Adversity All Around Learning to focus on reality and clients, rather than on what “should” be and herself, helped this student persevere through a tough first year of graduate school. Student's Say
Student's Say  |   February 01, 2016
Adversity All Around
Author Notes
  • Elizabeth Taddonio is a student in the communication sciences and disorders graduate program at the University of Georgia. She expects to receive her MEd in May and hopes to pursue work in adult neurogenic speech and language disorders.
    Elizabeth Taddonio is a student in the communication sciences and disorders graduate program at the University of Georgia. She expects to receive her MEd in May and hopes to pursue work in adult neurogenic speech and language disorders.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Student's Say
Student's Say   |   February 01, 2016
Adversity All Around
The ASHA Leader, February 2016, Vol. 21, 40-41. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.21022016.40
The ASHA Leader, February 2016, Vol. 21, 40-41. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.21022016.40
“It’s nothing like I thought it would be and closer to what I meant.”
—Richard Siken, “Dots Everywhere” (“War of the Foxes”)
My first year of graduate school was nothing short of tumultuous.
I am not a traditional student. After I earned a master’s in communication studies, I was working in market research with a start-up in Denver. The job and the people were great, but I was unfulfilled. I realized that I’d likely spend 40 to 50 years in my chosen field, so I needed to find something worth all that time. I love working with people in a way that empowers them, and there’s no field quite like communication sciences and disorders if you enjoy helping other people succeed.
So in 2013, my husband, Dan, and I gave up our jobs, apartment and friends so I could start a three-year journey to a master’s degree in speech-language pathology at the University of Georgia in Athens. We were living in his grandmother’s basement while we found our footing. Dan was searching for work and I was taking up to seven classes a semester while doing freelance analysis for my former employer to pay our living expenses.
On top of this, right before first-semester finals, my mother passed away suddenly after a car accident in upstate New York. By the time I came back to school in January I was tired and broke and bereaved, and I found myself wondering whether to quit or keep going.
But, as Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” So I did. And here’s what I learned.
Focus on reality
At some point in our lives we all deal with situations that derail how everything is supposed to be. One of the most important pieces of advice I could give to any student is that there is no “supposed to.” While I was taking my prerequisite classes, for example, I spent a lot of time with undergraduates nervous about grades and getting into the graduate school they were “supposed to” go to. These bright, young students would impose parameters on their careers and even their personal lives: “I’m supposed to get into X school and then work in X setting and then reach X other predetermined milestone.” I would see the very real stress caused by very unreal expectations.
Sure, it can be fun to lay out our lives and set stringent goals, but the truth is that reality rarely matches up with the supposed-tos, which can function as self-imposed traps that cause unnecessary guilt and stress. If we can cultivate the idea that there is no “should” or “supposed to”—just what is—we can learn to focus on reality.
A road trip
The path we take as practicing speech-language pathologists is like a road trip with no set timeline: You have to take care of yourself and make stops for gas and rest, but you can also choose to get out and look around—and, indeed, you may have to detour or even turn around. As we will see with clients and patients, we set goals and objectives but we have to be flexible in getting there.
While we’re following our paths as SLPs, it’s important to pay attention to how we drive. Many SLPs have the ability to quickly “read the room,” to understand our clients from both a clinical and emotional point of view. This ability can be one of our best strengths, but it can also mean we internalize client behavior and emotions and worry about the client’s treatment from a personal point of view.
In light of this, my second piece of advice is to remember it’s not about you. The empathy that draws many of us to helping professions shouldn’t create yet another obligation. Self-reflection is fine—but we should remember to focus on the work itself, taking our egos out of it.
Realizing that therapy is not about me was something to relish in the midst of all of my personal struggles. When I am with a client, none of the other things happening in my life matter. I focus on their needs, what they can do and how my clinical knowledge can help them reach their potential.
A friend of mine once told me to think of myself as copper—a conductor of feelings, rather than someone who absorbs them. It helps to remember to observe client emotions rather than absorb them, to be compassionate without making treatment about us.
When I quit my job to pursue a career as an SLP, I imagined that the biggest challenge would be the pay cut. I had no idea how many aspects of the journey would push me to my personal and professional limits. But as I begin my last semester, I consider the career change the best gift I ever gave myself.
A side note: The move brought Dan to a new career as well—he is a (newly certified!) high school English teacher for teens with emotional and behavioral disorders. Our road trip continues!
My advice on how to persevere? Remember what motivated you to begin this journey. Focus on the great work we have the privilege of doing every day. That way it gets easier to simply “do.”
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February 2016
Volume 21, Issue 2