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Setting Forth

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

I feel anxious… 

and thrilled… 

and excited… 

and afraid.

Lots of feelings.

I’ve been experiencing some version of this for the past few months. I have set out from the familiar shores of school leadership and am paddling through waters that are quite new to me. The sense of adventure in doing something bold and new is exhilarating… that’s for sure. But there are also times when a shadowy thought creeps in... what if things don’t pan out quite like I had hoped? What if I fail? I think that’s pretty typical whenever we launch out into something new and unknown.

In the film The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman’s character seems to experience some version of this when he says, “I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.” 

This isn’t all that different than what it feels like to begin working with a new therapist. The opportunity for something really good is at hand. But those shadowy thoughts may also be present... what if things don’t pan out quite like I had hoped? What if I commit my time and resources to this and nothing changes? 

In therapy, we start right there… in fear, anxiety, pain or frustration. We begin by acknowledging challenges and setbacks, strengths and resources, and the constellation of thoughts and feelings that swirl under the surface. Acknowledgement and curiosity always come first. What has brought me here? What am I feeling? What all is going through my mind?

But eventually there comes something new: acceptance. We move beyond recognizing each thought and feeling and begin to welcome and appreciate what they have to offer. We begin to understand their origins and purpose, and we may even learn to extend them a measure of kindness... something as small as a nod or a smile. There you are, fear. What are you concerned about today?

And then, by some combination of time and patience and grace and compassion, something new begins to emerge. We hear our own words reflected back to us by another who is not immersed in the same situation we are. We experience acceptance and eventually learn to practice it ourselves. We develop perspective and begin to see in ways we hadn’t before. We begin to come alive.

If someone you know may be interested in discovering new ways to come alive, please encourage them to reach out to myself ( or to Melanie ( It would be our privilege to walk alongside them or to connect them with another therapist in town.

Richard Cowan, MEd, MTS, NCC, LPC-Temp, is a therapist practicing as an independent contractor with Come Alive Counseling in Nashville, TN. Before beginning his career as a professional counselor, Richard worked for Young Life, attended seminary, served as a high school director at an international boarding school, and was the Executive Coordinator of Nashville Psychotherapy Institute.  When not helping clients achieve their goals for recovery and experience a healthy and full life, Richard spends time with his wife and two girls, takes care of his chickens and garden, and reads anything Wendell Berry ever wrote. 

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