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    On the Road to “Happily Ever After”

    If you asked me what was my biggest question of 2010, I would have to say “how can I build a full caseload and make a living wage in the process?” Late last year, I got my answer. Since November 2010, I’ve been working as a full-time therapist at The Highland Institute. The best part is that I work for Highland Monday through Thursday. Friday and Saturday are mine to see my own clients at The Cottages. I’ve got plenty of clients, enough pay, and a terrific boss and supervisor. I can’t say I’ve achieved my ideal career yet, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

    I’m Better Off Caffeinated

    Working as a drug addiction counselor, I’m supposed to help my clients get off harmful, addictive drugs. The dirty secret is that I’ve been dependent on a drug too, it just happens to be legal, cheap and readily available: coffee.

    Three weeks ago I made a decision to go off caffeine. I had tried to stop once before and the fatigue and headaches had convinced me to stop. This time I succeed, but not until I had to cope with the same headaches and more fatigue, plus some unexpectedly nasty leg cramps. In time the cramps went away, but I still didn’t feel right. Without coffee I was finding it a lot harder to concentrate and be productive. I wasn’t alert or “with it.” I felt as if a thin veil had been pulled over my eyes and I was just slightly detached from reality.

    It reminded me of when I was younger and in school.  Teachers were irate with me because I looked sleepy, bored and wasn’t paying rapt attention to them. One college professor even urged me to–you guessed it–drink coffee. That feeling came back with a vengeance when I quit caffeine.

    So after three weeks with no java, I got out on the road today with some faux-Kona coffee in my tumbler. And the veil was lifted, and I could listen to my clients with more clarity and focus. Even the edges on objects seemed a little clearer. The old “me” I had come to expect and depend on was back and that “me” is the sum of myself and a controlled dose of caffeine once a day.

    And, as you can see, I also feel like blogging.

    “Just Don’t Hold it that Way”

    …or “Why I don’t use Apple products.”

    so there’s a big kerfuffle about the new iPhone and how holding it the “wrong” way stops the phone from connecting to AT&T’s network. This is no isolated incident. When the unibody MacBook pros came out, I went into an Apple store to try one out. The first problem I had was that I couldn’t click the mouse. “Push down on the touchpad,” said the Apple sales-dude. I was tapping the touchpad the way I’d always done on every laptop I ever owned or used since 1994 to no avail. He had to grab my finger and push it forcefully down into the laptop until I felt the touchpad “give” like a button.  Only then did I get it to click. But what if I wanted it to work how I wanted? The sales-dude just showed me how it’s done on Mac. OK, fine. But if I’m using a 13″ laptop, I’m going to need to have my apps full screen. What’s the key combination for that? According to the sales-dude, there is no combo for that because Apple doesn’t want you to use the UI that way.

    Excuse me? I have to clear my usage style with Apple? I can’t use a computer in the way I’m accustomed to using a computer for the last decade and a half?

    So Apple can keep their computers and their phones because I want a computer that adapts to me, not the other way around.

    Step into My Office

    There’s a theory that when you ask the universe for something, it always answers.

    It was exactly six days since my last post that I got a call from Kay Starr Rachelson about joining her group practice, The Cottages Psychotherapy Center. Apparently we hit it off pretty well, because she offered me an office of my own. Ever since then, I’ve been going non-stop to turn an empty room  into a working psychotherapy office. I’m going to use that as my excuse for why I haven’t blogged in about four months.

    Getting set up really is a ton of work, and they do not prepare you for it in school.  Since February I’ve built a separate therapy website, created a free parenting group, developed business cards, cranked through the licensure paper shuffle, furnished and decorated the office, and networked with the therapy community in and around Atlanta. Even though there have been plenty of frustrations, challenges and disappointments along the way, I’m still grateful to be doing this work.

    And if you know anyone in need of a good therapist in North Atlanta, feel free to give them my number: 404-530-9057.

    In Between Time

    Time for a long-overdue update, dear readers.

    When I went back to school to become a therapist, I imagined the day when my studies would be over and I could start practicing “for real.” As always, reality is far more complicated than imagination.

