“Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” Letter to the Dean.

Dear Dean of Clinical Psychology,

Thank you for the thoughtful letter regarding my experience in the interview process. I am very happy to know that you and the admission committee in the Clinical Psychology Department reviewed my application and found my experience, academic qualifications and submissions at the standard for admission into the University. I do find it curious that a few Regional Professors could have a different philosophy on a successful applicant than the University.

One of the topics that have come into our collective consciousness through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, is why women do not lean into promotions and more responsibility in their professional pursuits. Ms. Sandberg speculates that women do not lean into promotions, new careers, or assignments unless they are positive they have the wherewithal and all qualifications are fulfilled, whereas men just go for it and see what happens. When I walked into Judith’s office in Vancouver I was fully prepared to start the PhD program. My basis for this confidence was my career in the pharmaceutical industry and my MBA which I completed while working a minimum of sixty hours a week, traveling, sometimes internationally, and launching a program with a $30 million budget. I am in a position where I know what it takes to be successful and this knowledge is why I have waited until now. I did not take this decision lightly and, in fact, it has been a three-year process of deliberation considering the ages of my children, my husband’s career and my future aspirations.

I am sure that I have a very different background than most of the applicants into the Clinical Psychology program. When I submitted my application to the University, I was sure, beyond any doubt, that I was ready for the academic rigor of a PhD program, the hours that it would take as a volunteer, the struggle in pursuing a research project and a dissertation. I was ready to tackle six years of hard work to reach my professional goals. Maybe I was naïve to believe that my experiences are valid, that my academic and professional achievements would prove my perseverance, my intellectual capacity, and my dedication to excellence. As I think about the people that have made undeniable changes in our world, I can’t think of one that didn’t start with a sprinkle of innocence, of naiveté. Dr. Kill-Your-Passion has forgotten that there are many paths to making a difference in the world and just because someone doesn’t follow yours, it doesn’t mean they will fail to be successful.

In the interview I was asked why I want to pursue psychology. As I wrote in my eight-page Statement of Purpose, I am passionate about understanding how all of us make our way as individuals and as a collective humanity. I want to be a therapist to help women in their relationships with their selves, children, spouse or romantic relationships, family and friendships. This understanding of my purpose in life has been hard won by trials in my life and a deep understanding through analysis of my own heart.

I have been fully, unapologetically in life. I was a child of divorce and am a motherless mother. I have a wonderful husband but experienced a divorce of my own. I have been at the table in the boardroom in New York City and the lonely salesperson on the road to approval. I have been there for my own family grappling with the devastation of Alzheimer’s and the heartache of a dying child. Friends have suffered mental health diagnoses that changed the course of their life forever. Autism, bipolar, depression, OCD, head trauma, learning disabilities, ADD, anxiety, suicide, aging parents, cancer and it’s effects on mental health, are just some of the difficulties that happen in real life; the life that I am in. I do not have ‘formal’ mental health training that Judith could verify and easily pass along for admittance into practicum. What I do have is connections with real people whom are in my path. People who might not have anyone, but for me, to pull him or her out of the abyss they are in, right before it is too late. This is the ‘formal’ mental health training that I have now as a forty-three year old, married mother of three that I did not have when I was young and willing to do whatever someone told me to do, so that I could be worthy, good enough to wear the halo they set upon my head.

Other goals that I will fulfill in my life are to do research, probably more qualitative, and to write a book or maybe several. I want to be an advocate for women, for mothers. Our country needs people who are grounded in understanding and compassion; to be in communities, at the ready to both make things happen for them and to help them understand they need to make things happen for themselves. My passion, my understanding of humanity is what will help others believe that they are capable and are whole just as they are. These goals have nothing to do with a PhD in Human Development. That would never be a viable option for me.

My first choice in fulfilling this vision was to go to your University. However, your professor’s demeanor and condescending discouragement of my application was arrogant and insulting, not to mention a waste of my time and money. She did not know anything about me, nor did she have any intention of learning. There are many paths and I have options with my time and with my resources.

