Meet Dr. Melanie McNally, a powerhouse in clinical psychology and a champion for the mental well-being of teens and young adults.
From navigating her own turbulent childhood to gracing the halls of the White House, Dr. Melanie is not just a psychologist—she's a guide, mentor, and advocate on a mission to equip the next generation with the emotional intelligence they need to thrive.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with her and gained some valuable insights on how to navigate the turmoil of mental health in today’s day and age. Here are some highlights from our enlightening conversation.
Could you share a bit about your background and career journey?
I am a clinical psychologist and brain coach, and I have a doctorate in clinical psychology. It wasn't a straight path to get here. I had a Master's in Counseling, and I worked in the counseling field for quite a while before I went on to get my doctorate in clinical psych’. But even before that, I really wanted to be a high school counselor. That was actually my initial goal. I wanted to work with teens and young adults, mostly because I so desperately needed help and support [when I was in high school]. So, I felt like I could be that support person for teens and young adults. And I thought being a high school counselor would be a great way to do that. Once, I went out into the world and shadowed a high school guidance counselor, I was like, “Nope, not for me.”
High school counselors have so much on their plate, but I also realized that wasn't necessarily the route I wanted to take. So, I went into the counseling and therapy world. But, really, for me, it all kind of came from wanting to help teens and young adults in the way that I needed help when I was young. I grew up in a really dysfunctional home, and I was really anxious all the time. I didn't know how to manage my feelings. I didn't know who to talk to about what was going on in the house or everything that I was anxious about. And there was no social media at that time. There was no internet, so I really felt like I was kind of on my own, trying to navigate that, and I didn't want other teens and young adults to feel that way.
As a licensed clinical psychologist, what advice can you offer to young professionals and university students dealing with difficulties like imposter syndrome?
Well, first, I would have to say remind yourself that just because you feel it doesn't mean it's true. That's a very common thought error that we think feelings are facts. You need to remember that feelings are not facts. Just because you feel like an imposter, you feel like you're not good enough. That's just a feeling; that's not fact.
Focus on what you are able to do, not on what you can't do, because I think when we get caught up in that imposter syndrome, we're so focused on what we can't do, and then we feel like we're not good enough. But look at all of the skills that you actually do have. And then keep in mind that mistakes and messing up are all part of the territory. No one expects you to be perfect. You actually should make mistakes; you should screw up. That's a sign of growth and learning. And it doesn't mean that you're not in the right place. That just means you're trying something that's really hard for you, and now you have an opportunity to grow.
Many students and young professionals experience career-related anxiety. What practical strategies can they employ to effectively manage and reduce this anxiety?
I would say to really take care of yourself in your free time. So, that means exercising, going hiking, volunteering somewhere, or spending time with friends. But make sure that your downtime is truly an off time.
And then find areas of social belonging, because that's also really helpful for reducing anxiety when we have a social group that we're a part of. [It helps] to build your identity outside of work because if your whole identity and your whole self-concept is wrapped up in your job, then you're always going to feel anxious. Like, if you get negative feedback, it's going to feel like negative feedback about who you are as a person. But if you have an identity outside of work and you've got your relationships and other hobbies, [negative feedback] won't feel like such a huge hit to who you are as a person because you have all these other facets.
Setting goals is crucial for career progression. How can young adults establish realistic and achievable career goals while managing the pressure to succeed?
It really starts with identifying what the big goals are. So, looking at the overarching high goal you're trying to reach and then breaking that really big goal down into smaller chunks. Research shows what's most effective is that you start with your big goal, which might be three years out or five years out. Then, you break that down into an annual goal. Then, you break the annual goal down into monthly goals. And then, monthly goals get broken down into weekly goals. And finally, the weekly goals are your to-do list, which you can break down into a daily to-do list. So, each day, when you look at your to-do list or when you create it, you want to be able to trace it all the way back up to your huge goal.
Staying on top of that on a consistent basis, checking in, and making sure that what you're doing each day is aligned with your big goals helps you stay on track, and then it makes it feel much more achievable. This way, you're not getting overwhelmed or drowning in all the things that you have to do.
