I’ve been a little obsessive this week. This is apparently how I mourn when one of my favorite musicians of all time dies: I listen to their music. On repeat. Nonstop.
My Four Year Old Daughter: Daddy, is that a Prince song…again?
Me: Yes, sweetie, Daddy needs to listen to “Sometimes It Snows In April” one more time. (Nice tribute D’Angelo.)
Since Prince’s sudden death last week, I’ve thought a lot about his life and career. Then it hit me like a bucket of “Purple Rain”, we could all learn lessons from Prince’s life. Today, I’m going to share nine life lessons social workers can learn from how Prince styled his life.
Lesson 1: Create your own path
Prince style: Prince’s career was known for a lot of things: his music, his attitude, and his eccentric style. He was naturally influenced by musicians and artists who came before him, but he didn’t seek to copy anyone person.
Your style: Talk to other social workers and professionals whose lives and careers you respect. Resist the urge to try to follow exactly in their footsteps. It just doesn’t work. What does work, is taking the best parts from your mentors and influences.
Lesson 2: Develop more than one skill
Prince style: It didn’t matter the instrument: lead guitar, bass, drums, or piano, all were in Prince’s wheelhouse. On his first album For You, Prince played every instrument in each song.
Your style: You may not be a multi-talented musician, but you still need to have a variety of skills at your disposal. Be ready to “play” all of them at once when needed: be an active and empathic listener, a human Wikipedia of community-based resources, and a tireless advocate for your client.
Lesson 3: Advocate for yourself
Prince style: He famously (and legally) changed his name to a symbol a.k.a. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. His reasons for the name change, in part, were to protest Warner Brothers unfair contract withholding the master copies of his music.
Your style: Social workers are charged to advocate for underserved and disenfranchised populations. But don’t forget about yourself. Example: If you think social workers are undervalued, disrespected, or underpaid… Do Something About It.
Lesson 4: Share some of your best stuff
Prince style: One of the most famous songs of the 1990s was Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You”, written by Prince. He didn’t keep that remarkable gem of a song to himself, he shared it and it benefited, even more, people.
Your style: Be as generous with your abilities. Your influence on the world moves beyond your circle of influence when you teach and share your talents. Teach and share with other social work colleagues where you are skilled, so that they may, in turn, help others.
Lesson 5: Find your confidence
Prince style: Prince may have been only 5’2” tall, but he wasn’t short on confidence. His strut was legendary.
Your style: Develop confidence in your skill as a social worker. Your opinion matters. Your perspective matters. Your professional judgment matters. Find your professional “strut” and own it.
Lesson 6: Stay connected
Prince style: Prince traveled the world playing his music, but always returned to his home base. Prince was born and died living in the great state of Minnesota. He was deeply connected with the residents there and the state loved him for it.
Your style: Whether you are living in the same place you grew up or you have moved off, stay connected with the people and community that helped shape who you are today. For example, go back and talk to students from your high school about how to become a rockstar social worker.
Lesson 7: Embrace diversity
Prince style: Prince could command a stage solo like few others. But he was perhaps at his best when collaborating with other musicians. He was intentional about having diverse bands, especially using female musicians. His concerts were no different. Old and young, black and white, gay and straight…people from all backgrounds came together for Prince.
Your style: Don’t be a lone wolf social worker. Find colleagues in other disciplines who share your perspective and passion for helping others. Identify ways to collaborate with those professionals.
Lesson 8: Find your “thing”
Prince style: Be known for something. It’s hard to see a deep purple color and not think of Prince.
He had his own color . . . who has their own color? He owns purple. – Jimmy Fallon
Your style: You may not be able to call dibs on a color of the rainbow, but you can brand yourself in other ways. For example, Brené Brown is known for her books and research on shame and vulnerability; that’s her thing. Find your “thing”and be known for it.
Lesson 9: Create a will
Prince style: As I’m writing this article, news outlets are reporting Prince neglected to create a will for his estate. (Jaw drops, face meets palm). This is what you would call a teachable moment.
Your Style: You may not have millions of dollars of assets like Prince, but you still need a plan for your stuff when you’re gone. A legal will isn’t about you, but rather the people that are left to sort through your affairs. Do them a favor.
Whether you are a fan of Prince’s music or not, you have to respect his creativity, boldness, and authenticity. His life and music clearly impacted many people, myself included. We may not make a Prince-sized impact on the world, but we can learn from his example in how we leave our own legacy. So dearly beloved social workers, let’s get through this thing called life together.