I do appreciate the offer to interview with another faculty member of the school. However, sometimes a bad first impression can taint an entire endeavor and I think that is what has happened. Judith has tainted the entire school and when I consider the number of hours that I would spend to fulfill a PhD, not to mention upwards of $150,000, I don’t have the time to prove my worth to someone who will never see it. It wouldn’t make sense for me to be in a Cluster in another area, as one critical piece in my decision to go back to school is to be among like-minded, passionate people that I would have lifelong connections with. When people do things that don’t make sense, it automatically makes that person suspect. I want to study with others from the Northwest and I don’t want to have to explain myself, especially when there is negativity attached. Staying in the NW, while Judith is the main link to the school would not work out based on how she treated me in the interview. I used to accept this kind of behavior when I was in the corporate world, when I was much younger, but I am wiser now that I am a mother; instead of breaking down walls to be regarded as an equal, I will look for an environment that is accepting of different paths and views in the world.

This year I will work on the requirements for admission for several programs to apply for the fall of 2014. If there happens to be changes at the University, then I will consider applying again.

Thank you again for your letter and offer to move forward in the interviews. This process has succeeded in doubling my conviction that I am working toward the right goals and purpose in my life.

Best regards,

Janna Bushaw Crist

What happens when a mom has the audacity to think she can make the world a better place. An interview with a vampire…

“Do you have any formal experience in a mental health setting that you can think of?” Judith asked as she pulled a piece of her short-gelled hair and adjusted her scarf. I am thinking about the eight-page Statement of Purpose that is sitting on her clean, glass desk situated to take in the breathtaking views of the Vancouver, British Columbia Harbor. My first paragraph states that I have no experience as a mental health counselor, volunteer or otherwise. Instead, I have a graduate degree in business and all that goes with a successful career in sales and marketing, I have been fully immersed in the messiness of life as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, granddaughter and person in communities. I have paid attention to the infinite longings of the human heart. I am a motherless mother. I have studied psychology since my early twenties and read textbooks for my understanding of how we all think, feel, love and suffer. I finally tell her, “I do not.”

“What about research?” she continues. I feel myself being pushed further and further from my dream of calling myself a clinical psychologist. The University has accepted me but the woman sitting in front of me would be my link to the school, my mentor for the six years it would take to earn a PhD in Clinical Psychology. I can see that she was not privy to the selection process and she wants no part of being responsible for a mother of three young children ‘who has no idea what she is getting herself into.’ The University representatives have told me that the student body are mature adults who are either advancing their careers or starting a second career and formal education or experience are not prerequisites.

Judith’s questions are getting lined out like an easy to-do list on Saturday morning. She is not interested in a project no matter what “life experience” or passion I have. My lack of “real” credentials are going to be difficult in a year when she is expected to find placement for the practicum requirement of the program and licensing. I am pretty sure this is part of her reluctance to even consider my application. I can hear her thinking about the difficult road I present for her. She begins to persuade me that this idea of being a psychologist is not a good idea for someone in “my position (i.e. mother of three young children.)” She thinks it would be a good idea to volunteer in a crisis center for a year or two and then begin because with a family it would be just too demanding to work as a volunteer and complete the rigorous load of study that is required from the program. “It may have been acceptable in the past but the program has become much more rigorous,” Judith warns.

I can feel myself going under but continue to try swimming against the residing current. “I was working sixty hours a week in the New York Metro Area while getting a masters in business at night. I traveled all over the world, planned a wedding and was promoted three times,” I hear myself protest, grasping at straws. I could tell she wasn’t buying it. Her eyes looked at me like my idea of a therapy session was a coffee chat with moms in their Lulu Lemon wear and rocking the stroller. The  familiar feeling of the relentless pursuit of a challenge starts to cloud my thinking. I can do anything I set my mind on and I will prove it beyond the doubt of anyone who tells me I can’t. This time I hear my wiser, motherly voice respond with, “Yes, but do you want to?”

“What do you want to do when you complete the program?” It doesn’t matter what I say because she has another program within the school that she thinks “Would be perfect for you because it has all the elements that you want to do but doesn’t require practicum, research or even meeting with a professor,” she offers and hands me the name and number of another Judith. She had made up her mind before  she read the first paragraph of my essay that states that becoming a mother changed everything for me. She has not allowed herself to visit this other universe of compassion, love and dreams. This other world without words or rules, resumes and credentials. She doesn’t know this other world that flows with the human heart.

I realize that the Judith sitting in front of me is not just challenging me to reveal my true commitment capacity; she really doesn’t believe I am capable. I finally ask if she is saying that she will not recommend me for the program. She says, “That is not what I am saying. You aren’t hearing me.” I listen.

