Finding Power in Pain, Rejecting Shame and Suffering: Andrea Anderson Polk #72

Warwick Fairfax

June 16, 2021

She knows her childhood was not unique, but that didn’t make it any easier for Andrea Anderson Polk to grow up in a dysfunctional family in which feeling safe was hard to come by even as she tried to protect her younger siblings from emotional trauma. The crucibles she endured made her question both her faith and the therapy her parents underwent to try, unsuccessfully, to improve their family life. It wasn’t until she embraced her relationship with God that she took the journey to become a therapist herself — and today she helps clients realize their pain can be the source of their greatest power. The key, she has discovered through her counseling practice, is focusing on what you treasure … because in pursuing and embracing those things you will find your purpose and calling while avoiding shame and suffering.

To learn more about Andrea Anderson, visit www.andreaandersonlpc.com

Highlights

  • How her greatest place of pain became her greatest place of power (7:13)
  • How her intuition and curiosity helped her manage her childhood crucibles (11:13)
  • The pain of losing her grandmother at 16 (13:55)
  • How she ended up becoming a counselor (17:50)
  • Trying to mend her relationship with her dad, and the breakthrough she found there (21:39)
  • Warwick’s own emotional family crucibles as a youth (24:28)
  • How Andrea and Warwick embracing their pain helps others overcome their own (31:41)
  • Just because we experience pain doesn’t mean we have to suffer (37:58)
  • The key to battling shame in the face of a crucible (49:24)
  • The difference between purpose and a dream (53:07)

Transcript

Warwick F:
Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Andrea A P:
When we suffer it’s because we are putting up defenses to avoid our emotions, like I did for many years when my grandmother passed. We create these defenses based on lies we believe, like for example, somehow I did something wrong, this is my fault, they’re ashamed. So, we’re in this world of suffering. We might develop addictive behaviors or we might just numb out or get our anxiety and worth and value from our performance or work, even if it’s a good thing, like a ministry or a calling. We all have these ways that we avoid our reality. We avoid our pain. This creates tremendous suffering.

Gary S:
Have you ever found yourself in that place? Do you find yourself in it right now? If so, you’ll want to give a deep listen to today’s episode with Andrea Anderson Polk, a licensed therapist, whose passion to help others overcome life’s setbacks and failures grew from her own youthful crucibles. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show and the communications director for Crucible Leadership. In what may be the most emotional interview we’ve ever shared with you, Warwick and Andrea discuss how to discover beauty from ashes, how to find hope in the aftermath of devastation and disappointment.

Gary S:
The key is, Andrea has found in counseling her clients, is focusing on what you treasure, because in pursuing and embracing those things, you will find your purpose and calling, what we at Crucible Leadership refer to as a life of significance.

Warwick F:
Well, Andrea, thanks so much for being here, as I looked at your website and some of what you do, and counseling and speaking, and just helping people to change the direction of their lives, lives on purpose, it was just all eerily familiar. It just was so exciting what you do. It’s just feels so uplifting. I don’t know. I just felt myself agreeing with just everything that I could find that you have on your website.

Warwick F:
But before we get to what you do in your counseling, I’d love to hear some of the backstory that led you to do what you do. I’m sure you know better than I do, there’s always a story behind who we are and the paths that we’ve taken. Obviously, listeners are pretty familiar with my story and where I’ve ended up, but just tell us a bit about Andrea and how you grew up and just sort of the background that led you to do what you do.

Andrea A P:
Absolutely. I just wanted to pause, Warwick, and say it’s such an honor to be on your podcast, that I love your word eerie. When I was listening to your previous sessions and reading your website, I just thought, oh, I have goosebumps that how similar our messages are. Like you said, our stories are quite different. I also wanted to say, I really feel like you have created a culture of vulnerability. That’s what kept coming to my heart as I was reading your story and preparing this time. Someone with your reputation and this family dynasty, this 150-year-old family media business, and just the fall of that, it takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to share that story at the risk of reputation, I’m sure for yourself and your family.

Andrea A P:
I’m really thankful for your vulnerability. Clearly, with what you created here, it gives other people the opportunity to say, well, I can be vulnerable about my story. I can share my failures and there’s no shame in that. I just wanted to say, thank you for that. That’s really important.

Warwick F:
Wow. Well, thank you. I almost feel like I’m sort of reading from your hymnal or songbook, so if I do, just forgive me, but the power of vulnerability, it does give other people freedom to be themselves and life isn’t over when we’ve made mistakes or terrible things have happened to us. That’s the encouraging thing about just a lot of the different stories. The commonality amongst the, I don’t know, the 50 people we’ve had, which is very diverse by background, race, gender, type of crucible, is they’ve all shown hope, is they’ve all found a way to get beyond there are scars, but they’ve all found a way to get beyond it. That’s the commonality, so amidst tremendous diversity of experience, there’s also similarity, which I find fascinating.

Warwick F:
And you would understand better than I do being a psychologist and counselor. Yeah, so just tell us about how you grew up and just some of the background that sort of the origin story, if you will, of Andrea and who you are now.

Andrea A P:
Yeah. Something that I’ve found in my own life and my work with my clients is that our greatest place of pain is our greatest place of power, and our area of weakness is our area of gifting. As I share my story, there are certain places of pain in my life that really ended up becoming my place of gifting and where I feel empowered. I grew up actually down the street here in McLean, not too far from my practice, and on my break between clients, I like to get outside and be in nature. I often walk the sidewalks of my childhood neighborhood. When I pass by the house that I grew up in, the quote that comes to me is, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I have so many positive memories of my childhood.

