Open Book Blog Hop: Lessons Learned, Lessons Worth Sharing

So, this week’s Open Book Blog Hop topic encourages me to remove the writer’s mask to reveal my ‘other’ side. Funny how this topic comes a few short weeks after I have come to finally accept the job I’ve been doing for the past 20 years.

But before I get there, here’s the topic:

July 24, 2017 – What Kind Of Lessons Could Anyone Learn From What You Do In Your Career?
Are there life lessons that people who aren’t in your career could learn from? You might be amazed.

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Rules:
1. Link your blog to this hop.
2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.
3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.
4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.
5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.



Baby Steps

When I chose my program at university, I’ll be honest: I had no idea what I was getting into. I was 19, had finished CEGEP (a kind of pre-university, for those who don’t know about the Quebec educational system), and had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career. I just knew that the only things I was really good at were writing and working with people. I didn’t believe I could build a career out of writing, so I did what any young person who likes working with people but couldn’t do math to save her life would do.

I became a social worker.

Trial by Fire

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What was I thinking?!

I’m an introvert by nature, but every activity in the program required me to work in groups, organize groups, or interact on a deep level with people through counselling. I was totally out of my comfort zone. I mean, I wanted to help people but the profession wasn’t anything like what I had expected. By the time I graduated, I was a qualified social worker, but let’s face it: I was still basically a kid with barely any life experience. (It’s not for nothing that a good number of social work students were what we called ‘mature students’).

I managed to find a job in a youth center that I really loved, but after a while I decided I needed to take the plunge and get some real experience. So, what nightmare did I throw myself into next?

I got a job in youth protection.

Youth protection workers get a bad rap, and I understand why. But as someone who’s done the job, I can say that they are needed, and that the job is bloody hard and, usually, thankless. I lasted two and a half years, but just barely. The stress and anxiety knocked my off my ass, and set off physical and emotional stress responses I still feel today. That said, I am grateful for the experience because it did what it was supposed to: it prepared me for the real world. The life and professional lessons I learned are still a part of my life today.

What now?

So, I’d survived my trials by fire. Everything else should be a snap, right?

Hell, no.

I work in a health and social services government agency with people who have physical and intellectual disabilities, and autism, and their families. It’s challenging work. There are so many needs and never enough resources. Stress is high. The burn out rate for social workers right now is through the roof.

If I’m being honest, most of the time I’m frustrated. Frustrated with the system, and frustrated because I feel utterly powerless. I listen to people for hours a day, empathizing, supporting, strategizing, organizing, counselling, and so on. There is so no end to the pain, heartbreak, and hopelessness. Families regularly fall apart, and kids lose control. Mental health problems abound. The environment is a perfect recipe to develop anxiety.

So, what do I do?

Turning Things Around

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I do what I can. Untangling situations, accessing resources, and problem solving  are key. But a lot of the time I just do what I have always done best: listen and encourage. Active listening is deceptively hard. It takes practice and genuine concern for the person being listened to. Empathizing is another skill that is harder than people think. It requires the listener to not judge and to purposely try to understand the situation through another point of view. Encouragement, no explanation needed, is another skill I find valuable. Honestly, I don’t always have the answers when I begin an interview. But after listening and empathizing, determination kicks in and off we go.

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I used to see social work as a burden. There were times the job made me sick. Since my last sick leave a few months back, I’ve been evaluating my situation, wondering why I do what I do, and if I should do something else. After praying about (a lot), I came to accept that this is where I should be, and if I’m going to remain here, I had to make it work. I realized that focusing on the problems with social work was the problem. So, I listened to, empathized with, and encouraged myself. And decided that I am not a social worker for myself, but for the people who pass through my door or with whom I talk to on the phone. I’m there for the families who don’t know where to turn, and for those on the edge of despair. It’s about putting other people’s needs before my own and doing my absolute best as a professional to help them.

I also accepted that I’m a social worker, not a miracle worker. That validating another’s experience and partnering with them to find a solution is in themselves powerful. Sometimes, looking someone in the eye and saying in a confident, supportive voice: “Listen, the situation is complicated, but don’t worry. We’ll figure it out,” makes all the difference.

So, What’s the Point?

What to take from my work experiences? I think one is remembering that people are our most important asset and that we must take care of one another. Two, that when we help someone in need, we show the world our best. Three, that everyone falls at some point. When it’s your turn, what kind of professional (person) do you want assisting you? Someone who’s just going through the motions, or someone who genuinely cares? Four, remember that the helping profession is hard, and those doing the work are human, just like you.

Supporting and caring for one another, and showing compassion and understanding, are some of the tools we all have at our disposal. But they just might be the most important.

