Everyone in the Room is Nervous
June 2, 1997
I am sick to my stomach and I wish it was a stomach bug. I have never wanted to be sick, but I wouldn’t mind it at all today because it would give me a valid excuse to call in sick to my first day of work as a counselor. Today is the day I have been working towards for three years. Three years of classes and practicum and graduation. Three years of blood, sweat, and tears—okay, just tears. I thought I would be excited, or at least happy, to put all my training into practice, but honestly, I’m absolutely terrified. So terrified, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to get up from the couch and get into my car. I don’t want to drive to the office. Do I even want to be a counselor? What was I thinking?
Despite being incredibly terrified to go into the office on my first day as a counselor, I went and it was fine. “Fine” because I look back at my early days as a counselor and wonder if I even helped my first clients. I felt like I had ‘idiot’ written across my forehead. Okay, ‘idiot’ is a bit harsh, so maybe it was more like, ‘I’m not sure I have the ability yet to help you.’
Even though I had extensive years of classes and training, going into that first day was overwhelming and vulnerable. I constantly worried — Did I have the skills to help my clients with whatever challenges they were facing that led them to come see me?
Thankfully, after some time and practice, my terrified feelings lessened, but I still had times of feeling nervous.
The first session with a new client is like a blind date. Blind dates are vulnerable. They stretch us out of our comfort zone. On the way, we most likely want to turn back and go home. We ask ourselves, “Why did I ever agree to this?”
The same is true for both the counselor and the client.
As a counselor, will I be able to help?
As the client, will I be helped?
For both, will I be accepted or rejected? What will this person think of me?
There was one truth that helped me calm down on June 2, 1997. Here it is: Everyone in the room is nervous.
Feeling nervous, although it can be incredibly uncomfortable, is a feeling to embrace and notice, not run from. Trying something new—like going to counseling—is so good for us, but we have to push through the barriers that can keep us from stretching out of our comfort zone. So often, we are tempted to run away from things that make us nervous because we feel out of control or vulnerable. Nervous feelings create a fight or flight response within us, but instead of running away from situations that will ultimately help us grow in healthy ways, it is important for us to embrace those feelings and push through them so they don’t inhibit our growth.
Nervous feelings tell us that we are facing a challenge and they can actually help us do our best. Crazy, I know! But when we feel nervous, our stress hormones, specifically adrenaline, help us to focus.
On my first day of counseling, my nervous feelings created space for me to notice not only what I was feeling, but also my underlying beliefs, unhealthy thoughts like:
I won’t know how to help.
They won’t want to reschedule.
I’ll say something off-putting or not helpful.
I don’t know what I am doing.
I’m going to fail at this.
I needed to identify those unhealthy thoughts and replace them with healthy beliefs like:
I don’t have to have all the answers to be a good listener.
I’m new at this and it will take time to feel like I know what I’m doing.
I won’t have rapport with everyone and that’s okay.
I can trust God to give me the words to say and to do this work through me.
Everyone gets nervous, but nervous has a silver lining. Next time you are nervous, what if you lean into it instead of running away from it? What if you create some space and evaluate not only what you are feeling, but what thoughts are underneath? Maybe there is an invitation to grow instead of giving into to these uncomfortable feelings.