Andrea A P:
My grandmother, who was my safe place, she lived directly across the street or down the sidewalk. I had great memories playing with my friends in the neighborhood, catching lightning bugs in the summer, or sledding in the winter. It was a real community and I really treasure that time. I’m the oldest of four. So, my siblings were very much my best friends. Again, a lot of great memories, but there was also a lot of trauma in my childhood too. My father had a very complicated, complex personality, which was really confusing for me.

Andrea A P:
I would say the undercurrent of my childhood was the fear of my father and his unpredictable rage. And when those moments would either land on myself, or my siblings would be a target of that, or my mom, and there was also times where he was a great dad, and he would play with us and be loving. There were this sort of this crazy making confusing part of my relationship with my father of my childhood. Just a lot of kind of unanswered questions as I grew older and tried to navigate through that. Something else that’s important to note is my family grew up in the church and my parents, for as long as I can remember, they were in and out of counseling.

Andrea A P:
Both pastorally and professionally. I don’t know the details of all that because I was quite young, but that also proved to be a source of pain for me, because here, I thought, well, we go to church, that’s supposed to be a safe, loving place. As my parents were in and out of pastoral counseling, nothing seemed to help or get better. Things just got worse in terms of my father’s anger and a lot of traumatic memories. The idea of God and the idea of church started to become painful for me, created a lot of distrust and confusion as well. I’ve always been an extremely intuitive. I’ve always had a fascination with how people think, why do people do the things they do?

Andrea A P:
Growing up, part of what helped me survive or even served as a protection, because of my father’s rage was so unpredictable, it’s like I was always walking around with a magnifying glass trying to figure out, okay, let me try and understand his mood when he comes home. Is he going to be playing catch with us in the yard or is one of us going to be the target of his anger? I started to sort of like a sponge, absorb his emotions, his thoughts to try to, again, as the oldest, protect myself, my siblings and my mom. Something that I feel like was a gift, my intuition, and also a joy, really understanding people.

Andrea A P:
I’ve always been curious. My friends, even when I was little, would talk to me and share their problems with me, but in terms of being at home, I was operating in that place more out of survival, and also just being the typical oldest child, I also felt a sense of responsibility for my siblings. I have one memory that stands out. I remember, before cell phones, that I was holding our rotary phone, and I was standing there shaking, trying to make this decision, do I call 911 based on what was happening with my sister? She had done something wrong and my dad was in a very violent place with her.

Andrea A P:
As a adolescent girl, just this feeling of, it’s sort of up to me to intervene in this situation. That was very painful, very confusing throughout my childhood and adolescence, as well as the church and God. My grandmother, I call her Gaga, she, as I mentioned, lived right down the street from us. She was a consistent safe place for me throughout my childhood. When things got really painful at home, I could just walk right down the street, stay the night with her, really just leave that trauma behind. Warwick, I read this in your story. You mentioned that when your dad passed away, that was the hardest experience of your life.

Andrea A P:
I noticed a picture with you and your father on your website, and I feel the same way about about Gaga, my grandmother. It was the most painful experience of my life when she passed away. I was 16 years old and she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We had just gotten back from our annual family beach trip, and she passed away three months later. So, it was very quick. For me, it was just, it was crushing. I lost my safe place. I lost my best friend. I lost the really only source of unconditional love that I had known besides my mom. At that point, I really just shut down my heart, my emotions all together.

Andrea A P:
I often tell my clients, and we can get into this later about the importance of going into our pain and really facing that even though it’s scary, but when you shut down your negative emotions, when I say negative, those emotions that are hard to feel like anger, grief, especially, you shut down the positive emotions too, joy and happiness. I was so traumatized by her passing that I became extremely numb, just completely disconnected from my body and emotions at 16. I remember specifically sitting at her funeral, and everybody knew how close we were. We had this really special bond.

Andrea A P:
In fact, growing up, whenever she would come to stay at our house, she was simply not allowed to sleep in my siblings’ room. My poor brother and sisters, if they even entertained the idea of having Gaga sleep in their room, it was like all hell broke loose. Andrea is having a temper tantrum. It’s like could not sleep in her … All that to say, we just had a very close bond. Anyway, when I was at the funeral, I didn’t shed a tear. I just sat there like a stone. I remember feeling an extreme sense of shame because my family and friends and extended family were all sort of looking at me, really confused about, how is Andrea, of all people, not upset or showing any emotion or crying, or why is she sitting in the very back row?

Andrea A P:
I was just so removed and so in shock and denial about Gaga passing. I never grieved her death until many years later in my own counseling and tried to find safe places really through my performance. I threw myself in to sports and competition, grades. Always did well in school. And my father, there was a lot of performance-based anxiety and more of a conditional love in our relationship too. So, when I lost my safe place, I just sort of was in this orb of not feeling and performing and getting my worth and value and identity from what I was doing as opposed to being a person and having emotions and also having a voice.

Andrea A P:
How I ended up becoming a counselor was my parents, they would always jump from counselor to counselor, church to church. Again, I don’t know the details, but things always seem to get worse instead of better. We would go to church every Sunday morning. That was extremely confusing to me, because I’d seen my father one way at church, he’d be a totally different way at home, and I thought to myself, well, what kind of God is this that we’re supposed to praise and worship? There’s nothing that he’s doing to take any of this pain away.

