So, this week’s Open Book Blog Hop topic encourages me to remove the writer’s mask to reveal my ‘other’ side. Funny how this topic comes a few short weeks after I have come to finally accept the job I’ve been doing for the past 20 years.

But before I get there, here’s the topic:

July 24, 2017 – What Kind Of Lessons Could Anyone Learn From What You Do In Your Career?
Are there life lessons that people who aren’t in your career could learn from? You might be amazed.


1. Link your blog to this hop.
2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.
3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.
4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.
5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.

Baby Steps

When I chose my program at university, I’ll be honest: I had no idea what I was getting into. I was 19, had finished CEGEP (a kind of pre-university, for those who don’t know about the Quebec educational system), and had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career. I just knew that the only things I was really good at were writing and working with people. I didn’t believe I could build a career out of writing, so I did what any young person who likes working with people but couldn’t do math to save her life would do.

I became a social worker.

Trial by Fire


What was I thinking?!

I’m an introvert by nature, but every activity in the program required me to work in groups, organize groups, or interact on a deep level with people through counselling. I was totally out of my comfort zone. I mean, I wanted to help people but the profession wasn’t anything like what I had expected. By the time I graduated, I was a qualified social worker, but let’s face it: I was still basically a kid with barely any life experience. (It’s not for nothing that a good number of social work students were what we called ‘mature students’).

I managed to find a job in a youth center that I really loved, but after a while I decided I needed to take the plunge and get some real experience. So, what nightmare did I throw myself into next?

I got a job in youth protection.

Youth protection workers get a bad rap, and I understand why. But as someone who’s done the job, I can say that they are needed, and that the job is bloody hard and, usually, thankless. I lasted two and a half years, but just barely. The stress and anxiety knocked my off my ass, and set off physical and emotional stress responses I still feel today. That said, I am grateful for the experience because it did what it was supposed to: it prepared me for the real world. The life and professional lessons I learned are still a part of my life today.

What now?

So, I’d survived my trials by fire. Everything else should be a snap, right?

Hell, no.

I work in a health and social services government agency with people who have physical and intellectual disabilities, and autism, and their families. It’s challenging work. There are so many needs and never enough resources. Stress is high. The burn out rate for social workers right now is through the roof.

If I’m being honest, most of the time I’m frustrated. Frustrated with the system, and frustrated because I feel utterly powerless. I listen to people for hours a day, empathizing, supporting, strategizing, organizing, counselling, and so on. There is so no end to the pain, heartbreak, and hopelessness. Families regularly fall apart, and kids lose control. Mental health problems abound. The environment is a perfect recipe to develop anxiety.

So, what do I do?

Turning Things Around


I do what I can. Untangling situations, accessing resources, and problem solving  are key. But a lot of the time I just do what I have always done best: listen and encourage. Active listening is deceptively hard. It takes practice and genuine concern for the person being listened to. Empathizing is another skill that is harder than people think. It requires the listener to not judge and to purposely try to understand the situation through another point of view. Encouragement, no explanation needed, is another skill I find valuable. Honestly, I don’t always have the answers when I begin an interview. But after listening and empathizing, determination kicks in and off we go.


I used to see social work as a burden. There were times the job made me sick. Since my last sick leave a few months back, I’ve been evaluating my situation, wondering why I do what I do, and if I should do something else. After praying about (a lot), I came to accept that this is where I should be, and if I’m going to remain here, I had to make it work. I realized that focusing on the problems with social work was the problem. So, I listened to, empathized with, and encouraged myself. And decided that I am not a social worker for myself, but for the people who pass through my door or with whom I talk to on the phone. I’m there for the families who don’t know where to turn, and for those on the edge of despair. It’s about putting other people’s needs before my own and doing my absolute best as a professional to help them.

I also accepted that I’m a social worker, not a miracle worker. That validating another’s experience and partnering with them to find a solution is in themselves powerful. Sometimes, looking someone in the eye and saying in a confident, supportive voice: “Listen, the situation is complicated, but don’t worry. We’ll figure it out,” makes all the difference.

So, What’s the Point?

What to take from my work experiences? I think one is remembering that people are our most important asset and that we must take care of one another. Two, that when we help someone in need, we show the world our best. Three, that everyone falls at some point. When it’s your turn, what kind of professional (person) do you want assisting you? Someone who’s just going through the motions, or someone who genuinely cares? Four, remember that the helping profession is hard, and those doing the work are human, just like you.

Supporting and caring for one another, and showing compassion and understanding, are some of the tools we all have at our disposal. But they just might be the most important.


Thanks for reading my experiences. I’d love to know your thoughts, or what lessons you’ve learned from your job or hobby. Please leave me a message below.

15 thoughts on “Open Book Blog Hop: Lessons Learned, Lessons Worth Sharing

  1. Hi Dyane, Well, as you may remember, I no longer work as a social worker. Retired is the box I tick when asked. A few months ago, the BC Association of Social Workers sought essays on planning for retirement. Mine was the first they printed. It may respond reasonably well to your question about lessons learned. Hopefully others not in social work will also respond.
    Here’s my tale:

    Retire; Reduce; Reuse; Recycle
    Bill Engleson, RSW (Retired and Non-Practicing)

