Final Food for Thought
Alex and I became acquainted through the church camp that I attended every summer. This particular year was my first as a head counselor. Although I was a seasoned camper, nothing could really prepare me for this leadership experience. Alex was a complicated girl to say the least. A bit of a tomboy, she was constantly getting into arguments and starting fights. To really know Alex, however, you need to know that she had a rough home life. With no mother around and an ailing father to care for, Alex was expected to deal with things on her own. There was little money for designer jeans or name brand anything for that matter, and Alex’s classmates had no problem letting her know just how funny they thought her situation was. All things considered, I knew I would have my hands full when it came to Alex. However, I became inexplicably attached to Alex over the course of the week. Maybe that’s why I was so blindsided when I found out that Alex had been stealing from some of the other girl campers.
Normally, I would have given a lecture about how wrong stealing is, how disappointed I was, and then I would have called her parents. But this time was different. As Alex stood there, tears streaming, I looked into her eyes and I could see it; I could see her genuine remorse, and I knew that she didn’t need a lecture. What I gave her was a hug and a kind word. I don’t know where Alex is right now or what she’s doing with her life. But I sometimes hope that she will remember that moment and that it will have helped her in some small way.
When I consider the reasons for becoming a social worker, I go back to this summer, this time that I shared with Alex, and I realize that this is my defining moment. Maybe you have a defining moment, and you’re sitting there remembering a specific point in time that inspired you to do what you do. Maybe you don’t have a defining moment, but there’s something that has urged you to do social work. Maybe it was a difficult circumstance, a lesson learned, or an influential teacher. Perhaps your defining moment lies just around the corner. Or possibly you have just always known that social work was what you are meant to do. But whether a moment or something much broader, we all have something that has forever deemed us social workers.
My challenge this year has not been to identify my moment. I have always had that in the back of my mind. My challenge has been, simply, to hold on to it. When I think of that summer so many years ago, I remember the innocence with which I approached that situation. But it’s no secret that the profession we’re going in to can often weigh heavily on us. I would venture to say that most of you have already or will experience this feeling at some point in your career. Maybe there has been a day that just seemed to drain you both physically and emotionally. Or possibly you encountered a client this year that you could never seem to help get over that last hurdle.
As we’ve all experienced these emotions I think we’ve also realized that we need to find some way to combat them. You have all had to discover how to somehow harness a child-like faith – that glimmer of hope that feels almost instinctual. There might have been times during this year that difficulties and stress sometimes overshadowed the light. But it was always there regardless. When you feel yourself losing steam, look back on your defining moment. Remember what it felt like to help someone just because you wanted to. Think about not just the challenges you will face, but also the happiness and joy that result from someone overcoming what seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle.
I challenge you to answer these questions for yourselves. What defines you? Will you remember that for years to come? Someday when you’re a seasoned social worker, look back to the beginning, remembering what it was that made you want to change the world. When you’re having that day that feels like it’s never going to end, think back to why you wanted to become a social worker. Whatever your inspiration is, define it, and remember that hope is always waiting just around the corner.