It's always personal.
I'm thinking about firing my therapist.
Having said that, I want to talk about one of the things my therapist mentioned recently while talking about deciding when/how to give up on one's career.
She told me to watch You've Got Mail. Because it's about a woman bookstore-owner who loses her store thanks to competition from a giant, male-dominated superstore.
Now, I saw this movie years ago when it came out, and I was disgusted at the time that the main message seemed to be that for women, it's more important to have a charming, rich man love you than to have a fulfilling career.
But it's funny, I really didn't remember that it's not just a love story, it's about a woman who has to close up shop. I guess at the time I couldn't really relate to it. In fact, I've always wondered whether it wouldn't be better to inherit a family business than to have to go look for a job. If it's just going to be a job to pay the bills, does it really matter what it is? At least you'd get to be your own boss, without having to work your way up.
So this movie has been on tv again lately, which I guess is why my therapist thought to mention it. I watched part of it one day, and the rest today when it happened to be on again. It's funny to hear the modem sound when they log on, and see how big their laptops are. I mean, does anyone even use AOL anymore?
Some of the writing is superb. I think my favorite sentence in the whole movie is the line about how she sees a butterfly on the subway, and she thinks it must be going to Bloomingdale's to buy a hat, which will surely be a mistake, as almost all hats are.
But as far as advice goes, this movie is a terrible analogy, because while Meg Ryan's character says she's heartbroken, she doesn't really seem to be very upset.
Somehow, her character never cries in the movie, despite losing her shop. She fights a little, she mopes a little, and when she finally closes the shop there is one scene where she sees the ghost of her mother and says the shop will be something depressing in a week, like a Baby Gap. But it's flippant the way she says it, and apparently she doesn't have to walk by the shop every day or run into people who constantly ask her about it?
Instead, the next time we see her, she is at home with a cold. Sure, getting sick around the time of a major loss is just a way of your body expressing what your mind can't handle, but probably since it's supposed to be a romantic comedy, not once do they show her sobbing with grief.
Okay, she is a little wistful, and it's a little bittersweet, but she's almost relieved. She doesn't seem to need medication or therapy! Maybe because the whole thing seems to take place in the space of a few weeks?
And it certainly doesn't hurt that someone offers her a job she wants, and almost immediately. Someone who sees her talent, and like all things movie-esque, it's a job she doesn't even have to apply for. The movie ends before we find out how things turn out with that.
The motivations are a bit understated, and as a main character she's a little bit spacey. You kind of have to assume that she's a bit sheltered and overly optimistic, otherwise as a character she doesn't really make any sense. They try to develop this theme by this one particular line about how things in life remind her of things she's read in books, but shouldn't it be the other way around? But apparently, she was completely happy with her job and, we have to assume, always had been.
I think one of the things that I'll never really understand about psychology is how sometimes, the harder we work for something, the more we think we want it. And this is definitely the way science works. Sometimes it's that much sweeter when you make an experiment work perfectly after a hundred tries. And knowing that elbow grease can win the day can be infinitely comforting as you're slogging it out, sometimes only inching along, but we always say it's better if things are at least moving at all. There's something gratifying in that, having a sort of noble goal and making progress toward it.
But in the same sense, the more the bad parts of science make us miserable, the more we want to justify that misery by trying to make our own happy endings. We think that if we just persevere long enough, as with our experiments, we can win at the political game, too. But what if we can't? What if we're just making ourselves miserable for longer, and like Meg Ryan's character in this movie, we're ultimately doomed to lose?
Being aware of the possibility that we're locked in this game of misery-begets-more-misery doesn't really help you overcome it. Because it's not so clear-cut as it is in the shop-keeping world, or in the movies.
And that is where I think I am a little fed up with the idea of therapy. Yes, I have learned a few things, but I think as a guide to helping me figuring things out, it hasn't been any better (and less cost-effective) than anything else. And perhaps most importantly, it hasn't made me feel any better about what is happening to me. It hasn't given me the critical tools to improve my situation, as I had hoped I could do if I just knew how.
Anyway the title of this post comes from a line in the movie, where Joe Fox tries to apologize and say it's just business, it's not personal. And the main character responds by saying It's always personal, everything is personal, and what's so wrong with that anyway?
I think one of the weirdest things to me about asking for advice is that nobody knows whether to tell me to fight or to quit. I don't know if I'm giving something up just a moment (or a year) too soon, with the finish line just around the corner? Or if the bottom line is that I just can't win, so I'd be better off getting out as fast as I can?
And my therapist doesn't know, either. She's trying to give me advice on the personal, as if it can be separated from the rest. She's also trying to convince me not to worry about what I'm going to do to make money, which I find not very credible coming from someone who is clearly not hurting financially and apparently never has been.
When things are crappy, I just want to quit. When I'm making even a little progress, I wonder if maybe it will all turn out to be worth it. I think a lot about the tortoise and the hare, and wonder if I'm just being impatient or getting distracted when, if I just keep plodding along, eventually I will get there?
I just don't feel much closer to knowing than I did when I started therapy. And being in therapy has not made me feel better about that.