Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Alumnus Gives Back as Student Psychologist

Jeff Guardalabene, MS '99, Psy.D. '01

These days, I spend my time as a staff psychologist in Pacific's Student Counseling Center. I love my job. I love working with students, love my co-workers, love being on campus. I graduated with my doctorate in clinical psychology in 2001, and I've considered myself part of the Pacific family ever since I enrolled in 1996. My time here, however, no matter how cherished it has been, has really been the result of random chance and the most careless career planning in the history of employment. When I sit down with a student who is agonizing over a class-scheduling choice, or wondering whether to switch majors, I can't help but think back to how I got here. I think about The Phone Call That Changed Everything.

In 1986 the Mets were being amazin' again, the Reagan Era was sputtering to a finish, and I was working in a small public TV station in Medford and wondering what the heck I was going to do with my life. I'd tried college on and off for the last decade. I'd held jobs of all kinds, from managing a fast-food place to working in a lumber mill and everything in between. And I mean everything. At one point I made my daily bread by keeping an eye on (read: sleeping in my car) a stack of wooden pallets during a summer arson spree. I worked at a car wash. I hit the "pause" button on a rich guy's VCR during the Winter Olympics one year. Everything.

One day at work, the phone rang just as I was getting off shift at the TV station. I hesitated to answer it, not being the hardest-working guy in show business at that time. But, on a whim, I picked it up. It was a guy looking for someone "who knew how to use a camera," as he was shooting a low-budget movie. I volunteered. We made the movie. That summer, I went to LA to get paid for making the movie, unleashing the chain of events that led me where I am today, typing up this post.

In rapid (and not-so-rapid) succession, the following things resulted from that phone call. I met up with a friend in LA. After one particularly long evening of celebrating our aimlessness we agreed to sell everything we owned and move to Portland, where my sister lived and ostensibly waited for us to come mooch off of her. I had forgotten all about our plans by the next morning. He hadn't. I got a call from him a week later, letting me know that he had sold everything he owned and was on his way up I-5. I responded to my panic by selling everything I owned and quitting my job. We moved to Portland, slept on a few couches, got a place, found jobs. I worked in TV for the next decade, growing tired of it, and decided to finish my bachelor's degree. That wasn't enough. I applied to grad school. If I'd have known how remote my chances were, I'd have never applied. But I was blissfully ignorant, and was accepted to Pacific's School of Professional Psychology.

Five years later, I graduated. Seven years after that, I heard of an opening in the Counseling Center by complete chance. There were just a few days left in the job posting. I applied. Had I known how many applicants there were for the job, I may have never even tried. I got the job.

Some days, when I'm sitting with a student and they're writhing with stress, trying to figure out a big decision, I tell them that sometimes the biggest decisions are the ones we never give much thought. You know, like whether or not to pick up the phone.

Guardalabene is a staff psychologist in the Pacific Counseling Center. He is also a regular blogger. Check out his blog at

No comments:

Post a Comment