Organic Networking

networking

Advice I have been given time and again since entering into the SW program is about the importance of networking. I have heard warnings given in classes about how it is a tight knit community of social workers locally, everyone knows one another so your reputation is important. I have also been told that who you know may have a lot to do with what job offers you get so getting your name out there and making connections is crucial.

This all felt a bit overwhelming to me at first, the idea of networking that is. I thought networking meant having to sell yourself to others, it felt contrived and very disingenuous. I think I got this impression from working at the bank. There would be networking events and it all felt so phony, people rubbing elbows and laughing fake laughs at jokes that are not funny. Being the introvert that I am, I had no earthly idea how to approach networking. I knew I couldn’t fake sincerity for the sake of advancement not to mention that I am the worst at forced interaction. Small talk and idle banter while easy for some, for me is more like trying to walk around with my shoes on the wrong feet, it is clunky and unnatural.

One year later though I realize that networking is not some scary beast I have to somehow conquer and I certainly do not have to morph into an inauthentic version of myself to do it. Moreover I understand now that one of the key ingredients in making a meaningful connection is authenticity, faking anything would be nothing but counter productive anyway. What a relief. After all, that is all networking really is anyway, making connections.

What was I so afraid of? This all occurred to me today after a made yet another great connection at Hospice while working my volunteer shift. I was manning the front desk when one of the LCSWs walked by. She and I have never formerly met, I believe she works in the field and may only come in for weekly team meetings. I recognize her every time because she was at the CEU event last fall I attended. Apparently she remembered me as well because today she stopped and introduced herself after her meeting. She said she did in fact remember me from the training and asked what my connection to social work was, I told her and then she asked if I would like to meet with her sometime so we could talk social work. I was thrilled, Yes, I would love to!

Networking. Just like that. I am eager to hear about her role with hospice, I think she visits patients in facilities and at home, I could be wrong. If I am right though I am very curious about the work she does. That is something that I feel a bit unsure of, the thought of going to a client’s home. I have heard stories about safety issues etc and I wonder what that looks like in real life, I would love to hear her take on it. Either way I am thrilled to have another opportunity to make a connection with someone in the field and learn from someone with experience.

I recognize now that while networking can be this elbow rubbing, fake laughing show it can also be very straightforward and heartfelt. I find in my experiences with networking in this field so far that it is more likely that any networking that takes place does so naturally. Nothing has felt manipulated or forced. In most cases it was just ordinary happenstance that led to a connection being made. It seems silly now that I was ever concerned with it at all.

Summer Plans and Summer Reading

Wildwood_by_Colin_Meloy_cover

With one week left in the semester I decided yesterday that it was time to decide on my summer reading list. I will have a few new texts to get through but with only two classes this summer it will leave plenty of time for fun reading, so I hope at least. I returned my most recent supplemental text to my professor and took another on loan for the summer. This one covers diversity, oppression and change. I appreciate having a professor that is so willing to lend me books. The texts she shares with me are the texts they teach at Grad level and I find that they expand on the concepts we discuss in classes much more than any of our BSW texts do.

In terms of personal reading, I am in the last few chapters of Wild by Cheryl Strayed so Todd and I made a trip to the bookstore yesterday to get something new.

In truth I have a stack of books at home still waiting to be read but they are all nonfiction or at least realistic in nature. I want something whimsical and not of this world. I had considered A Wrinkle in Time because that is not one I never read in school and since it is written for a younger audience it is guaranteed to be imaginative as well as an easy read. When I got to the bookstore though my mind was quickly changed. While in the children’s section looking for A Wrinkle in Time I found Wildwood by Colin Meloy. It was the cover art by Carson Ellis that initially caught my eye. I flipped the book over, read the synopsis and was sold. It is exactly what I was looking for. I opened the book and read the few pages to make sure it was not too easy of a read and I was not disappointed. It will be a perfect escape this summer.

We planned to have an actual escape of sorts this summer but those plans have since been changed. Isaac’s little league team was scheduled to have a big game in the Tampa area in May so we were all going to make a weekend trip out of it. The league cancelled the trip do to poor weather the last few years when they have gone so we decided not to go either. Todd and I talked about the possibility of a weekend trip at a different beach but decided against it.

In August we will be in Chicago for the Foo Fighters concert and we talked about the possibility of a short trip in October to celebrate our anniversary. Not to mention we will be back in Chicago for Thanksgiving. With three trips potentially happening within a small span of time the want to travel this summer does not seem pressing. Instead we have discussed a list of options for day trips and other fun things to do locally to occupy our free time this summer. We will do a tour of a brewery in town as well as a vineyard/winery I once visited that was nice. We’ve also discussed taking Lucy to the dog beach a few times. Plus we will have our sleepovers with the kids and plenty of opportunities for fun date nights.

Our next door neighbor stopped us as we were coming home from a walk with Lucy last week in the evening, he needed to borrow some butter. As I started for the door to go get him some butter he asked us how married life was treating us, a question we have gotten a lot in the last six months. We told him what we tell everyone else, it’s the same. It was good before and nothing has changed. I am really thankful for that. It’s not that I think everything will always be as it is now.. There will be periods of change, of growth, of difficulty but I firmly believe it will always be good. No matter what we face there will always be good here.

The last 6 months have been every bit as good as the three years that preceded them and I am sure this summer and the next six months will follow that same trend of “good”. I am thankful for the time we have had and look forward to what is to come.

