8 Things I Wish I Had Learned Earlier – A reflection on 20 years as a Psychologist

New Art Installation at City of Perth Surf Club
“In this moment, we are here” 

I have two of the best jobs on earth. 

Being a Psychologist and Coach, I have conversations with the most wise, resilient, and inspiring people you could meet in their best or toughest moments. 20+ years on and it has been like launching a drone above a hundred different pathways and observing where each of them lead. The privilege is amplified even further by leading a team whom I suspect I have learned twice as much from as they of me.

The other best job on earth? Well, they are all fast asleep as I type. And not for the first time, I am asking myself how my children’s lives can be better for the humility of my profession.

I was recently asked the question “What have you learned from being a Psychologist that you wish you knew earlier?” I confess my response has kept me awake some nights since about both of my privileged roles.

  • Master the art of conversation, particularly difficult ones. It is like packing a GPS to navigate and highway, country road and bush track for all your journeys. 
  • Emotion and self-awareness is our most unique evolutionary talent. One day soon our thoughts, facts and problem solving will be cloud based (Ray Kurzweil – TedTalk). Understanding and detecting our own and others’ emotions will be a stand out high performance quality. 
  • Welcome vulnerability. Come out of the trench, ditch the sandbags and see what it has to say. Avoiding vulnerability will use double the energy for half the result. 
  • Prioritise relationships – they aren’t a bi-product of family, work or life. The strength of them is the  single greatest correlation to a happy life. Feed them more than the leftovers of your time. 
  • Be faster to move on after setbacks. If we are still thinking about the guy that took our parking bay or the email we should have been cc’d on an hour after it happened its like paying to see a gold movie and then missing big chunks of it in a toilet queue. Be the first one to ask ‘Ok, what now” instead of ‘Why me? How could I have done this, or ‘That’s not fair’ 
  • Use brain plasticity to your advantage. We accept the stories of patients learning how to speak again after brain injury. Neural pathways also change if we feed them positive thoughts instead of negative ones; smile more often and visualise positive memories, instead of re-playing painful ones. 
  • Save ‘overthinking’ for the things that really need it. It’s like dropping an earring back in the grass and bringing in the Pol-Air One chopper to find it. Cortisol was designed for helping our ancestors run from wild boars. We don’t need it on our way into meeting with the boss. 
  • Reprioritise the moment you are in. Put your camera down, stop replaying past conversations or worrying about future possibilities. Take a snapshot of the feelings, expressions and senses all around you this second, with your mind instead. 

If I’d understood any of these earlier in my life, I’d have been profoundly more helpful. With any luck, I am far from done learning.

But as I look over the 8 “Epiphanies of a Tired Psychologist” and I think both of the thousands of clients who have taught me this, and of my 3 sleeping children, I’m not sure a single one of them are taught in our schools, unis or workplaces. From our parents and families? Maybe. But we are a generation that were busy on the 3Rs and never got taught them ourselves.

As brains and knowledge is outsourced to the cloud and the community they are raised in becomes a global one, the observations above feel more important than ever.

I’d love to know which ones resonate for you.

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