Rejections and setbacks are a natural part of everyone's career journey. How can young adults cope with these disappointments and stay motivated in pursuit of their goals?
I suggest thinking of those [disappointments] as just part of the process. Those are things you can expect to happen. Expect to make mistakes and expect to run into roadblocks and barriers. If we think our career path is going to be perfect and linear, then that's when we get stuck. But if we think about it, like , of course, this happens because it is life; life isn't supposed to be perfect. Life is a challenge. Let me see what I can do to figure it out; That way, you're not beating yourself up and making it about yourself personally. And you're also not allowing it to just completely stop you from doing anything further.
What's your advice to young professionals on setting healthy boundaries in the workplace?
When you're just starting off, it is a really hard thing to figure out. So, it's good that you're thinking of the boundaries that you want to have in the workplace. It might be boundaries around your time, or it could be boundaries around what you're willing to share about your personal life. Whatever those boundaries are, I would first say to be clear about them. And to even write them out. So, in your head, if it's a boundary around time and you've decided, okay, they told me what my work hours are, I will make sure I stay within those work hours. That's a boundary you want to honor, so think about how you're going to deal with it. If they ask you to break that boundary, [figure out] what your plan is going to be.
So you've already decided what you're going to do to handle it. And then, I would say, as an early career person, there are some boundaries you are not going to want to be flexible with at all. But then, you have to think that I might have to be flexible with certain boundaries. Like if there might be an event that you could attend, and it would be outside of your work hours.
You might have to think, what will this do for my career? How might this help me if I attend this event? You might decide to do it because it's going to be really good for you. It might help with connections; it might make you look a little bit more committed to higher-ups, but then you decide that I'm not going to always jump at these things. Or I'm not always going to say yes every time they ask me to do it.
What daily practices do you employ to promote mental wellness?
Getting out into nature is really important to me. And it's really important for my mental well-being. I spend time outdoors pretty much every single day. We have dogs that we take on hikes and go explore different areas.
I also know how important exercise is to mental wellness. There's been so much research on this. It's ridiculous. So I make sure that I do CrossFit about four times a week to get really high intensity exercise, or go mountain biking. So, things that are really active, because I know how good that is. And then also the social belonging aspect because I know how important it is that I have meaningful social connections with people. So, I'm reaching out to them and talking with them; it might not always be on a daily basis, but maybe every other day or something like that.
Throughout your career and life journey, what have been some of the most significant challenges you've encountered, and what valuable lessons have you learned from them?
I would say the most difficult challenges have been difficult bosses. I worked at a couple of different group practices and had really, really challenging supervisors with terrible boundaries. They would constantly expect you to work and would call you at home to try and put more work on you. So, from that experience, I really learned how to stay focused on my end goal. I had a specific goal in mind for that particular job. I knew how long I wanted to be there. I knew what I wanted to get out of the experience. So, I just stayed focused on that. And that helped a lot.
In another experience where I had a really challenging supervisor, I just created a backup plan where, if it gets really bad, this is going to be my exit strategy. And knowing that I had that backup plan in place helped alleviate a lot of the stress and anxiety I felt while I was there.
Could you recommend three books or podcasts and explain why you find them valuable?
So the first one would have to be “The Art of Impossible” by Steven Kotler. That is such a great book. It's about understanding motivation and goal setting. It's a fantastic book. It's really great for any high achiever who wants to learn more about how to maximize their cognitive potential. Next, “The Extended Mind” by Annie Murphy Paul is just a wonderful book because it helps us understand that there's a lot more to how we process information than what's going on inside our heads. We get a lot from the environment that we're in. We get a lot from our bodies, and it's all based on science. So it's a fantastic book; I highly recommend it.
I would mention the Huberman Lab podcast. He's a Stanford professor and a neuroscientist, so he does a lot of education around understanding the brain and how to work with your brain. It's really valuable information.
For more insight from Dr. Melanie McNally, be sure to explore her articles on Fetti.
Embark on your path to mental well-being by securing your pre-order of 'The Emotionally Intelligent Teen' on Dr. Melanie McNally's website right here.
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