WHY I’M AN ALCHEMIST
Psychology and evolution
What I am about to share is part of my process over the past 2 plus years of professional development and transformation. We often don’t share the process. The messy parts. The uncertainty. What things look and feel like along the way. How much of it is bumpy. How we do not control the time and space it takes. How we are not on the timeline of our own making. But also, how magical and whole it can feel when pieces of the process come together.
And truth be told, the protected privacy and preciousness we assign to the process is bullshit. There is nothing special about being in process. Everything is a process. And none of us start where we would like to. An expert is not made overnight, and often yet, there are things we will never master in life. There will always be things no matter how deeply studied where we will remain amateurs. Thank goodness.
But this pretense of starting at expert holds us back. And most significantly it really impacts kids. The private nature of our processes as adults is one of the many reasons, along with development of course, that adolescents believe that they are to enter into new things already an expert. They see us as masters, even when we know that life continues to be messy and we remain amateurs at many things forever. Many of us hold onto this falsehood of beginning expert as adults and as far as I can see, all it helps is us getting in our own way.
I’m not suggesting that we all leak our process for every single endeavor all over the place for everyone to see and experience. That’s weird as shit too. And sharing the process is not for everyone. And that's okay. But maybe collectively we can attempt to make the act of process a little less precious.
Do not get me wrong, I LOVE process. It feels like flow to me and I really enjoy being there, but that is different than making the act of process exclusively precious. Being a beginner is normal. It’s healthy. As is feeling stuck, moving more slowly than we would like, and having moments where it all comes together. Even those moments where it all comes together only to fall apart.
We all think we are the first or the only. It is when we bravely shine a light on the depth of the hole we find ourselves in that we notice quite quickly, it’s crowded down there.
So what follows is part of my process. Shared in the practice of making the process of growth, change, experimentation and discovery a little less precious.
A few weeks ago I had a dreadful conversation with my business coach. It was one of those conversations that was all struggle. And we both knew it. We were bones deep in the process of unearthing what I have to offer as a coach. Why do clients want to work with me? Why, ME?
My coach and I went back and forth for an hour. Pouring over my experience as a psychotherapist, artist, entrepreneur, yoga instructor, skateboarder, author, all the things. Even my first job folding sweaters at the GAP. Possible answers manifested in lists, coherent and incoherent sentences, text messages, notes on my phone and lots of chaos. Mostly though, the process was a giant struggle. Nothing felt right. And we both knew it.
I’ll admit that the entire process around unearthing this answer has been clear in one single way. Completely frustrating. Forced and desperate. Not only in my mind but in my body. This seeking has made me tired in all the ways and even a little disgusted, like I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth. Yuck.
To be honest, every time I would think of myself as a coach, I came up empty. Worse than empty. Like I’m trying to force myself into something that doesn't fit.
And this was a feeling I recognized. No matter the pursuit, I have always felt that I never fully belonged in one single thing. Like I had one foot in some other far away door. Like I was trying to bridge an insurmountable pass between two points.The data driven scientist and the wildly creative fine artist. I’m here, but I’m also here. And that feeling often made me feel like I was never fully grounded in one or the other. I wished to be fully in one thing. I tried it on again and again. Admired those who seemed to be so enveloped and belonging in a single place it just radiated out from their body. I belong here. I wanted that too.
All this musing left me with the question,
Maybe thinking of myself as a coach is such a struggle because maybe I’m not a coach?
I thought on this for a while. Tucked it into the background. Let it dangle.
And it sat there. For a few weeks.
I was busy working away on something else when seemingly out of the blue, the word alchemist entered into my ether. So I looked it up.
ALCHEMIST: Someone who transforms things for the better. One who creates through a seemingly magical process. One who combines various single entities and transforms them in unexpected and impressive ways.
And that felt right.
The combination of seemingly unrelated entities is what I’ve always needed to do. The bridging of art and science is where I thrive and I view absolutely everything through the lens of this alchemy. Data is creative. Art is scientific. The mystical has a clinical application. And this alchemic perspective when grounded in the wilderness of my experiences has the clarity, precision, and impact of a lightning strike. It is some powerful shit. And the root of what I have to offer.
I circled back with my coach. Shared the idea. We paced through the usual progression of how to think of alchemy and being an alchemist as a foundation from which I can begin to speak about what I do. An internal roadmap. A testing ground for my offerings. A silent thread I could stitch through my being. It all felt very quiet and measured, appropriately appealing, and very safe.
And part of me kind of hated that.
Then she asked, “What happens if you go all in and call yourself an alchemist? If you are not a coach, don’t be one. Be an alchemist.”
And that felt right.
But also really fucking scary. What happens if I embody that bridge? The place in between? If I honor the agility of crossing between the realms of the data driven and the wilds of creativity? What if instead of trying to jump from one to another, I embody the space between?
And then I remembered the idea of a third. The alchemy of a space in between is THE idea that has consistently drawn me to psychoanalytic theory. Bay Area psychoanalyst Tom Ogden developed the theory of treatment known as the intersubjective analytic third. In essence, this third is the alchemy resulting from the combination of the analyst's perspective and experience and the patient’s. It neither belongs solely to the analyst or the patient and exists as a third entity in the treatment room. The analyst's job is to access this third, speak to it and share it with the patient in ways that can be integrated toward insight and change. The depth of insight isn’t achieved by one entity or the other, but a separate third combining them both. A bridge. An in between. A place requiring agility and precise perspective to access and share. And this has always excited me.
Perhaps being an alchemist is being the bridge myself.
This bridge, location of joining, facilitation, this point of alchemy brought to mind a favorite part of a piece written by poet Ross Gay. He muses on a conversation he had with one of his students about her aspirations as a teacher.
In The Book of Delights, he writes,
“Among the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard anyone say came from my student Bethany, talking about her pedagogical aspirations or ethos, how she wanted to be as a teacher, and what she wanted her classrooms to be:” what if we joined our wildernesses together?” Sit with that for a minute. That the body, the life, might carry a wilderness, an unexplored territory, and that yours and mine might somewhere, somehow meet. Might, even join.”
A bridge to wildernesses. I cannot think of a better role than that.
Calling all creatives, your alchemist awaits.
Thank you for being here.
Listen to this episode here.