5, 10, 30 year plan

todd

As per usual last night was date night. We had dinner at a restaurant in the local community market. After dinner we went into the market to check out the bookstore. This bookstore is my favorite in town. They have the best collection of books for children. They are socially responsible, teaching kids about diversity and empowering young girls etc, I fell in love with this store the first time we stepped in the door. The last time we were there was right after we got back from our honeymoon. I was excited to see the owner carried many of the same children’s books we saw while in D.C. and spoke to her about it for a while. I did not know this at the time but apparently I made an impression on the owner because now 5 months later when we entered the store last night she remembered me.

She and I spoke about the newest crop of children’s books she had in stock and the positive messages they conveyed. She also shared with me that when Todd and I visited last time and I told her that her stock held up against the awesome advocacy bookstore we visited while in D.C. that was one of the single most validating moments she has had since opening her store. I had no idea and I was so glad! We took a moment to formally introduce each other and she and Todd introduced themselves to each other as well so now we when visit we will be on a first name basis. I made some really great connections this week between school and Hospice but for me this one took the cake. To know that by just being honest and sharing my admiration for her store that I helped validate this amazing woman, it was the best moment of the whole week. I am so thankful we had a chance to connect again and on a deeper level this time.

Our reason for visiting the store last night is because the summer is quickly closing in on us and we are making plans for the sleepovers with the kids again. We had a great time with both of the sleepovers we did with Maddie and Isaac last summer and the kids are buzzing with anticipation about this summer’s sleepovers. I wanted to see what books she had in that I could get for each sleep over this year and she has some that I know will be perfect. We have not made firm plans yet but it sounds like we are leaning towards taking Maddie to a farm/petting zoo for her sleepover and we are still considering what to do with Isaac, although I think it will involve the train again.

After visiting with the owner of the bookstore for a while we went across the street to the local pie shop (one of Todd’s favorite local spots) and shared some pie then we walked over to the local coffee shop/bar and had a few drinks. We were talking about our encounter with the bookstore owner and this led to a bigger conversation about our 5, 10 and 30 year plan. We talked about having kids and what we look forward to and how life will be different then. We talked about the things we want to do together before we start having kids and what short terms goals we have that we would like to accomplish first, plus fun stuff like traveling. We also talked about our retirement plan, this conversation was directly linked to running into the shop owner again.

One of my dream jobs has always been to run my own bookstore, specifically a children’s bookstore but I am flexible on that. I have always loved the idea of being a staple in a community and having story hour and tutoring and instilling a love of written word in younger generations. Todd knows about this dream of mine, what I did not know is that he shares it. Todd has talked before about the idea of teaching as a retirement job when he leaves his engineering firm one day. I have always encouraged this idea, he would be a phenomenal math or science teacher, he thorough and patient and understands that you have to use different methods with different people because not everyone learns the same way. He succeeded in teaching me math without wanting to rip out his hair or making me cry, that is quite a big deal believe it or not.

Last night after running into the shop owner I talked about how much I would love to do what she does one day and own my very own store and Todd agreed. He said he liked the idea of the story time and getting kids excited about reading and learning, he liked the idea of what a store like this could mean to kids in the community. My heart filled to the brim. It has always just been a dream and may remain one but to know that he not only supports it but would want to share this dream with me makes me love him so much.

I love that he and I are so on the same page about so many things. I feel like we are making the most of our honeymoon period because we both recognize once we do have children our lives will change and that it is important to have this time together. We agree that we are both looking forward to having kids together because we are so in sync in terms of parenting style. Then we both look forward to our future past children and what our lives will be like when it is just us again. I love that we have these talks, each time I feel closer to him and ever more sure that there is no other person I would rather being living out my dreams with than him.

How Very Serendipitous

serendipity

Today I was at Hospice for my volunteer shift and I noticed one of the employees from the bereavement center seemed a bit over loaded so I asked how I could help. She gave me stuffed envelopes that needed to be sealed so they could be mailed out. Easy enough I thought, and I worked on them while I ran the front desk. When I finished I called her and asked if she would like me to walk them over to her when my shift was done so she wouldn’t have to walk back to our building to retrieve them, she accepted my offer gratefully.

At the end of my shift I walked across the parking lot and dropped off the box of sealed envelopes and said my good byes to the employees. As I exited I nearly ran into someone walking in. I heard, hey your the social worker right? I looked up to see the LMHC that works at the bereavement center. I corrected, Well not exactly, student. Social work student. She laughed as we shook hands and reintroduced ourselves to each other.

She and I have met on a few occasions now. The first was last year. My mentor and supervisor introduced me and we hit it off immediately. We spoke about social work and working with bereaved children. I gave her a snap shot of my volunteer resume in terms of work I have done with children and we agreed I would be a good fit for the bereavement center. I have not had the opportunity to work in bereavement yet because the IPU has been short staffed and I have not had enough time to volunteer and extra day allowing me to do both. I did make my supervisor aware of my interest and intentions and felt supported.

After a few minutes of catching up the LMHC asked me point blank, You’re not busy May 2nd are you? I paused. I did not have my big calendar with me that I keep every detail of my daily life on, it was hanging on the fridge at home. I tried to picture that day on the calendar, it was the day after one of my final exams and two days before another final exam. I don’t think I am actually, what do you have for me? Her face lit up, Camp Healing Hearts, you’d be perfect and I am desperate for volunteers. Without hesitation my answer was a very enthusiastic YES! I missed my chance to be involved with the camp last fall because it was the same day as the wedding, I was elated to get a second chance so soon.