The salesperson in me understands what has happened. Judith is not interested in what I am selling. I hear her saying that she is very upset with the Admissions Office and will promptly call them about this recommendation that is clearly wasting her time. It doesn’t matter that I am fiercely passionate, smart (at least before I had children) and was accepted to the school with my application, Statement of Purpose, and Critical Thinking writing sample. Judith doesn’t want to take me on because it will be too demanding, rigorous for her.

She can see that I am not fazed by the workload and continues with the fact that I very well may need to move my family’s residence to do a two-year practicum (i.e. experience) and that probably won’t work with three children and a husband. Never mind that the school is the only one of its kind with a “distributed education model.” The school’s sole competitive advantage is that mature, sometimes second career adults can get a PhD without disrupting their lives by moving near a traditional university.

I stopped. Nothing I could say was going to change her mind. I told her that I appreciated her candor because I certainly would not want to start something and not be capable of success or even finish. Working with this woman would not be a hospitable environment to work, study or be inspired. This woman would suck my energy and passion dry and at the end of the day she would prove (to herself) that she had been right by discouraging me to pursue something that in her mind I didn’t have a clue. I needed to get out of there before I was beaten with ‘experience.’

Judith escorted me out of her office and through her personal art gallery into the hallway of her high-rise condominium. I jump into the taxi waiting outside to start my eleven-hour journey back to Central Idaho.

As I walked out the door all I could think of was how much new material this woman had given me. This is a perfect example of how women are systematically excluded from leadership positions. This woman really believed that pursuing a PhD with small children at home would simply be too challenging for me. She had absolutely no basis for this belief except that I had stepped off the train of progress and challenge to pursue the more simple matters of being a mother.

Letting Go of My ‘Before Children’ Life

I leaned hard into my career at one time. I loved working as a marketing director close enough to NYC to enjoy the skyline. I got so angry when a coworker (male) would tell me that I wouldn’t want to come back to work when my child was born. Determined to prove that I was not the ‘typical’ woman in the workforce, I doubled my efforts. My daughter was born, we moved back to the Northwest and my beloved suits got relegated to the top bar in my closet. I am reposting this Blog now that I have read Lean In and getting ready to go back to school for a PhD. in Clinical Psychology. The grit that I once had and needed to survive in the business world has been replaced by self compassion, intuition and the love I feel for my family, for my three daughters. Maybe I will Lean Into my career in psychology once my girls are on their way. For now I am learning to lean into my own voice of understanding what will work for me. I say this because of my personal journey in this world and know that all women forge their own. Love that!

Love is all we need...

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I had about 50 suits hanging in my closet for TEN years.

They were beautiful, they were (mostly) a size 4, there were skirt suits, dress suits, pant suits and even fancy dresses that I wore to big parties in NYC. I loved how I felt when I wore them. I can still feel the ‘flow’ of being at just that place where there is enough adrenaline to work at your peak but also enough calm to be comfortable in those high-heeled shoes. I loved who I was when I wore them. I remember buying each of them and I remember being in them when speaking to large groups of business people. I LOVED my suits.

I had just finished three years of graduate school while working sixty hours a week and was preparing to receive my MBA when my husband and I were going to have a baby. I…

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Letting Go of My ‘Before Children’ Life

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I had about 50 suits hanging in my closet for TEN years.

They were beautiful, they were (mostly) a size 4, there were skirt suits, dress suits, pant suits and even fancy dresses that I wore to big parties in NYC. I loved how I felt when I wore them. I can still feel the ‘flow’ of being at just that place where there is enough adrenaline to work at your peak but also enough calm to be comfortable in those high-heeled shoes. I loved who I was when I wore them. I remember buying each of them and I remember being in them when speaking to large groups of business people. I LOVED my suits.

I had just finished three years of graduate school while working sixty hours a week and was preparing to receive my MBA when my husband and I were going to have a baby. I had visions of having our beautiful child, spending 3-4 months at home and then returning to my career just as I had planned since I was thirteen. I would get up in the morning, dress for work just as Mary Poppins would glide in and provide my baby everything they would need and then some. My husband and I would come home from work and we would sit down for a family dinner lovingly prepared by Ms. Poppins… We would stroll around town on the weekends stopping in to get a NY bagel and a Starbucks. Ahhh life was going to be AMAZING.

