When people think about family therapy, usually internships, careers, and business in general are not the first thing on their mind. That said, there is a lot that we can all learn from therapy techniques. One such thing that we can learn comes from an approach called narrative therapy.
In narrative therapy, there is a concept called “externalizing the problem.” Externalizing the problem occurs by separating the problem form the person and personifying it. For example, if a recently graduated business student is having trouble landing an entry level position in human resources because they do not have enough work experience, they can externalize the problem by calling it “The Challenge” or some other word that the person finds meaningful. This externalization process can make it easier for a job seeker to address their challenges because it is no longer as personal. As you may remember from my previous article, characteristics, which are more personal in nature, are more difficult to change than behaviors, which are less personal.
Back in the 90’s, when I was in middle-school, I inadvertently externalized a problem that I had to achieve my educational goal at that time. It was the end of the school year and I was looking forward to the world cup that summer. I aced my math class that year, but I was in math for “the regular kids”. I was ambitious and wanted more of a challenge.
I met with my school counselor and asked her if she could change me from regular math to advanced math at the start of next year. She asked if I was sure I wanted to do that. As it turned out, she thought the transition would be hard because I didn’t know algebra. In my mind, her words implied that she thought I was not capable of taking advanced math. Instead of becoming depressed, I was fired up. It became “The Challenge.”
That summer, I went to a small public library close to my house and borrowed a self-help algebra book. I then proceeded to study algebra that whole summer. Instead of watching the world cup that summer, I studied. It was hard to do, but I wanted to overcome “The Challenge.” Through perseverance and self-discipline, I was able to learn algebra.
Confident in my knowledge and abilities, I met with the counselor before the start of the school year. I told her I learned algebra and gave her some of my work as proof. She reluctantly put me in the advanced math track and told me to not be disappointed if my grades were lower than usual.
I ended up earning A’s in both semesters of advanced math.