It is an all day camp for grieving children and adolescence. There will be activities and games and plenty of opportunity for meaningful engagement.

My Mom’s mom died when I was 9. It was my first experience with death and it was difficult. I still remember the Hospice social worker that counseled me and played with me after her death. To possibly pay that back means so much to me. I am also excited because it has been a little over a year since I have done any work with children.

I had just started thinking recently about what this summer is going to look like for me and how I want to use my time. Last summer I got involved with a literacy day, planted trees, started with hospice and cooked a meal for the residents of the local Ronald McDonald house. The nice thing about the summer semester is that it is lighter allowing for more free time to get involved. This camp is going to be a nice way to kick off another summer of volunteering and the meeting with the LMHC was nothing if not serendipitous.

Something else I am looking forward to is a benefit put on by the Adult Literacy League. One my dearest friends is a writer who works downtown. I love her because she does not shy away from the deep stuff. Every time we are together I feel like we bare a little more of our souls. She is one of my favorite conversationalists. We talk about life and literature and projects and writing and anything outside of the superficial realm of everyday chatter. Last week she texted me and asked if I wanted her tickets to this benefit because she was going to be out of town. I immediately screamed YES into my phone, although I am not sure the emotion translated through text message. However my very next thought was, who will I take? She would have been my perfect date. Todd was obviously my answer and I am sure he will appreciate how wonderful and meaningful this benefit is, but probably not quite as much as her.

So with an incredibly grateful heart I accepted her offer and tomorrow evening Todd and I will enjoy an evening out at the Science Center at this benefit.

It comes at the perfect time because late this afternoon I finished my contribution to our community assessment project. I am worn out on many levels from the work put into that project and am ready to step back from it for a few days. This benefit will be a nice reprieve.

So tomorrow I meet the LMHC at Hospice to receive a quick training on what to expect on May 2nd at the camp then in the evening it will be super formal date night as we attend the benefit. It is a nice way to start the summer and begin to close out a very busy semester.

Past the Point of Exhaustion

parramore

I have spent the last few days working on the paper that reports on my groups findings from the field work we did in a local community. Between the time spent in front of the computer screen, discussing various aspects of the work with group members and controlling my emotions as I try to remain objective in my synopsis, I am EXHAUSTED.

This is the most worthwhile project I have ever been lucky enough to take part in but it is also the most intense. It has not been easy reporting on the level of marginalization and oppression experienced by this community. I have had to take multiple breaks to regain focus and expend some of the tension I am internalizing as a write.

I am glad to almost be finished with this project. I look forward to reporting on it with my group members in front of the class next week. What I look forward to most is what we plan to do with this information though. The project ends after the group presentation next week but a few of us have decided to take next steps and try to get this information into the hands of people who may be able to impact a change. Our professor is supporting us in this venture and it will probably be something I spend some time on over the summer.

This kind of macro work is new for me so this has been an amazing learning experience. This semester, as challenging as it was at times, was my best yet. I am starting to see who I am as a social worker and that is very exciting.

I look forward to the summer semester and opportunities to build on what has turned out to be a very solid foundation.

Nipping the Bud

cult comp

 

Today at the beginning of class my professor asked if everyone had gotten the email from our program head about professionalism and what we all thought of it. This particular class is not one of the classes that is having issues but some of us in this class are in other classes where things have happened that shouldn’t have so it was still nice to be able to air things out. This particular professor has great control over the class, she is very structured and she is not afraid to tackle the difficult topics. So she proceeded to facilitate a very meaningful conversation about what is going on in the program right now and our reactions to it.

Our professor explained that having these conversations facilitated by a professor is one of the ways the faculty is going to try to nip this problem in the bud so it does not fester and get worse. The class that I have tomorrow is the class I am where the most issues arise. There have been issues with students being disrespectful of the instructor and fellow classmates. Lectures get hijacked and the instructor has difficulty regaining control and then a lot of time is wasted. At times it feels like a hostage situation in this class. I don’t worry much about it because I doing well in this class regardless but it is a hard class and a lot of students are struggling in part because we rarely have the time to cover the material properly due to interruptions that derail the lecture.

I am curious to see if my professor tomorrow tries to facilitate a similar discussion. I feel like if done right this class could benefit from an earnest conversation but I don’t know if an attempt to pull it off would work in this class. We’ll see though.

It sounds the faculty is in the early stages of deciding the best way to address and correct what has been going on so we will see how this all unfolds. Even my professor today said that our cohort is a bit of a problem child though and I think that is embarrassing. At the end of the day I still really want to believe that everyone has it in them to turn this around. Everyone grows and learns at different speeds, maybe for some people this inner growth just takes longer, that does not mean they are not capable of it though.

I am curious to see how this will all play out, I am really hoping for a best case scenario. Our cohort could be a real underdog story if we are able to pull it together and turn things around for the better.

Grow Little Tree Grow

love tree

When Todd and I got married part of ceremony including a tree planting ceremony. This was in lieu of a unity candle or sand ceremony. We liked the idea for a few reasons, One because we were married outside under 4 magnificent live oak trees so ity tied in. Two, because part of the planting ceremony was that we each had a mason jar full of dirt from our parents homes where we were raised. This signified the joining of two families which we liked. The Third and primary reason for why we chose to have a tree planting ceremony is because a tree is a living thing capable of growth. The longer it is alive more it grows. The root system grows deeper symbolizing stabilization, a strong foundation. The trunk grows out and up like our love for each other that grows in every direction. And the branches grow as well reaching for greater heights each year. We just felt incorporating this beautiful thing capable of so much growth was so symbolic.

