Today I was reminded that exactly 6 years ago today I received my masters degree in social work. I was so excited to finally be done with the intensive yearlong program and the multiple papers and assignments. It was a bittersweet moment because I still had a year to go in my post-graduate program. I remember waiting in line to march and getting a phone call from a potential job telling me that they were going with another candidate. While I had small part time job, I was worried about how I would support myself. I was excited about being able to make a difference in the world and I was determined to be an excellent social worker. I didn’t know what was going to happen next and it was scary. In the years since I heard my name and walked across the stage I’ve had the opportunity to accomplish some other goals. I’m clinically licensed in 4 states, I have a post-graduate certificate, and I finished my PhD. I’ve also traveled to over 13 countries and moved multiple times to three different states. It’s funny how fast time flies and how much can happen. I had no idea what was ahead when I walked across the state. It was such a good feelings but I was also nervous about getting a job. As I prepare to attend my next graduation–once again without the support of a significant other, I recognize the fact that I’ve had some growth as a person. I am looking forward to the next six years……who knows what life will be like then?
I can across an interesting article that coincides with what I’ve been thinking hard about these past few days. It’s about black people and wealth disparities. You can read it here . As the product of two generations of a middle class family (grandparents and parents), I don’t have anything to show for all their hard work. No property, no trust fund, no assets. Just a crippling amount of student loan debt. And I know that I’m not the only one in this predicament. Growing up, my father worked and my mother stayed home to care for us. She decided that she wanted to raise her children and homeschool us so she did. As a result, we lived in a single income household. A phenomenon that I’m experiencing now with my household of one. There are so many things that I want to do now but I won’t be able to because of my financial obligations. Transitioning to teaching or a post-doctoral position would require a pay cut of about 20k to 40k per year and I can’t afford that. This year one of my goals is to become more financially literate and I’m working on it. However, I wish that I didn’t have to start from the bottom and if I ever make enough money to afford kids I want them to have a different experience. It’s like I’m starting off at a disadvantage and don’t have the opportunity to at least start at baseline. Definitely tough.
I admit that I struggle with the general idea that one has to “qualify” in order to get married. There’s this list of things that single women are given and expected to accomplish before they are ready to get married. We tell our girls that boys will always be there and to get their education first. You’re expected to work on yourself, do fun things, finish school, pay off debt, and get a decent job among other things before you qualify for marriage. Now granted, my story is different in that while I’ve always wanted to get married, I had a feeling that I would be on the road less traveled for a long time. I just didn’t anticipate how long it would be. I was hoping for 25 but now I’m pushing 30 without any actual potential mate on the horizon. I find it frustrating when I’m told that there’s something that I’m doing wrong or just haven’t done yet that makes me unqualified to be married. I see people all day, I’m a good listener, I can hold an emotionally safe place and challenge the perspectives of others in a way that is non-threatening and supportive. I’m the sole provider of my household of one and while I’m not rich, bills do get paid and I travel once in a while. I recently completed the highest educational level one can achieve (PhD) and yet the Universe still apparently sees me as unqualified for a mate. I’m all about doing the work but shit, being alone gets old after a while. I’ve learned how to self soothe and what to do to calm myself down but there are times that I’d sell my soul for a hug and the knowledge that someone has my back. Yes, I’m approached by guys but so far they aren’t ready for anything serious or want me to finance their lives and take care of them. Neither is an option I want to live with. It sounds corny but I want to matter to someone. Really matter. I haven’t found that yet and the older I get the less optimistic I am. It’s just exhausting and tiring doing it alone all the time and while I’ll always do what I have to do, I wish things were different.
One thing that I often encourage my clients to do is to get outside of their comfort zone once in a while. This often takes the form of encouraging them to travel somewhere. That’s why I really liked this article about traveling that’s written by a therapist. You can read it here. There’s nothing like doing something while going out your comfort zone. There’s the opportunity for learning more about yourself and the world around you when you go somewhere. You have the chance to experience a new culture and navigate in an unfamiliar environment where you don’t necessarily have the backup of friends and family. Solo travel can be daunting but that’s the fun part about working through your reluctance. The more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know. But it’s all about taking the first step and doing it–because let’s be honest, sometimes you just have to do things while scared because it’s something your future self will thank you for.
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.
It’s funny how fast time flies but how slow it can drag by. My birthday is right around the corner and it’s always around this time of year that I take another inventory of what exactly has been accomplished. Last time this year I lived in California and was working at a rehab center. This year I’m in Georgia working as a therapist and I have no clue where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing next year. The biggest thing for me right now is trying to finish school. It’s been a long long journey and I’m ready for it to be over. I’ve learned that it can be important to pace oneself at times. I’ve accomplished a few things professionally this past year. I added two additional clinical licenses in separate states and I’ve made some progress with my degree. Personally I’m still single and while it’s not a surprise to me I still find myself thinking, “maybe next year things will be different.” But there’s no huge surprise there and I’m even more cautious since my job requires me to listen to horror stories of relationships gone wrong. Needless to say, I did have one, yes one really good date this year. And while I’m grateful for that, I’m crossing my fingers to double that to two good dates next year. Celebrate the wins right. I’ve definitely learned more about the importance of self care and as much as I want a significant other, I’m just tired of not winning in that department. I feel that eternal optimism only goes so far. I’m deciding to focus on something else for now because it’s a little too depressing. However, I’m grateful to be where I am for now but I’ll continue to constantly look for different opportunities. You only live once.