That really important thing I didn’t learn in social work school.

This post came to me last night as I was flirting with sleep. The past few months have tortured me in a way I’ve struggled to put my finger on or put words to. I am constantly looking inside myself to figure out why I care so much, why I am holding on so tight, why I feel this so deeply and experience attachment so intensely.

working mom health dinner happy fit trim boundaries limits perfect imageAm I the problem?

Is there something so off in my life that I need this to go smoothly?

Honestly, I’m not 100% sure of my answer to either of the above questions. But I am certain I’ve stumbled upon a life/career truth that is integral to the work I’ve done, am doing, and have seen my peers do.

And no one is talking about it.

No, it’s not work/life balance. It’s not even a modern-day working mom-type thing.

But both of those plays parts.

It’s about investing in the work you do…and inevitably leaving a piece of yourself behind. It’s about walking away. It’s about “changing assignments” and “budget reductions” and hopefully not for many out there: layoffs. It’s even about promotions, lateral transfers, job offers. It goes hand-in-hand with opportunities that one cannot pass up.

How do you love the work, sacrifice for the job, care for the population, enmesh with the co-workers, depend on the predictable…and then move on. How?

In grad school we talked a ton about landing that first job. Because I was in a leadership track we even talked about moving up the ladder. But the focus was always on the next rung, the new workplace, the completely attainable integration. Not on the shift, the detaching, the disconnect, the empty promises, the halfhearted attempts, the fond memories. Likely the relief. The process of a professional good-bye.

I’m lucky to not work directly with clients. So in that regard I have no current comment. I can only hope the client portion of this piece is taught on, trained on, talked upon and about often. And that the affect this has on the professional is trumpeted just as loudly.

I’m currently in the middle of an upcoming career change that has me stopped in my tracks, frozen. Maybe it would be better if I knew which direction the wind was about to blow. Maybe if that was the case I’d know which foot to lead with, which world to invest in. But I don’t. And I’m stuck.

I’m surprised at how it’s affected me. I’ve both disengaged and overcompensated. I’m sitting with incredible ambiguity and intense clarity. I’ve swam through more waves of apathy in the first five weeks of 2015 than the past eight years combined. It’s possible I care so much that I’ve somehow beckoned the winter blues (or: February Fuck Yous), welcomed the faded but still familiar flood of feelings over uncertainty.

(Side note: apathy is a very active feeling. It’s hard fucking work not to care amidst a life you love, blessings you’ve built, chances you’ve taken, and opportunities you face. It’s a daring dress to slip into when you’ve grown yourself up to cherish the moments, herald the present, adore the children, revere the life.)

So I sit here, for the present (yes, that is a Ramona reference). This has to pay off right? I will be stronger for it. I am amidst an opportunity to gaze for a moment deeper into that which makes me…me (and at times definitely not you). And it won’t be long before my direction is clear.

bold opportunity knock

But for this moment, I am half-invested with all that I have to invest. I am standing watch on professional grief. I am building walls and feeling out allies and reassessing enemies. I’ve gone somewhat primal and protective. And I’m crazy interested in every second of it, even as it tears me up (like a paper, or a heart; how funny that sentence can be unclear).

Mostly, I want us to talk about it. I want to explain it to people (mostly without the internet-appropriate vagueness) and how amazing and confusing and exhilarating and deflating it is. I want to study the moment and it’s infinite implications. I want to hold my breath and/or go underground until the kettle boils and I can safely read the leaves in my tea. If you’re good with analogies.

I want to be a good little social worker, public employee, professional “helper” and fully invest. I want to be plan-full and prepared and calm and whole. I want to be centered. I want to look people in the eye and lay my cards on the table (always!). I want to love my work, and spring out of bed Monday morning, and know I’ll miss my co-workers and workflow on a long weekend (though I’ll enjoy it). I’ve had that. That’s the kind of employee, social worker, working mother and woman I want to be.

I want to talk about the times when we can’t do that, can’t get there, can’t access that. And how we move forward then. Where we draw the lines and if there might be some eraser marks as we adjust where those lines fall.

And how we ever move them back again.

I worry a piece of us chips away each time. We’re slowly able to access less of our hope, spirit, excitement, passion, vitality, self. We begin to believe we know better, have seen more, “manage” more efficiently. We disengage gradually…or wildly swing back and forth. We internalize and countertransfer (as they say in grad school). We upgrade walls to forts. Our boundaries evolve to have holes the sizes of large animals. I worry about that.

I think I should go read Trauma Stewardship again. And write more. And quit making excuses not to meditate. And accept.

quote

This entry was posted in Life, Me, Social Work, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to That really important thing I didn’t learn in social work school.

  1. Jesse says:

    Thank you for this. I just ordered a copy of Lipsky’s book, it is exactly the perspective I need right now at work — I am a career counselor at a community college and while I don’t do personal counseling, there is a lot of crossover.

Leave a Reply