How getting off track ended up leading me in the right direction
Don’t be mislead by the subtitle. This post is not about a time in my life where I veered away from a good path and got wrapped up in something crazy or life-threatening. It’s a lot more simple than that, and pretty PG…I promise! It’s about a time in my life where I, literally, decided to step away from the track for awhile. Track and field has been a part of my life since I was nine years old, it was my identity. Well, once I was done competing for Arizona State University…I went through a little bit of an identity crisis. All the sudden I went from “Hi! I’m Shaylah! I’m a pole vaulter” to: “Hi! I’m Shaylah! I’m….(uh, who am I?)” After a few different up’s and down’s of dealing with this quarter-life crisis, I found myself working two jobs, volunteering for two different companies, being busier than I had ever been…and loving a path which had nothing to do with track and field. I ended up nurturing another part of my life and finding out a little bit more about myself along the way. So these are the experiences I wanted to share with you!
Here, you’ll find the video I made to talk about the two different companies I volunteered for. But first, I’d like to provide a disclaimer: I am no videographer. You should have seen the set up I had in my room (imagine a hamper with a jewelry box on top, a shoe box on top of my jewelry box, and then two books stacked on top of that shoe box in order to reach the ideal camera height). I messed up close to a million times and realized two things when I finally finished: 1) I talk with my hands, a lot. I’m part Hispanic…it’s in my blood to talk with my hands, I’ve accepted it. 2) I ramble when I get nervous. And yes, I was nervous making this. Lastly, I know the video is super long. I could probably talk about these two companies for hours but somehow got it smashed down to twenty minutes…I have a hard time giving the spark-notes version of stories. With all that being said, hopefully you enjoy!
My Life as a Social Worker
I was so excited when I got a job as a social worker. The company I worked for was Southwest Human Development, and the department I worked in was contracted out my the Department of Child Safety (DCS). My job, as a Family Support Specialist, was to work with a licensed counselor and go into the homes of families who were currently involved with DCS. We were either trying to preserve the family and keep the children inside the home, or aiding in the children’s transition back into the home after they had already been removed for some time. I was going to be helping families all over the valley, up close and personal, working with them to improve their lives. I, Shaylah Teryn Simpson, vowed to make a difference with every family I met. I would work as hard as I possibly could for these families. I would fight for them in every way possible. That is what was going to happen, right? I was going to create change, and really make a difference? Well, it was partly true.
All I’ve ever wanted to do was help others. If I knew anything about myself it was that I loved working with people and interacting with people. I went into being a social worker as this bright-eyed, big-hearted sheltered girl from the suburbs of Phoenix with a very, hmm…how should I say it…hopelessly positive outlook on the world. I don’t think coming into this job as a “bright-eyed, big-hearted” person was necessarily a bad thing though. Did it cause me to start off having unrealistic expectations? Definitely. But it also enabled me to see the good in every person I worked with, no matter how rough of a situaiton they came to me in. Which is why I think a lot of us fall into this field; we believe in people’s potential and their capabilities of change. It just took me awhile to see that there was another part of this job. The hard part of being a social worker, and what I struggled with the most, was this: having to accept and acknowledge when people decide not to make positive changes in their life and understand it does not have anything to do with my ability of supporting them. For as many families who somehow went into total chaos, refused services, or wanted nothing to do with you being in their home…there was another family you would encounter who was willing to put in the work to improve their lives and craved a brighter future. Those were the families who made all the stress, deadlines, and sleepless nights worth it. How great of a job did I have knowing I got to wake up every morning and work towards making someone’s life a little better?
It took me about four months to really adjust to being a social worker though. I was fairly uncomfortable my first few rounds of walking into people’s homes telling them I was sent there by DCS to work with their family. Most of the time the DCS case worker had already told the families we would be coming, on other occasions we caught them completely by surprise! My very first time shadowing a visit with a co-worker to open a case with a family went south really quick. The family was already upset we were in their home to begin with, and as I was writing down notes on how to conduct the opening visit I noticed the mother kept looking over and staring at me. I thought to myself: “She doesn’t look too happy that I’m writing notes down right now. She’s totally about to yell at me.” And sure enough, I was right! I’ll never forget it; right in the middle of my co-worker explaining how the services worked, the mother points her finger at me and loudly says “Excuse me, but who is she and why is she here writing stuff down?” I was terrified! The mother ended up kicking me out of the visit and I had to leave. I had never interacted with someone who so angered by my presence in a room before. Didn’t she know we were just there to help her?
I had supervision with my manger every week when I first started, and most of the time I felt like it was me talking to her for an hour about how I was so shocked by all the families I encountered. How could some families be content with living in total chaos and destruction? Why were families so angered by us when we are just trying to help them? Why don’t these parent’s realize their actions are hurting their children? I would get so physically and emotionally stressed the first few months I started. I had a very difficult time coming home to my regular life after a day’s work which had just ended at a family’s home who just found out they had been denied for food stamps and were wondering how they were going to make ends meet, or just had a big family fight, or had just lost their job, the list could go on. I often times struggled with feeling guilty because it was odd for me to come home, make dinner, and turn on the television like I had not just left a struggling family’s house 30 minutes prior. It took time for me to “flip the switch” when I ended my work day because part of me felt if I stopped thinking about them and went on with my daily routine, then it meant I did not care. But of course I learned that was most certainly not the case! When you are in the field of working with people on an personal level, flipping the switch is necessary…for the protection of your own sanity.
I used to get really upset when a family’s services ended abruptly (usually when the case suddenly closed, it was not because of something positive that had happened). I did not understand because I was working so hard for the successful outcome, what happened? I’ll always remember a piece of advice my two co-workers, Jackie and Renee, gave me: You cannot work harder than your client. This was a lesson I quickly learned, and realized it applied to my personal life and relationships as well. You cannot want something more for someone than they want it for themselves. You cannot force someone to change. That will never be your decision, nor should it ever be your job. All you can do is provide them the tools and encourage them along the way when they decide they are ready create change. Let go of that humanistic desire to control!
I learned so much about myself and grew deeper as a person from taking this job and I wish I knew how to put all of what I learned into words. But once I quit my social work job to begin training for track and field full time again, I just promised myself I would always continue to live out what I had learned: like how to truly sit and listen to another person when they are in need of someone to hear them, how to be patient with others (including myself), how to figure out a way to recognize a part of yourself in every person you meet in order to connect with them, and how to live with a compassionate heart for people… these are just to name a few.
I can go on and on about being a social worker and the stories I have just from working in the field for one year. It was the hardest, most eye-opening, year of my life…but also the most gratifying. I’ll always remember the first time I got kicked out of a home, the first time I cried after leaving a house because of the conditions the child had to live in, the first time a child drew me a picture and gave it to me, the first time I helped a client get a job, the first time a mother hugged me so hard I couldn’t stop myself from tearing up as she thanked me for the team’s help with her family, and the first time I realized I had actually made an impact on someone’s life. I wouldn’t have traded my year as a social worker for anything in this world, and I would like to think that regardless of the less than cheerful situations I encountered…I still came out bright-eyed and big-hearted.