Then Ground Hog Day began. My daughter cried for a year. We moved back to Washington State into Suburbia. My husband was traveling at least 60 percent of the time. Mary Poppins was nowhere to be found and my job was back in New Jersey. My suits would have to wait for a year or two. That will be okay. I was sure that I would be back in them in no time. We won’t speak of them being a size 4.

Two more children and suddenly eight years has gone by. My beloved suits and high-heels are covered in dust – actually I think it transitioned to dirt by this point. I resolved to send them to a charity for professional women and so I gathered half of them and put them in another closet for removal when I got all the information together. Two more years go by. Now it has been ten years. My rational brain is looking at the size 4. My rational brain understands that I will not be going back to work in the same capacity as I did before. My rational brain understands that these suits aren’t even close to current style. My rational brain reminds me that the hundreds of dollars that I spent on them is way past sunk cost. Why was it so hard to give them away?

Then I received an email about a women’s charity that would be collecting women’s professional clothing in my home town. I gathered every bit of resolve to finally remove my old life so that I could make room for the new. I loaded my suburban to the top and started driving downtown. My stomach seized and by the time I got there (15 min) I didn’t know if I would be able to get out of the car. I went into the store that was collecting the clothing and the woman gave me a rack to hang my clothes. I stumbled in and out of the store and literally filled the rack with all my beautiful clothes. My professional life before children. Afterwards I went back to the woman to get my receipt but she had me sit for a minute while she attended to another customer. I thought I was going to lose consciousness. I started to sweat and became clammy. I needed to just hold it together to leave the store before ‘something’ happened. By the time I left the store I thought I might need my husband to come and get me. After sitting for a few minutes, I was able to drive home. I walked in the door and went directly upstairs to lie down. Fifteen minutes later I was absolutely fine.

Letting go of my before-child life was really, really hard. So hard I believe that I felt that loss physically. I did it though and there was no going back. That day I tried to remember all the clothes that I had just donated and if I really wanted them back. I didn’t. I haven’t missed them at all. I love my new life. I love being a mom. I love the opportunity I have to figure out what I really want to do when I grown up.

Ahhh. Letting go is so liberating in so many ways.

Life on the Edge of the Curve

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My husband says that I am “an all-in or all-out” kind of person. I haven’t always known where to put this information as I ‘see’ gray, I’m not just a black and white type of person. There is always another way to look at things and I feel that I have the ability to understand both sides most of the time. However, as I was thinking about this while exercising this morning, you can be an all-in or all-out kind of person AND see gray in the world. It is more about balance and how you achieve balance in your life. Yes, balance. I have read many a book that have discussed it’s importance, offered ways to find it, gave examples of others who were off balance and after following three easy steps, they found it.

Somehow the illusive three easy steps were never enough for me. No, I must start on one side of the curve until it is fully explored in it’s extreme until I figure out that this will just not work for me. After said exploration, I sprint to the other side of the extreme only to find that this extreme doesn’t work either. Only THEN can I find the balanced perspective that I had sought all along.

I am turning forty-three in a few days which is always a good time to reflect on where I am and where I am going. Over the past twenty years I have lived and embodied two extremes: career driven, take no prisoners, keep going at all cost versus mother, wife, a little granola and all are welcome. I went to the University of Washington as the first person in my family to go to college. I graduated in 1992 which was a year when the newspapers warned that college students wouldn’t be finding jobs. I was on a mission to get a job and start my career in the business world and that I did. I worked for a large computer firm right out of college and then switched to the pharmaceutical industry where I was in sales, sales training and marketing. I moved to New Jersey and worked ten miles from Manhattan. While working 60 hours a week, I went to graduate school at night to earn an MBA, got married, traveled for work and pleasure, went to grand events in Manhattan and did not stop even as pregnancy had me sick (really sick, sick) and oh so tired. M-U-S-T  K-E-E-P  G-O-I-N-G. Where I was going, I have no idea. I was on the extreme side of that bell-shaped curve. Balance? Nope.