Andrea A P:
My parents ended up getting a divorce when I was in my early 20s, and I would say things got a lot worse before they got better. But what I do remember is, when my parents got divorced, there was an oppression and like a torment that lifted from our house. I’m not encouraging divorce. That’s one of the great traumas that people experience. But for me personally, on behalf of my three siblings and my mother, I can say with certainty that there was an immense freedom that immediately came into our lives.

Andrea A P:
This fear that we have all lived in, in this dread of, when dad comes home, what’s going to happen, was eradicated. That really gave me this space and permission. I started to find my voice again. That’s when I started my own journey of healing. I ended up receiving pastoral counseling from our church at the time, very hesitantly. I’ll never forget, my mom came to me and said, “I think you should start counseling at the church here.” And I thought, that is the last thing I want to do, is I don’t want anything to do with the church or God or counseling. All of that seemed very confusing and painful to me, but I felt like I wanted to do that just to honor my mom and what she had gone through.

Andrea A P:
So, I did, and I sat in that chair in the office once a week for two years, and it just absolutely changed my life. I found my voice again. I was able to feel safe to tell my story. It was almost like the safe place that I had with my grandmother was restored with these particular people in that room. And I realized at that time, I want to give to other people this hope, this safety and this freedom that these people have given to me, and a voice to tell my story void of any shame. Years later, I started going to professional counseling, really worked through a lot of boundary setting with my father, forgiveness.

Andrea A P:
I went a lot deeper into the trauma and emotions of my childhood and adolescence. The thing that was the most difficult is, my father can be extremely enjoyable at times. As I was working through how to have a relationship with him, I came to this … This is more of a schism for me, where he, he never, in my opinion, acknowledged the pain that he caused my siblings and I. When we had a restoration time with him, and it wasn’t an intervention. There was no mean agenda. We weren’t trying to hurt him, but we just wanted to share with him, we have these memories and these things happened, and he couldn’t acknowledge them. He couldn’t admit to what he had done.

Andrea A P:
His approach was more blaming my mother and pointing out her list of wrongs. It just reminded me of how I felt as a child, just sort of a crazy making feeling of shame. It must be me, I must have done something wrong, but I decided through my own growth, my own journey of healing and my own counseling experience, that it was really costing me, causing me more suffering to try to demand answers from him and trying to find out why and understanding, and really wanting him to acknowledge what he did.

Andrea A P:
So, I had to let go of being the person to hold him accountable. All that to say, my greatest places of pain, which was losing my grandmother, a lot of the trauma that I, and witnessing my mom and siblings deal with growing up, and the church and counseling were all extremely painful experiences for me. Even my own love for understanding people, as I mentioned, my intuition, my ability to read people was a very painful place because it came from this place of survival. But as I went through my counseling journey, I really felt like those places became restored. My love for helping people. I’m a person of faith, so my relationship with God how I viewed the church all became great places of gifting and strength in my life, which I’m extremely grateful for.

Warwick F:
Well, I mean, thank you so much for sharing that Andrea and being so vulnerable. Gosh, hard to know where to start, but I guess the thing that occurs to me is sadly, I feel like in some ways, I can understand what you were talking about. Not so much by intellectually, but experientially. Again, this is about you, not me, but without getting into every detail, I mean, I guess I had a close family member that … I’m not a psychologist, I don’t know, this person was narcissistic, certainly probably manic.

Warwick F:
Some days it would be like everything’s rosy, and then the next time, and I was a wonderful person, and then the next time, it would be, I was this terrible person. When you’re five, six, seven years old, it get’s very confusing. So, who am I? this wonderful young boy or this terrible person? And very controlling and performance-based stuff and all the rest. Yeah, at one level, I can understand, it’s just that, that image I have of your grandmother being that safe place and when that was gone, and again, I’m not a psychologist, but I can totally understand how you sat in that church feeling numb, not being able to … Again, I’m playing amateur psychologist, I don’t know a thimble full relative to you.

Warwick F:
But I almost wonder if the grief was so overwhelming that you just couldn’t process it. It just sort of blew your circuits. I mean, you just was too numb to go through it all, but it’s … You go through that, and you can either get angry or you can use your pain for a purpose. The other thing I often find is, life isn’t satisfying. When I was in my 20s, I had a conversation with this family member and just mentioned all the ways I felt like I’d been hurt and went into a fair amount of detail with sort of, I don’t know, heaving sobs, and what-have-you. And it was like talking to a brick wall. Zero emotion, zero contrition.

Warwick F:
It’s almost like, I’m sorry, if you feel that way. It was like, okay, this is never going to get resolved. This person has the lack of willingness or lack of desire. The point about all this is not to bore listeners with all that, but I guess the point that maybe Andrea has found and I’ve found is, from certainly a Christian biblical point of view, you’ll want reconciliation, but not … Oftentimes, we have family members that they refuse to acknowledge what they’ve done, they want reconcile, so we have to forgive even when there’s no contrition.

Warwick F:
As I often say forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning. You obviously and your siblings don’t condone what your dad did, but … I don’t condone the behavior of this family member. But that’s tough for a lot of people. I’m just amazed that you used your pain and focused it in a positive way. I mean, it’s just … Everything you say sounds so eerily familiar. I’ll stop talking here in a minute because it’s not meant to be about me.

Andrea A P:
The therapist in me loves to hear your story, so please don’t apologize.