It felt so appropriate for our relationship because we are constantly challenging and encouraging each other in new ways all the time. Our potential for growth in our relationship and as individuals is endless.

I was thinking about it today because I am still processing a conversation Todd and I had over the weekend. Because I was ill all weekend we got to have a lot of quiet time, something neither one of us will complain about. On Sunday we had been sitting together reading and when we finished a conversation started that led to some major breakthroughs for us.

It started out as a simple conversation about what we needed to do to be ready for the week. We have this conversation most Sundays. Sunday is our day to accomplish things around the house, run errands, it is our quiet day to be productive.It is all in the interest of starting our week out on the right foot. The last thing a person wants after being in lectures all day or at work all day is to come home to a pile of dirty dishes, you know?

From this very ordinary conversation sprouted another conversation about what we can do together in order to get more accomplished during the week at home. Whether this means more exercise, a few chores here and there etc. This is a very broad idea that has the potential to take on many shapes. The underlying message as we spoke was although we are doing really well and we feel good about where we are, what can we do to continue to have progress and not become stagnant?

We shared some ideas and agreed to continue the conversation later this week after we have more time to brainstorm independently.

As I sit here now doing my part in processing our talk and thinking of what we can be doing around the house or in our relationship or in terms of our health or our relationships with our families.. I again just feel overwhelming gratitude for this life.

For this life, this man, all of it. I don’t think I have ever admired and loved someone so deeply. It is a consuming love. One that always leaves me feeling full, never depleted. I feel so myself and authentic in this relationship and he only adds to that, he never takes away. I do not believe in fate or soul mates but to contradict all of that, I have to say that at times I absolutely feel like this exquisite human being was made just for me.

love tree planting

love

My Ally not my Enemy: A Story about Finding Common Ground

common ground

I was speaking with a classmate recently about an assignment and without him realizing it he said something that made me feel very uncomfortable. It was not with malintent and I knew that immediately but it did not change the way I felt when it happened.

I had a choice to make here, as we so often do when presented with these kinds of microagressions in life, either speak up or let it slide. This is rarely an easy decision to make because by choosing to say something the situation could become even more uncomfortable based on how you address what happened and how the other person reacts to what you say. The other option doesn’t seem much better though. By not saying something this person may never know that this behavior is something that makes people uncomfortable and will continue to do it. In this case it didn’t take much thought, I knew I had to say something.

So having made the decision to speak up I had another decision to make, one that is equally as important as the first. In bringing up this transgression do I call my classmate out or call them in? I read an article a while back that helped me understand how to navigate these very situations in a compassionate but assertive manner and knowing when to call people out versus calling them in is a very big part of having a successful outcome.

In this case I chose to call my classmate in. The cringe worthy act that took place was my classmate calling me sweetheart while thanking me for something. Some people may not give much thought to this pet name, they may not have flinched at all but I did.

First of all I do not know this classmate that well, we are not friends or have any kind of personal relationship. Him saying this was not coming from a place of familiarity. Second, that’s not my name. My name is Jill. I am willing to bet he would not call my brother who is in the program sweetheart, please do not think it is okay to do it to me then. Although I am sure it was coming from a place of good intentions to me it feels condescending and unprofessional. Plus I worried that if I did not saying something it would set a precedent. What if in future exchanges he continues to call me sweet heart? Better to put a stop to it now to avoid negative feelings going forward.

This scene from the movie Tootsie outlines what I am talking about perfectly:

(Dorothy’s boss, Ron, just referred to her as tootsie.)

Dorothy Michaels: Ron? I have a name it’s Dorothy. It’s not Tootsie or Toots or Sweetie or Honey or Doll.

Ron Carlisle: Oh, Christ.

Dorothy Michaels: No, just Dorothy. Alan’s always Alan, Tom’s always Tom and John’s always John. I have a name too. It’s Dorothy, capital D-O-R-O-T-H-Y.

So back to how I handled the situation in the moment.. He calls me sweetheart while thanking me for my help and I say oh you’re welcome I am glad I was able to help, before I go can I share something with you real quick? He gave me an affirmative response of some sort so I continued to say, I am sure you did not mean anything by it but in the interest of keeping things professional I prefer to be called Jill please.

You never really know how someone is going to react when you have to call them in/out so I prepared myself for anything in terms of how he would respond. At least I thought I did until he managed to surprise me anyway. He apologized to which I said thank you and that it was okay. Then he shared that recently his professor told him the same thing. I was confused at first, did he really call a professor sweet heart? I responded by simply saying, Oh really. He went on to explain that he was doing a role play with a female student in front of the class, he was the social worker and the female student was the client. During the role play he called the client sweet heart. Apparently the instructor stopped the role play for a moment to discuss why that is not okay.

He and I talked for a few more minutes about why some women feel uncomfortable when this kind of thing happens. What I learned from him is he was raised thinking that this type of behavior was chivalrous. He definitely seemed to have some knight-in-shining-white-armor ideals going on. My perception, based on a lot of what he shared about his upbringing, is that he seems to think women are delicate and need saving. I was actually pretty surprised, I would not have known any of this based on my previous interactions with him. He certainly seems pro-equality across the board, and I still think he is, there is just this other side that kind of conflicts. I took everything he shared in stride, a person doesn’t know what they don’t know. However, I took the opportunity to explain that what he was talking about could very well be interpreted as oppressive and sexist and the reasons why.

