In my Abnormal Psychology class last week the professor posed two questions: What is life? And who needs to know? There were varying answers to the first query but none were truly surprising: love, happiness, growth, challenges and other platitudes. I was the first to offer an opinion to the latter “I need to know. As long as I know then it doesn’t matter if anybody else knows.” The next volunteer disagreed with me and said, “Everybody needs to know. If I know you then you need to know everything about me.” Several people nodded in agreement, “Yes, everyone needs to know.”
Part of me felt stupid because no one agreed with me but I was glad I spoke my truth and didn’t wish I had opted to remain silent. Still, I had to wonder why I saw things differently than they did but that’s as far as I got, until today.
I have been met with a spectrum of reactions since I announced that I was going back to school, not just to finish a degree, but also to eventually become a psychotherapist. To everyone else I guess it seemed to just come out of left field but this is something I had been pondering for well over a year. Most people are supportive, including the ones that count the most: loved ones, of course, but also the owner and general manager of the company for which I work. I was counting on them to be flexible with my schedule to allow for my studies and they obliged. You would think the hard part would be over. But no, enter the Shadow Struggle.
Shadow Struggle is a term I coined in therapy when discussing my office manager. She’s not the same office manager I have complained about in the past (she was demoted) but a gal who started working for the company about a year ago. Eight months into this gig she was promoted to office manager. I was a bit hurt at the time because I had always mentioned my desire to have a managerial position within the company. I was always told that position didn’t exist but it would one day, which made me think that when it did exist I would be in the running. I dusted off my bruised ego and told myself it’s not what I really wanted anyway. All I really needed to do was keep working to put myself through school. So where does the shadow struggle come in? Before Ms. Newbie was promoted and she was just a peon underling like me, I had told her about my plan to go back to school and kept her updated on my application process. She was very supportive while I was planning on going to a state university. Then things changed once my heart was set on a private university and I was accepted with record speed. There was a definite shift. I was no longer asked how my plans were coming along. If I offered information I was met with a cool “Oh, well that’s nice.” Enter the Shadow Struggle. I soon realized that the office manager would have liked to finish college but an unplanned pregnancy got in the way. She has the two things that I don’t have: a high paying job and a kid. I’ve always wanted both but life hasn’t worked them out for me yet. As I’m getting older I have accepted the fact that I will probably never give birth to my own child (but that’s a story for the future.) In turn, I am getting the education that having a child prevented her from having. Our phantom ambitions played foils to each other and prevent us from getting along.
So who needs to know? My answer is still the same: I do. I am the only one who can know my purpose and I am the only one who can get me to where I want to be. Just today I was on the receiving end of some petty, vindictive behavior for pointing out a mistake the office manager made. I didn’t do it to be mean but because her mistake caused an inconvenience for a client and as a company we pride ourselves on client care. In dealing with childish office politics I have to know what my life is about in order to navigate to the other side. The “I know” is my compass faithfully directing me to the True North of my potential.