The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I’ve always hated that poem. You hear it all about- thrown out as some sort of superiority that *I* took the untold path, made the more difficult choice, trodden the unmarked way, and that is why it made all the difference. And yet, without realizing it, like an idiom too far uncorrected, we use it in total hypocrisy. Robert Frost doesn’t write about the path less taken, in fact he remarks that both were equally as worn. The poem is more aptly stating that your choice makes little difference, each life becomes what it becomes, yet he projects himself into the future and assumes he’ll regret not taking both, or the other path as he does realize that like a lake after the ripple it isn’t the same again. It’s perhaps noticing that human nature gets fixated on the “what ifs.
Now that’s not to say your choices don’t matter. For instance, when this committee and I, and I first sat down to discuss this month’s presentation, One had suggested I present on humor. The next reaction from Heidi had us choose a different path. My path in fact. Luckily for us, the two intertwine all too frequently for there to be much difference. And so she might be that 3rd stanza, and sigh and look back, wondering what could have made a difference.
Most people say they were called to social work. That they fell in love with social work. I’ve always said I tripped and somehow landed here. I didn’t go into social work because I loved social work, but I stayed because I fell in love with social workers. And yeah, take that as liberally as you’d like. Maybe it’s because of this I’ve always felt a square peg in a round hole. That I had to always carve out my own niche. And then I realized I’m certainly not the first, and I’ve proven I’m not alone, so maybe that’s why Heidi wanted my story told. Because it’s the story of many paths. And despite the fact that I’m leaving, despite the fact that SJS, my alter ego, has nothing to do with my VA life. That doesn’t mean they don’t intertwine. So I’ll take it in pieces.
For those of you who might not make it your life goal to know my every move, my journey started off similarly enough to every other. I was a psych undergrad. I knew early on I wanted to work with the military, and because of a childhood illness, I am unfit for military service as was my original plan. But the fascination with this history, with the intricacies of trauma. In fact, my entire undergrad and graduate career surrounded this. I created my own minor, and later in grad school, did an independent study at Johns Hopkins. I carved out my niche.
After undergrad though, a PhD seemed so far away, and my advisors pushed me to MHC, one of the few career regrets I have, as it just wasn’t for me. Hyper focused on Freud, lied about the licensing allowances, I quickly switched to SBU’s social work program. It was a rash move. Despite having an Aunt who was a social worker, I knew very little about it, or the different schools. Fortunately, it worked out, as SBU is a macro school, and I would finally find those missing pieces in the work and people. I was, as many of you were, a student at the VA with in PTSD, SARRDT, MHC, and CRC, and with along with my supervisor’s and assistant chief’s kick, applied and was hired. I do say kick, because I actually wanted to move to DC and do policy or program development. But guess what job is hard to get when you’re not already in federal service? Federal service.
I was lucky. I, and two other of my friendly interns were hired within 3 months of graduation exactly 4 years ago next week. This also happens to be my last day. It’s probably important to note that the internship taught me invaluable lessons- most of you have come from it, been a part of it, and know how comprehensive it is. But our group…well, we were a bit special, and that offered lessons some don’t learn until much later. That social workers can either be your greatest support, or tear you down, especially if they see you as different. There’s a Japanese proverb that the tall nail gets hammered down, because independent identity is not revered as much as fitting into the whole. I credit my supervisor with saying something that still sticks with me, not letting others dim your own candle. And I have tried to keep that with me ever since.
When I started here I was far from in love with my placement. So why stay 4 years? Well I learned very quickly the advantages of it, it allowed me to be flexible enough to take on any and all collateral, stretch, or task assignments I wanted to play. And that was priceless. The second is that after being in 6 different programs, and having my job bring me into contact with almost every other one in the medical center, I could honestly say there weren’t many that even remotely interested me. And the few that did required more time in before I’d be eligible. So I stayed, and it became a small service joke that there wasn’t anything I wasn’t a part of. Wasn’t a leadership opportunity I didn’t take on. OEF/OIF screens, MST, LEAD, Domestic violence, Preceptor, Journal Club, Orientation, Student training, I could go on. I felt that by absorbing all this it would help me find my path, and it did, it also showed me I wasn’t on the one I needed to be. Each program offered my knowledge and skills in every area. As another supervisor once told me that I “hi the ground running and never stopped”
My bosses and supervisors knew the things I loved weren’t a “typical social worker” and did what they could to help. LEAD opened doors to the medical center, visn, and beyond. Now you can look at this two ways. 1) I didn’t like what I did and tried to fill it with anything but- only slightly true… or 2) Each of those things opened up something else. Now when you start here you’re mandated to treatment in Preceptor. I know some would rather not be here, and yet I stayed. Probably because it offered me an outlet to be myself. And a tad bit of what I figured out I loved. It also had to do with one defining moment when I started. Now I was paired with Beth, and during the first staff meeting I walked through those doors and Beth was on the opposite side of the room and saw me. And so excited was she to meet me, that she made her way through the crowd, half hurdling over chairs, to come and engulf me in a hug. I didn’t fall in love with social work, I fell in love with social workers.
