I don’t claim to know about all things social work, but I have learned some life lessons along the way that have shaped who I am, my faith, and my desire to help others. Do we choose this profession or does it choose us? I believe that everyone who enters the social work profession do so because of something in their background that enrages that desire to change injustices, speak up for those without a voice, and/or inject compassion into an otherwise heartless society.
As I reflect on my journey, there are several things I couldn’t have moved forward without, and there are several changes older me wish I had the insight to make. For the aspiring social worker and the new social worker, I will be sharing throughout this post several mantras that I have used to guide my path over the years. It’s when I ignored my compass that I found myself learning another life lesson. Here are a few of the most important ones.
Lesson One-“If you want to know where you are going, look at your friends”
No matter if you are 13 years old or 45 years old, this mantra should guide you for the rest of your life. This mantra is powerful because it will determine the most powerful influences and the direction of your life for the rest of your life. You can substitute friends for peers, coworkers, or membership groups. Who you choose to align yourself with will influence your belief system, your work ethics, your ideas, and your actions. It will affect your ability to collaborate, share ideas, and information especially when there is no personal benefit for yourself.
Lesson Two- “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”
Define the line that you won’t cross. Find your moral compass. Identify the part of you that draws you to this profession. What are you most passionate about? AND Who do you feel the most compassion for? DETERMINE: What are you willing to do to advance or get ahead? What are you willing to ignore or overlook? Who has value in this society according to your standards? Are those who are suffering and poor to blame for their own problems? No Social Worker is immune from having prejudices and biases against individuals or groups of people. The failure to acknowledge this human deficiency will determine whether you are an advocate or an oppressor.
Lesson Three-“When two or more stand together and agree”
Social Work is not like running track, playing tennis, or riding equestrian. Social Work is not an individual sport. Whether you choose to go into private practice, Child Welfare, health care, or any other area of practice, you must remain connected to other like minded individuals working together and with others. I believe the reason why so many social workers experience burnout is because it feels like a solo fight against a system that’s to big to change. Our separation and isolation from other professions begin in college. When do you interact with education majors, sociology, public health, criminal justice and so forth. Guess what? You are going to have to interact with other professions in the workforce! Why not start now while you are in college? Start a community service project and invite the other student groups from different majors to participate.
Why should social work students take the lead? ANSWER: The Social Work profession is the only profession that is designed to help people improve the quality of their lives on a biological, social, and psychological perspective. Give this some thought…..Let that statement marinate.
In physics, pushing up against a wall that does not move fails to meet the definition of work. If the wall does not move, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend pushing because no distance can be measured. Instead of spending our time pushing up against walls, let’s align ourselves with people who can work with us to take the wall down brick by brick or at least enough to go around it.
Resources for Students Considering a Career in Social Work