The unexpectedly positive impact psychotherapy had on my career
In November 2002 I had a lot of reasons to be more than happy.
I had just returned from a trip I’d made with my brand-new car, I had a considerable amount in my bank account, I worked as a freelance architect and part-time design teacher and I had just met an interesting guy.
Perfect scenario, right?
However, one day I woke up feeling strange. My mind was full of sad thoughts, for no reason at all and my brain worked overtime. It was an exhausting and bizarre feeling!
After having an awful week, I could barely eat and sleep, trying to figure out what would have caused this sudden change of mood, I realized this feeling of depression wouldn’t go away by itself.
Fortunately, a good friend of mine arranged a meeting with his psychotherapist.
The doctor, specialized in psycho-dynamic psychotherapy (tongue twister I know, but easy for a Greek, like me!), reassured me that I wasn’t losing my mind.
As it seemed, I was emotionally overloaded and had a stress reaction.
The good news was, I asked for help promptly before I got any worse or slipped into depression.
I was amazed to learn, however, that a lot of people live for years with most severe disorders or neuroses that keep them from living a normal and happy life and still prefer to suffer than simply visit a psychotherapist.
There are no unresolved problems, only decisions we haven’t made yet
The smart decision to ask for help would change my life forever!
Actually, I grabbed the opportunity to experience something that I always desired but until then didn’t have the chance or the right motivation.
That was to know me better through psychoanalysis.
The 3-year psychotherapy sessions had positive effects in every aspect of my life, both personal and professional. The impact was so huge that I now divide my life into before and after psychotherapy.
The whole process changed my perspective in dealing with difficult situations, which I’ve learned to handle successfully, without interference, help or advice from others.
All I had to do was making the right decisions, although this could be tough sometimes.
Sweeping things under the carpet
Before visiting the psychoanalyst I worked as a happy freelancer and a part-time employee!
At least, that is what I wanted to think, but it seemed that I fooled myself! Instead of pursuing my dreams I’d rather choose the easiest, effortless way.
Not because of laziness (although that was what I believed back then), but because of fear for the unknown and addiction to comfort. Regarding my career, I wouldn’t take risks and unnecessary responsibilities, I wouldn’t dare to do things outside my comfort zone and had no true ambitions or plans.
I was really comfortable, why would I change that, right? Well, this cost me more than I thought!
My stress incident was a delayed emotional reaction to all past, tough and demanding situations and unresolved inner conflicts, I would swear I’d gotten over.
My psychotherapist was very descriptive: the strongest you are the most pressure you can bear, therefore the explosion is unpredictable and spectacular!
Anyways, the 50 minutes’ sessions had been the most precious present I ever offered to myself.
I took some great lessons some of them I applied very quickly in my everyday life and had tangible results.
I share these valuable lessons because I know that only a few are open to talking about such an experience.
Lesson #1: Tear down the defense mechanisms you’ve been carefully building for years
You don’t have to be crazy, stupid or weak to suffer from a psychological disorder or to feel emotionally confused.
Actually, if you don’t use your brain so much, you’re probably safer!
Some of the most brilliant minds will find themselves in a difficult situation at least once in their lifetime.
The bad news is, the smartest you are, the strongest defense mechanisms you build.
Rationalization and intellectualization were my most favorite. I could provide logical arguments, not easily defeated, to support or defend my actions and decisions. We all do it every single day. The difference is that now I am able to recognize it.
Unfortunately, no friend, partner or family member can destroy those perfectly built defense mechanisms. The reasons are:
- they are not qualified to do it, even if they were
- you wouldn’t allow them to do it — or you’d end up hating each other but the most important factor is
- they are probably responsible for — perhaps not deliberately.
Defense mechanisms are learned behaviors, most of which we acquire during childhood.
The reason we cannot get rid of these defense mechanisms by ourselves is the fact that we are not aware of using them. We do it unconsciously, they are part of our personality and they keep us safe and protected.
At least, that is what we think.
Lesson #2: Be honest with yourself, it will make your life easier
Imagine how easily you can find excuses for the following questions:
- Why didn’t you study or work on what interested you more?
You didn’t have the chance, your parents or surroundings didn’t support your desire. Some people had the luck and money to do it, you hadn’t.
- Why don’t you quit your boring job or continue to work for and put up with rude and demanding clients?
You need the money, of course! You don’t have the luxury to work on what you like and choose for whom you work.
- Why don’t you apply for the highest position or take more responsibilities?
You need more quality time with your family, after all, success is not only about business or money.
Who would tell you these are not strong arguments? Especially the 3rd one can be a very conscious and well-thought decision.
But, is it really?
Deep inside you probably know that you aren’t honest with yourself and you just find suitable excuses.
In case you don’t want to face the truth, I have to warn you that your mind and your body will find a way to remind it to you. You can be sure about it!
We lie to ourselves so often that after a while it becomes second nature. It’s extremely easy to deceive yourself and others that everything’s perfect in your life. You can lie to everybody else, but please, stop lying to yourself.
