There is a new subgroup in my life.  It is one that; while there is a certain level of accomplishment to making it this far, there is also a bit of sadness to the experience. I’ve reached a new milestone in my career.  One that many before me have accomplished and many behind me will do as well.  It is a group many of us will one day belong to, but if your training was anything like mine, it is also one that you were never trained for nor were prepared to reach. I’m old…or at least, I’m no longer young.

                From a one perspective, it is easy to be a New Professional.  People are excited about your entrance into a community of colleagues and peers. Others often talk about, and celebrate, your future and potential in the field.  You are wanted, and actively sought out, to engage the professional world in important ways, usually with the hope and expectation that you might be interested in further leadership opportunities. New Professionals usually have specific lanes dedicated to them within organizational structures. In most of the professional organizations where I am affiliated, the calls to serve on a Board or as a member of organizational leadership usually include a message along the lines of, “This is a great opportunity for young professionals.  We want new people to be a part of our organization.” Many opportunities are laid out in front of new professionals. They are actively recruited for the positions. The difficult part of being a new professional is not the lack of opportunity, but often the lack of experience. It is being unaware of the inner workings of systems and institutions.  It often feels overwhelming to be a new professional; but that usually speaks more to the newness of the circumstance rather than any dearth of opportunity.

                  I am no longer a New Professional.  One can quibble over whether I am “old,” but I am definitely not “New.” The luster has worn away.  I am the toy that no longer has the same shine. My once pristine exterior has been replaced with the stress lines and battle scars of experience. I am certainly more mature and wiser than I have ever been in my career…yet, in some ways, I am also less valued.  I say that not in a “Woe is Me” manner, but rather as the objective evaluation of someone who has the experience to make such evaluations based on knowledge and history.  It is the exact type of evaluation I could not have made when I first started my career.

                Like so many before me, I learned about my new group affiliation (Aka – The “No Longer New” subgroup) the hard way.  For the past few years, I have had the immense pleasure of “faculty” for teaching the Principles of Group Psychotherapy course to mental health professionals who want to learn more about group therapy.  As a Director at a University Counseling Center, being able to teach didactic seminars let me relive my former days as a professor.  Facilitating the experiential part of the course reinforced my “Practicing Clinician” roots. Not only was the work rewarding, but it also allowed me to get to know the rest of the faculty in the program.  Those faculty have become my cohort, colleagues, and friends.  We all enjoy giving back to a profession that has given so much to us.

                That all changed this year.  The person who coordinates the program – A man who shall not be named because he is legitimately an excellent clinician, a very dear friend, and someone who is just trying to develop the best program he can with the resources he has – reached out to the Principles faculty with some unexpected news. He informed us that our work with the Principles course was excellent; we continued to receive praise and accolades from the students we taught; the knowledge we presented was of high-quality and he simply couldn’t ask for better colleagues…*and* our services would no longer be needed. He explained that the organization was looking to expand and become more diverse.  He stated that it was only “fair” for us to be replaced in order to give newer professionals the same opportunity we were once given many years ago. “Thanks for all you have done, but now it’s time to go.”

                Whether I agree with the rationale for the change is irrelevant.  The salient part of the story is that I, and my colleagues, were being phaseed out; not for something we did, but simply because we were no longer “new and shiny.” By all accounts, the current faculty was admired and respected.  We were not being replaced for actual performance reasons; we were being replaced because the allure of the unknown is sometimes more desirable than the steady, grounded qualities of the known.

                The stark message that I simply wasn’t “new” enough to be wanted hit home with me unexpected force and led me down a spiral of contemplation.  I remembered being young and taking my first steps into the field of Clinical Psychology.  I didn’t know a ton about group psychotherapy, but I had an eagerness and a passion to learn. As an emerging professional, more than a few people described a “Young Tev” using terms like “potential” and “bright future.” I realized I had not heard those terms applied in many a year.  While I have neither the desire, nor narcissism, to say whether my actions ever reached the heights of those bold superlatives, it is clear that my window had closed and that ship had sailed – regardless of whether I achieved those goals or not.  Society rarely talks about futures and potentials of people who have been doing something for 15-20 years. No one tells you when you no longer have potential. There simply comes a point where you either actualized that potential or you did not.

                As a fan of team sports, I should have anticipated that moment happening in my own life.  As a child, I always admired the star athlete who spent their entirety of their career with one team. It was a sign of class and respect.  In my mind, it was a way for the “old guard” to usher in new talent. I placed the onus on the athlete, not the team.  What I didn’t realize until much later in life is that sometimes it is the team that no longer wants to player; no matter what that player used to mean to the franchise. The goal of the organization is to put the best product on the field at that particular the moment – and sometimes that means letting go of past excellence to make way for a brighter future.  It may not always seem fair to the athlete; but it is the cold, hard calculus that organizations use to make themselves better.

                As a wiser, and older, fan of sports; I now evaluate the success of a star athlete’s end of career through a different lens. It is no longer about whether the athlete stayed “loyal” to their team, as the athlete often has no real control over that; but rather it is if the athlete is able to end their career with dignity and respect.  Was the athlete able to leave on their own terms? Were they able to choose when to walk away rather than have that decision forced upon them? It is a different way to evaluate success. It is also one that is rarely taught to us when we’re constantly being told about our amazing potential and extremely bright futures.

                Maybe the real lesson is how the take these moments in stride. Rather than be bitter that an opportunity is taken from us, we can instead tip our cap to the experience that we were afforded; even when it ends earlier than we might sometimes choose.  Unfortunately for me, the state where I work says I’m at least 15 years away from retirement.  So, while I’m not old, I’m also no longer young. I just need to keep doing the best job I can with the opportunities I have and look forward to writing this  column next quarter for The Group Psychologist – unless Division 49 finds a new, hot-shot columnist who needs this opportunity just a little bit more than me.