficulty of a client at a turning point. Sometimes a change in life circumstances creates the turning point, even to the point of crisis. But often I've noticed that when somebody idealizes someone or something, such as I've idealized songwriting, and the idealization starts to fade, it creates a meaning vacuum. That's where I am. If I can stand it long enough, I'll find a new approach. But, as Ringo Starr sang (so satisfyingly!), "It Don't Come Easy."