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Learning from Being Present with Nicole Smolinski

Nicole Smolinski is six months away from graduating with her Masters of Science degree in Clinical Psychology from Vanguard University. She currently works as a trainee at Prepare to Change Counseling Center. One of approximately 40 trainees, Nicole is working with ten clients right now while also receiving wonderful support from her supervisors and professors.

Once she receives her graduate degree, she can begin working towards 3,000 hours of client work in order to receive her license. Throughout her journey of education and work, she has been a curious observer of the world and sees the positive in looking forward. She is hopeful about how all of us are showing up in new ways during this difficult year. Nicole is inspired by first responders and those people stepping up from retirement to support healthcare workers and others during this time of need. I recently spoke with Nicole about how she chose her current path.


Sherry: Tell me about the path you are on now.


Nicole: Half way through my undergraduate program, I did some serious reflecting and made some significant changes. Up until that time, I thought I would be a Veterinarian and was entirely focused on that path. Looking back, the more I learned about myself during college, the choices became more meaningful and more honest. I shifted to a Psychology degree and worked hard in that last year to complete the appropriate classes.


What made me decide to shift focus? The independence I learned in college and the increasing self-knowledge helped me answer the question, “who am I?” I finally had the time to focus on me. After, I had an injury while playing soccer, there was more time to take a step back and reflect on what I really wanted. I know this is a continual learning process, but making that change was a turning point in how I was getting to know myself.

Sherry: What did you learn about yourself in this journey?


Nicole: There were times early in the journey where I held myself back. I learned how to trust myself through listening inward and taking risks, getting out of my comfort zone. I think learning to trust myself again was a big and special part of it for me! I tried backpacking for the first time and realized I could enjoy something entirely different. The more I was accepting of myself the more open and curious I became.


I learned that we are on a journey, which is more a process than an end. Knowing that lifts the weight off of you. Earlier on, I was so driven to get to the goal and get to the end with a belief that that would make me successful. I learned that going through the challenges require us to be patient with ourselves. Being gentler with me means, letting go of being my toughest critic. Many of us fall into that. Why not treat ourselves like a really good friend. The same grace we give to others we can give to ourselves.

Sherry: Is there an insight or 'aha moment' that you would like to share?


Nicole: Sometimes there is no answer. Maybe we would like to provide the answer for the client who has pain, but it is more important to provide a safe and open, non-judgmental place which allows for trust and personal change. We can’t fix their problem – this is their challenge. It is easy to say, I can fix this. But, we can’t and if we try, then we are being very hard on ourselves and ultimately not supporting our clients.

Sherry: What have you learned about yourself this year?


Nicole: I think this year we are learning how to make meaning – what can I take from this and be intentional with it. What will you chose to be after this year, what comes out of us when we are pressed in difficulty? When things are tough who do we want to be in those moments? I believe we can learn from those moments, be intentional and help others learn. We also see others step up and give us hope – we are still here and contributing in our own unique ways.

Nicole Smolinski is a poet, friend, daughter, lover, human, and author of the new collection, Finding My Way Back: Poems on Coming Alive, Healing, and Self-Discovery. A marriage and family therapist in training, Nicole writes honestly and vulnerably about pain, joy, wellness and healing in a fantastically difficult world. Nicole received her B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Davis and is currently in the process of completing her M.S. in Clinical Psychology at Vanguard University of Southern California. Nicole is passionate about living authentically and intentionally. She hopes to one day write and speak regularly about wellness, emotional freedom and living as genuinely as possible, even if it’s not necessarily pretty or put-together. She also hopes to build a therapy and/or coaching practice to help individuals heal, find freedom and step into their truest selves. When not writing or doing clinical work, Nicole enjoys sitting at local coffee shops, eating delicious food with loved ones, and spending time outdoors.

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