Scott Adams talks a lot about goals vs. systems. I’m reading this in his latest book How to Fail at Almost Everything but he’s also blogged about it. His main point is that if you have a goal, you’ve set yourself up to never feel successful. You’re failing for the time between setting the goal and achieving it, and then once you’ve achieved it, it’s no longer a goal. You have one, brief transition point to feel like a success.
We could get bogged down here in things like the definition of goal, system, and success, or the fact that meeting goals can pay dividends besides a vague feeling of success, but for now I want to accept this paradigm as useful and apply it to my work at the crisis chat. Because it would be really, really easy to feel like a failure as a chat specialist. People are constantly being sad at you, many of their problems are unsolvable and even if you know the solution you can’t make them do it, you never see your most successful chatters again, and you’re operating almost blind.*
If we had a personal goal of “this person feels X better” for each chat, we’d constantly feel like failures. And the pressure to make them Feel Better would probably make us worse listeners and more proactive fixers. Instead, we have a system of “listen, reflect, identify, give them space to identify their own solutions.” I do go off book, and especially with teenagers I often end up giving specific ideas, but they’re presented as examples to provoke brain storming, not commands.
Obviously it’s dangerous to worship a system regardless of results. But in this case, I think we’ve chosen a really great system that supports our desired results. I was really worried crisis chat would be too stressful for me because I wouldn’t be allowed/able to fix people’s problems. ** Now I’m trying to figure how can I/should I hold onto this while practicing psychiatry.
*You would be amazing how many people mention that they’re in really great therapy for a diagnosed issue 30 minutes in. This is why you ask about their current support network before offering suggestions.
**I feel really blessed that several friends very delicately brought up the same concern. Because they knew me, and they wanted to make sure I had taken this into consideration before committing myself, but they didn’t push it when I said their concerns were valid and I wanted to do it anyway.