    I retired, for the final time, in December, 2003.
    My first retirement occurred in Spring, 2002, after I accepted the very charitable, Gordon Campbell Liberal Government’s full pension proposition to get out of Dodge (MCFD.)
    After two months of sleeping in, drinking coffee in small bistros, twiddling my thumbs and perambulating hither and yon, I went to work for a favorite non-profit, The Lower Mainland Purpose Society. That very engaging second opportunity pretty much concluded when we somewhat precipitously sold our home. My partner moved to Denman in September 03 and I wound up my commitment to Purpose at year end.
    In the early 1970’s I had entered the helping profession as a youth drop-in center worker and, sometime later, a contract child care worker. In 1978, the Government engaged me as a Family Support Worker in Burnaby. When that sinecure imploded, I became, somewhat miraculously, a social worker. I spent the balance of my child protection career in Richmond.
    It is possible that I was always ready for retirement. I would have preferred to do it on my own terms, and perhaps have the opportunity to work part-time. As it was, the Purpose experience was invigorating and by the winter of 03, I was ready for the next stage of my life.
    As for formal preparation, I attended a few workshops with my partner whose employer offered pre-retirement planning services. And to, we had acquired property on Denman Island with the express purpose of retiring there.
    I have written, in my latest book, some of my emotions about adjusting to a loss of the workaday work.
    “Every once in a while, I want to go back to work. I was a social worker. As stupidly mindless as the bureaucracy was that I found myself in, good and meaningful labour was possible. I have written a novel about it which will be released shortly. Initially I wrote ‘Like a Child to Home’, I believed, to purge my lingering work demons. I now think it was to resurrect them, to savour them once again. For me, work was always about the people who shared my journey. That is what I miss most.”
    As mentioned, it was always ’the plan’ to move away from the Lower Mainland and reinvent ourselves. Its not that we weren’t satisfied with our lives. Rather, we had some idealized vision of rural existence, rural…but not too rural. We would grow some of our own food, be artistic, live a slower, more modulated existence.
    Once transplanted onto bucolic soil, several matters became evident. The most obvious one, and maybe this was because I had a history of committee and Board work, was that volunteerism drove the community. There were dozens of groups and committees charting the stream of the community’s life. Even as a weekender, before I fully immersed myself, I had been recruited to join the board of the local Residents Association.
    Early on, I detected in myself a need to feel a regular civic pulse, some human hubbub. I began to volunteer at the Dora Drinkwater Library, an independent, iconic, Island institution. On warm spring, summer and fall afternoons, I could sit on the porch outside the Library and watch the flow of people, the modest hum of traffic. This surprised me, this need to have the buzz of some amount of human activity.
    My retirement journey began with a MCFD contract. I thought it might lead to more but it didn’t. Nevertheless, I built on my capacity for research and wrote a social work novel.
    Beyond my commitment to writing, which include occasional letters to the editor and articulating blog posts on matters of child welfare, the skills I developed as a social worker, as a committee person, have proven useful on my Island. Amongst my volunteer roles, I chaired the Community School Board and, for the past three years, I have chaired a two-Island organization, the Hornby Denman Community Health Care Society. The HDCHCS provides home care and youth and family support.
    If I have any meaningful advice for those poised to retire, it is to know what it is you enjoy doing and do more of it. Work-Play balance remains an essential objective whether you are employed or retired. It is all about balance as you reuse your talents, reduce your limitations, and recycle the skills that are what you are all about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love that post. I think we get to that point where “social work” becomes a part of us. The good news is that a lot of what we learn and experience is transferable or can be adapted to other life events. Thanks so much for your thoughts. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an amazing TRUE life story! I don’t think I could do the job that you do for the very reasons you list… too emotionally taxing in my eyes. Congrats on figuring things out, and the best of luck in keeping up with it! I hope you don’t stop writing though, you do it so well. I remember when I was attempting to write that it was very therapeutic for me, even if nothing ever actually came out of it. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there, thanks for expressing your thoughts. It is a challenge; I’ve wanted to quit for years. But when families appreciate the effort put into helping them, it really does encourage me. And people like you, too, who see the value in what ‘professional helpers’ do. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to writing seriously again. Maybe when I find my ‘voice’ for the next chapter in my life. We’ll see! And keep writing and painting! It IS therapy 🙂


  3. Having worked in administration at a social work agency for 15 years, I hear what you’re saying. I saw a lot of burnout from those on the front lines. I dipped my toe occasionally … filling in at the residences, supervising some of the vocational clients, acting as a fill in case manager when the professionals were understaffed. I could totally see what a coworker said one day, explaining why he built houses in the summer. He’d been in social work for nearly 20 years by that time and he was still working with the same clientele and they had the same problems they’d had since he’d worked with them. He’d come to the conclusion that he couldn’t fix them and he was exhausted by the revolving door. But he could build a wall at night after work (he worked part-time for a contractor friend) and that wall would be finished and he might drive by that house for 20 years and see that it was still standing. He got a sense of accomplishment, completion and posterity from building walls that he couldn’t get at his mental health job. He’d worked construction to put himself through college, but in the end, it was a construction side gig that got him through the job he’d trained to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your friend has a fantastic story, and life application. I know for me, it’s extremely important to focus on what I accomplished during the day to balance out the ton of unfinished business I will be going back to the next day, and the next…and so on. You’ve got an interesting work history ehind you too, I see! Appreciate the comments and reblog too 🙂


  4. I’m glad you’ve figured out how to also save yourself. When shouldering everyone else’s burdens, you need to make sure your foundation is solid. What you’re doing for others is so darned important and one you should be proud of, but remember yourself too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s a tricky balance to find and to maintain. We have our own lives to handle at the same time as we are caring for others. What happens at work can affect things at home, and vice versa. The struggle is real. Appreciate your support and for taking the time to comment. 🙂


  5. The tough part is that not everyone wants to be helped and nothing you do is good enough. You have to remember that at least some of the people DO want help and if you can help make their lives better, it’s worth the headache.

    Liked by 1 person

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