Living in a goal-oriented society, I am often preoccupied with the task of collecting an array of tangible achievements in order to reinforce a personal sense of value. My accomplishments in school, research, networking, and professional experience have all contributed to a mental image I hold of myself that is largely defined by external indicators. In this way, I have contextualized a large portion of my life in regards to my achievements, and it was not until I started therapy two years ago that I realized the implications of this mindset.
On the days leading up to my initial therapy session, I started to conceptualize how I expected the experience to go, focusing on my idealized progress and outcomes. I considered what I would say, how I would explain the events of my life, and what my therapist would offer me as guidance. All of these mental projections stayed with me on the day of my first session, and as I sat on the couch across from my therapist, I began to speak as if I were in a job interview. I tried to appear calm and unaffected as I gave an objective description of my life and the various situations that have shaped my identity, focusing on what I thought sounded good rather than how I actually felt. After the session ended, my thoughts were primarily directed towards my therapists’ perception of me and “how well I performed” during the 50 minutes that we spoke. As with most other aspects of my life, I considered the act of attending therapy sessions as another goal that I would endeavor to “successfully achieve”.
After a few more sessions, I began to feel increasingly overwhelmed with the task of maintaining an idealized image to my therapist, and I started to wonder why I insisted on such a burdening objective. I started to realize the unintended ramifications of my goal-oriented mindset, and I saw the ways in which I had been preventing my own growth and development. Each time I donned a self-constructed mask of “achievement”, I prevented myself from truly improving my mental and emotional health. By claiming that I was not affected by certain situations in my life or that I had already moved on and handled distressing events, I was creating a larger chasm between my true inner feelings and my outward expression of personal capability.
Success and Therapy
Once I understood that it is impossible to be “successful” at therapy, I felt a large weight lifted from my shoulders. I no longer considered how I would be perceived by my therapist in regards to achievement or success, and I started to express more of my true thoughts and emotions. This change also shed light on my goal-oriented approach to life, and I began to see the far-reaching influence of this mindset on my daily thoughts and actions.
My personal journey in therapy has played a significant role in recontextualizing my view of life. I have come to understand the courage that it takes to admit personal imperfections and perceived “failures” in life. Additionally, I have gained a deeper sense of self-compassion and understanding, as I endeavor to dissociate my tangible achievements from my sense of self-worth. Finally, I have come to see the beauty in honest self-expression and humility.
Mental Health as a Goal
Mental health is not merely a goal that can be achieved at one point at a time, but rather, it represents a state of daily care and compassion towards one’s thoughts and feelings. Also, there is no prize for being the best patient in a therapy session or any way to add “stellar mental health” to a career resume. The value of mental health extends far beyond achieving any tangible goal, and it allows for an enduring sense of self-worth and compassion.
From this understanding, I still acknowledge the importance of my social experiences in shaping me into who I am today, but I also remember to take thoughtful inventory each day in order to remain true to myself. This realignment of my daily thoughts and actions requires a great degree of patience and understanding, but from my personal experience, I more fully understand the liberation and benefit that comes with not taking things personally.
Hey I’m Delaney! I’m a junior at UCLA studying Psychology, and I am extremely passionate about raising awareness for the importance of mental health. I believe that fostering a community of mutual support can profoundly help to reduce stigma and encourage daily focus on mental well-being.