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Releasing Pain and Embracing Joy

On Friday afternoon, I cried. I was driving from one office location to another, and I cried. What triggered my tears (not that there needs to be a trigger) was seeing a former client who is doing so incredibly well now. I had seen her struggles and her pain during our work together, but seeing her victory overwhelmed me with joy, and I cried.

Seeing that particular client made me reflect, not only on my experience working with her, but my experience as a professional social worker, in general. I reflected on the positive experiences—the clients whom I’ve helped to feel empowered and create lasting change in their lives. I also reflected on the negative experiences—the racism and discrimination I’ve experienced, the harsh words that pierced my soul like a dagger, and the people who failed to honor and respect my humanity. What followed my reflections were not feelings of self-pity and woe, but amazement at human beings’ capacity for resilience and brilliance. People say to me, “You truly make a difference in people’s lives.” That is awesome that they feel that way, but I would rather think of it this way: I help people feel empowered to make a difference in their own lives. I bring my own experiences into my work with clients and use my experiences to instill in them belief, hope, and a sense of self-efficacy. To put it simply, I recognize that the clients whom I serve are already amazing; I simply sprinkle them with some of my gold! ;)

Someone asked me the other night whether I have any regrets so far in my career as a social worker, whether in jobs that I’ve worked or otherwise. I replied that I have no regrets, just lessons learned. Not only have I learned techniques and strategies for working with clients more effectively, but I have learned about myself. And that, my friends, is the most important learning there is. I cannot begin to name all of the ways in which I have grown, both personally and professionally, over the past few years. I am grateful for the pain and trials because they have made room for unspeakable joy, satisfaction, and peace.

When people ask me, “How do you do what you do?” In other words, how am I a social worker--a title that is often mistakenly associated with burnout and emotional fatigue? My response is simple: 1) The pleasure I experience from helping others far outweighs the negative “side effects”. 2) I take extra good care of myself. I recognize that I am a vessel and that if I do not continuously fill my vessel, I will be no good to myself or others. I set boundaries and know when “enough is enough”. If it’s time to step away for a few moments, I do that. I meditate, I journal, I exercise, I put wholesome foods into my body, I spend quality time with my friends and family members, and I take time to do things that I enjoy, whether finishing the latest season of “Greenleaf” or going out for sushi with my husband. Lastly, and probably most importantly, I allow myself to feel. I don’t hide my emotions, and I embrace the full range of them. There is so much beauty in fully embracing and experiencing who we are. I’m still working on getting more than 6 hours, 45 minutes of sleep (according