Preparing an exit
From what I've read, I fit into a personality type that's never fully satisfied at my current lot in life and I'm always going to be anxious to move onto the next big chapter. I'm not sure how accurate that is, considering how fortunate and privileged I feel to be where I'm at right now. My worry a lot of times is more that I'll end up being too content and complacent with my status quo: living by myself in a studio apartment and working as a social worker in a supportive housing apartment building. I've come to develop a routine, and I think I've come to enjoy it quite a bit too.
The stuff I've read about my personality type can feel very true a lot of times though. Many days I go to bed fantasizing about leaving all this behind by joining the Peace Corps or something like that and never coming back. Even on the days I feel very proud of the social work challenges I've experienced and overcome, I still end up wondering a lot about if what I'm doing, if where I'm at is really the best that I could be doing.
Earlier today at work I taped information about a scholarship program that my workplace will be hosting onto a whiteboard that I keep in my office. This is information that my supervisor emailed to me and my coworkers about a week ago, and realizing that I kept forgetting to talk to people on my caseload about it, I thought to tape it somewhere in my office. It turned out to be very effective. Now I know for sure that people pay close attention to things in my office. About seven people visited me in my office today and three asked me about the scholarship program.
I mention this because one of those three tenants asked me when I was going to go to school. That kind of puzzled me at first and I replied, "What do you mean? The scholarship program is for the tenants in the building." She responded, "I know, but I was talking about you. You told me before you were thinking of going to law school."
I guess in supportive housing when your caseload is so permanent, what can sometimes happen is that we social workers might end up sharing our own personal thoughts and desires with the people our clients. Once the bird's out of the cage, even by accident, it's never going back.
In this case, the self-disclosure occurred when I accompanied this tenant to HPD office (NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development) because tenant had inquiries about her Section 8 voucher. In the waiting area someone asked if I was the tenant's lawyer. The tenant answered I was her social worker and that initiated the person explaining her situation and expressing how she wished she too had a social worker like me. On the way ride back, my client commented about how some people thought I was her lawyer. She then asked if I would consider being a lawyer and added that she thinks I'd be a really great lawyer. I chuckled nervously and admitted for some time I was thinking of maybe going into law school in the future.
That conversation was about two months ago. Today I learned she never forgot about it. The relationships we end up forming at work are definitely really interesting. It surprises me at times the things people pay attention to and remember. The concept of boundaries, especially in supportive housing, can be quite a tricky thing I think.
I'm very grateful to have a great degree of autonomy as a social worker in my workplace. I have to admit that this often means some things in work end up getting neglected if I'm not self-motivated enough. It's clear to me that I sometimes get away things here that would get me in serious trouble in other kinds of social work work environments. For example, I have some days in which I leave for home without having caught up to progress/case notes. I keep a Excel spreadsheet which records specifics of a session (date, time, initial of tenant, duration of session, type of session, key words for context of the session, a "y" to indicate if I finished writing a progress note about the session) and I use this as a reference to ultimately write up a progress note of all of my social work interactions and outreach efforts. It's my cheat sheet, and I will shamefully admit that there were times I relied on it so much that I was behind many days on notes. Fortunately, I have maintained a good reputation for ultimately staying on top of documentation obligations, and as I still am like a tech support and tutor to other staff, I don't really get in trouble.
I do think this allowance has a great benefit for the agency as a whole at times. This kind of autonomy allows me to focus and prioritize on actual person-to-person relationship-building social work with people on my caseload, and sometimes, even people outside my caseload when my coworkers might not be available at the moment. When I accompany a tenant to a hospital because they have to undergo a procedure and they're super anxious and scared about it, I can spend many hours with that one person that day without having to worry too much about not being able to be in the office to type up all the progress notes on time. I know that it'll all get done eventually, but right now, it's much more important that I be present with this person at the hospital, and do my best to express my care and concern, and advocate on behalf of this tenant. I like working at a place where I can prioritize the people I serve over paperwork.
I've been working here a little over two years now. It's been an amazing experience, especially because when I was hired, the place was literally a start-up and parts of the building was under construction. Some days it's hard for me to imagine working anywhere else, even in the distant faraway future. But I tell myself to not get too attached here. I feel like the work I've done in the past two years has subconsciously been geared towards preparing my exit from this place. I want this place to survive and thrive well past my absence. I think that's why I voiced my suggestions and ideas so much this past two years, and got involved in some behind-the-scenes type of work such as standardizing certain site protocols and refining the site's online database system. I've been available as much as I can to the tenants on my caseload, but I have also been at times the cause of their disappointments, in the hopes that they will further their own skills and independence.
I love this job, what I get to do, but there really are days – true to what those personality tests say about me – that I just can't picture doing this for too long. I'm still honing my skills and learning how to do good social work, and so I don't think I'd feel ready to leave here any time soon, but I do get the feeling that time will ultimately come.
For now, I hold within me the hopes, dreams, fears, pains, joys, and disappointments of about 20 tenants on my caseload. It's probably going to be real a challenge, preparing myself for the inevitable day when none of that will be on my shoulders anymore. I should be relieved that day is probably at least another year away.
On a site note, that the lead vocal of Linkin Park Chester Bennington died by suicide has left me really pensive lately. I mean, my favorite thing about the band has always been Mike Shinoda – and personally for me, I think growing up he was the only Asian voice I heard in the music I listened to. Still, so many Linkin Park songs I'm realizing are about battles that occur deep within us, and portray quite well the struggles of different kinds of mental illnesses. The anger and the anxiety I had as a teenager is so well reflected in their songs. I love the harmony of synth sounds, heavy guitar riffs, and melodic singing accompanied by occasional screaming and Mike's rapping. Listening to many of the songs now, the evolution of lyrics to me shows a theme of struggling not to exit, but still subconsciously preparing for it. It's like for so many years there's been desperate cries for help and to let the world know that being alive right now is a monumental thing.
Anyway, this post is getting long so I think I should end my thoughts here. I really plan on writing more frequently here. I think what I need to do is to determine a day and time in the week I am expected to have a blog up so that way I can at push myself to post something at least once a week. I'm thinking, like Mondays at 1PM? We'll see how that goes.
Next blog I plan to be more focused also. I'm planning to write about what it's felt like to me to work at supportive housing.