Ashley Hollweg, Ph.D.
Lately, with more frequency than is customary, I have been asked how I came into my profession that I love. Seasoned professionals and young adults alike have posed this question, often in the tone of bewilderment or genuine curiosity. On the surface, these audiences appear vastly different, and the notion that they would share the same question may seem counterintuitive (after all, some of the older individuals project confidence and gravitas while the younger set outwardly project confusion and a certain degree of naiveté). The common thread that binds them, however, is that, regardless of age, these individuals are searching….and, in many cases, yearning to discover a professional path about which they can feel passionate. Regardless of age, so many of them struggle with the rhetorical question, “what do I want to be when I grow up?”.
The most common misconception I hear, from those with whom I interact, is that I fell into my career out of luck, heredity or even nepotism. Yes, my father too is a psychologist…and, yes, he built a successful company that married both business and psychology, just as I do now. That is where the similarities end…aside from the fact that we look a lot alike and engage in similarly quick, witty banter. My route to what I do now was a circuitous one; I needed to figure it out in my own way, in my own time. And I worked my tail off to get where I am today…and continue to do so.
As a fiercely independent only child, I was bound and determined (to a fault) to carve out my own path…without outside influences, without nepotism and, come hell or high water, without anyone telling me what I should do. I possessed a passion for languages and found that I was quite adept at them…thus, my major in French at Davidson College. I would not trade that choice for anything; however, I do not pretend that it in any way correlates to what I do now. I attempted advertising (akin to throwing darts at a dartboard) in Los Angeles immediately following college graduation – it was not a fit, but I put in my time and did so with a relentless work ethic. While living in Southern California, I began volunteering outside of work hours at a shelter for homeless, mentally ill women in Santa Monica. I had always gravitated towards helping those suffering from mental illness and volunteering in this capacity was not new to me. There was, however, something about Daybreak Day Center that captured my heart, made me appreciate realities that were different from my own, and steered me to where I am today.
I resigned from my job at the ad agency, choosing instead a full-time job at Daybreak as a counselor/ advocate for homeless, mentally ill women…they would affectionately become “my ladies”. During my almost four-year tenure at the shelter, I took night classes at UCLA to gain my prerequisites in Psychology (remember, the fiercely independent daughter would, of course, have shunned Psychology courses in college). I ended up leaving the West Coast (and, with a heavy heart, “my ladies”) to earn my Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and PhD in Experimental Psychology from SMU. After a stint of working at the Dallas County Jail counseling inmates (namely sex offenders and those accused of homicide), I finally realized that while I may be quite skilled at dealing with severely dysfunctional populations, the lack of improvement or rehabilitation was not sustainable for me; successful transition for these populations was ephemeral and my feeling of defeat agonizing…simply put, it wasn’t a long-term fit for me.
I checked my young ego at the door, and finally asked my father about his business. Over time and with experience (and not without its own struggles), I found my niche within his company…and truly discovered my passion.
The career that I have now, the company that I own is not the product of luck, divine intervention or an epiphany. On the contrary, it is the result of choices I have consciously made, hard lessons learned and, as most close to me would attest, a laser-like focus and unwavering work ethic. My counsel to those who continue to seek their professional passion would be to:
- Put yourself out there and have the courage to try different métiers (see? fluency in French does come in handy at times)
- Through experience, weed out what does not light your fire or suit your interests/ skills; what is the worst that could happen?
- Resist the urge to let pride get in the way; instead, maintain openness, be relentless in soliciting input from those around you and seek out mentors
- Accept and embrace the fact that neither success nor figuring it all out comes easy…in short, getting your butt kicked is inevitable and incredibly valuable
- Take charge of your destiny and be persistent – sitting on the edge of a river waiting for the “right” opportunity to float by is fruitless, but hopping into the canoe and steering it to different banks of the water’s edge increases your odds of gaining greater clarity and purpose
Working at Daybreak shelter had a profound impact on my life (in a myriad of ways), and I truly believe that it led me to where I am today, even if it is seemingly a world apart from what I do now. If only “my ladies” knew the manner in which they shaped my life…perhaps, during moments of lucidity, some of them do. Such would be my hope. Ultimately, I am grateful for this winding path that continues to have its own twists and turns, and although I do not believe that luck brought me to where I am today, I do feel infinitely lucky.