It’s amazing, how honest we become with others when we stop lying to ourselves!
Suddenly life becomes so simple! Dealing with bosses, partners and clients is smooth and easy.
After a while, you realize that trying to find excuses was such a useless and time-consuming habit that made you feel like a fraud.
In case you think that people prefer those who tell them what they want to hear, I’ll disappoint you. We respect and consider as more reliable those who are honest with us — they only have to be polite and have good intentions.
In business, you won’t go very far by cheating.
Lesson #3: Know yourself to live to your full potential
Only a few people really know themselves and less than a few want to go deeper and search, afraid of what they’ll find.
You’re maybe one of them in case you cannot stay alone for long and enjoy your own company. Unfortunately, a vast majority live a life they don’t really fit in, making choices they’re not theirs.
For many professionals, work is a boring task they must do, otherwise, they’ll starve.
Creative people and artists have the chance — and perhaps a most urgent need — to explore and express themselves through their work. However, you won’t live to your full potential in case you don’t accept who you really are.
Knowing your strong and your weak points is a great power.
You can leverage your natural skills and abilities while you can work to eliminate the behavior or characteristics that are causing you troubles or don’t let you evolve. There is no need to change who you are or become the person somebody else wished you were.
You are unique. You can only become the best version of yourself.
Lesson #4: Take full responsibility and then apologize
You are totally responsible for your life, either you like it or not — for both achievements and failures.
OK, there are a few things you couldn’t control, like your birth, but normally your life is the result of your thoughts and actions.
The day you’ll realize and accept this simple truth, you will find yourself with enormous power in your hands. Most people focus on the negative part of responsibility — they only see their mistakes and failures.
These individuals will never apologize — it’s always somebody else’ s fault, even when they’re alone in the room! The day you start to take full responsibility for your mistakes, you are definitely a grown up.
If you apologize honestly for being late or missing a deadline, instead of trying to find excuses nobody will believe, you’ll be amazed by other people’s reactions.
By admitting your errors, you disarm criticism and aggression. Just don’t make this a habit though!
No human is flawless, but smart ones don’t repeat their mistakes again and again.
Lesson #5: Start saying “no” and feel great about it!
Being honest makes things easier even when you have to turn down an offer.
I remember how difficult it was for me to reject immediately unreasonable demands. I still recall some incidents with anger, giving away hours of work for free, just because I was asked to and couldn’t find an excuse. Like I needed one!
Now, I won’t even draw a line without a deposit and a contract. And I refuse to work for everyone.
One of my website’s most visited pages — in fact, this is my about page — has the title:
“10 reasons why you shouldn’t choose my studio”. (Actually, this was a smart title to make prospects read why they should hire me!)
You become more respectable and in demand when you say “no”, while at the same time your “yes” is more appreciated. “Maybe” is apparently no answer!
Lesson #6: Get rid of unnecessary and unproductive guilt
There’s no need to find excuses for doing what you like.
There’s no need to apologize because your earnings allow you to drive an expensive car — unless you stole it from someone else.
Supposing your actions don’t harm or cause trouble to other people, you are free to live your life.
I’m a late sleeper, I never start working before 10 a.m. — my most creative hours are after 4 p.m.
This is another reason I chose to work as a freelancer!
During my school years, I thought I was lazy — actually, that’s what my mother thought! (Now she worries that I will burn out!)
I suppose we’re all lazy to do things we don’t like. But, for years, I felt I was doing something wrong when I overslept. Now I know, I wouldn’t be more productive if I was up at 6 am, on the contrary, around 10 am, I’d start dreaming of my pillow.
I cannot remember a single day in my whole life that I was creative and productive before 10 a.m. As long as I delivered on time, this has never been a problem.
Lesson #7: Be yourself — dare to be bold and different
As long as I can remember myself I followed my own path.
I wouldn’t do what most people are doing. I was always more interested in doing what satisfied me, regardless of what somebody else would think. However, there were times that, although I did things in my own way, I felt a bit strange, like I’m not totally normal.
For years, I designed colorful places, wrote articles and talked in lectures about the importance of color in our surroundings since I know, the huge impact of color in human psychology and well-being.
I don’t follow the contemporary architects’ obsession with white and gray.
Research shows they’re wrong and I’m right!
This is why most multinational companies have embraced lately a more cheerful, colorful approach to their office design. Well, many of them (see Google for examples) exaggerate a bit!
Being different and unique is actually a virtue in business. Doing what everybody else is doing and copying others won’t help you stand out in a competitive market.
Embrace your uniqueness. Apparently, this is your own way to success.
Lesson #8: Go get what you deserve, nobody will do it for you
You cannot expect from others to do the dirty job for you while you sit and watch. And you shouldn’t be disappointed when they don’t.
Why should somebody else fight for your rights and desires when you don’t?
