When I was 15, my father gave me a sailboat-making kit. This wasn’t a snap-together-in-a-day project. It involved many months of meticulous work: cutting and sanding imported marine plywood, applying multiple coats of epoxy, and creating watertight joints with fiberglass mesh. When I began, I had no idea what I was doing, and I continued to feel that I was just on the edge of incompetence as I progressed through each new phase of the project. Slowly the boat began to take shape, but when I hit a step that was beyond my abilities, my progress stalled. Tired of the thick sawdust that covered everything in the basement, my father decided to hang the unfinished boat in the rafters of a shed belonging to the company he co-owned. Thirty-five years later, a decade after my father’s death, I received a call from the company’s manager: “There’s a boat hanging in the rafters of our shed. Someone says it might belong to you. Do you want it? If you don’t, we’d like your permission to burn it.”
“Burn it,” I said.
From the hundreds of hours I put into that unfinished boat, I’ve salvaged a metaphor for my personal and professional life that also describes the lives of lots of people, both inside and outside my practice. Most of us have some secret suffering or shame hanging in the rafters of our lives—something stalled, unfinished, untended, or even forgotten—that needs to be completed or burned.
When I finished graduate school in counseling psychology, my life was at…