Warwick F:
I’ll be quite in a minute here, but a lot of guys, not to be sexist here, aren’t particularly discerning. They’re not good at reading the tea leaves. There’s a classic one, your wife says to you, I’m fine, and the husband goes, great, even though it was said with dripping sarcasm, and it goes right over a lot of our heads. I guess I get that, but I’ve also found, maybe what I’ve been through pretty discerning. But I’ve never wanted to do what you did because I frankly couldn’t handle it. I’m not wired that way. I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to just leave it. I admire people that can do what you do. But I use some of what I went through to do become a certified executive coach. I can deal more in that space, feel a little safer, frankly, for me.

Andrea A P:
But you still had such … I think the therapist in me is curious, you are able to push through really painful experiences in your life, be vulnerable and share your story with the public basically. What or who in your life gave you the courage to take that risk? Because again, we all have been through pain. We all have a story. The way that you’re using your Crucible Leadership as a platform to give other people hope and encourage their vulnerability, what or who was it for you that gave you the courage to share?

Warwick F:
Well, that’s a good question. Again, this is a conversation, so I’ll answer that question because I think it’s a good question. A couple things, I mean, like you, my faith, in my case, my faith, or in our cases, my faith in Christ is the cornerstone of who I am. I came to faith through a evangelical church at Oxford. That was part of it. I had some mentors, guys who were, I don’t know, a couple of decades older that helped process some of these things. Later on some, some counseling. I think counseling is a wonderful thing. It’s not a sign of failure. I think it’s a sign of courage, is obviously, I’m sure you’d be the first to agree, but I was also blessed to marry an American girl I met in Australia.

Warwick F:
We’ve been married a bit of a 30 years, and she gave me, I guess, what I hadn’t experienced with this other person, just unconditional love that didn’t depend on my performance when the company went under. It’s like, I wasn’t a bad person. I just made some dumb decisions, dumb business decisions. Just having faith in a higher power in Christ for me, and a community of believers, and then a wife who loved me unconditionally. That’s why I tell my kids, you have no clue how blessed you are to have a mother that loves you unconditionally, because I’ve experienced the other side. So, sorry, I guess maybe it’s the counselor in you that makes me get in touch with my feelings. I’m sorry about that.

Andrea A P:
You have such a powerful story. There’s no greater gift than having a person be that safe place, place of unconditional love. I really appreciate your vulnerability, even in this moment sharing, I’m sure people listening are really moved by that.

Gary S:
Let me jump in and pull some balloon strings together on what we’ve been talking about, because it’s been extraordinarily powerful, the emotion that both of you have shown. I go back, Andrea, to, we had a conversation weeks ago before as we were setting this up. You said something that I wrote down and I circled. We’ve seen it come to life right here in this conversation. You said this, “Our greatest places of pain are our greatest places of power.” You described that, Andrea, when you were telling your story and Warwick just described it and modeled it in what he was talking about. Your counseling people, Andrea, out of your pain. Warwick, you’re coaching people out of your pain and both of you are helping people overcome their pain, leveraging the pain that you went through.

Gary S:
That is a neon sign, a Las Vegas wattage neon sign of that truth that you spoke, Andrea, that our greatest places of pain are our greatest places of power.

Warwick F:
Yeah. That’s so true. Talk a bit about kind of, you’ve used your pain, your experience. I love the fact that there was a point at which your faith was understandably shaken by your dad’s ability to fool people at church, which, that’s pretty sad when that happens, but it’s probably more common than we would like to admit, which is so sad, but it’s hard to maybe spot at times. But talk about how what you do now, I mean, you have a really a mission, a calling to help people come back from the darkness, to help people use that pain.

Warwick F:
I mean, we often talk about pain for a purpose, but you understand at a much deeper level why that really works. Talk about how pain for a purpose, how your greatest weakness and pain can be your strength. Talk about how that actually works for you, because intuitively, that makes sense to me, but you’re a certified counselor. You actually understand this stuff in a lot of depth. So, talk about how does that work and why does it work?

Andrea A P:
Well, I consider myself, Gary, when you were reading my bio at the beginning, I thought, my goodness, that sounds so like official. I would really say who I am is I’m a treasure hunter. I love to find the treasure in people. One of my favorite scriptures is Isaiah 45:3, which says, I will give you treasures from darkness, riches hidden in secret places. I love to see the treasure within people when they can’t see it themselves and be a part of the journey of bringing that treasure out from the darkness in their lives. In terms of sitting with people and their pain, that’s so important.

Andrea A P:
I found a lot of people don’t understand their own suffering because they don’t have the tools and/or the safe person to sit with and share their pain and their story. And there’s a lot of fear around pain. What I found with my clients, when they’ve come to see me, they might’ve been through a plethora of different counselors, and they come to see me, and maybe a few sessions in, they’ll say, gosh, Andrea, I feel like I’ve learned more in three sessions with you than maybe three months or three years with someone else. My response to them is, I’m not trying to fix you. I want to be a safe place where this counseling session models a relationship.

Andrea A P:
A lot of people come in to therapy, and for example, I don’t take notes when I’m sitting with someone because I see this as a relationship with my clients. So, when they come in and they’re bringing their pain and their story, I’m not only looking for their treasure, but I’m helping them go into their emotions. For example, if I’m sitting with a client, then I’ll say, how are you feeling about whatever it is that they’re bringing into the session? Some people might say, well, I feel like my spouse doesn’t understand me, or I feel like leaving my job, or I feel stuck or anxious or confused. They don’t have the understanding that those are all thoughts, and that none of those are feelings.