If you don’t believe in your value, you won’t be easily appreciated. If you don’t promote your business, your competitors won’t mind at all.
If you don’t raise your rates, no client will offer to pay you more. If you don’t respect yourself, others won’t do either. The more active you are, the more support you’ll get from those around you.
Lesson #9: Abandon your comfort zone and embrace challenges
I was an addicted procrastinator for years.
Well, we all put off boring tasks until we have no other choice than to accomplish them. I realized, however, that what I usually left for later weren’t always the dullest tasks and projects, but the most demanding.
Fear of failure and fear of change is often hidden behind boredom and procrastination.
Since I realized that it’s human to fail sometimes and that you can always give it one more try or forget about it, I stopped procrastinating.
My trick is to divide the whole process into smaller parts or phases. Actually, this is a procedure I have to follow as an architect. Building something new from absolutely nothing would seem completely scary and un-realizable if I didn’t focus on every phase of the project, keeping the full picture on blueprints and 3D renders.
This applies to every other job — from writing an article to preparing a seminar or presentation.
Lesson #10: You are not lucky, you are competent
I enjoyed reading since I was a child.
I would happily read anything but boring school books. I would never sacrifice entertainment hours to stay at home studying, although my grades were good enough.
My secret was the fact I could concentrate and focus on the essential while learning — this way I needed only 1 hour instead of 3.
For years, I had the impression that I was lucky with exams.
Until one day, I still remember my psychoanalyst’s words…
“So, you believe you were lucky to pass the exams and study what you chose. It’s also by luck you’ve learned 3 foreign languages, you became a good architect and you recently got a promotion. Since you have achieved all that without putting much effort, I’d rather say you are clever!”
Well, it had never occurred to me that I might be stupid (I scored high on I.Q. tests!) but until that day I was almost convinced that luck played an important role in my life. Life and experience proved me wrong.
We can be lucky or unlucky once or twice, but not for our whole life.
You are not successful by luck. It’s because you worked hard and you were alert to grab all those amazing opportunities that came your way!
Just think how many others didn’t or made the wrong decisions! Next time you’ll feel down and incompetent, look at the progress you’ve made. You’ll soon feel much better.
Lesson #11: If you don’t have control over your thoughts, feelings and actions, then who does?
We spend most of our lives, being our mind’s servants when it should be the other way around.
Every time our brain slips into the bitter past or jumps into future disasters we’re losing contact with the present.
But the present is the only thing we have. Nobody puts depressive or judgmental thoughts into your brain — it’s a bad habit of yours.
All you need is to replace it with a new one. Think about all those wasted hours you’ve spent worrying about things that eventually never happened or accusing yourself of past incidents you cannot undo!
It’s useless to have regrets about what you’ve already done or haven’t done. Make sure you learn by your mistakes and that you don’t lose another opportunity because of fear. You can plan your future only by focusing on today.
Actually, your present situation is the result of your past thoughts and actions. If you are not happy with it, it’s up to you to change it, now!
Lesson #12: You deserve to be happy
Deep inside many people believe they don’t deserve happiness.
That’s what they’re taught. For them, the world is divided into fortunate and unfortunate ones.
Some will say I’m lucky — I also thought so once.
To some extent they’re right.
I was born with some skills that allowed me to work on something I like. As long as I can remember myself I could be left for hours alone, daydreaming, reading, drawing and writing stories I invented.
As my sister mentioned recently, I still do the same — only now I earn my living doing what I always loved.
If I did something else, I would be miserable — I know because I’ve been there for a while. Psychotherapy helped me, among other things, to become more persistent and follow my dreams.
However, nothing happened overnight.
I’ve spent countless hours working and educating myself — the good thing is I still don’t feel like I’m working.
In addition to that, through my work, I make other people happy and the world a nice place to live — I hope!
It’s completely up to you
I know it’s not easy to abandon your comfort zone, embrace challenges and deal with insecurity.
Just don’t lie to yourself! In case you are not satisfied with your career for years, you’re most likely scared to death to take this crucial step and jump into the unknown!
It’s completely up to you, however, to transform from a pathetic observer and a constant complainer to a successful fighter.
Living the life you’ve chosen and pursuing your dreams is a simple decision — not an easy one. But believe me, you don’t know what you’re missing!
If you need an expert’s help, go ahead and get it!
Those who apparently don’t have the slightest idea about psychotherapy will tell you that provided you have good friends to talk to and being surrounded by people who love you, there’s no need to see a therapist.
This is a huge misconception!
It’s like saying, that if someone holds your hand and takes over all the tasks you’re unable to perform, you can live happily for months or even years with a broken leg.
And who knows, if you are lucky, one day you might be cured.
Well, you’re more likely to end up completely dependent on others and with one leg.
Not very clever I suppose, especially in case you were born with the potential to be a sprinter!
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Originally published at Millo, with the title “The unexpectedly positive impact psychotherapy had on my freelance business”, on February 3, 2017