The conversation went well. I definitely feel that we both learned something from the each other. I think he has a much better handle on why sweet heart is not appropriate now. I think calling him in was the right choice. I did not shame him for his statements, I did not make assumptions about him like he should know better, I approached him as an ally that just made a misstep.

That was my biggest take away when I read that article about how to approach these types of interactions. Regardless of if you decide to call someone out or call them in, treat them as an ally who made a mistake. It is a lot easier to approach the situation objectively with compassion for the other person if you see them as someone who is on your side instead of as enemy.

The book I finished recently on dichotomous and hierarchical thinking touched on this as well. If we stop labeling everything (including people) as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong” or (any other type of binary where there are only two options instead of a spectrum) then we will find it much easier to find common ground.

My classmate was not a bad person, this was not an issue of right and wrong. My experiences, thoughts and reality are no more or less real or important than his. My experiences are different from his, my thoughts are different, my reality is different. Different does not equate to bad, it does not equate to wrong. I think this is where people get stuck.

It would be very easy for me to have gotten angry with him when he called me sweet heart because he lives in a place of privilege where he is less likely to have to earn respect, it is given based solely on his gender. I could have schooled him on how he doesn’t understand my struggle as a woman and lectured him endlessly about his privilege. But what would that kind of tirade gotten us? Would we have found common ground? Would he have had this break through about his place of privilege and what his words mean to those of us who don’t live in that place? No, I don’t think so.

As our program faces what seems to be an uphill battle in the area of cultural competency I am thankful for common ground. I am thankful for conversations that come from a place of respect and a want to understand experiences that are different from our own. I am thankful for moments that prove we all have potential for growth. I am thankful.

It’s an Adventure

adventure

I have been under the weather for a week now. Last Monday while working on a school assignment online I had the dizzy spell to beat all dizzy spells. I nearly fell out of my chair. I had to stop what I was doing and put my head in my hands until the room stopped spinning. I knew immediately what this was, this was not my first experience with this form of dizziness. A few minutes later I called and made an appointment with my PCP for the next day. As I expected it was a bilateral ear infection. I have been plagued by this diagnosis my entire life. It seems every time I get the sniffles it ends up in my ears. The real problem is the dizzy spells that accompany this illness though. I started the antibiotic prescribed that same day. Unfortunately it takes days for me to feel the effects of the medicine. The next day at school I suffered two dizzy spells while walking across campus to the library which resulted in my walking into a parked car and a tree. Embarrassing. The following day I walked into a wall on two separate occasions.

By the end of the week I had three new bruises and no relief from my dizziness. In fact the pain in my ears that I had described as mild to my physician had grown stronger and new symptoms appeared, runny nose, soar throat, the works. Needless to say Todd and I laid low this weekend. I spent my time quietly working on school assignments, laying (a lot of laying) and playing games/watching movies with Todd.

Saturday was a particularly pretty day which led to me feeling particularly morose. On a day as nice as Saturday Todd and I would normally busy ourselves outside. We would walk to one of the restaurants in town and have lunch or ride our bikes or do something with Lucy. I was very bummed to be missing out on such a pretty day but I felt awful. I had a low fever and everything hurt, just wearing clothes hurt. After spending most of the day admiring the blue skies and sun from inside we decided we would find a way to enjoy it that would not lead to feeling overexerted. We got Lucy set up in the backseat of Todd’s car and went for a family drive.

We had no particular destination in mind. It was an adventure. Whenever Todd or I make a wrong turn when driving somewhere or are driving in an unfamiliar area without a clear sense of where we are going we always exclaim, It’s an Adventure! It makes being lost or unsure less scary and way more fun.

We ended up driving down roads in College Park we had not traveled down before and through College Park to Winter Park on more roads we had never traveled. we admired homes and day dreamed about our forever home. We admired all the plants that were blooming and lakes we would drive past. We ended up near one of the local colleges and admired its campus on the lake. Our travels ended when we drove by a gelato shop and stopped for a cool treat.

On the way home I told Todd about my paternal grandfather. He was a pharmacist and owned the first drug store/soda counter in my home town back in the 60’s. Because he was a private business owner he worked all the time. the only day he took off was Sunday because my family is devout Catholic. Dad tells stories about how every Sunday after church grandpa would pile the entire family in the car and go for scenic drives around Florida. Dad says that they would drive for hours, they might drive all the way to Miami and back just to see what they see along the way. I have always thought the idea of being in a car for that long without it being a road trip that ends in a vacation sounds tedious. This was their family time though. Grandpa could have spent his Sundays in front of the TV or catching up on a sleep, any number of things that did not include his family because it was his one day to relax but he didn’t. He wanted to explore the state he lived in, he was a transplant from Wisconsin, and he did it with family in tow.

As we drove home I understood a little bit how family drives with no destination in mind are not all that bad. I don’t think I have the wherewithal to tolerate an all day family drive but being in the car taking a scenic drive with my little family unit was nice. It was a chance to talk and day dream and laugh as Lucy did her “batdog” routine out the backseat window. It made being sick and miserable a little less miserable. It was an adventure.

Growing Tensions

white privilege

On Friday I was talking with a school colleague before class, we were discussing some of our concerns about things we have heard that are going on in the program. Apparently as racial tensions and discrimination in all forms are brought to the forefront in the media our program is feeling the impact of the social issues as well. The problem we run into, in my opinion, is one of cultural competency. Some of what I have heard that is happening sounds like it comes from a place of individuals not being able to overcome their personal biases and have a conversation about race, sexuality, privilege or other sensitive topics in a meaningful, respectful way. Instead these hot button topics come up, people are triggered and any hope for a worthwhile interaction is lost.