I’m going to take a sharp right turn at this point because some, if not most of you know I co-founded and run Social Justice Solutions, and news and advocacy organization that took off to places we’d never dreamed. Today it sits as an oddly enough, highly regarded organization among mental health professionals and lay people alike. This pet project, a SBU macro project, turned into an internationally known source. With well over 166,000 followers on fb, over 15,000 on twitter, 50,000 on our mailing list, dozens of syndicate writers, and a handful of partners, we did exactly what the macro project dared us to. Identify a gap, and fill it. And all those social work skills? We use them every day. There is no difference in macro or micro work. I usually hear gasps at that. But there really isn’t. We want to draw an imaginary line between them but the only difference is the who. So SJS made me a square peg in a slightly less rounded hole.
Then the last piece of the puzzle gave me the kick I needed. I knew already I couldn’t be happy staying here despite wishing I could. I wanted to be, because of the people. SJS, although getting there, can’t afford me just yet. I knew what I wanted was my PhD. The people at those partner organizations, CRISP, McSilver, opened doors to people I never thought I’d see. Suddenly we’re being called down to DC for social work day on the hill. You half feel an imposter. And yet, when questions are asked, and you’re the only ones with the answers….
But I was scared, so I hid. Until one morning SBU called me asking to teach. Was I interested? Could I start this week? This wasn’t like the online classes I taught, this was the real deal. I said yes. Did I have a textbook, lesson plans, or any idea what I was doing? Nope! And I walked into two classes that day filled with angry, abandoned students both BSW and MSW. And needed them to trust me. Sound familiar? There’s no difference in social work, they were clients at first. I had to get them to trust me, build a rapport, and then get to work. And it worked. And what’s more. I loved every second of is. I didn’t fall in love with social work; I fell in love with social workers.
As far as the teaching? Well, the back and forth, the way you can decide how and what information is given. The ability to be ridiculous to make a point? I’m sure some of you could guess what it might be like in one of my classrooms. I had fun, so much fun that I could no longer hide from my need for a PhD. Because I knew this was unattainable as a permanent gig without one, and for the first time, I was in love with social work. The ability to study anything I wanted, teach courses? Have an audience every week?! You might as well put a bow on it I wanted it so badly.
Now not many of you know, but the first time I applied I did so solo, it was a DPH, a skyped program through UNC-Chapel Hill. Needless to say, I didn’t get in. I don’t like rejection so the next round I went smarter. Remember those connections? Every door, every person opens up pathways. And that the VA taught me that mentors are invaluable- I went to mind to make the unbearable bearable? I went Dr. Mary McKay, the reason SJS is partnered with NYU, my dream school, and honestly, the social worker I would love to be when I grow up. So she sat me down, called me Dr. Kidd until I almost cried, and walked me through what to do to get into my PhD program, and what may be a good fit. And like a truly great mentor, backed me. A debt I can only repay by being great at what I do and opening those same pathways for others when I can. To make her proud as well as everyone else who believed in me.
It’s external as well as internal motivation, but I never once believed that you could do this by tearing down other peoples. Don’t dim the candles of others; it will not make your flame brighter. Now we know without a spoiler warning that I got in, and going for my PhD at my 1st choice. That doesn’t mean I’m not scared, or sad. In order to pursue my dream I have to effectively leave behind all I’ve known in my professional career. People that I love. The reasons I’m in love with social work. For those who know me well, you know I’m never satisfied, have to be doing a hundred things at once. I have done crazy things, come up with out of the ballpark ideas, and you’d swear I drink 5 cups of espresso a day. The truth is more muddled. My drive is to do as much as possible, because there’s a million things I haven’t done. It’s one of the reasons I do love the VA, endless possibilities. Now I will be honest, they haven’t always been good times. There were tons of them, friendships, bonds, laughter. But there has also been terrible loss, feelings of betrayal, frustrations, and let downs. Some can be avoided, others couldn’t. We all make the path below our feet as much as we follow one. So why be happy if you might be sad later? Because you might be sad later. That humor that I talked about, that’s one of the reasons for it, because it brings out just a little bit of light.
Now I can’t claim as much time in service as some, but technically I realized I’ve been walking multiple paths for the past decade of school and work. But I have heard in my tenure here at multiple points, as well meaning hopefully piece of advice I’d like to dispel. That you should be grateful and if by some chance you’re unhappy, instead of trying to change things, remind yourself how many others would want to be in your shoes. Or…leave. Fuck that. You should always want more. Strive for better, and to be better we have to be advocates. Never forget to advocate for yourself and peers. I once read a quote I tell to all my classes, and I’ll tell you now. You all have a bit of the save the world complex in you, that’s a good thing; it’s why you’re here. I’m going to tell you that it’s okay if you only ever save one person, and it’s okay if that person is you.
So I don’t know where my path will take me, or if like Frost I’ll forever look back and wonder. But my hope has always been to try to bring a little more light to the path, my own, and hopefully to those around me. So I struggle with what to leave you with, because I don’t know if I answered what Heidi was hoping I would, or given anything that you want to know. So I won’t leave you, but I’ll give you this to keep. Forget about where paths are leading, and just take every one you can, good, bad, mixed; just make sure to do it together, no matter how far apart you might think you are.