I’ve done a few articles at this point about things I wish I knew in Social Work school(See Part I, Part II, Part III), but I realized after a particularly crazy few weeks(read: months) that I missed a few important topics. These aren’t necessarily areas that I wasn’t taught, or wish I had known, but instead are areas that I wish I paid more mind to way back when. We teach our clients that learning the skills and coping techniques help when crisis occurs, what we forget for ourselves is that the same goes for us. And it is much more difficult to incorporate something when you’re already knee deep in a situation and a career than if it is already a part of you. Let’s take a look.
1) Eat, Breathe, Laugh
Social workers are great multi-taskers. There’s nothing we can’t do, and there’s nothing we can’t do while doing 5 other different things. The things we often drop in order to continue on our Ringling brother style juggling act are our basic needs. I would ask you to raise your hand if you’ve ever skipped lunch, forgotten to hydrate, done the pee dance for 3 hours, stayed late, and not slept because of work but then you’d drop all the charts you’re carrying. When we work with clients you start at safety first. If a person doesn’t have a safe place to live, or can’t afford food, it doesn’t really matter that they can’t get into the college of their choice at the moment. Yes, we have to begin where the client is, but we have to first address the more basic and vital needs if the situation is ever to change. Same goes for you. You have to take care of yourself. No excuses. We all know that our work is insane, and emergencies happen. At the same time, with the rare exception of SI/HI, there are very few social work emergencies that can’t wait 15-20 minutes. Go on…take that bathroom break.
2) Get a life
I know we all live for work, and nothing gets our juices pumping faster than a complex and emotionally charged case. Yes that is partially sarcasm, but only to a certain point. We’re the world’s most sadistic adrenaline junkies. Not all of us jump out of airplanes, but you’re fooling yourself if you think this job isn’t hitting that same chemical reaction. And while our physical lives might not always be in danger, we also put ourselves at risk emotionally. The only way to make sure we don’t lose who we are is to have strong supports both at work and outside. Have hobbies that excite you and calm you down. Have a routinely scheduled “Treat yo self” day. You’re not Atlas, the world doesn’t have to rest on your shoulders.
3) “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”
We all want to be seen as smart, and yeah, it is great to be the person that others turn to for all the answers. The problem with that is you don’t grow if you’re not learning and that is going to lead to burn out just as quickly as the tough cases. I ballroom dance, that’s my hobby when I’m not at work or running a large media and advocacy website(see #2). Dance is a perfect example of this theory. If you pair me with a dancer that is at my own level or below, I can dance with them, help them along, and still have fun. But my level remains the same. Now, when I dance with people who are significantly more skilled than I am, I rise to their lead. I become a better dancer when I’m out of my comfort zone with a person who is more knowledgeable than I am. Even if I make a few missteps along the way! And that doesn’t end with the dance, you take that with you to the next song. Seek out what you don’t know and learn. Otherwise boredom is just another way we atrophy.
4) Not my circus, not my monkeys
This one is for you Beth. This is a saying a few of us have taken on. Originally a Portuguese proverb, the meaning is that some things are truly not your problem, no matter how hard they try to make them such. We have to learn that someone else’s emergency doesn’t necessarily make it yours. This can be a client, more unfortunately more often than not, it’s another co-worker. People who expect you to take over or figure out something that they dropped that ball on. Now, I’m the first person to help someone, but that’s different than taking ownership of it. Whether it is your patient or a colleague, a measure of responsibility for either the process or follow up must remain independent of you. Again, you’re not Atlas. The tricky thing that comes with time is learning when and where this applies to. I like to put myself on the other end of thing to see if that’s how I would handle it from that angle. If it’s really misaligned, chances are this might be a dump of responsibility.
5) I lost my suitcase amidst all my baggage
We all have our own baggage. You don’t get through life without acquiring at least a few carry-ons, but this work is different than others. It’s far too easy to get wrapped up in what we do that we don’t mind our own Achilles’ heels. Whatever your triggers are, whatever points are a sore subject, you better make absolutely sure you don’t push that to the side. When they come back, and trust me, they come back with a vengeance, we kid ourselves into thinking we’re inoculated and can handle it. After all, it’s what we do for others. When it comes to you, you don’t see clearly, no matter how introspective you are. And when you’re in the field, you see the worst of the worst, and that can put a lot into perspective in your own life. That doesn’t lessen the fact that we’re impacted by our lives and our needs, and our fears. Take care of yourself with the same compassion and follow through that you would for someone on your caseload. You deserve it.
Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment