A few days ago I shared an article on social media about the ways the social work is failing. While it was very thought provoking, the author also talked about ways to remedy the problem. As someone who has worked in the field for almost 7 years, the looks on people’s faces when I tell them that I’m a social worker can be quite comical. Unfortunately there’s still a prevalent belief that all social workers do is take kids away from their parents. Social work is one of the only professions I know where you can have a masters degree, two years of supervised experience, a clinical license AND make $17 an hour. That number isn’t arbitrary. It’s actually what I made when I first relocated to my original state of residence. The fact is that we are often overworked and not fairly compensated for our services. Burnout rates are at an all time high because we can’t even afford to take time off and it’s sometimes a struggle to pay bills and make student loan payments out of the pittance we’re given. Don’t get me wrong, you can make a decent living as a social worker but it will probably entail working more than one job, working in an administrative capacity, or being an entrepreneur of sorts. With mental illness continuing to be a growing concern, I wish that the growing demand for mental health providers like social workers translated into an increase in compensation—like it has for nurses. Something definitely needs to change and maybe the change that is needed is that of a union. While I don’t have all the answers, I believe that this topic deserves more discussion and also subsequent advocacy.
I remember sitting in a chair in my therapist’s office in college. As a part of my academic program we were required to go to a mandated number of sessions. I remember telling her that I wanted my future husband to be able to sing and that it would be a deal breaker for me if he couldn’t. Today I think of that day and chuckle to myself. While I absolutely believe that music talent is wonderful, there are so many more important qualities that need to be present. Having all his teeth would be nice for starters. Qualities like faithfulness, respect, ambition, attractiveness, honesty, and compassion. Life has definitely changed in the almost decade since then. I’ll have to admit that my dating experience up to this point hasn’t been successful; But I guess it’s been successful in the regard that I’m not stuck in a relationship with someone who isn’t suited for me. I still love music but it’s harder to find a guy that will call me than a guy that can sing. While there are a lot of fish in the sea, a lot of them are hiding behind the coral reef. Apparently.
I had what one might call a pretty rigorous religious upbringing. The mandatory family worships every morning and evening and attending church services weekly. My family was at church even when other people weren’t and we did hundreds of hours of volunteer services for the good of the church. Church was never a suggestion, it was a requirement. My parents (bless their hearts) kinda sabotaged my spiritual life, I wasn’t allowed to choose what day I could be baptized on and what my religious beliefs would be. It was already chosen for me. My beliefs followed me through high school and college due to the extensive foundation. After graduation from college, I moved 1000 miles away from home and continued to attend church regularly as I had been taught. I found a church and I was very involved. However, as I was going to my graduate school classes and working I realized that I really hadn’t taken the time to develop my own set of beliefs. I learned so much from all my classes and realized that my religious background was ill-equipped to address the questions that arose. I became a bit of a religious wanderer and joined a huge church with 7,000 members and immediately became very involved. I was there at least 4 days out of the week assisting various ministries. But I eventually decided that it wasn’t for me. Needless to say, my upbringing has made me think about how I would like to raise my future children and I have to say it will be much different.
One thing in life that is always inevitable is change. I remember imagining what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always imagined myself with stethoscope around my neck shouting orders in some emergency room as a trauma physician. Instead I ended up in mental health calming down psychotic people, explaining to parents why I was taking their child, and attempting to reason with psychiatrists. I worked in the mental health equivalent of the ER and found that I did enjoy it. It’s always been interesting to me how our life experiences can shape our perspectives and general outlook on life. If I had seen myself 5 years ago I would not have believed it. For me, the change happened once I was outside of the protective bubble of my family and the group of people who thought like me. It was eye opening to work with people who had a totally different set of beliefs and values than what I had been used to. There’s a lot of people who don’t agree with the traditional education system but it helped me to build my critical thinking skills. My post-graduate competency based program taught me how to conceptualize and justify every intervention that I did while doing therapy with clients. I think that it’s so important to be open minded. While I’m not saying that every varying perspective needs to be agreed with, I think that seeing something from another point of view is important.