I have been fortunate that none of these exchanges have taken a bad turn in any of my classes but outside of classes conversations about race, privilege and discrimination have been coming up more frequently I have noticed. Two weeks ago one of the groups I am in for a project had some field work to do, some of us car pooled while driving over to the community. I was riding with a classmate who is of a different racial background than myself and she started asking me questions about my experience as a white person.

Do you think being on time is a cultural thing for you? I had never thought about it but I answered yes, I think it is. She said that in her cultural being on time is not something that has ever held a lot of importance which is why she is often late for class, appointments etc. She expressed concern to me because she worries her tardiness is seen as unprofessional.  My thoughts, which I shared with her, were that her professionalism should not be wholly judged on this one thing, punctuality. She is being held to the dominant culture’s standard of professionalism which means she is at a bit of a disadvantage because she grew up in a different culture where this, being on time, is not necessarily considered a standard of professionalism. We talked about it together for a while and it helped both of us have insight into the thoughts and feelings of another culture on this topic.

Another question she asked is if I thought whit privilege was really a thing. Yes. Absolutely, without a doubt. She seemed surprised about my lack of hesitation in answering this question. She continued, do you think you have ever benefited from white privilege? Yes. I know I have. Again I think my honesty surprised her. I explained that for a long time I was like many people that share my race and I was unaware of this thing called white privilege but once I became aware of it and fully understood it I knew that I had absolutely benefited from it in life. We talked about what that looks like, a perfect example was the conversation we had just finished having a few minutes before. She told me that in her cultural competency class in the program some of the white students deny white privilege which made her question it herself. I explained that I am able to speak easily about it now because I have known about privilege for a while and already worked through any feelings of guilt I had when I first started learning about it and understanding how it has impacted my life. I continued to explain that for people who are hearing about it for the first time it may make them feel uncomfortable, guilty or even resentment and that working through those feelings of denial and guilt take time. It is a process and we all have to be patient and show each other compassion as we get to this place of cultural competency.

Coming back to Friday morning before class..By sheer coincidence the program head, with whom I have developed a close relationship through my involvement in NASW and our shared interest in end-of-life topics and PAS, happened to walk by as my classmate and myself were talking. She stopped to say hello and then asked if she could join us for a few moments, she wanted to ask us about some things. I immediately knew what this was about. She asked for some insight on what we think is happening in the program, what we have seen, heard and experienced in  and out of our classes as it all pertains to this growing tension in the program. The three of talked for a while. A suggestion I made, that I have made to other instructors before, is that the BSW program should require 2 semesters exclusively dedicated to all issues relating to cultural competency. Because we, as future social workers, will be working directly with the public and more importantly, with vulnerable populations, cultural competency is crucial. I think that is the main problem right now, lack of cultural sensitivity and self awareness. I also desperately want to believe that with time the problem will works itself out.

It does concern me that we are entering our senior year and these issues have escalated to a point that the program head has had to send out an email reminding all of us that we should be treating each other and our professors with respect during all interactions regardless of differences of opinion. Ultimately I feel good about my own progress in the area of cultural competency, I am active in my quest for knowledge and understanding and am aware of my own growth. I hope my colleagues that are struggling are able to figure things out but either way I am only responsible for myself and my own education. It is just unfortunate that in a social work program, that should be focused on acceptance, inclusion and to borrow from the NASW code of ethics, dignity and worth of a person, we are having these kinds of issues.

Preparing for the Next Step

In the next few weeks I will be applying for the Master’s Program. I can hardly believe I am already here. In a few weeks I will be a senior in the program and in less than a year I will be in my undergrad internship. This experience has had an enormous impact on my life, more so than I could try to measure. The further along in the program I get, the more confident I am in my decision to turn things upside down and go after this dream.

This week our actor came for the third of four sessions in the role play we have been doing in one of my classes. We had a good session. Our client is feeling empowered and capable, I believe we have helped our client develop better coping skills for the future. I am looking forward to getting feedback after our last session to see where improvements can be made but overall I feel really good about our progress.

After our clients left we went straight into the role plays that we had to create. The one my group acted out was spot on. One of our group members was unable to be present at the last moment so we had to punt but we were all so familiar with the roles that I don’t think anyone would have known the difference.

I am currently working on a research paper surrounding physician assisted suicide and the patient’s who request it. It is definitely furthering my knowledge on the topic. I may end up using this paper as the paper I turn in as a sample when I apply for the Master’s Program.

Our community assessment project is coming along nicely. That is an understatement really, I think we are going to hit this one out of the park. Our instructor has informed us that she plans to submit our finished paper to the Dean of our college because the data we have collected is relevant and useful for a huge project our college is about to undertake in that community. We have also started discussing the idea of turning in a copy of our data and findings to a senator whose office is in the community as a way to highlight where more can be done for this community. Now that we, as a group, have a better understanding of this community we have discussed how we can become involved on a personal level as well.

I have almost finished my supplemental reading that was loaned to me by a professor before spring break. It was a very worthwhile read. I have a much better grasp on hierarchical and  dichotomous thinking patterns now. I know how to break them in myself as well as how to identify them in others and help them move away from that style of thinking into a more holistic way of thinking. I know the next read she has for me will expand on this even further, I am curious to see what I will learn next. Each text she loans me opens my mind a little further.

