Today one of my supervisees, herself with 10 years frontline experience, asked me a very interesting question ‘What is the secret of your longevity in the social work profession?’
I think this question is particularly worthy of consideration given current narratives about ‘burn out’ and the requirements of ‘self-care’ being so influential in human service organisations, commonly being incorporated into performance indicators and reviews. Over the years I have no doubt experienced harm and been subjected to trauma in workplaces caused by systemic and structural inequities and political oppression. I have had to have breaks from work to recover and regenerate from these experiences and have on occasion considered a change of career. I want to emphasise that it has not ever been direct work with clients that has lead me to those dark places.
So what has kept me hanging on to hope and resisting invitations to give up on a profession that has also provided me with deep professional satisfaction and inspiration? Here are my 5 secret longevity tips:
1) Develop a theoretical framework for practice underpinned by values that align closely with your personal values and ethical stance. For me this has been found within the traditions of Narrative therapy, where understandings about client problems are located in socio-political-cultural contexts, not in the mind or body of the individual.
2) Welcome change in the organisational context and be willing to embrace new career opportunities as they arise, including the responsibility of team leadership and co-ordination roles.
3) Seek out quality reflective supervision, even when not considered necessary by your employer and you have to self fund.
4) Build effective team and interagency relationships and an extensive professional network. Two-thirds of the jobs I have been successful in applying for have come through word of mouth recommendations rather than job seeker websites or recruitment agencies.
5) Find activities outside of work that ‘fill up your bucket’ of energy and joy. For me they have usually been as part of a community, for example joining choirs and musical ensembles and a yoga studio.
6) Don’t take yourself too seriously and have a good laugh!