Kindness and Mindset in Career Counseling
By Juliana Parker
As a Career Counselor and Career and Life Planning instructor at two urban Southern California Community Colleges, my students have shared many insights, some positive, some negative, regarding their beliefs about their abilities to pursue and achieve a certain major or career. On occasions I have had students state, “Oh, I am not smart enough for that career” or “I don’t think that I could ever achieve that.” Plus, in my significant work with parents, other challenges come into play such as financial stress and the realities of balancing school, home, and parenting responsibilities. Numerous times students have literally collapsed into my chair with exhaustion as they try and “do it all.” My students commonly feel internally and externally defeated yet question why they are experiencing challenges. It’s almost as though they expect themselves to be robots when in fact they are human. Many times student’s statements to me have started with “I should not feel this way, but…” or “I don’t know why I am feeling so overwhelmed.” In my experience, this is where the element of kindness in career counseling is so powerful.
One of my favorite theories that I incorporate into my teaching and career counseling is the Growth/Fixed mindset theory by Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck’s concepts are empowering for students as they identify their belief statements as they navigate career choices and balance multiple roles. Dr. Dweck’s theory has been incredibly powerful for me as a counselor as it helps students see themselves from a strength-based perspective. Furthermore, outside of a student’s own cognitive internal structure, it helps to identify the potential mindset of people in student’s lives such as parents, friends, spouses/partners, etc.
Applying the Growth/Fixed Mindset Theory
Recently I worked with “Tina”, a young woman whose dream was to become a nurse. To accomplish this, she was dually enrolled at two colleges to accommodate her busy schedule of student, wife, and mom of a toddler son. She actively sought assistance in her classes, created an educational plan to specify the exact prerequisite classes that she would need, and scheduled an information session to learn more about the specifics of pursuing a nursing degree. Despite all of these thoughtful actions, she said that she felt hurt and confused as specific family members doubted her and talked negatively to other family members behind her back about her goals. She was surprised as she said to me, “Mrs. Parker, I thought that your family was supposed to be on your side?”
We talked about her feelings and I also shared with her the different thoughts processes of those with a growth versus a fixed mindset. For individuals with a growth mindset, the success of others serves as a source of inspiration and information. For those individuals with a fixed mindset, the success of others is often threatening and can possibly highlight one's past failures or regrets. Reviewing the numerous growth vs. fixed mindset infographics with Tina helped her to identify the disparity between her growth mindset vs. the potential fixed mindset of her family members. I also shared a simple statement with Tina to help her through the challenges she faced.
Be Kind To Yourself
In my day to day work as a Career Counselor and Instructor, I was inspired by the power of Dr. Dweck’s theory and a statement which a dear Nurse Practitioner friend often makes to her patients. The simple statement is to “Be Kind to Yourself” and I share this with numerous students during counseling sessions and in lectures. I also have this short statement printed on small cards which I give to students to keep in their wallets or notebooks as a reminder. I tell students that “Being Kind to Yourself” means whatever the student needs it to be at that particular moment in their life. For a busy working parent, it could be a reminder that he/she is doing the best job that he/she can do. For a student questioning his/her ability to pursue a specific major or career, it’s reinforcement to think positively about their goals and to take it day by day. For a client thinking about making a career change, it’s a reminder to invest time in career counseling process to identify the next best step that is right for the client. For a student who is devastated due to failing an important test despite studying, it’s a reminder to the student that he/she is not a failure. For a student who is burning both ends of the candle, it’s a reminder to slow down, even for just a second. The concept of “Being Kind to Yourself” also incorporates opportunities for “micro self-care”, or rather small ways to be kind to yourself. As Ashley Davis Bush states in the Psychotherapy Networker, “micro self-care is about the benefits of making small changes with reliable frequency.” Other simple and budget friendly micro self-care opportunities for college students includes mindfulness and meditation, exercise, spending time in nature, and fueling one’s body and brain with quality nutrition and sleep.
Benefits to Counselors and Clients
Personal kindness, or the concept of being kind to oneself, can greatly impact our clients and ourselves in numerous ways. Using a strengths-based perspective to focus on a growth mindset, the counseling relationship can achieve positive results. As Career Counselors and Instructors, we wish the best for our students. We want our students to succeed and to treat themselves holistically with kindness, care, and respect.
Bush, A. D. (11/10/16). Who Says Self-Care Has to Be Monumental? The Psychotherapy Networker. Retrieved from: www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/993/who-says-self-care-has-to-be-monumental
Dweck, C. S. (2007). Mindset : The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books.
Popova, M. (1/29/14). Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives. Retrieved from: www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/
Juliana Parker, M.S., CCC is an adjunct Career Counselor & Instructor at Cypress College and a CalWORKs Counselor at Santa Monica College. Juliana is a Certified Career Counselor (CCC) via NCDA and has a M.S. in Counseling with a specialization in Career Counseling. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.