Some reflections on success: how do I live a successful life?
Subject: Medical personnel and patient (Management)
Medical personnel and patient (Analysis)
Psychiatric personnel (Services)
Author: Rosenberg-Javors, Irene
Pub Date: 09/22/2009
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 3
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 360 Services information Computer Subject: Company business management
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 208639921

Day after day, my clients tell me that they feel like failures. They complain about not making enough money to keep tip with their bills even though they are working all the time. They feel that they have made the wrong turn on the highway of life.

My clients are quick to blame themselves for all that is not working in their lives; they seem oblivious to the larger economic and political realities that surround them. Truth be told, we are living in difficult times. The economy is in chaos, people are losing their jobs, we are involved in two wars, and the health care system is in shambles. When I suggest to clients that many of their difficulties might have to do with the state of the world, they often respond with a shrug of the shoulders and then comment, "It must be my fault; I must not be working hard enough or not doing something I should be doing."

From where are they getting these ideas? Over the last few weeks, I have been watching television and reading some over-the-counter magazines in search of clues as to the sources of cultural ideas about success and failure. I have found that we are bombarded by media messages that reinforce ideas that we are in control of everything if we only wish for what we want hard enough. I call this the "Ruby Slipper" phenomena. In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is instructed to click her ruby slippers three times and repeat, "There's no place like home," and bingo! She is back in Kansas. Well, we can do hundreds of affirmations, read every self-help book on the shelf and keep that positive attitude until the cow jumps over the moon, and still get the job we just applied for!

And oh, these reality shows! Each one of these programs, whether it is Survivor or American Idol, is intent on showing that the more you humiliate yourself publicly, the greater your chance of being noticed in the world. Being a product of the 1950s, I grew up watching programs like Queen for a Day, where women would compete for prizes by telling their life story. The studio audience would vote on the stories and the teller of the most miserable tale would be declared the winner and crowned "Queen for a Day." Even as a ten year-old, I found this program to be terribly depressing. The reality programs of today are the offspring of those terrible 1950s quiz shows.

What values is our society upholding? Do anything to succeed, especially if it is humiliating; if you think something, it will happen (Remember the film Field of Dreams, where the mantra stated, "If you build it, he will come"?); if you look successful, you can get away with anything (Check out the movie, Catch Me if You Can); and of course there is the Dr: Phil and Oprah phenomena, wherein even the worst possible situations inevitably turn out for the best due to the intervention of some know-it-all expert who can magically alter personalities, resolve family conflicts, and return people to optimal health.

As mental health professionals, we are faced with the challenge of helping our clients create a realistic values system for themselves that follows the time-worn adage, "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst." We need to encourage our clients to develop realistic ideas of what is possible for them to accomplish in their lives. We need to help clients understand that in life there will be times where our efforts meet with failure, but we are not failures if we do not succeed at a task.

Successful living involves committing ourselves to going after what we love. Our commitments will have their ups and downs, but they will be worth our efforts because our hearts will be in what we do. We, as psychotherapists, have the skills and knowledge to help others discover and realize the passion in their lives; in so doing, we teach the lessons of what it means to live a successful life.

By Irene Rosenberg-Javors, MEd, LMHC, DAPA

Irene Rosenberg-Javors, MEd, Diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, is a psychotherapist in NYC. She is also Adjunct Associate Professor of Mental Health Counseling, Mental Health Counseling Program, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University. She can be reached at
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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