I’ve been thinking about this post for a few weeks now, and it’s legit taken that long to finally put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper, for those old enough to remember writing things out - ha [for the record, I prefer hand writing things]).
It’s either that I haven’t had the mental space to sit and reflect (for real - highly possible). Or it’s that I’ve been reflecting, but it’s been taking place quietly without my conscious intention (frequently my norm) - “percolating” is how I reference this phenomenon. Or it’s that it hasn’t felt over yet. As in, there’s still been loose ends to wrap up, so the year hasn’t felt over yet. Basically, that I’ve just been in it, and I haven’t actually been able to reflect because how do you reflect on something that you’re still wrapped up in, ya know? I mean, realistically, it’s a combo of all of the above.
This year has been the year of paradox and cultivation.
I couldn’t decide on just one word. And these two don’t feel like enough, but they’re a good start.
Connected and Lonely
That main paradox is that I feel both deeply connected,but also immensely isolated and lonely. The isolated and lonely piece is almost fully wrapped up in being a group practice owner and entrepreneur (I hate that word, but it’s accurate). Before moving to Columbia, I lived in St. Louis (up until late 2016), and in addition to my part-time practice, I contracted with a group practice there (#LoveYouStillChangeInc). Ryan, the owner, and I became very good friends, and I still remember that time fondly. I also remember that he always seemed super busy, but I didn’t get why. I mean, he had a practice, so what was the big deal? He couldn’t have that much to do, right?
Having shifted into a similar (albeit, less busy) role, I realize how much I didn’t know. That’s neither here nor there, but my point is that it’s lonely. It’s hard to explain what I do (seeing clients is just one of my ‘roles’) to people who aren’t doing it. And that’s the plight of many people, I understand. I’m not trying to paint a woe-is-me picture. I’m simply trying to say that being in this position, as much as I freaking love it and wouldn’t trade it for anything (at this point - ask me again in 30 years) is also isolating. It feels relatively unique to be a group practice owner with a small child, and that uniqueness is also isolating.
At the exact same time, I’m more connected to legitimately amazing people than I ever have been in my life. This year has been un-freaking-believable with the amount of brilliant people I’ve met and developed relationships with. Seriously.
I’m surrounded by women (and some men, but mostly women for me) who are rockstars like you wouldn’t even believe. Group practice owner badasses, mompreneurs, wicked smart business women - all of it. I’m blown away on a weekly basis by the sheer amount of passion these women have, support they give, and brilliance they encompass. Blown. Away.
And I haven’t even started on my random group of mom friends.
First of all, stop judging, judgy mcjudgerson!! I know how that sounds. “Mom friends.” I hate that I’m even that person.
Second of all, yes, mom friends. I’m part of ONE (see?!) closed facebook group of moms (we were all due the same month) and, jeez, they’ve been a source of connection and support beyond what I ever thought was possible on the internet.
But even beyond that group, there are four women from this group who I’ve developed friendships with even further. Technically, we’ve developed friendships with each other. And, frankly, I’m a bit blown away by the amount of kinship I feel with women I’ve never met in person (#MySalties). We’ve messaged, texted, had group video calls, exchanged secret santa gifts, and disclosed way more about our personal lives than I care to admit here.
And it strikes me as ironic (paradoxical, amiright?!) that I can feel both of these things so strongly. Way isolated and way connected. What a freaking wild ride.
The other theme for me is that this year has been one of cultivating.
OH MY GOSH, CULTIVATING.
This should have been my middle name this year, when I think about it.
Ya know, I felt like a damn gopher or something (in retrospect). Spending my time burrowed underground - digging, foraging, hoarding, coming up for air to reassess and then diving back underground (also fitting because gophers are solitary critters).
And the cultivating hasn’t just been with myself. It’s been with the practice. I would say that it’s primarily been with the practice. It’s been a year of metaphorically planting seeds, tending to the land, scouring surroundings for the best places to plant, watering and caring for things that are beginning to sprout, and thinking about what will need to be trimmed and cleaved as it begins to grow so that it doesn’t take over.
It’s been a lot of hard work.