This weekend I will be working on school assignments and laying low. I have had a double ear infection for a few days now and unfortunately the antibiotic I was prescribed has offered no relief from the symptoms yet. I am taking advantage of the downtime while I have it because next week promises to be another busy one.

Can I have Nothing for Myself??

hair

I went on Pinterest to find a photo or quote that seemed appropriate for this post and as furious as this particular photo/quote made me it is pretty perfect actually for what I am about to share.

Let’s get a few things clear before I even share my story, this photo and what it represents is complete and utter bullshit. When I cut my hair off it was for me. It was not an act of defiance, dissatisfaction or despair because despite what this photo would have someone believe women are not all emotionally unstable creatures who make every decision with men in mind. Utter bullshit.

I got my hair cut today. The only thing I do not love about having a pixie cut is having to get it cut every 6-8 weeks. It isn’t having to get it cut that actually bothers me either, it’s a quick trim and I’m out the door, it is the draining interactions with salon staff that makes the experience a dread.

I do not have a set stylist, I haven’t for years. My friend David was my stylist and he was phenomenal. He moved away and right around that same time I stopped coloring my hair so I no longer needed someone I trusted on that level because I was not keeping up with a dye job. When it comes to getting my hair cut I am pretty trusting, I have never had a cut that I couldn’t make work, even if it wasn’t what I was originally expecting.. I’m pretty low maintenance and easy to please.

So I go to one of two local chain salons near our home and sit with whomever is available, it’s fast, it’s cheap and I am on my way.

Every stylist I have had since cutting off all my hair has been very complimentary of my cut, “Oh I love your style it’s so bold” or “It suits you” etc. When I hear things like this from a new stylist I always have hope, OK good maybe this time will be different. It never is though.

Today was my fourth cut since the initial hair appointment when I went short. Today was the fourth time I was asked about how my husband handled the cut or what he thought or if he approved. I am not kidding one time the stylist asked if “he approved”. Um? What? My answer is always the same, he wasn’t involved in the decision or he didn’t have a say, my hair not his.

I am SO over this exchange. For the record Todd was very supportive of my decision and it has not changed how he looks at me, not that I was in anyway concerned about that. I did not realize how truly hung up our society was on norms for beauty and gender roles/expectations until I unwittingly challenged one of those norms.

The stylist who originally cut my hair was so nervous, the hair appointment took way longer than it should have because she was being so cautious about how much she cut. She cut my hair into a bob when I showed her 3 photos of the pixie cut I wanted and asked what I thought. Shorter I said. This happened three or four times. She would cut a few more inches and check in, shorter. And again, shorter. And again, shorter. She even asked me at one point if I don’t care that much about my hair, or something like that, and I was like, I love my hair. I love it, I just want it short. I literally had to tell her that my self worth and sense of beauty is not wrapped up in my hair.

I have never felt more myself or more beautiful in terms of my style. I love this cut and it has nothing to do with whether or not Todd approves or the validation or lack of validation I receive from the outside world. I have wanted a pixie for years and the truth is I never had the guts. I should have done this years ago, I love it.

I appreciate that I married someone who understands that somethings are for me, like what I wear and how I style my hair. The way I speak and what moves me.

I hate that not one stylist I have sat for has asked me how my hair cut makes me feel, it is always about what my husband thinks. How is that anyone’s business anyway? I just don’t get it.

I would never tell Todd to shave or not shave, to cut his hair a certain way, or anything else that would make him feel like his decisions about his body and how he wants to present himself belong to anyone other than himself. So why are people making me feel like his opinion on my appearance is more important than my own?

My Niche

My area of interest in terms of social work is chronic/terminal illness, end-of-life issues/planning, grief/bereavement counseling and almost anything else that can fall under these umbrellas. I know a good bit about services available in these areas and have a fair understanding of how things work in terms of advance directives and some of the legal aspects of end-of-life planning. Until recently I don’t think I gave myself enough credit for this knowledge base I posses.

Last semester upon completing one of my courses my professor asked if I would be willing to come back fall 2015 as a guest lecturer and speak to her new class about end-of-life issues, such as the Death with Dignity Act, she knows that is my pet advocacy project. This was before Brittany Maynard brought Death with Dignity to the forefront and heightened our nation’s awareness of the issues. I was flattered my professor thought me expert enough to conduct a guest lecture but I was worried that as versed as I am on the topic it would not be enough. The idea of questions being asked that I could not answer scared me.

Last week we were assigned an “advocacy project”. We are to make up a role play to be acted out in front of the class this week. We broke up into groups of six and got to work. My idea was that we would be an agency advocating for a transgender male client. Some of my group members seemed really excited, others stared blankly. Whenever I am assigned a role play where we, as a group, are expected to create the situation ourselves I like to push the envelope a bit. My goal after a role play like this is for it to start a dialogue. The last one I was apart of involved inappropriate self-disclosure. It would have been really easy to act a scene that included inappropriate self-disclosure but the truth is in the field that line of appropriate and inappropriate may not be so clear. We played the scene so close to the line that the class was questioning whether what our clinician shared was inappropriate or appropriate, that was exactly what we wanted, to confuse everyone. In the field my group and I agreed that sometimes the line can get blurred and we wanted to show something real, not something that was obviously wrong. In the end the class saw how it did classify as inappropriate and a valuable conversation ensued.

