“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.