    Graduation itself has become a drawn-out affair. I completed my last class in October. It took a month or two for the registrar to certify my graduate status and send out transcripts in order for me to get my license. My physical, paper diploma is promised to me by the administration, but is still not yet here.

    Beyond graduation is licensing.  This is a giant paper shuffle that unavoidably takes up to four months post-graduation, and I know counselors for whom it’s taken far longer.  My paperwork is slowly crawling through the channels of bureaucracy  and all I can do is wait and hope nobody makes a mistake with my file. Until then, I am merely a “license eligible” counselor, which doesn’t qualify one for much work.

    And what of the practice of therapy?  I’m happy to report that I’m practicing, albeit part-time, at my internship site: New Hope Counseling. Nothing could be more reassuring to me that to know I just plain like this work.  Every day I see another nuance in how I work or what’s going on with my clients.  Still, I’d love it to be full-time and I’d love work to be closer to my home.  But the job market is thin in the extreme and employment choices are limited, especially for us newly-minted “license eligible” counselors.

    Maybe Rush said it best:

    To live between a rock and a hard place
    In between time
    Cruising in prime time
    Soaking up the cathode rays

    - Rush, “Between the Wheels

    So here I am “in between time,” no longer a student but not yet a licensed counselor.  But the work itself is good and fulfilling and I can out-stubborn any of these temporary obstacles.

    The Art of Online Resumes

    By the end of October, I’ll be a newly-minted counselor looking for his first paying gig.  Resumes are always a big part of the job search and in the past they’ve always been a pain to distribute.  But I’ve figured out a way to combine three different technologies to make resume access simple, elegant, and easy.

    Step 1 is to get your resume into Adobe PDF format.   There are lots of ways to do this.  If you have Word 2007 (and it’s very likely you do) you can get a free plug-in from Microsoft that will allow you to save to PDF.  You can get it from…

    http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=4D951911-3E7E-4AE6-B059-A2E79ED87041&displaylang=en

    So install that and you save your resume as PDF.  If you’re using an older version of Word or some other editor, Google around and find how you can make a PDF.

    Next upload your PDF-ed resume to Google Documents.  Google Docs, in its infinite wisdom, is able to show PDFs without any need for Adobe Acrobat.  So if you’ve got a browser, you can see the resume just the way it looks on paper.  And you can save.  And you can print.  You just have to set sharing to “everyone” but make sure they can’t edit.  Google Docs will give you a URL like this one..

    http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B8sHNdhPQPF_Y2FjNTFjYzEtNWFhYi00ZWMyLTk3ZTUtMGI2ZTRiNjhlMjY3&hl=en

    Kinda unwieldy, isn’t it?  That’s OK.  You can fix that too.  There’s a site called “bit.ly” (yes, that’s really a URL).  They take long URLs and make them into short ones.  It’s mostly used for Twitter, but also consider the value of a URL short enough to put on a biz card.  Here’s my resume URL using bit.ly

    bit.ly/7iO4k

    Put that in your browser and you’ll see my resume even if you’ve never had a Google account.  The URL is compact, but hard to remember.  Bit.ly will also let you pick your own URL as long as nobody else is using it.  This is my resume too.

    bit.ly/GSResume

    So now I have two very small, and one very memorable URLs that point straight to my resume.  I’m going to put this info everywhere.  In my email signature  on my IM chat status, on my biz card, even in my elevator speech.  My resume just got MUCH more available.

    Only Cheaters Prosper

    This post has been eight years in the making.  I’ve seen the following story repeat itself throughout my IT career.  It is at least part of the reason I don’t do IT any more.  Here is the concrete example that spurred me write this tale at long last.

    A business hires a software consulting firm to write them a system.  The scale or type of system doesn’t matter at all.  Right up front, the consultant needs to give the client an estimate of how long the project will take and how much it will cost.  The consultant will, without fail, massively underestimate the cost and duration of the project.  Why?  Several reasons.  First, because software estimation is the blackest of black arts and nobody really knows how long a project is going to take.  Second, because the consultant needs the business, he wants to avoid saying anything that could prevent the client from signing the contract.  Clients like low estimates.  Third, because the consultant may be in competition with other bidders.  In such a case, the contract goes to the biggest liar who doesn’t get caught.  We’d like to believe that cheaters never prosper, but in this case, honesty is a sure road to no contracts.