It’s been finding awesome people to bring on (seriously, I love our team), focusing on clinician growth (my own and everybody with the practice), and making sure the practice is healthy. All of which is to better and best serve clients. Which sounds kind of martyr-y, but I don’t know how else to say it. If there aren’t good clinicians, if we’re not growing as people and clinicians, and if the practice isn’t healthy, it all impacts negatively our ability to help clients and do exceptional clinician work. Which I’m not okay with (and I doubt anybody else is, either).
One of the things I kept saying to myself throughout this year was, “Long game, Tara. Long game.”
And what I meant to myself was that cultivating isn’t a short-term process. It’s a long-term plan. And please let me assure you that I am not the epitome of intentional planner, lest you think I am. So this is a huge shift for me (and one that I continue to make, as it’s not easy or natural).
A Little Extra (probably fitting, if you know me)
The other thing I’m realizing as I’m typing (which I why I recommend journaling - insights galore!) is how much my reflections and this year have been about the practice.
I love counseling so much, and it’s so damn important to me that people not only have good experiences, but that the work we do is exceptional. I don’t want to be a mediocre practice with mediocre clinicians. I want all the people who come into contact with us (whether referrals or clients or clinicians or assistants or parents or whoever) to have an experience that leaves them feeling cared for and empowered. And that might not even mean that they work with us, but it means that they have a phenomenal experience with us even if in passing.
That tangent aside, my realization is really about how much The Counseling Hub has become an integral part of my life. I often forget that I made the shift into full-time practice just this past May. Seriously. It’s crazy to think how much has changed since then.
Crazy and awesome. Mostly awesome, actually.
I left academia and opted to go full-tilt into private practice. It’s funny because when I think about it now, I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner. And I also love what I’m doing so damn much that I sometimes feel like I’m living in a dream. I’d love if people had that same experience in their lives.
Intentions for 2019…?
If I’m being totally honest with myself (and in writing), then I need to make sure to get back in touch with cultivating my own self-care practice. I’ve set good boundaries (hahahahaha - okay, I’m trying to set good boundaries) with practice-stuff. But my burrowing and gopher-ing has left me out of touch with my own self-enriching practices. Right now, the practice work feels enriching (it is), but I want to play the long game (again, see what I mean?), and that means sustainable self-care.
For me (it’s different for everybody), yoga and journaling are the two things that keep me tethered and give me the most insight. Yoga shifts me real quick into my body and into the present moment. And journaling allows me to gather insights that I come to in time, but it speeds the process up in a healthy way. Plus, I like to put pen to paper (reference the first paragraph of this blog), and journaling is an easy way to do that.
And then there’s always the ‘easy’ stuff to do - eat cleaner (#LeafyGreensLoveMe) and drink water. Eating clean isn’t about weight loss, mind you, it’s about feeling good physically. Again, that’s my own take and how I utilize it. Drinking water helps me physically and with focus.
Also, staying more connected to friends. Being intentional about staying connected because, again, isolation is part of my world now and I don’t want that to be the case.
OH. And the final intention for 2019?
FINISH MY DAMN DISSERTATION SO I CAN OFFICIALLY BE TARA VOSSENKEMPER, PHD.
That thing!! UGH. I’m over it, but it needs to be done.
Long game, right?! LONG GAME.
About the Author
Tara Vossenkemper | Couples Therapist & Marriage Counselor
Tara Vossenkemper is the founder, owner, and therapist with The Counseling Hub, and a counselor (LPC) in the state of Missouri. She specializes in couples therapy and marriage counseling using the highly effective Gottman Method Couples Therapy (and is currently obtaining her certification, which requires three levels of training and ongoing consultation - it's a necessarily rigorous process that she loves).
Tara has a diverse set of clinical experiences, working with both adolescents and adults on issues ranging from eating disorders and anxiety to spirituality and existential crises. However, she is most passionate about couples therapy and marriage counseling. Tara enjoys working with couples looking to decrease or enhance conflict, relearn healthy and effective communication, or are healing from an affair. She's also been formally trained as in the Prepare-Enrich Premarital Couples Counseling approach and the PREP Approach for couples counseling.
Tara is also earning her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri - Saint Louis. She's "ABD" (all but dissertation) and furiously researching and writing to finish things up. She's presented at national, regional, and state conferences, as well as locally, on the topics of discrimination, sexual minority distress, spirituality, healthy lifestyle and mental health, and private practice.