by Vanessa Alarcon—
The day had finally arrived. The administrator I had admired since my first day as a therapist had agreed to interview me to become one of her mentees. As soon as I first met her, I knew she was what I strived to be. She had confidence and was a clear, effective communicator—which was exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have very much work experience. This was my first real job since graduating, and I was craving personal and professional growth. I was almost in disbelief that she agreed to meet with me.
I spent the 20-minute drive rehearsing the way I would greet her, the small talk I would make as we walked into her office, and how would I present my goals. I wanted to sound smart but also humble and willing to learn. I wanted her to like me so badly that my insecurities were making it hard to just be myself. I was so nervous.
I couldn’t tell you if I greeted her the way I envisioned or what kind of small talk we made. But I do remember her office. Large windows, mountain views, bookshelf full of psychology bestsellers—it was anyone’s dream office.
“Take a seat” she said as she pointed to a chair. “Tell me about yourself.”
So I did. I was nervous, but the more I spoke, the easier it became to share. I chatted about my upbringing and my journey to becoming a licensed therapist. I told her about my growing interest in the addiction field and my goals to increase my self-confidence and improve my communication. And like any good therapist she asked questions. Many good questions. So good that I was soon addressing my deepest insecurities. Then the tears came. I don’t know if this is a common experience for others, but I can start chatting on a superficial level and then, as soon as we hit key topics, I become a tearful mess and begin sharing what I really feel. We went so deep that I began discussing a topic I had no interest in addressing and had very much kept to myself—a current conflict with a co-worker.
She asked me how long it had been since I had spoken to this person. Cringing because I could foresee a negative reaction, I quietly muttered, “Seven months.” I could see her eyebrow raise with disbelief as she repeated my words, “Seven months?”
“Yeah— yes. I figured we’d just keep ignoring each other until it all went away.”
Then she began sharing her own story. I had never had someone so successful share with me so openly about their challenges. The conflicts she has had, some ways she’s managed them. Her advice to me was simple: I needed to address the situation privately, and if that didn’t work then I needed to get a third party involved.
Oh, that sounds familiar. I almost wanted to laugh at the irony that her words echoed those of Matthew 18:15-17. The Message puts it like this:
If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.
I started to feel a little silly. I was seeking out this admired stranger to give me the ultimate answers to my problems, having ignored Jesus’ counsel on how to manage conflict. Of course I needed to address the issue. I knew this. I don’t think there was anything wrong with me seeking this mentorship relationship. I had simply put too much focus and value on this person and not enough on Jesus’ teachings.
She then shared more suggestions on how to resolve the problem—things to make sure I said, things that I should avoid saying. “If you want to continue mentorship with me,” she said with a smile, “that’s your first assignment.” My face lit up. I thanked her profusely and made sure she knew how committed I was to us working together.
That was when I learned my second lesson. My pride was getting in the way of admitting my challenges in the workplace. I had kept them private because I didn’t want to share a struggle that was embarrassing to me. I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t resolve this single conflict, and it was preventing me from growing spiritually and professionally. Let’s all share with one another. Let’s seek out His Word and grow together.
Vanessa Alarcon is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on addiction treatment in Denver, Colorado. She also serves as the Faith Engagement Pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado.