Letting Go of Outcomes

I’ve learned, mostly the hard way, that I don’t know what the best outcome is for another person. That probably sounds weird for a therapist to say. There is a general sense that you go to therapy for someone to tell or “guide” you to a particular outcome. But that’s not really the best use of therapy.

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it is not what the outcome is that matters, it’s how people get there and how they ultimately feel about it. Does it fit into some unhelpful old framework or does it represent a new and stronger narrative? I don’t know if you should stay married or get divorced. I don’t know if you should major in neuroscience or engineering. But I do know that what you tell yourself about this decision and what it means matters a whole lot.

It is really freeing to not base my worth as a therapist on what people decide for themselves. This is because we have no control over what others do. So it also stands to reason that it is similarly freeing to not wed ourselves to anyone else’s outcomes. It is a lot harder when you apply this to people you love: your siblings, spouse or children. I think we tie our self-worth to outcomes and achievements far too much. This is misguided.

Placing all the importance on outcome devalues process. It says that it’s not how you get there that matters, it’s just that you get there. I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked to read in the New York Times recently that so many adolescents are abusing stimulants to achieve higher grades and test scores. It makes perfect sense in a culture where we reward the score, not the effort.

Valuing achievement-oriented outcomes also seems to harm family relationships. I feel like families feel the pressure to be involved in the “right” activities. Parents seem to feel that they are judged on their children’s resumes and how they “turned out” more than if their parenting methods were thoughtful, compassionate and protective. The parent/child relationship seems to suffer as good parents push their kids towards “success.”

I want others- clients, family members, and friends- to have good outcomes. But for me successes are never measured by the final outward appearance of an undertaking. For me, success means that the process and the final result promoted growth and self-satisfaction.

I wonder how letting go of outcomes, at least to some extent, could benefit us all. What happens if we allow ourselves and others around us some room to explore? To do what feels right without so much focus on if it will be a “success”? What if we teach the process of learning without so much regard for the answer on the test? What if we cultivate creative thinking and problem-solving and not over-focus on the score?




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