Vacation Thoughts

I put down the book that I was reading, the third of this short vacation and picked up my journal and then my laptop. Sometimes, depending what I am reading many thoughts cross my mind and derail me. Many times that derailment ends up being productive, as long as I am willing to assess what happened and where the derailment began.

Work had crossed my mind but those thoughts remained only briefly. When I say “work” I’m not referring to the 9-5 job that I have that pays the bills, I’m referring to my career, my vocation as a social worker. There’s a difference I learned many years ago between a job and a career. When I interviewed new social workers for a position one of my questions was “are you looking for a job or a career?” The answer to that question told me a lot about the individual who I was interviewing. If they didn’t want a career they more than likely didn’t get a chance beyond the interview to be hired. Sure, I might have missed out on some good employees but that one answer let me know how invested they might be in working with clients.

We all have different reasons for becoming social workers. For wanting to enter a career that would afford long hours and pay that usually didn’t compensate for those hours. Too many days I brought work home. Before computers I hand wrote treatment plans while sitting on the couch with my wife lying to myself and to her that I was actually paying attention to the program on the TV. I took advantage of time that I could have spent with my wife and kids believing my own words that “I was doing this for them”, for the paycheck, for possible advancement but in reality I could not allow myself to do a half-ass job. I now supervise staff who take their work for granted. I see the lackadaisical attitude and the sloppy work. I was lucky to have three amazing supervisors who helped me see my career path as a social worker who wanted his name to mean that high quality work was being done. One of those supervisors, Carole, asked me if I wanted to do some extra work at her home on Saturdays. The work consisted of painting and wallpapering. One day I arrived, knocked on the door and she opened the heavy door. I reached for the screen door to find it was locked. She wouldn’t let me in until I answered a question. She wanted to know why I was a different person at work from the guy who showed up on Saturday. She would not allow me entrance into her home until I answered her question.

I lied several times and she knew it. She knew me better than I knew myself. My answers were superficial. Little did I know or want to admit that she wanted better for me. She wanted me to know the answer to  her question. Ultimately the answer was based in what I would come to know as my “core feeling.” It was fear. I was afraid to be me, to let others know who I really was. She told me she liked the Chris who showed up at her house Saturday mornings to be the same person she saw at work everyday. The Chris who smiled and laughed. Another supervisor several years later, Peter, had pretended to fall asleep during supervision. Later I would find out this was a ruse, a plan he and his supervisor had to help me understand that If I wanted to have longevity in this profession I would need to learn to be Chris. Chris was a guy who enjoyed smiling; who liked to laugh and joke with others. I listened. Carole and Peter helped me find myself. My only hope was that it was not too late.

I struggled finding this balance in my personal and professional life and it wasn’t until I seriously contemplated suicide that I began to go down the path of finding happiness in my life. I saw my personal life change. I saw happiness return. I stopped taking my wife and kids, my marriage and many other things for granted. I saw fear leave and joy fill the void left where fear once stood. I began to find myself. Gratitude for what I had was the answer. Stoicism was another branch of that answer. I had no idea years ago what Stoicism was. The role of the Stoic is to use conventional roles for self-improvement, while simultaneously aiding others. The Stoic becomes a leader by example as the result of fulfilling duties to the best of their ability. – potentially inspiring others to aim for the same. The Stoic career is one of life-long self-development. This fits me perfectly.

I stumbled across a really cool podcast a few years ago. I didn’t start listening to it until recently. The podcast is There was one post concerning a police officer and the man who would eventually be arrested and charged with attempted murder of that same officer. The officer talks about his gratitude for being shot and said that “it was important for me to get shot.” He goes on to explain that after 23-years as a police officer he was concerned only with “clearing the calls before the end of shift.” I’ve been there. Any social worker who has worked in a community mental health center know the stress. Many social workers don’t last long. It’s long hard work with a very difficult population.

The first life lesson was ongoing self-development. I LOVE what I do for a living. I love helping others find that same enjoyment in their own lives. I can often be found reading or rereading a text book. Well maybe not a text book but somethings that has to do with my ongoing education. The other important life lesson is gratitude. Gratitude for the things I have in my life and for the people I have and have had in my life.

Today I can look back at those episodes, those trail markers as periods of growth. Instead of resentment I found gratitude. Because fear would and to some degree continues to be a part of me was what helped me decide that I wanted to write this book. A friend who I knew could be trusted to be honest with me, found my blog and read many of the posts. He was the one who suggested I write a book. He said, “You should write a book.” Fear again set in as I thought “Who would want to read it?” Fear continued and I then found myself answering my own question. “No one” would want to read this. Jim who was one of the first supervisors in my career would have disagreed. He was another influential person in my life who taught me the importance of living my life. Jim left this world at the age of 46. After years of eating what he wanted and smoking his life ended too early. That was in 1994. I miss him still and often think when times are difficult, “What would Jim do?”

This post is the one that caused me to put fingers on the keyboard of my laptop. My thought was that I had many supervisors in my 35-plus year career. Those three reminded me of the importance of having those people in my life early one because I might not be the social worker or the person that I have come to be. For that I am grateful and if my musings help just one other social worker struggling with similar thoughts then I’ve done my job. I’ve passed the torch to future social workers.


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