Andrea A P:
My greatest joy is to help somebody really experience their emotions. I might say, well, where do you feel that in your body and helping them understand that? You say you feel like your spouse doesn’t understand you, let’s dig deeper, and what’s the story there? What are you feeling? And let’s drop down from having an intellectual conversation to connecting hearts that I think a lot of people in therapy experience more of a head-to-head intellectual conversation. Knowledge in and of itself cannot bring a truth. I believe the truth sets us free, but truth is synonymous with reality.

Andrea A P:
Learning to sit with the reality of our pain. Something else that I tell my clients is, just because we experience pain doesn’t mean we have to suffer. So, there’s a distinction between pain and suffering. We all experience pain, like Warwick with your story, we all experience rejection, failure, heartbreak, someone close to us passing away, but when we suffer, it’s because we are putting up defenses to avoid our emotions, like I did for many years when my grandmother passed, and we create these defenses based on lies we believe like, for example, somehow this is … I did something wrong, this is my fault. They’re ashamed, they’re … So, we’re in this world of suffering.

Andrea A P:
We might develop addictive behaviors or we might just numb out or get our anxiety and worth and value from our performance or our work, even if it’s a good thing, like a ministry or a calling. We all have these ways that we avoid our reality. We avoid our pain. This creates tremendous suffering.

Warwick F:
I think maybe what you’re getting at is, it’s just, some people way of coping, yes, I mean, I also worked hard, did well at school and other things. But by trying to move past it with performance, which you do hear about, which is fine, but you have to deal with the pain. If you don’t deal with it, it’s just going to erode your soul at some point. It’s just interesting, as you’re talking about the differences in what you’re doing, and maybe some others, again, I’m not a counselor, but these pains, the pain that we go through, the pain of the heart and the soul, how can talking at a head and intellectual level, you can say, well, intellectually, maybe your dad had narcissistic tendencies and it’s A, B and C, and well, that’s great to know, but how does that help you overcome that? Right?

Warwick F:
I mean, it helps to understand one way. It helps you to some degree, but where’s the healing of your soul and your heart? Yeah, I don’t understand how you cannot deal at the heart level if you want to help somebody. Maybe it sounds obvious to me, but …

Andrea A P:
That’s very true. I think a lot of times, and I have clients come in, they’ll sit on the edge of my sofa, and on their first session, and I’ll say like, let’s just take a step back and just breathe. The first question I always ask them, I said, how do you feel about being here right now? Something I also ask a lot during our treatments, how are you feeling towards me? Because whatever they’re manifesting in their relationship with me is sort of a mirror into how their relationships are with other people.

Andrea A P:
The counseling session and our relationship and how we’re interacting together is part of the healing process. It’s part of treating them as a person with a story with emotions, instead of trying to fix them. A lot of people are anxious. They want answers. They don’t want to feel their pain. They want to talk about it. So, Warwick, like you’re saying, they might understand, okay, my mother perhaps had these narcissistic tendencies, and maybe that provides some relief and understanding, but you could only go so far unless you’re really allowing them to go into their pain and creating that safe place to do so.

Warwick F:
Yeah, you have to be able to deal with it. One of the things I’ve often been curious about is, at least for me, that thought, which is not an intellectual thought for me, I’m sure isn’t for you either, that God loved me unconditionally. When people ask me, well, how did you get over the whole takeover? I always say, it’s just the thought that God loved me unconditionally for who I was, not because of what I could have done with Fairfax Media or what-have-you. He loves me even as broken and damaged as I was. I don’t know how you get beyond your pain. Maybe it’s possible, but to me, let’s put it positively rather than negatively, I don’t know, to me, I find faith that there is a loving God that isn’t narcissistic, isn’t controlling, that is perfection, that loves you just because of who you are, and knows your most intimate thought and fear, and still loves you anyway.

Warwick F:
Does that make sense? I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know how people get better without that, but let’s maybe … I don’t know if we have to answer that, but let’s look at it positively from a faith perspective. Talk about how faith, at least from your perspective, helps recovery if that’s an okay question.

Andrea A P:
Yes. When you mentioned earlier about experiencing the unconditional love from your wife, having people who are of faith, and a lot of clients come to me because they’re seeking professional counseling. Most of my clients come by word of mouth. They’re also wanting to incorporate their faith, their personal relationship with God during their time and weaving that in. If that’s something that a client is requesting, there’s attachment to God, is often a reflection of the attachment with their primary caregivers. Again, we need to create a safe place for them to explore that where they don’t feel ashamed to say they’re angry with God.

Andrea A P:
Just like if I had a client who was terrified to say they were ever angry with their father or their mother or their boss, or whoever, being able to be honest with those feelings and treating their relationship with God in the counseling session, and any other relationship in their life that’s caused confusion or heartache, or has felt unsafe and trying to restore that safe place for them, and giving them the opportunity to process all of their emotions and experiences with God that perhaps have been painful, so I think that’s really well said.