One of the features that I enjoy on my most used social media site is the one where you can see what you had posted on that same day in years past. Not too long ago I ran across a status I had written describing my excitement of starting college and classes. Looking back, it feels like it happened a million years ago. I remember agonizing about what my major would be and feeling torn between social work, psychology, and music. College was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was great because I had the opportunity to meet new people, manage a schedule, and experience life in another structured and sheltered environment that was in a lot of ways like my home life. I learned a lot about assertiveness when I had to challenge grades with certain teachers. Before graduation I had to advocate for myself when it came down to required classes for graduation and I found a loophole and used it to my advantage. I learned about discipline and while I never perfected the art of studying, I learned about the benefits of procrastination and racing to meet a deadline while still delivering a quality scholarly work. College taught me the importance of time management and balancing conflicting priorities. The untimely deaths of several of my classmates reminded me of the importance of appreciating and living life to the fullest. Looking back, there’s not a lot I would change–except maybe being a bit more open minded and allowing myself to have more fun instead of being in the books all the time. Ah well.
I saw this picture and initially laughed but then got annoyed almost immediately afterward. When I finished college I had a decision to make. I could go the safer route and look for a job right out of college or I could pursue a graduate degree. I knew that I had a better chance of getting married if I just had a bachelor’s degree. But I didn’t want to put my life on hold for something that I wasn’t sure would happen. I was 21 years young and without any hint of a significant other in sight. So I moved across the country, and started and completed a masters degree. But let me back up a bit. From a young age I was taught that good men looked for women who went to church and were active in some capacity. So during my masters program I found a church and started being active by singing quite often and taking on small responsibilities. Religion or maybe I should say church going, isn’t usually a man’s favorite pastime. It’s usually overrun with women with emphasis on emotions. We can’t forget that there’s a double standard for women. They are taught that if a man truly loves them he will respect them by respecting their vow of abstinence or celibacy until marriage. I have a theory that this kind of thinking lends itself to unrealistic expectations and very very bitter women. Needless to say, my “experiment” on getting a significant other was not successful and seemed to alienate myself even further from any serious prospects. I’ve never been one of those “I don’t need a man” women, but I can certainly understand some of the emotions behind it. An education can make women more critical as they will only pay attention to men that are on the same education level as them. I don’t think there are many women who want to feel like they are marrying down. Strike one. A very strong traditional religious mindset where you believe that you only need God and that’s it. Couple this with a belief that good men are only found in church and will be happily celibate until marriage. Strike two. Let’s not forget about having a career and trying to move upward. Women in this position are usually planning to put child bearing off for a while because they want to be at a good place in their career. They put in long hours, they don’t date, they buy houses and drive nice cars. While they may be lonely, that feeling is remedied by more work and by girlfriends in a similar position. No man required. Strike three. There’s a hard truth to the picture and it’s not pretty. Perhaps it’s time to rethink some priorities and some expectations. Myself included.
It’s funny how adulthood doesn’t always turn out the way that you planned as a kid. I remember having a grand vision for my life as a kid that included doing what I wanted when I wanted to. Each birthday was a year closer to being 18 which was the magic number in my mind where I would suddenly emancipate from the endless rules of my parents. One perk of having a non-traditional education meant that i had a little more time than most my age. After finishing high school a few weeks after I turned 17 I decided that I wanted to take a break so I did. For the next year I chilled at home and took community college classes with the intention to hit the ground running when I began college. The great thing about that year was that I could collect my thoughts with minimal responsibilities. During that time I sold books door to door and even sold knives. I know a lot of people who went directly from high school to college and still had no idea what they wanted to do with their life. They go through a year or two and drift from major to major spending large amounts of money they don’t really have. The thing about young adulthood is that you expect to have more answers than you did as a kid when in fact you just encounter more questions. You want the world to be black and white but sometimes it ends up being a really weird shade of gray. The thing I like about being an adult is that it was similar to what I imagined as a kid. I do what I want, when I want. The sad part is that there are also hundreds of stipulations to that simple fact. The stakes are higher, the consequences for stupid mistakes can easily wreck the future. It’s similar to driving in a fog on a dark night. You know where you’re going but still can’t see five feet ahead of you and your headlights just illuminate how much more fog is ahead.