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From blog.faithlife.com

Thanks for reading my experiences. I’d love to know your thoughts, or what lessons you’ve learned from your job or hobby. Please leave me a message below.

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Writing is a Marathon, Not a Race

Writing fatigue.

You’re probably thinking, ‘Oh, no, here she goes again!’ Well, yes and no. I have been writing a lot on this subject because that’s where I’ve been living for the last little while. And though it might not make for the most interesting subject to blog about, I suspect that, somewhere in cyber-space, other writers are suffering the same thing. Some may be even a little shy to be open about it because, well, let’s be honest we know writing is hard work. How often do you come across those memes or quotes that say ‘Never give up!’ or that ‘Keep your eye on the prize!’ or ‘Victory comes to those who stick it out!’

Blah.

Blah.

Friggin’ blah.

The thing is, despite my sarcasm, I believe them. Succeeding in any venture, whether it’s business, art, our 9-5 jobs, or anything we want to do well, requires time, effort and sacrifice. But what I’m also learning–the hard way, is that as much as there are moments to strive, there are moments when we have to rest.

Rest? How can that be productive? We live in a Go!Go!Go! world. Didn’t you hear that rest is for the weak? Don’t sleep! Work, work, work! That’s the method to the madness I have been following for the last few years and though it has produced some great results, it burned me out.

I felt it coming around August. For more than three years, I worked on building this writing…career I’ll call it, since that’s what I hope it will become. From past posts, some of you know the route I took to get here, but for those who don’t, it included writing groups, critique groups, finding a writing partner, trial and error writing—which included receiving plenty of lambasting–learning how to build a writing platform, social networking—you get the picture. It’s a ton of work to do when you have a regular job, and a family, who often doesn’t get to see much of me when I’m ‘in the zone.’

But over the summer, something cool happened. I started blogging. The first one on Blogger did alight, but when I moved to WordPress—wow! Things really expanded and, suddenly, in addition to writing I had this other passion to nurture. It was great. I got sucked in. I went willingly, happily, but—

I was already drained by then. And it only got worse.

I’m a goal-oriented person; I’m at my best when I have a challenge to crush. That’s just who I am. Probably the pressure to ‘make it’ was fuelled by anxiety—I couldn’t rest. I had to keep getting better, I had to keep producing. If I wanted to make it—thereby ensuring that the sacrifices I’d made didn’t go to waste–then I had to keep pushing. What’s that expression? ‘Sleep when you’re dead?’

Almost. Or that’s sorta how it felt at times.

I threw myself into writing, tortured myself by reading other people’s work that was better than mine and, out of a sense of inferiority, set out to create something I thought was just as good. I read business articles and platform-building post after post so I could beat myself up over all the things I wasn’t doing. I literally could not, and would not rest.

It was insane. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been through this.

The kicker came the day I asked a friend for a prompt. I was so tired but I hadn’t written anything for a few days. Despite the fatigue, that story was one of my best up to that point. Yay! Then I tackled another challenge, one which led to the writing of Mad Mac. I remember sitting that night with the laptop on my lap thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’ But somehow I did. It felt like pushing past the Wall in running—I was (mentally) exhausted but something else took over and pushed me past my normal limits to finish the job. But something ‘crashed’ inside me that night.

Image from wonderingfair.com

Image from wonderingfair.com

For a long time afterwards, just the thought of writing made me feel tired; a heaviness fell over my hands and a fog clouded my mind. My brain just said, ‘No.’ Despite the need to write, I instead turned to drawing, blogging, focussing on marketing my book—anything except serious writing. At first, I was nervous. How long would this last? What if I’m blocked for good? But as much as I was concerned, I decided to let it go. I felt free for the first time in a long time. Despite not writing anything creatively while fighting the words, ‘A writer has to write every day!’ I managed to say, ‘Screw that. Not today.’

I’m past all that now. A few things have changed. Primarily, I managed to find myself again. Probably, if you reread some of my recent posts you’ll notice a trend—the drive to succeed led to a disconnect with myself and why I love to write in the first place. I don’t read my G+ threads anymore, nor do I read writing ‘how to’ posts or other people’s writing (except books). Perhaps I’ll go back to that stuff in the future, but right now, the peace and quiet is sublime. I also found a few books with which to relax my mind and to feed my creative self. One of them inspired me directly to get back to writing. The day after I finished it, I picked up my current, unfinished manuscript and got to work.

I think the point of this post is to say that it’s okay to admit you’re tired–and maybe spinning out of control. And that it’s okay to stop. To take a break to find your centre; it will come back to you. The world doesn’t stop spinning, it never rests, but sometimes we have to.

 So, what about you? Anyone else have thoughts to share on this subject? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading! 🙂