Dear Therapist:

My father, who was a very...[esteemed rabbi]...recently...[passed away]. I was asked (pushed) to take over his position. I have another position that I am very happy with but I feel that it is important for me to continue in his footsteps and keep the...[congregation]...that he worked so hard to build alive. So, I accepted the request to take over and an announcement was made that I will take over in a few months. I have been feeling very stressed out and anxious since then but I can't tell if it is just normal nerves due to the big changes  (including moving to a different city) or is it because I really shouldn't be making this move and I should have stayed with the job I had always had and enjoyed. Maybe I am just taking this for my father's legacy but maybe that isn't a bad thing, or maybe I am making an incorrect decision and leaving something I know for sure I enjoy and am good at for something unknown. In short, I can't tell if my emotions are just panic or a way of my heart telling me I am not doing the right thing. Do you have any advice as to how I can gain some clarity for myself here.

 

Response:

There appear to be two factors about which you are concerned. The first relates to your motivation with regard to your current position and the prospective one. The second factor is the stress and anxiety that you feel.

These two factors are probably closely linked. The more unclear you are about your motivations, the more likely you are to feel anxious about your decision. Conversely, the more anxious you feel, the harder it will be to extricate your logical thoughts (what you believe is the right thing to do) from your emotions (how you feel about what you need to do).

With any vicious cycle, the goal is to identify the aspect or aspects that can most easily be changed. (Generally, if all aspects are addressed in concert, this yields faster results.) In your case, the two aspects that should be addressed are clarification of your motivations and your feelings of anxiety. Just as your motivation-anxiety cycle works in a negative fashion, it could work similarly in a positive way. Therefore, the better that you understand your motivations, the less anxious you will likely be.

With regard to motivation, I think that it is important to focus on both your current position and the one that you recently agreed to accept. What is it that makes you “very happy” with your current position? To what degree are you happy due to logical (actual) factors, and to what degree are you happy because an emotional need is being filled. For instance, is it the job itself that makes you happy, or is it the comfort level (knowing that you are liked; knowing what is expected of you, etc.)? If the former, what is it about the job that you so enjoy, and can this be duplicated in the new position? If the latter, should these be the bases for remaining in a position?

You mentioned that you felt “pushed” to take over your father’s position, and you seem to feel responsible to keep alive the kehilla that he worked so hard to build. I’m really sorry for your loss. You appear to be dealing with a lot in the aftermath of your father’s death. I don’t know how long it’s been since he passed, and I don’t know what the grieving process has been like for you. Likely, however, your thinking process is affected by emotions related to your father’s death. You are making a life decision, and should not feel forced in any way to do so. Your decision needs to be well thought out and all factors clearly understood. As long as you are “thinking” emotionally, you cannot trust your decisions. It is imperative that you be able to separate your emotional “thoughts” from your logical ones prior to making any major decisions.

I certainly understand your instinct to continue your father’s legacy, but to what extent is this instinct affected by emotions that will wane? For that matter, to what extent is this instinct affected by emotions that may not dissipate on their own, but should nonetheless be addressed?

One way of focusing on the logical facts is to do a cost-benefit analysis for each part of your situation. What are the costs (to yourself and your family) of remaining in your current position? What are the benefits? What are the cost and benefits of taking the new position? The more detailed and exhaustive your list becomes, the more conscious your thought process will be, and the less your emotions will be able to guide you. This will make it easier for you to make an appropriate decision—and to feel less anxious about it.

Here are examples of questions that you might want to address: Will you do as good a job in the new position if you are unhappy? Who are you trying to please? Why, and should you? Would your father have wanted you to make this change knowing how anxious and uncertain you are? What would you advise a colleague in the exact same position? The better that you are able to analyze the situation, the more likely it is that you will come to the proper conclusion.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

  www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200