I was hoping to take this opportunity to do a scene that would lead to a conversation about cultural competency, something I think is an issue in the program but that is a post for another day. In the end I was out voted though and that is OK, I can save that role play for another time. My group decided on Death with Dignity as our advocacy project. I explained that since right-to-die laws do not currently exist in Florida we could play the role of social workers doing macro work at the state capitol advocating for this with law makers, my group seemed put off by this idea. It was decided that the role play would involve a client and case worker. It would be the case worker’s job to educate and advocate for this client who has recently received a terminal diagnosis.

No one in my group is familiar with what this looks like, however they knew this was my area so they looked to me to write and guide the role play. I agreed as long as it was understood that I would not be playing the role of client or case worker this time, they will be the lead roles and I think the work needs to be distributed. If I am writing the scene I should be acting a smaller role to give others a chance to learn from this role play.

I finished writing the role play this afternoon. All I can say is I knew more than I gave myself credit for. Once I sent it to my group members I got great feedback about the level of detail I put into each person’s character and what services will be available to our client. I am really proud of the work I did here. I feel much more confident about my level of knowledge and understanding with this population I hope to serve again in the future.

I am looking forward to performing this role play in front of the class later this week and the discussion that will hopefully come from it. I definitely feel more confident about the prospect of guest lecturing this fall on this topic. There is always room for growth and further knowledge but I do have a good foundation and need to give myself credit for that.

Being Okay When Everything is Not Okay

lily pad

“I’m a neuro-nurse, so I work with patients who have brain injuries, or conditions like Lupus or Parkinson’s. A lot of the patients I work with are at the lowest point of their lives, so they can react by being angry or abusive. It’s tough to absorb that energy all day long and not bring it home with you. I always try to jump on their lily pad so that I can empathize with them. But at the end of every day, I’ve got to make sure that I jump back off.”

This is a quote from the Humans of New York blog that made a big impact on me a few months back. This nurse’s analogy about the lily pad is something I can say to myself as a reminder when I feel bogged down, it helped today.

Today had highs and lows.

Highs: Interviewing the principal of an inner city school, engaging with the children at the school, saving a client session that was starting to fall apart, chipping away at a barrier that has been present with a colleague at school, finding out that someone was speaking highly of me when I was not around.

Lows: A client session taking a serious bad turn, being told by a client repeatedly that she needs help, that we are not helping her and that as a result she feels completely alone. Essentially being called an uppity white girl. Getting chewed out by a classmate and being told how I should feel about a certain situation and that the way I do feel is wrong.

When I was working with the client today it did not go as well as last time and although I was able to turn it around it did not end as well as last time. I had to be okay with the fact that not everything can be resolved in two sessions and that the client has self-determination and may not agree with our suggested course of treatment.

I had a difficult time deescalating a tense situation with a classmate today and trying to stay objective when she was using you statements telling me how I should feel about the situation and the way I do feel is wrong. I know I am good at not personalizing things when found in these kinds of situations but when she was making it personal with me I felt really uncomfortable and I was at a loss for a moment. Ultimately I chose not to engage with these personal slights and instead focused on how she felt and how to find common ground, it was not easy.

Receiving these messages today of you cant help me, the way you feel is wrong etc. was difficult. I had to actively try not to internalize what I was hearing and remember I cannot control how others feel, only how I feel. I had to remember to jump off of their lily pads and back onto my own.

At the end of the day I had to focus on what went right not went wrong and ultimately let it all go so I could be present at home.

On a positive note, it was shared with me today that one of my instructors was speaking highly of me to another student. She apparently was talking about the potential she sees in students like the one she was speaking to and myself and that one day students like us would be running things. She said that we show initiative, strong leadership skills and not only are deeply passionate but know what to do with that passion. I am so thankful for small validations on challenging days.

Today was neither good or bad, it just was. And as I reflect on everything that took place in these 24 hours I am really proud of my growth. There was a time when some of what took place today would have left me unraveled and questioning everything, not today. I made it back to my lily pad.

Lost in Translation

Back to busy starting today. The last few days were nice but now I am back at it. Today of group members from my community assessment project are coming over and we are going together into the community to hopefully meet with community members and interview them. In preparing for this part of the assignment my group members and myself have reached out to a few people to introduce ourselves and request meetings. The two I have set up for our group are with a local school official and an employee at one of the local community centers.

Professional emailing was a big part of my job while at the hospital so I understand professional etiquette in email pretty well. I do not particularly enjoy this form of correspondence however. Like other forms of written communication I feel like a lot can get lost in translation. This is especially true when you have not met the person with whom you are emailing in person, or talked by phone. I have no way of knowing if a short response is in the interest of efficiency or possible annoyance. I have no way of knowing if a three day response period is due to a busy schedule or lack of enthusiasm about responding at all. I always assume the best and give benefit of the doubt but my nervousness about this project in the first place makes it harder for me to be completely objective.

I don’t want us, my group and this project, to be burdensome to those who have agreed to meet with us. I also don’t want anyone to feel they have to participate in this assignment just because we requested either. I know I am over thinking this and again I think it is due to my own nervousness about the assignment. I am sure I am projecting some of my own feelings on to these interactions without intention. I just need to put all of that aside, be professional and in tune with nonverbal cues when we meet with these individuals in person.

I am very intuitive but I also recognize there is a difference between intuition  and anxiety which is what I think is actually at play here. This is probably less about the emails and more about anxiety I have about taking the next step with this assignment. And that’s fine, as long as I can tell the difference.