“..Real courage is.. when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” – To Kill a Mockingbird
2 months after I left work full-time and returned to school Todd and I decided to have a garage sale. We had moved into together roughly six months prior and had duplicates of almost everything. After living on your own for a while and then moving in with someone else who has been living alone as well this kind of thing happens.
Unlike Todd, I kind of like garage sales, hosting them at least. I see it as a reason to be outside and a wonderful opportunity for people watching. You never know what kind of interesting people you are going to encounter. What I don’t like about garage sales, haggling. I do not haggle. You tell me the price, I pay it. If I do not think a price is fair I do not pay it. That’s it. Everything is haggling with garage sales though. Ugh. Consequently I am not always as stern as I should be about my bottom line either which is where Todd comes in, he does not negotiate. This is the price, pay it or not. He hates his role at garage sales.
So, back to my point. At our first garage sale we were down sizing all of our duplicates as well as getting rid of unused items that were taking up space. Towards the end of the day a woman came in and bought all of my books that were displayed. She and I were talking and discovered we have social work in common. She had just moved to College Park to be closer to her daughter who attends a local dance school but she had been a licensed Social Worker for 20+ years. When she found out social work was my intended major we exchanged emails to keep in touch and so I may ask her questions about the field. I immediately took her up on the offer of sharing field knowledge, I emailed her later that week.
Our correspondence was my first encounter with what I now think of as The Social Work Warning Label. In the last two years I have heard a variation of the warning label at least eight times. I know the actual number is higher but that is just the number of in-depth conversations I could remember off the top of my head and counted out on my fingers. There have been plenty of conversations in passing that have involved the warning label as well. So what is the social work warning label you might be wondering? Well if you are familiar or affiliated with the field I am sure you are already a few steps ahead of me.
Essentially it is the conversation that usually follows me telling anyone that has any experience with the field what my major is. It is the “be careful of this” talk ,and the “well this is what happened to my friend” talk, and all the other foreboding gloom and doom warnings that apparently come with this field. All of it is meant to be beneficial, none of it is meant to discourage me in any way. The phrase “burned out” seems to be synonymous with the field. This is just these people trying to prepare me for what may be the inevitable in their eyes based on what their experiences have been.
I was talking to Todd about all of this a few weeks ago after my most recent warning label conversation. This is what I have found, every person I have had interaction with in relation to this field has had either a word of warning for me or some other negative tid bit. I have never once heard one person say, “Oh Social Work huh? That’s great, I have been in the field for the last five years and I love it, most rewarding experience of my life.” or “My friend is a social worker and she absolutely loves it.” It is always more to the tune of, “I worked in X field as a social worker for 2 years and couldn’t handle it, now I do X job that is completely unrelated to my degree.” or “Oh my friend went to school for social work and worked for X out of college. She got burned out and now does X instead.” (Which is again usually completely unrelated to the degree).
There are positive inspiring stories as well but they are never what comes first and I feel they almost always carry an asterisk. It will be something like, “This is what I love about the work I do but you have to watch out for X, X and X.”
Balance, boundaries and self-preservation are always a reoccurring theme and clearly very important in this line of work.
I can admit, and have many times when having these conversations with people, that I may be at times a little more naive than most to the workings of the world around me. This, however, was not the case when making the decision to pursue social work.
There is a reason I did not start this journey until I was 28, I wasn’t ready. I have known since I was 18 that this is what fits for me. Even back then when I was still unsure of exactly who I was and who I wanted to be in this world, I knew. I needed time though. Time for life experience, time to mature emotionally, time to figure myself out. I knew all along that this field would be emotionally taxing, that at times I may be working with a broken system, that the work I do may be without recognition, that I could be putting my whole heart into a thankless pursuit and ultimately the work I do may never incur any kind of big change and in turn all I may ever be capable of is marginal improvements. It is still worth it, or what I mean to say is, I still see the worth in it.
In life I do tend to see the possibilities over how things currently are. I do look for the silver lining. There is good in everything and even if it kills me at times I know this is the only chance I have at feeling fulfilled. This is the one thing in my life that I am doing selfishly, just for me, because I know even if I am unable to make a difference in the big picture, trying will make all the difference in my own life.