My name is Loren Kreher and my husband, Scott, and I joined the Ethical Society officially earlier this year. You might see us chasing a tiny smiling redhead around the building some Sunday mornings, and I assure you, we’re as happy to be here as he is. This place gives us so much to think about and discuss at home, and we’re grateful to have found a place where we can belong.
I was actually really excited to hear that this month’s theme was confusion and doubt, and even happier to see that this week’s platform was about uncertain futures. While I’m not going to talk about climate change and diminishing resources, my uncertain future has been the source of most of my doubt and confusion, making the topic of this talk the one thing I could be certain about. I hope you’ll bear with me.
My credentials for doubting go way back to my childhood: for example, I remember, as a 10-year- old, having long conversations with my mom about how, exactly, you could know that you loved a person. I needed to know exactly what the feeling was and how much of it you needed to feel so I could verify that it, in fact, existed, in the event that I was actually to decide that I loved someone outside of my family. Needless to say, my mother was stymied, and it took me almost 10 more years to solve that riddle.
That leads me to my first discovery about doubt: self-determination. When I met Scott, who is now my husband, I finally came to the realization that my love for him was there because I wanted to love him. Chemistry and other things aside, part of love was in the expression of it. More on that later.
Almost three years ago, I finally acted on something that had taken a while for me to articulate. My job in publishing, although I was actually starting to succeed at it, didn’t make me happy, wasn’t supporting my family, and wasn’t in line with my goals. So, the following January, I told my job that I was going to work part-time and went back to school at Fontbonne University to study speech-language pathology. Aside from my background in linguistics, this was nothing I had any experience with. Naturally, this is where the confusion part comes in.
My very first clinical experience was in a small group preschool setting for children with communication difficulties. I had never worked with preschoolers, I had no experience taking data or implementing therapeutic techniques, and I was the first student to lead the class, all with the knowledge that the parents of these children were sitting behind the two-way mirror watching me and my supervisor was in another room taping me. No pressure. So I was frequently confused and stressed, and I felt that self-destructive doubt creeping in, trying to tell me that I had made a mistake in attempting this “new phase of life” thing.
Self-determination in the face of doubt is, I think, the first thing that saved me. Somewhere underneath my fear of failing the stubborn part of me realized that I was willing to do whatever I needed to do not to fail, and putting forth that effort has made me tougher, and made it possible to co-exist with the doubt and confusion of being a constant learner.
I also noticed that over the course of the summer, those once-frightening feelings became more habitual and less frightening. Doubt, after all, has a bright-eyed twin: curiosity. I might doubt that I was providing the most effective therapy possible, but who else was, or what else should I do, or what resources could I harness? If a child wasn’t responding to something I was doing, why was that? Was a child’s behavior simply stubbornness, or were they doing it because they couldn’t understand me? And how do I overcome that?
It’s easy to wallow in these questions, but I’ve realized it’s more fun to pursue them. I don’t have to have the answer if I am chasing it effectively. Better than that, it’s made me see myself as a partner rather than just a teacher to so many of my clients.
One of the most remarkable pieces of advice I’ve heard lately is that your job should be a venue through which you practice your values. As a student and aspiring therapist, my life has most recently been an exercise in dealing with and using confusion and doubt in all of their varied configurations. But as I’ve come to appreciate, that’s exactly where I want to be.