The ‘Things I’ve learned’ chronicles have become a social work month tradition. It began as amusing anecdotes to things I saw that seemed ironic given the nature of our profession. From that, it has grown to what seems to be a more glaring truth to the underside of what we do. This year has been especially difficult for me, sickness and loss, crossroads and crisis. It’s almost enough to jade my usual tongue in check nature…almost. It did however give me pause as to the theme that this year would take. In a year of upheaval and uncertainty it comes to no surprise that I turned first to you to see what you needed. You did not disappoint.
- Everyone wants to save the world, but no one wants to help with the dishes
We’ve already discussed the notion of saving the world, but I want to draw attention to just how easy it actually is. So easy, it’s kid tested, and mother disapproved. Saving the world means doing even the smallest deed, and it starts with the very act of getting out of bed in the morning. For some, even that motion is immensely difficult. Don’t diminish the success of that one task and take it as an accomplishment because it will help you onto the next, and the next, until you realize that success is only completing tasks, and the easiest way of doing that is breaking them into manageable pieces. That’s saving the world, because it’s saving you. And saving you means you can help others to do the same. Even if it means helping with the dishes. Do you know why Parkland students, and BLM, and Women’s March gain traction? It’s because every day each person makes the choice to do one task after another until change occurs.
2. Failure is an option
More than an option really, it’s a necessary evil that can ruin us, but only if we let it. I’m not saying that there aren’t some things that make it nearly impossible to build back from, but we must stop seeing failure as, well, a failure. Instead, we must untie it from our self-worth and realize that shit happens. And sometimes, shit doesn’t happen. We will fail, and fail, and fail. What’s more, the more we fail, the harder we must work afterwards, but that extra work builds us up, it creates resiliency. And no, it isn’t easy, and yes, you will feel completely alone at some points. You’re not, but you’ll feel it. Reach out, reach up, and continue to bet on yourself. If I was a gambler, I’d bet on those who got up again and again over those who easily climbed the first time around.
3. Sing, Dance, Laugh, and Smile
We forget in our line of work that more is accomplished by those who hold onto hope regardless of what’s occurring than those who merely accept what is. Sometimes it takes a laugh, in fact, more often than not what we lack most is laughter. We debate, we fight, we isolate, we take offence… but when was the last time you laughed? Truly laughed? And I’m not talking about the polite chuckle, or the surprise laugh at a one liner in Thor. I mean the hold your sides, tears in your eyes, fall down from the inability to stand straight up laughter. There is nothing that can push away negativity like that. Re-watch Impractical jokers until you get a six-pack from laughter. Find humor in the corny pun. Be just a fraction less quick to judge someone harshly for dark humor and try to see that what they’re trying might just be to find light in darkness. Turn the music up, belt it out, and dance like you’re Meredith and Christina because I can promise you one thing, everything seems a little lighter after you’ve done this. So find something to bring you joy.
4. Rule #1
If you’ve ever taken one of my classes, you know what that means. If you’ve been friends with me for long enough, you also know that there are actually 2 “Rule #1s.” For the classroom, Rule #1 becomes a maxim of my students, because the rule is “Don’t freak out.” Of course, that means that Rule #2 is when in doubt refer back to Rule #1. Now, those who remain in my life for longer than a semester soon learn that I live my life by a set of rules, and that my personal one is “Pony Up.” This is important, because it’s not the same as telling someone to get over anything or suck it up. Pony up is specific, it is acknowledging that you might be afraid, you might not be up to it, and you might have a thousand reasons to not do something…and then to do it anyway. Now, before you go running off, please rule responsibly. This rule is not to be reckless, but to live your life so that you don’t regret the things you did not do from a fear that may or may not have any basis. Ask them out, go for the job, apply for the school, pick up the hobby. Remember that you will fail, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
5. Let your freak flag fly
A nod to Shrek the musical here. Embrace your real self, let your quirkiness shine through and stop living in fear of them. You don’t have to change for the world, the world will have to get used to your spot in it. Find your people, and the only way to do this is to find yourself. Could I sound more like a cheesy self-help book? Hey, if cheesy self-help books are your things, let it be your thing! At the end of the day we’re advocates, and that’s tiring work. We don’t just have one cause, we fight for so many of them. Wars fought on multiple fronts are notoriously difficult, so why would you make yourself another front? I’ve always been a fan of the quote that says “Of course it’s me against the world, it wouldn’t be fair otherwise.” It becomes so much easier once you know who is fighting though. You’re not the person that someone needed you to be to fit in, you’re you. Own it, live it, and love it fully, because we need you to be you. The more you accept you, the more we all accept each other for being them.
This year we’ve seen more political action and advocacy groups out in mainstream media that in my living lifetime. I’m proud of that, not that there needs to be, but that so many have become involved. While this year I can only say that my usual lightness around this read seems dampened, my resolve to work with each one of you to create a better place has not. To another year, to social workers, and to all those superheroes going out and doing good, here’s to you!