    In software, only cheaters prosper.

    So now a project is underway that is guaranteed to be late.  But nobody has bothered to tell the developers this and it’s rarely the case that anyone has bothered to ask them how long they thought it would take.  If they were asked, their estimates were shaved down for political expedience and to get that contract signed! Once the project is started, managers are good at making this problem the developer’s fault for not completing on time.  And in order to complete closer to deadline, developers are pressured to cut corners.  As deadline approaches, steaming piles of dung get pushed out the door and called “software.”  This is a disaster for the consultants, you might think.  But oh, no, this is a goldmine!  Watch what happens next.

    The budget and the deadline run out.  Alas, the software is entirely unfinished or so broken it needs another phase to meet even a fraction of the requirements.  Who could have known?  But now the consultant gives the client a choice: either stop the project and get nothing for the money they’ve already paid, or extend the contract with more time and money, further enriching the consultants.  And the beauty of this game is it can be played over, and over, and over again with the same project and the same clients.  I’ve seen it go on for years.  The bigger the sunk cost, the longer the charade can continue.

    So if you ever wondered why software is almost always late, why most software is crap, and why software developers work 60+ hour weeks and are perpetually grumpy, the answers to all these mysteries are found above.  It is the story of almost every software project I have worked on and I expect it will be the fate of most commercial systems to come for the foreseeable future.

    And that’s one more reason why it’s great to be a therapist.

    For All of Us Who Can’t Get by on Our Good Looks

    I give you…Susan Boyle!

    Welcome to the Snow Globe

    Georgia weather is just weird.  Yesterday it was 60+ degrees.  Today, a little after noon, this started…

    Birth of a Counselor

    (Think of this as the afterword to Death of a Programmer)

    On Friday, I turned in my ID badge and left my tech writing job at Equifax. On Monday, I’ll begin an internship that will allow me to become licensed to practice as a professional counselor (a psychotherapist) in Georgia. To an outsider, this seems like a sudden, radical change, but actually it has been many years in the making.

    When I went off to college in 1990, my plan was to become a clinical psychologist and a therapist. Due to youthful foolishness, I followed others’ advice instead of my heart’s desire and allowed myself to be diverted onto another path. Two years ago the desire reemerged in me to become a therapist and it wouldn’t go away. The sense that I would regret not going down this road was so overwhelming that I was driven to begin the process. I’ve been taking classes towards my Masters in Counseling and this Winter I was able to land an internship which will complete my education. Blogging all my preparations for this move would have been delightful, but I kept my dream under wraps lest my employer cut me loose ahead of schedule. Perhaps I’ll do some retroactive blogging about my semi-secret life.

    Making big life changes is scary. It churns up a lot of doubt and negativity both from within and from those around me. Questions like “Will I enjoy this?”, “Am I going to be any good at this?”, “Can I make a living at this?” and “What am I doing changing careers AGAIN?” come up over and over. They’re all valid questions. I’ve answered them to my satisfaction, if not everyone else’s.

    At the same time, I’ve had an incredible surge of support from those around me. Of course my classmates were terrific. My friends were too. I felt like a traitor putting in my resignation at work, but everyone there was 100% positive, including my manager who will probably have to do my work on top of his until they find a replacement. Thanks, Rob.

    My friend Marlena told me about a coworker who worked at the same job for 20 years. The office threw a party for her and in the midst of the celebration she admitted she was still there because she didn’t make good on the other plans she had for her life. Thoreau wrote that men lead lives of quiet desperation and I’ve felt that desperation myself. Taking up arms against it comes as a huge relief.

    I feel both very proud and very privileged to be taking a big step towards doing exactly the kind of work I want to do. Whatever risks and hardships there are ahead, I choose this path because I believe it fulfills me and allows me to make a tangible, positive change in the world.