Over the next ten years I fully explored the other side of life on the edge: motherhood. After experiencing the effects of living in the Northeast after 9/11 my husband and I started getting Montana Living Magazine. It was time to head back to the Northwest and move along that path called life. My husband was able to get a transfer back to Seattle six weeks after Daughter #1 arrived. Suddenly, I am in suburbia central, my best friend (husband) was traveling all the time, no job, no school, no friends, and caring for my screaming baby who did not sleep. WOW! Talk about wanting to get back to the other side. I may have been numb but at least I was dressed up, solving problems and had a sense of accomplishment. I did interview with a few companies but I couldn’t get my heart into it. I started to read brain development and parenting books and suddenly I could not do it and luckily we had set our life up so that I didn’t have to go back to work since my husband was traveling so much. The all-in and all-out thinking was front and center. I knew nothing about raising a child or about being a mom. I didn’t have a mom and the various step-mothers I had did not do anything to help my confidence. I had no gage for how to balance my career and being a mother. I was so afraid that I might mess this up that all I could do was hold my oh-so-colicky baby and love her. I held tight to the edge I was on and fully embraced that time to learn about myself, my girls, our family’s health, psychology and most of all, what my life passion might be.

Over the course of that ten years we had two more beautiful girls and I jumped fully into the soccer/dance mom life – it took about three years to stop fretting that I would never get a job again and to trust that it would all work out. It has all worked out as now I can rest. I have explored a life in the corporate world, dressed in suits and meeting with the movers and shakers. And I have explored the stay-at-home mom side of life without showers, screaming babies, mind-numbing repetition, big hugs, snuggles and more love than I ever imagined.

In the next decade I am free to explore the middle, to be balanced. Maybe now I don’t have to be all-in or all-out, I can just BE.

Have you lived on the edge of that bell-shaped curve? How do you achieve balance? Is it possible to live in the middle?

I am grateful to be a MOTHER in America

As a mother in America I get to choose how to raise my children. When I say ‘choose’, I don’t mean whether or not to breastfeed, work or stay home, etc. The choice that I am grateful for is that I get to choose how to love my children and there isn’t a person in the world (except my husband) who is capable of understanding how much I communicate my love to them.

The TIME Magazine article was written to sell magazines, to go viral and the way to do that in America is take the topic to the extreme. The woman and her son on the Today Show did not seem any different than any American mother trying to do the best she can. She was not extreme. Dr. Sears, whom I have met and read about half his books) is not an extreme parenting guru on Attachment Parenting. There is no “Mother of the Year” award people. There is NO SUCH THING. We need to stop trying to compare ourselves to each other and drawing conclusions based on each others choices and appearances!

While running today, I started thinking about all types of mothers that I know and the choices that they make. It is a very long list. Who is the better mother? Which one loves her children more? Whose children are more attached? There is no way or need for any of us to judge each other or to know whether we are a good mother or not by looking to external cues. At the end of the day a relationship is between two people. Each child is the only one who REALLY knows at the end of the day, right?

Here is a start to my list: works or stays home, breastfeeds or formula, gay or straight, single or married, homemade baby food or jars, cloth or Pampers, Ferber or Attachment, runs marathons or barely climbs the stairs, organic or canned, private or public school, one child or nineteen, minivan or SUV, prefers outdoors or indoors, country club or city park, PTA or non-PTA, church or no church, big family or small, well-mothered or undermothered, surgically enhanced or au-natural, family vacations or not, nanny or daycare, went to college or not, graduate school or not, had a career or planned to be a mom, designer jeans or Target knock-offs, reads books or People magazine, kids in activities or come home to play, traditional school or home schooled, likes gardening or horrified by dirt, kids watch TV or no TV, and the list goes on and on and on.

The human brain is designed to differentiate and therefore we immediately come to conclusions about what kind a mother someone is by all these differences (and a whole lot more) but these decisions or life circumstances do not define how we love our children. If we all spent less time wondering what everyone else is doing and whether we measure up and more time focusing on our own children and what their needs are, this world would be a much happier place.

I am grateful to be a mother in America where am free to make my own choices but should not be free to judge others.

I am grateful for the little people in my life

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I am grateful for the little people in my life.

Their sense of adventure, curiosity, exuberance, innocence, happiness, creativity, emotion, tenacity, sensitivity, empathy, strength, vulnerability, presence, joy, delight, their love. Really, I love it all.

Please add your words to my list of reasons that you love children.

I am grateful for all the children in my life, but especially my three beautiful girls.