It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter to his/her 16-year-old self. We hope you enjoy these letters and glean some invaluable wisdom and guidance as you decide whether to enter graduate school in psychology, as you navigate the challenges of graduate school, and as you make decisions about your career and life.
This letter is from Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP. Dr. Plante is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. University Professor and directs the Spirituality and Health Institute at Santa Clara University. He is also an adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. He recently served as vice-chair of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is past-president of the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Division 36) of the American Psychological Association. He has authored or edited 21 books including, Graduating with Honor: Best Practices to Promote Ethics Development in College Students (2016, Praeger), Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis, 2002-2012 (2011, Praeger), and Spiritual Practices in Psychotherapy: Thirteen Tools for Enhancing Psychological Health (2009, APA). He teaches courses in abnormal, clinical, health, and general psychology as well as ethics and maintains a private clinical practice as a licensed psychologist in Menlo Park, CA.
FROM THE DESK OF THOMAS G. PLANTE:
Dear Tommy at 16,
This is your 56-year-old self now sending a letter to you (the 16-year-old version).
No matter how thoughtful or wise, advice is so hard to receive since most people need to discover things on their own and often want to do things in their own way and in their own time. Yet, I hope that you will listen to your older, and perhaps wiser self, and consider the following 5 items of advice for your reflection.
- Treat everyone, even those you don’t agree with or even don’t like very much, with great kindness and respect. The adult world, even in areas like psychology, higher education, and health care, can be competitive, mean-spirited, and unkind at times. Don’t falter from your efforts to be respectful and compassionate to everyone (even when you are tempted to do otherwise). It will serve you well, you’ll sleep better at night, and it is the just the right thing to do as an ethical human being. In a nutshell, treat others as you wish to be treated and try to see the good and sacred in all. Always remember the words of Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”
- Try your best to surround yourself with people who are ethical, gracious, and are trying to make the world a better place. Our society seems to be getting more and more selfish and narcissistic with an attitude that “it’s all about me.” It isn’t! It’s about “us” and the common good. Stay close to others who are working hard to make the world a more humane, just, and compassionate place and with people who are not too full of themselves. Don’t be afraid to give corrective feedback to those who act entitled, demanding, and narcissistic. And always stand up to people who are bullying and disrespecting others.
- Keep up with the rapid changes in society and remember that no matter how fast the world spins, for good or for bad, it is evolving in ways that are often unpredictable and sometimes scary. Hold on for the ride, keep on top of things, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, and don’t get too nostalgic for the “old days.” Remember that we live in the world that we live in and not necessarily in the world that we’d like to live in. Adapt!
- Be quick to compliment, thank, and appreciate others. Be grateful. Laugh a lot. And give hugs freely and often.
- And finally, in the words of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, “Go set the world on fire!” In other words, go out there and try your very best to make the world a better place! Be part of the solution and not part of the problem. The world so desperately needs humble helpers of good will and kindness focused on the common good. Be that person!
May life be kind to you and may you be blessed with good health, healthy loving relationships, hearty laughter, and a vocation that gives you great meaning, purpose, and joy.
Your older (and perhaps a bit wiser) self,
Editor’s Note: Dear Me, Future Psychologist is inspired by the Dear Me book series by Joseph Galliano. Special thanks to David A. Meyerson, Ph.D. for creating this series for the gradPSYCH Blog. Please check out other letters in this series from Dr. Howard Gardner, Dr. Robert Sternberg, Dr. Mitchell Prinstein, and Dr. Phil Zimbardo.