Warwick F:
I think there’s also maybe, which we talk about a lot, the power of vulnerability is sometimes we feel like, if people knew who we really are, and we don’t have to tell every person we meet, hi, my name is Warwick, let me tell you about my pain. I mean, there is oversharing, but in appropriate context at appropriate levels, and I’ve talked about this before because of the whole family business thing. I did my undergrad at Oxford and my MBA at Harvard Business School. There were years where I just wouldn’t go there because I felt too embarrassed or ashamed. I felt like, let’s just pick one of them. Harvard Business School. They said, boy, you failed? Oh my gosh. Almost like a leper, flee, don’t be here. Finally, I don’t know, through prayer or whatever, I took the courage to go to one, that’s probably in the ’90s.

Warwick F:
So, it wasn’t that long after the family company went under in 1990. Plenty of people in business school, they fail, they’ve been fired. It’s not like I’m the only one. Now, okay, now not everybody’s lost a $2.25 billion business. That’s a level of failure that’s a little hard to beat even in the US, but number one in failure, woo-hoo, at least business failure, but people weren’t judgmental, and these aren’t all people of faith. It’s just … Sometimes there’s this lie we tell ourselves, and I’m sure you probably tell your clients, that if they only knew who we were, that they would never want to be around me. Obviously, sometimes it’s not your fault. Sometimes it’s somebody else’s fault, but still we feel ashamed.

Warwick F:
If they knew who I was, I’d be just damaged goods and they would just shun me. But that’s a lie from a spiritual perspective, we think the enemy says, but talk about the power of once you overcome and share appropriately that it can be healing, and people’s paradigm of people will reject me, it doesn’t turn out to be true if that makes sense.

Andrea A P:
Yes, it makes perfect sense. We all have a certain narrative or a story that we believe about ourself from our, not just from our upbringing, but any crucible experience throughout life. I feel like we get stuck if we aren’t able to face our emotions and the pain of that experience, and then those lies we believe, they get reinforced when other people, it could be well-meaning people, or like you were explaining with university. Sometimes people can say something sharp or say something that feels like a rejection, and that lie within us is filtering what they’re saying through what we believe to be true, even though that’s a lie.

Andrea A P:
As you start to gain power in your place of pain and the sting goes away, and you start to remove those false narratives and those stories that are based in a lie, then when people do reject you, or whether it’s perceived or real, you’re not filtering it through that lens anymore. You’re able to come from a place of purpose from a place of power, from a place of strength rather than shame or being stuck in those lies. So, you have a truth in you that you’re filtering through and you’re able to cope with what other people think, rejections that come your way. I think that’s definitely true.

Gary S:
And would it be fair to say that, that, what you just described, Andrea, is a bit of an inoculation against future crucibles? If you have that perspective about yourself, if you have been vulnerable, you recognize the truth about yourself, as Warwick had said, not perfect, but not somewhere between way up here and way down here is where you kind of live most of the time, if you have that realization, as crucibles come, and they will, in your life, additional crucibles, does that give you a little bit of inoculation and resistance to be able to handle those well the next time they show up?

Andrea A P:
That’s a great question. What I would say is that I think that I found this to be true in my own life when I’ve had failures come my way relationally or in my career. I have to really battle with the sense of shame of, shouldn’t I be over this by now? I did all this counseling and worked through these issues. I think sometimes, just as people, we have a tendency to want to fix ourselves or to know things at the cost of being known as a person. I think too, being a person of faith and dealing a lot with people that are coming to see me who are referred from churches and that sort of thing, sometimes can be sent this implicit message that, if you had enough faith, you shouldn’t be struggling with the same thing. You should have been like “healed from that.”

Warwick F:
Oh my gosh, that’s so damaging.

Andrea A P:
I think a lot of times we think like I should put a big check, like I will never struggle with that again, and that’s just not human.

Warwick F:
No, we’re all human. That’s so damaging. I mean, I guess one thing you talk about is purpose that’s … You want people to find their purpose, not just … You can focus on the problem, which is helpful, but purpose is maybe more helpful. But one of the things I often wonder from a counseling perspective is, at least what I try and do, is not have my self-esteem wrapped up in what I do. I mean, this is something I kind of bit like exercise. I actively try and do almost on a daily basis, because it’s easy … I’m not tempted by money. I never really have been. I grew up in a wealthy family business, but could I be tempted by … I have a book coming out in October Crucible Leadership, and could I be like, oh, if it’s success, which it may or may not be, and we’re doing our level best to try to do everything you meant to be doing, if it’s successful, does that mean I’m a better person? No.

Warwick F:
Is it a worst person? No. But I’m trying to decouple my self-esteem from any outcomes of what I do. Doesn’t mean I put any less effort. If something good happens, from my perspective, I just have this almost like a mattress, say, all glory to God. It’s thank you. I just try not to take credit because I don’t want my self-esteem, it’s an insidious thing, and I do not want to get … Because that’s a good way to have a fall. I don’t know if any of that makes sense, but do you try to talk to folks that, if you have your self-esteem based on that next job promotion or what college your kids are getting into, or whatever it is, you set up for pain. I don’t know. Does that make sense? Are you try to help them decouple self-esteem from performance?

Andrea A P:
Yeah. That’s one of the things I’m most passionate. I do a lot of speaking on, is this distinction between your dream and your purpose. I think it’s kind of cliche. You hear it a lot. Live your dream, or how do you find your dream? I found that, in a lot of my work and in my life personally, it’s so easy to attach your worth and value to your dream, which can be a career, or like you said, a book coming out, or perhaps a ministry. But what happens when that goes poorly? When I think about purpose, as opposed to a dream, a dream could perhaps be part of your purpose and manifestation, but I see purpose is more of a deep seated joy of the soul. It’s a more relational dynamic than a circumstantial dynamic, and it incorporates your pain and your story.

