Working in the field of social work, or I suppose any helping profession comes with a bit of a burden: the sense of responsibility for someone else’s well-being. I say burden, because we tend to take this very seriously, and it’s scary! Especially at the beginning. In social work, we tend to feel that responsibility for someone’s emotional well-being. After my first few years fearing this, I came to see it as a luxury. Someone else is trusting me with his/her emotional life, and is revealing inner, often private, thoughts that perhaps no one else in their life is privy to. So, yes, this is scary, but it’s also a privilege. Perhaps if we shift our lens from feeling fearful to perceiving it as an honor, that can be a starting point to feeling more confident.
Making mistakes is a natural “right” that should be bestowed on all of us when we come into this world. In fact, it is. We learn to walk, we fall down. We learn to talk, we make up bizarre sounding words. We learn to eat, we smear our food all over our face. So what happens after toddlerhood that activates this sense of dread when making mistakes? Sure, it can have to do with how these errors or mistakes were handled by our parents, our teachers, etc., but it is extremely curious to me that the majority of us have this ability to punish ourselves. And so, that raises questions about a much larger phenomenon - why this is such a common feeling. I don’t have the answer, but I do think that those of us who go into the profession of social work are somewhat “broken”. And I don’t mean that to be critical - I’m one of you! I mean that in the sense that whether we realize it or not, social work has drawn us in, has spoken to us, likely because of our own connection to needing help or living through some difficult times. That being said, somewhere along the line it’s like we got the message “get it right, or else”.
I have tried to live my life with the words of Elbert Hubbard in mind. He was an American writer and philosopher, who said “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” I hope you too can adopt that philosophy. Remember:
So, as a social worker, we have the ability to consult - with a supervisor or a colleague. You don’t know of a resource your client needs? Ask someone. You think you may have said the wrong thing to a client? Go back the next time and address it. You are modeling very positive behaviors: asking the client how he/she felt about what you said or didn’t say; you are showing that you are able to self-reflect; you are showing that you want to build a positive relationship; and you are showing that you are human, and fallible… and it’s ok! What better model for human interaction?!
If this topic "speaks" to you, hear more on Episode 13 of WWDMD.