Mindset | Surprise Me

The Social Work Dilemma: What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Love. It’s why we do anything we want to do.

We save up all year to take that two-week vacation so that we can go to that place we love. We spend our free time getting lost in that activity that we love. We spend money we don’t have on that thing we don’t really need because we love the way it makes us feel when we have it. And some of us even go so far as to take the legally-binding step to commit the rest of our lives to another human being because we genuinely believe that life in love with that person would be better than a life without it.

But as a condition of life, sometimes what or whom we love doesn’t always support and love us back in the ways we would hope. When this happens our hearts break and we may find ourslevles reevaluating everything we thought we knew about love all over again.

Falling In & Out

I was first introduced to social work at the end of my second year in college. By that time it seemed that everyone except me had their lives figured out because to that point my major was still “Undecided.” I can still remember sitting in my first class and hearing my lecturer speak about the profession and outline the different roles and arenas of practice that social workers occupied. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Never before had I connected with an idea so effortlessly, so completely as I did in that first week of school. I was smitten!

But over time I noticed that something was off.

I first noticed it in school; when I would tell people my major they would invariably bring up the low wages associated with it. I then noticed early in my career when I would have to regularly turn down dinner and social invitations with friends because I didn’t have the money to spend. But the reality finally became unavoidable when, as an experienced professional, I had to call one of my best friends and admit that I wouldn’t be able to support her on her big day as a bridesmaid – I just couldn’t afford it. I was heartbroken.

How, I wondered, can the thing that I love so much not love and support me back?

Heartbreak can be an excruciating thing. Science links love to our need for purpose and belonging, but if you’ve ever been through an experience of loss of your own, all you know is that it sucks. Confusing thoughts, sleepless nights, and feelings of helplessness all make for the perfect recipe of a crisis in identity – at least it did for me. I had to admit the truth that what was once love had turned into a lack of confidence in what I had assumed was to be my forever career. But if I didn’t belong to social work, who was I?

The Dichotomy of Love & Hate

 

An interesting relationship exists between social workers and their profession. We love the meaning in the work we do, but we hate the pay. We love our organizations’ missions, but we hate the bureaucracy. We love the feeling of accomplishment when we get our practice license, but we hate the trite way in which we’re often looked down upon as if what we offer has no significant value. We love belonging to such a noble profession, but we hate being made to feel like we have to defend our choice to others – especially when our often menial compensation is being called into question.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026 – “much faster than the average for all occupations.” This despite reports that the median annual salary for all social workers in the U.S. as of May 2017 was $47,980 or $23.07 per hour. Considering that the average Retail Sales Associate earns about $43,145 per year (Indeed, February 2019), the years of social work training, scrutiny, and stress may hardly seem worth it.

With trends in career jumping, lifestyle design, and online entrepreneurship, the opportunity exists for social workers to rethink their chosen paths and renegotiate their annual incomes on their own terms. Armed with the right information, it’s no longer mandatory to accept the limited compensation of grant-based salaries or depend on an agency’s inevitably tight budget to meet our legitimate needs. For me, the choice was one of survival: stay in and burn out completely or find a way to save myself. This blog, my book, and my coaching practice are some of the ways I have started to create my own salary. For those who can navigate the endless sea of opportunities that exist, the chance remains to leverage their social work or (gasp!) non-social work skills and maybe even fall in love with something new in their lives.

A Choice to Love

There is no shame in love, neither are there guarantees. Over time and with repeated experiences we may become familiar with the disappointment that comes from losing something we hold so dearly. For those who have the courage to embrace the lessons, know how to speak to the pain and how to show themselves compassion when it inevitably comes, we get to hurt a little bit less and may even discover some beautiful sides of ourselves that we never knew existed.

I still love social work, but in a different way than I used to. I’ve had to change my expectations of what loving social work means to me without asking anything in return. Now, I am in no way suggesting that the choice to love is always an easy one, but if I’ve learned anything it’s that if I’m going to live my life to the fullest I’m going to have to explore some other ways to experience love for myself without making anything – person or profession – responsible for my happiness and fulfillment. I don’t always get it right, but as a guiding philosophy I get to make love last….which is all I ever wanted from the start.

 

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