Andrea A P:
For example, I can just share this briefly. When I was taking my board exam to get my professional licensure, you have to get an undergraduate degree, graduate degree, you do a 600 hour internship, 3000 plus residency, 250 hours of supervision, and at the end of that, you take your state board exam. Essentially, you can’t become a licensed professional counselor, which is what I am, unless you pass that exam no matter how much work you’ve done prior. Again, I thought I had worked through this in counseling years before, but I ended up failing my board exam. It absolutely, it was like a blow to my self-worth, and I realized that during that time, it was like, oh my goodness, this is so humbling, but I had no idea the level of perfectionism and worth and value that I was tying to my licensure.

Andrea A P:
And I did all that years of hard work, so there is a reality of eventually I need to pass this exam, but between the four months when I failed and had to take it again, I felt like I went through this metaphorical open heart surgery, and really had to take a deeper look at, is this my purpose or my dream, and what’s going on? I felt like I was experiencing a faith crisis. Does this mean I’m not called to do this? And then identity crisis. It was very humbling. But I could honestly say, when I look back at the four months between when I failed and took it again, that I wouldn’t change that experience for the world, because it made me a better clinician, a better friend, a better sibling.

Andrea A P:
I feel like I got in touch with my humanness. All that to say, Warwick, when you were talking about your book coming out as an example, I think we do have a temptation to put our purpose into something that is more of a dream than sort of the bigger picture of our life.

Warwick F:
When it’s something that we feel that we’re, I use the word calling, we’re called to do, and you fail in an area of gifting, which you’re obviously a gifted counselor, at least that’s the way you would have processed it, I imagine, it’s like, that really can rock your self-esteem. Hey, this is something I’m meant to be good at, how in the world could that happen? And it’s always reasons on a smaller scale. You have to be recertified every like three years. To me, as a coach, I’m a International Coach Federation certified coach, and part of that, I had to do some coach mentoring. I was doing a thing with a group of people in a program that’s all part of all this, and it was my turn to a coach one of the other people in the group, and somehow my Zoom thing wasn’t working, nobody could hear me.

Warwick F:
It took 15 minutes to resolve, so by that point, I was all flustered, understandably, and I didn’t do that good a job. Afterwards, when they give you feedback, I was given very direct feedback, basically in a polite way. It said that was really poor, or not good. They didn’t use those words, but that was my interpretation. It wasn’t that long ago, like, I don’t know, a year or so ago. I mean, yes, that really hurt my feelings. Not that I was disagreeing with the feedback, but it took me a few days, maybe a bit more, and I knew this was stupid for me to react like this. I had a bad day. I am a good coach, but even knowing all of that, and at the age I am, which is … It was just almost amusing the fact that it still hurt me.

Warwick F:
I knew intellectually, this made no sense. It was the technology. I had a bad day. It was the kind of client I was dealing with that was … I kept asking questions and nothing came back, and it’s like, I just didn’t know what to do. Anyway, you get the idea. Sometimes we feel like our worst day defines us, even the people we are now. It just goes to show us how human we are. But yeah, I love this notion just as we kind of getting towards the close here. I love this notion you use of dream versus calling. Again, I could have said this every five minutes, I’ve done well. Actually, not to do that throughout most of this podcast. I’ve been really trying not to say, oh my gosh, I agree. Wow.

Gary S:
I can bear witness to that. You have restrained yourself. I’ve heard you say wow a lot more times in other episodes for sure.

Warwick F:
Yeah, it required a tremendous self-restraint. But when I think about my book and Crucible Leadership and the incredible team that I have, I view it, not as a vision, and I’m a strategic planner. If somebody said, so what’s your plan over the next two, three, four years? It’s like, I don’t have one. I feel a calling. And from my perspective, to spiritualize, I feel God will tell me the next step. I’ve got a great team with tremendous expertise at each one of their areas. One of whom is here on the podcast with us, Gary. I’ve got no shortage of fantastic people, experts in their discipline, but I just feel like I need to be faithful to the calling God has put on my life, which is basically to use what I’ve been through and my message to help people bounce back from failures and setbacks, crucible experiences, as we call them, to live lives of significance, lives on purpose dedicated to serving others.

Warwick F:
That’s my calling, that’s my mission. So, as long as I’m doing that, that’s all I need to do. The outcome, from my perspective, is not on me. It’s again, from my faith perspective on God. Whether I sell one book or 10,000, and I’m doing my level best to do everything I can humanly speaking. I said this to my publisher, who’s fortunately a person of faith, so can understand my perspective. My self-esteem doesn’t depend on number of books sold or number of podcasts downloads or anything. I just need to feel faithful to my calling, which in your words, faithful to my purpose. That’s freeing, because then I’m focused on the being rather than milestones.

Warwick F:
Not that I don’t have them. Anyway, long-winded discussion, but does that make sense? I mean, is that kind of what you’re talking about in terms of purpose versus dream? Is that different language, but similar concept from your perspective?

Andrea A P:
You said that so well, I could say, wow. Yes, and it sounds like when you were describing with your coaching recertification, that sort of sounds like a mini-crucible moment, I mean not a boring, traumatic experience, but just being able to see that as a mini crucible moment. But I love the words you said, freedom. There’s a freedom coming from knowing your purpose at a deep seated level. And there can be dreams that manifest from, now your book coming out in October, I’m sure that’s been a dream of yours and started as a vision, got a great group of people.

