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.
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3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.
4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.
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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.
So, I’d survived my trials by fire. Everything else should be a snap, right?
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.