At the dawn of the New Year, we wish each other much happiness and success.
It’s no surprise why there’s much to love about success. To most of us, success is synonymous with happiness and living our full potential.
Clients love it because it means they are making progress.
Counselors, coaches, and therapists love it because it demonstrates they are making a positive difference. And it creates great feel good stories for the rest of us. The truth, however, is that we rarely learn during successful times. Our greatest learning opportunities come from our perceived failures.
I’d like to tell you about a story about a young woman by the name of Katrina. She was in her early 20s and she came into the criminal justice system because of her drug usage. Her counselor saw something in her that made him really want to help her. She was young, smart, and filled with life. She embodied his hopes and dreams for recovery and rehabilitation; noble feelings, to be sure.
Katrina responded positively to the treatment and expressed her desire to turn her life. Her seemly upward trajectory, coupled with her counselor’s good intentions made him emotionally invested in her recovery. He really wanted her to succeed, and as a result, extended a different level of care.
Unfortunately, when that happens we are too immersed in the situation and don’t see it for what it is, and instead we see it the way we would like it to be. Which is why it came as a great shock when Katrina quit the group, violated the terms of her probation and returned to active drug using. Three weeks later, a local news story reported a drug deal gone bad and Katrina was dead. The counselor was devastated, he questioned every decision, every comment; was he too hard, too soft, should he have done something differently? All of us have had these experiences and each of us have grown tremendously as result of them.
It is generally only during these most trying times that we take a good hard look inside of us. First and foremost, it’s important to realize there is nothing wrong with us. No matter how bad the situation looks, and as tempting as it is to immediately blame ourselves, we are perfect in our own imperfections. We bring our own experiences and understanding to the counseling process, anything less and we become robots, which doesn’t help anyone.
Second, we learn we are not responsible for our clients’ successes or failures. This simple statement frees us from the heavy burden of responsibility counselors often times pick up, and strange to say, it frees our clients from having to meet commitments they aren’t able or willing to make. Our clients subtly pick up on our strong desires, and if they’re not ready, it can cause them to sabotage their treatment.
The sting of losing a client lasts with us long after the incident, but no matter how hard we try, we cannot be more committed to their well-being then they are. A hard learned lesson, to be sure, but understanding that is the true success in a story that the counselor felt was a failure.