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?
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.
This month is Domestic Violence Awareness month and it is definitely needed and deserves attention. More recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with some women who have experienced it. While DV impacts both men and women, so far professionally I’ve primarily worked with women. People seem to be always quick to judge this population and I have to admit that women quite often catch the short end of the stick in the court of public opinion. There’s an opinion that women who stay with cheating spouses are just doing what is expected of them and in many situations men aren’t questioned when they leave a relationship if the tables are turned. The truth is that it’s not always easy to get out. Abusers often control finances and seek to isolate their victims from close family and friends. It’s even more complicated when children are involved and there are questions about next steps and potential custody battles. It’s also important to realize that abuse doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be emotional and verbal as well. In order to make a plan to leave the relationship, one has to come to the understanding that it’s an unhealthy/abusive situation. I’ve had women tell me that every marriage has ups and down and that they don’t want to be quitters by leaving when it gets tough. Many have been encouraged by pastors and faith leaders that they should just submit to their spouse and just bear their cross. It’s important to understand that most victims don’t leave their abusers on the first attempt AND that they are more at risk for increased violence when they try to leave. This is why it’s important to be a supportive friend because you don’t know what someone is going through. Many times women won’t open up to their friends or relatives because they feel ashamed and may feel like they have failed in the relationship and/or marriage. Be present, be aware, be supportive. Learn and recognize the signs of an abuser and don’t give second chances.
One thing that helps me to relax after a long day or to mentally prepare for the day in the morning before work is music. Lately I’ve found myself listening to music I heard a lot as a child. For some strange reason it’s really calming for me. I found a classic and you can listen to it here. I don’t know why but I really like this song and it’s been on repeat all week. It’s the definition of Christian R&B and it’s a great jam.
One thing about my new role is that I have the opportunity to be present for people while they do through hard times. My dissertation topic focuses on married black women and work life balance. So naturally I’m especially intrigued by clients who match the population that I’m studying in my academic life. Black women have higher rates of depression and anxiety than their White counterparts but are also less likely to seek treatment. Week after week I hear black women tell me that this is their first time in therapy or the first time they’ve opened up to anyone. Many tell stories of being discouraged from going to therapy by their families who say that they just need to have faith or pray more. Others speak of being judged by their faith leaders because they feel like they need to talk to someone and just reading the Bible is not enough. It’s ok to need help and it’s ok to get help. The commonality in many stories is that they are all expected to be strong and hold the family together through anything. They feel guilty crying or expressing emotions because they need to keep a straight face and move on. So many have been just existing in survival mode for so long that they’ve lost sight of their own dreams and aspirations. We have to stop discouraging people from getting help. Stop expecting your friend to be ok because she appears “strong.” There’s usually more going on than meets the eye and we have to stop assuming that things are fine. Because sometimes they aren’t.
I’ve made so many decisions since I moved back the South. Where I was going to live, what I was going to do, where I wanted to go, etc. In addition to starting a new job, I’ve also been tasked with keeping up with another job I have and simultaneously getting another two jobs off the ground and running. The thought of totally working for myself has always scared me to an extent. As an unmarried single person, there isn’t even the “safety net” of a spouse who could hold me down while I got something off the ground. I remember reading a quote that said entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and building a parachute on the way down. The thing about building a location based business is that you have to be willing to put down some roots in order to build up some clientele and network. It isn’t something that happens overnight and it takes some deliberate effort. But maybe it’s time to do something different and consider settling down for a change. While I love the idea of some stability, I also hate the feeling of being stuck without a good reason. And if I have to settle down I want it to be close to a beach where I can see and swim with some dolphins. But the truth is that if I’m taking the fairly big step of renting an office, then I need to do something that actually justifies the monthly fee that I’m paying. Logistically, having even two private clients a month would pay for the office itself. Two people out of a city of several million doesn’t sound too bad. It just means that I need to be strategic and market appropriately. Maybe it’s time to step out and do something different. I don’t love the idea of working for other people for the rest of my life.
There’s something about the month of May that makes me reconsider my entire life. It’s like an internal check-in to evaluate how the year has gone up to this point. It’s also my half-birthday month–which is another reminder that I only have 6 months to go until I’m a year older. Last year around this time I was living in Atlanta and working in a job I didn’t really love. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then and I’m happy to say that I’ve had the chance to travel a bit more because that was one of the things I resolved to do last May. Since then I’ve traveled to Las Vegas, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Spain, England, France, Italy, Monaco, and Malta. In addition to that I quit my job and moved across the country to California. It’s been eventful to say the least but I’ve learned a lot and have also acquired a new skill set. Working in a busy hospital and coordinating care will definitely have you learning a lot of new medical terminology that you didn’t learn in graduate school. I also decided to try my hand at teaching and am now facilitating a class of 16 graduate students in a weekly online class. It’s been challenging but fun so far. A lot of decisions were made last May and we’ll see what happens this year.