March is National Social Work Month! I am 11 years into my social work journey. I wasn’t always a social worker. In my previous life I was a Packaging Engineer. Packaging was a major that I stumbled upon while attending a week long summer camp at Michigan State University (Go Green! Go White!) while in high school. During that week I met two individuals that would help me to make the transition to college two years later. One person was a MSU student and we would exchange several handwritten letters via mail (long before cellphones, social media and texting existed) where she would answer all of my questions related to college. The other person was the director of the summer camp. She held a Ph.D and I recalled being in awe at her education and her willingness to mentor me upon my arrival at MSU. I am still in contact with both of them some twenty-five plus years later.
Lesson 1: Connections, friendships and human interactions have meaning. Positive life long connections are a necessity and help to bring light to everyday situations.
I graduated MSU in five years and my final internship turned into a full-time position. The company was (and still is) well-known for consumer products (think tissue, toilet paper, tampons, paper towels, and diapers). Mommy and Daddy, I made it!! The experience there was impeccable, however, something was missing. I remained humble and did not complain as I had a job in my field immediately following graduation. It would be short lived because residing a small town that lacked diversity located in the middle of nowhere was unhealthy and unsustainable. After two years I exited and took on a new position with another company in a different state. I was still unhappy in the big city but volunteering at an after-school program was the outlet that made the full-time job bearable. It only took a few months of volunteering to identify that I needed to figure out how to make a living working with young adults full-time.
Lesson 2: Never ignore my intuition because it lets me know when something is not quite right. Listen, respect and honor it because it tells no lies.
My journey was not ideal and those close to me thought that I was foolish to consider exiting a lucrative field to be a social worker. Fast forward a bit and I interviewed and accepted a packaging position at another company. I knew that I would not enjoy the job when I initially came across it on a popular job search database. This was the final chapter and I remained steadfast in my quest to make more money using the skills that came easy to me. Packaging was easy and did not require much thought as my focus was obtaining a Master of Social Work (MSW). My work performance was stellar, however, this experience was different because I had an exit plan with an end date. I also had studying to tend to, two internships to complete and plenty of papers to write. I kept graduate school quiet because a MSW did not compliment my full-time job. A disclosure would make it obvious that staying at the company was not on my radar. Peers were getting MBAs to compliment their careers while I was studying human behavior, addictions and the elements of therapy. School also got me out of upholding the unspoken rule of attending happy hours, golf outings with senior leadership and other events to prove that I was a “team player.” I am aware that business happens outside of the office, however, I had no desire to climb the corporate ladder. Those events were the ultimate definition of pure boredom and watching paint dry would have been a much better use of my time. I was eventually fired from my final engineering job. For the first time in years I was able to partake in daily self-care which equated to watching Oprah (Oprah came on at 9am in Chicago) and the Young and the Restless. This was the life because I no longer relied on weekends to catch up on my DVR lineup and I was an official social worker during the evenings. My exit strategy worked because I was still being compensated financially without having to dedicate time and energy to a space that was no longer useful. Mission accomplished because juggling both fields simultaneously was draining.
Lesson 3: Follow my passion and move in silence until I can make it make sense. My steps are calculated and everyone will not understand how and why I move. The journey is not for everyone to understand because our definitions of “making it” likely differ.
I found happiness when I found my passion. Gone are the days of switching jobs hoping that happiness was lurking around the corner. With each engineering position the pay and benefits were greater; but happiness was still nowhere to be found. My routine was to identify when I would vest in the employer retirement contribution and exit two months afterward to ensure that I got something out of the deal. A few months into my first job post undergrad I concluded that happiness did not exist in corporate settings or in my title. I am eternally grateful that I finally ended my relationship with both on my terms and am no longer trading happiness for a paycheck, a “nice” benefits package and employee profit sharing. I no longer daydream about winning the lottery only to find myself upset when I put my money in the office lottery pool to no avail. I no longer sit in my car in tears moments before I have to walk into the office. Social work saved me. I am eternally grateful to be in a space where I have weaved all of my passions into services that are life sustaining. This is nothing short of the blessing that I envisioned while working in the other industry. It is a privilege to be invited into the lives of individuals and families daily. I love helping people and making connections brings me joy. Mommy and Daddy, I finally made it! I got a do-over and I made it for real this time!
Lesson 4: Never put a dollar amount on my happiness. My happiness is priceless and I control my narrative. I have the power to create the life and experiences that I desire.
ps… I deliberately did not focus on the many microaggressions that I experienced during my tenure in corporate america. Such spaces have a brutal way of highlighting privilege, sexism, racism and other isms on a daily basis. I will detail it all in a separate post. Salute to those of us who have escaped and have chosen to put ourselves first. It is a feeling like no other!
Until Next Time,
Peace, Love & Breastmilk™
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