Andrea A P:
But there is a freedom, in saying I hold that loosely, that’s a extension of my purpose manifesting in a book, but whether I sell one or become a New York Times Bestseller, it’s not going to shake who you are as a person. Again, there’s normal feelings that go with that, but it’s not going to break you essentially, if it doesn’t look the way you hope it to look.

Warwick F:
Right. It’s funny, just briefly, when I got the first copy of the book, I don’t know, this is meant to sound boastful, but I wasn’t like all on the floor with tears of joy. I was happy. I was grateful, but it’s like, my self-worth is not dependent on this book, my self-esteem. I’ve put 12 years of my life into this thing. It started at a talk in my church in 2008 when I felt like … When it seemed like my story could help people, that’s when I was like, okay, I’ll go through the pain of writing this book. And if you’ve written some of the dumbest stupidest things you’ve ever done in a book, I could only do about two hours a day, and then I had to recover from the experience and recharge my batteries before the next day. It’s not fun.

Warwick F:
It gets easier, but it wasn’t fun. But all that to say is, if it’s arrogant to say, I was almost proud of myself that I wasn’t on the floor with tears of joy, because this is my pain, my hopes, my … It’s got 12 years of my life. I’m sure you say your self-worth doesn’t depend on how well you speak or how many copies of your book or how many people’s lives are turned around in your counseling, right? You don’t tie your self-esteem to that. It’s your purpose, but it’s not the wellspring of your self-esteem. Does that make sense?

Andrea A P:
Yeah, and it’s something that brings me joy. It’s something that I feel like I’m partnering with something bigger than myself, so it brings me a sense of joy. Rather than putting the focus on the session or the client or an upcoming book or a blog or a speaking engagement, it’s … This is something that brings me joy. It gives me energy. It reminds me there’s something bigger than me. I’m not alone in this. It’s a joyful experience rather than this performance anxiety that can crop up because of my relationship with my dad. I just don’t let it dictate to me what that experience was.

Warwick F:
It’s like enjoying the moment, enjoying how you can help others without getting so focused on milestones. Gee, I only helped five people this week. I helped 10 people last week. Gosh, gee, what am I doing wrong? I had five good sessions and the other two hit a wall. What am I doing wrong? You could get into that mindset. I’m sure you refuse to do that. Hopefully listeners will understand what we’re talking about here is using your pain for a purpose, the power of vulnerability, not tying your self-esteem. Be grateful for your calling and be grateful when you can help people, but just decouple your self-esteem. That’s really freeing. In some ways, you’ll actually, in my experience, be able to help people even more, because you’re free to be more who you are rather than be so worried about hitting some milestone. If anything, paradoxically, I think you can do more good if you decouple your self-esteem from your mission.

Gary S:
Yeah, and my self-esteem is not tied to my role as the co-host of the show, but my purpose as the co-host of the show is to let the audience and the guest and the host know when I believe the captain, I heard it, the captain has turned down the fasten seatbelt sign, and it is getting to that point where it’s going to be time to land the plane. Before we get there, though, I would be remiss and I would not be fulfilling my purpose as the co-host of the show if I did not give you, Andrea, the opportunity to tell our listeners how they can find out more about you and your services and what you do online. How can they find out more?

Andrea A P:
Well, thank you, Gary. You served your purpose … We all need order and structure. Like, us all, if we could just go off and …. So, we need structure. My website’s, it’s andreaandersonlpc.com, pretty self-explanatory. You can contact me through my website, subscribe to blogs, newsletter. I’m in the process of publishing my first book, which is exciting, so I’ll be posting updates on there.

Warwick F:
Well, Andrea, thank you so much for being here. I love what you do. When you think about what you do, what gives you the greatest joy about everything you do? What kind of makes your heart sing, if you will?

Andrea A P:
It’s connecting with people and connecting with you, Warwick, today. The moment where you got a bit emotional and sharing more vulnerable experiences, that’s what I’ll take away from today. I might not remember exactly what I said or what was said, but I’ll remember that experience and that connection point with you. That will carry me through all weekends. That’s what I live for. That’s what makes my heart sing. That’s what makes everything purposeful to me is being able to connect hearts.

Gary S:
I have been in the communications business long enough to know when the last word on a subject on a conversation has been spoken, and Andrea just spoke it. Listeners, Warwick and I have a favor to ask you. We would love it if you would, on the podcast app on which you’re listening to this show right now, if you enjoyed this conversation, click subscribe so that we can share the show with more people, more people will know about the show. Share this podcast with your friends and your family and let them know about the kinds of conversations that we have here. Warwick has said it many, many, many times, we are at Beyond the Crucible. Warwick is the founder of Crucible Leadership, a dealer in hope, and we hope, interestingly enough, we hope that hope is what has come through in this conversation that we’ve had with Andrea Anderson Polk today.

Gary S:
Until the next time we are together listener, please remember we understand you heard it here, crucible experiences are real and they are painful and they are difficult, but they are not the end of your story. They were not the end of Andrea’s story as she has spoken about her story. They’re certainly not the end of Warwick’s story either. They can be in fact, and more than 50 guests on this podcast have proved that every week, those crucible experiences can be the start of a new chapter in your story. That can be the most rewarding chapter in your story, because what that chapter leads to the end, at the end of the book of your life, as you follow how you move beyond your crucible, where you’re headed to is a life of significance.

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