Get out of your own head

February 3, 2012

Connection, Experience

Years ago, a friend of mine, who is quite skeptical about the benefits of therapy or counseling, told me: the best way to help yourself is to help someone else.

The idea seems right to me but I haven’t really tested it. So I thought now (as I wrestle daily with, “What am I gonna do with my life?”) would be a good time to try it out.

Earlier this week, I volunteered at a nonprofit agency dedicated to helping struggling women, mostly single mothers, who are eager to become self-sufficient but need to find and keep a job.

The day began with a three-hour workshop on building self-esteem. There were 12 participants. After lunch, there was a session on interview skills and community resources (such as, specific companies who will hire ex-offenders).

My actual volunteer job didn’t start until later in the day but I wanted to observe the workshops to understand the whole program. Observation turned into total participation.

One example: We were asked to share our five lifetime achievements. Mary went first. Her top achievement was that she raised two sons neither of which went to prison. I looked at my list. Continuing around the room, there were stories of births, GEDs, overcoming serious illness and addiction. They were honest and deeply personal – and certainly got me out of my own head.

Now, on to the fun part…

The unique, cool thing about this program is the clothing!! In the afternoon, the ladies get to shop in the onsite boutique and take home, for free: a complete suit, stockings, jewelry, shoes and a handbag. All the items are donated and gently used.

At this point, I transformed from weepy workshop participant into Image Consultant Extraordinaire. It was wild. I had three clients to assist simultaneously, helping them pick colors and sizes, coordinating tops and necklaces and earrings, starting over and trying again until everyone was happy.

At the end of the day, I received this note from my client, Bonnie:

Thank you for helping me today. I am sure to feel confident when I obtain my job wearing this outfit and I will have you to thank. Thanks for making me feel confident and beautiful. I totally forgot what that feels like. May God bless you as you have blessed me.

What could be better than that? For me, no amount of counseling, talking about my confusion, discontent, lethargy, would ever make me feel as awesome as I felt at the end of this day.

I think counseling has its place, certainly for the big stuff. But when the problem is just overthinking things, and sort of wallowing and not having the energy to get going on anything, my friend is exactly right: the solution is to get out of your head and go help someone else. Someone who needs help much more than you do.

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One Comment on “Get out of your own head”

  1. Sara Martin Says:

    Great perspective. I’m all for counseling if it helps us gain consciousness about what’s holding us back. But, you’re right, we need to mix talk therapy with action therapy. Volunteer work is such an excellent example. And just reading books about others who have overcome struggles like our own can be so transformative. Thanks for sharing!


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