Americans spend billions each and every year to educate their minds. From preschool through graduate degrees, we are a nation obsessed with learning. Except, that is, if it's about ourselves.
We spend countless hours in classrooms and in on-the-job training. We read the manual that comes with the Ikea furniture before we attempt to assemble, silently praying that we don't end up with leftover pieces. We obsess over the stats of our favorite players before entering our Fantasy League draft, hoping we find the edge and form the best team. We might even get really nutty on a Christmas morning and read the directions to the Blu-Ray disc player.
Nevertheless, when it comes to understanding our psyche, we spend barely a penny, and rarely spend a dime of time. And if we decide to seek professional psychiatric counseling to better understand our being, we allow ourselves to be shamed by it: What if the employer found out? What if the neighbors knew? Everyone will think I am crazy or broken or somehow less than the rest of the population. Getting in touch with my feelings is one step from the cuckoo's nest, after all, isn't it?
But here's the newsflash: investment in professionally guided introspection is priceless, and it pays dividends beyond any other education you can have. It's the key to your whys: why you make the decisions you make, why Suzie at the office makes you want to chew glass, why you have so much difficulty communicating with your teen son, why you make the mistakes you do and why you get so pissed off in traffic. By learning about ourselves, we can be better at everything we do in our lives -- at home with the kids, with the cashier at the store and in the office with our colleagues. Why our society has allowed mental wealthiness to become a dirty negative is beyond logical thought.
Let's say you fractured your leg snowboarding. You swished right, and so did the tree. People would think you were off your rocker if you didn't go to the hospital and have it cast. If you skipped the hospital to join Cirque du Soleil as a trapeze artist, friends would think you'd gone mad. You had a traumatic injury to your appendage, and the correct and logical course of action is to get it attended to by a trained professional. Why don't you simply set it yourself? Because you're simply not equipped to do so. You're not an orthopedic surgeon, after all.
Or let's say you think you're coming down with the flu. You're achy, sneezing and wheezing. You're not really sure what you have, but you head to the doctor to have him or her figure it out. You don't feel well, after all, and you want to feel better so that you can function at 100 percent. When you're sick, your work suffers, and it's harder to be your adorable self for your friends and family. Walking around sick when a doctor can make you well is simply foolish.
Or maybe you feel fine, but it's time for your annual checkup. You forgo it because you don't care about making sure that every part of your body is in good working order. Cholesterol schmesterol! You're fine, and you have no M.D. behind your name to give you a basis from which to make your assumption.
Now let's say that you have nightmares about the tree collision. It's haunting you, and you don't know how to get it out of your sleep. The smart course of action is to see a psychologist (or a similarly trained professional) to work through the trauma. But you can't do that, because it is a neon sign of weakness. It's shameful. It's for those who can't handle their own lives. So you suffer, needlessly, with the dreams of smashing into the tree after running into the bunny that you think you probably killed. You daydream about seeing your own blood on the snow, a victim of a nose-to-branch encounter on your way to the broken leg. And you are pretty certain you'll never ski again. The sight of ice in your soda is enough to take you back to the run, and you wonder how long until you will somehow self heal.
Or maybe you've just been feeling low for a few weeks now, or maybe longer. Your relationships at the office don't seem to be heading in a positive direction. Your home life has become stressful, and you lack the energy to do the things you used to find enjoyable. You have a lot on your mind, and you can't seem to find solace. It's a lot like having the flu. You could call a psychologist and enter talk therapy to get to the root of the feelings you're having, but that's for people who can't handle life. The weak need couch time, not you. And if anyone at the country club found out, you'd be talked about until the end of time. So instead, you suffer needlessly.
Or maybe everything feels pretty darned good. Sure, some people have issues with you now and again and your spouse says he or she is unhappy in the relationship every once in a while and you do like to flip off passing motorists occasionally, but everything is dandy. There's nothing in your life that you'd like to change, no area that you'd like to improve upon. You don't need any assistance, as you've got as much knowledge about the workings of the mind as any Ph.D. or M.D., and certainly you're cooly objective.
If college and M.B.A. programs and Ph.D.s and the like, educations that teach us about a particular topic or topics, are so valuable, then why isn't self-learning? Much of the what we do for a living can be taught. Learning why we live the way we do is even more critical.
A great manager who sets healthy boundaries and is at peace with himself can better see the challenges faced by subordinates or clients. By understanding why he does what he does, he can make better choices for himself and more positively affect the people at the office and the loves in his life.
Mental wealth is a priceless gift to be pursued with vigor, not something to be ashamed of or to avoid. Evolution comes from within, and the ability to understand oneself leads to a better understanding of the world around us -- and a better understanding leads to peace of mind.
In my 46 years on Earth, I've yet to meet someone who doesn't have issues, hasn't suffered trauma, couldn't benefit from extensive psychological education with a professional. I've never met someone who is too smart or too well educated to learn from a soul search. Perfection hasn't happened in the human race to date, which is why we are so blessed to have the field of psychology. It's not for the weak among us, but for all of us.
Imagine if there wasn't a stigma attached to mental wellness. Imagine if people were just a bit better adjusted to greet the day every day. Imagine if honesty and authenticity and emotional health were things that were as highly regarded as an Ivy League M.B.A. We'd have less crime, more cooperation, more efficiency, less drama and, most importantly, more happiness. And there's absolutely no shame in striving for that.
I can see the job listing now: MBA Preferred. Therapy Applauded.
What a priceless shift in emphasis that would be.
Follow Sarah O'Leary on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SarahOLearyHC