One day I had a serious meltdown. Six and a half years deep into my career as a social worker and was beyond miserable. Needless to say, that time I sat on the living room floor of S’s apartment in 2013 while my elbows rested on my knees and tears streamed down my face was the day that I contemplated leaving the field of social work.
My entire career has been in the non-profit industry. The pay was insulting. To top it off I witnessed trauma on a daily basis. I’ve seen incompetent employees keep their jobs, supervisors endanger families, and high-level administration would turn a blind eye to sections of the system that needed improvement.
Over time, resentment and bitterness built a thick film around my thoughts. My attitude deteriorated, and it began to spill over into my relationship with my son. His freshman year was when our relationship was at its worse, indeed that’s when I found myself on the verge of a burnout. Moreover, that was the day that I left social work.
The Day that I Left Social Work
I had no clue how to make the situation better. S and I had a long conversation about energy and the law of attraction. We discussed learning to control your destiny and how you are the one in the driver seat. S said, “You have two options, you either make it work, or you make plans to quit and do something else.”
Was it that easy? I sobbed as my thoughts quickly danced around the idea of quitting. There’s a statistic that said 80% of Americans hate their jobs. People dream of leaving their jobs one day, although not many take the leap. Many of my friends hated their jobs. At that moment, I began to imagine a life without social work.
I didn’t know what life was without removing children from their families or spending hours in court all the while facing judges and testifying. No more late night emergencies and investigations of homicidal and suicidal individuals. A life without runaways and locked residential facilities.
By the same token, I became exhausted by the heroin addicts nodding off during a home visit. Imagine no supervised visits with parents who lost custody of their children to the court system. I imagined a life without bureaucratic bullshit that was a barrier to great social work.
I couldn’t take it anymore knowing about disorders, abuse, neglect, and incompetence. Further weakened by the exposure to the darker side of life, I wished for blissful ignorance like everyone else.
It was time to end my career, however, I needed to develop an exit strategy. First, I would study for my independent licensure which would allow me to conduct private practice. It would open new doors and opportunities.
When in fact, I never made it.
I distinctly remember that it was a Wednesday, subsequently just a few weeks before my 33rd birthday. However, the initial conversation with S occurred during the month of August, just two months prior. I woke up that day feeling extremely depressed and unable to get out of bed.
I didn’t show up to work that day. Nor, did I call anyone to let them know that I wasn’t coming to work. Anyhow right before the day was coming to an end, I received a phone call from one of my colleagues, “One of your kids is hospitalized, and they need your signature.”
I knew which child it was. Hospitalization for him was like filling up your gas tank on a weekly basis. My colleague said, “Everyone is wondering where you are.” Her statement about my whereabouts fell on deaf ears. Despite what she was saying, I asked her for the information and then made a few phone calls. My supervisor signed the admittance to the hospital on my behalf.
Although my kid was safe at the hospital, I felt terrible as a professional. It was time to admit that I was desensitized. More importantly, before I established my career I promised myself that when that happens, I would submit my registration.
My career wasn’t some shift at a fast food restaurant (no offense). My job was massive which held a lot of influence over the lives of the children and families that I worked for.
The next day I walked into the office with a feeling of resignation. At first, I sat at my desk and checked my emails. My inbox overflowed with requests, demands, and concerns. My entire being was pulled in several directions. In an attempt to avoid my inbox I got up from my desk and walked towards the lunch room to make some tea.
My supervisor’s supervisor walked in. She had a confused look on her face. She asked, “What happened to you yesterday?” I said, “I was out.” She asked, “You didn’t call anyone, your supervisor; no one knew where you were.”
I responded, “Yeah. I decided to quit today.” Granted I didn’t even write my letter of resignation yet. My comment surprised her. “No, we’ll talk about this, I’ll come grab you in a minute.”
Saying those words out loud liberated my spirit, and I felt unleashed for the first time in my life. Furthermore, typing up my resignation later that day made me feel in complete control of my destiny. I walked to my supervisor’s office, and I handed it to her.
Indeed, she had a surprised but not so surprised look on her face. In any event, we sat in silence for a few minutes, then she said, “Was it something I did?” She was new to our division, however, not new to the game. “No, not at all,” I said trying my best not to cry.
More importantly, I explained to her that I couldn’t do it anymore and after yesterday’s incident it felt best that I resigned. I no longer felt connected to the work and for me to not show up for work the way that I did was a powerful indicator: that I have officially burned out. She understood.
My supervisor’s supervisor found me and we walked to her office. She said, “Don’t quit. Which unit do you want? I can put you anywhere. Independent living? Adoptions? Tell me which one and I’ll make it happen”, however, it was too late for that.
Despite my resignation, she began to tell me how much of what I was saying resonated with her, subsequently she boomeranged throughout the industry. It’s hard work however, there wasn’t anyone else to do it. She asked me to hang in there for the long haul. I told her that I couldn’t. She asked me, “What will you do?” I replied, “I don’t know.”
Incidentally, two and a half weeks after that conversation I consequently quit social work. I felt the guilt gnawing at my insides like a rabid dog chewing on a piece of steak. Indeed, I dedicated my life to this career but then I abandoned it. Either way, it felt as if I left the children and their families.
Either way, that was the greatest guilt of all. It took me years to forgive myself for leaving. I knew what I was leaving behind, hence why it tore me up inside. Many of the children that I worked with were going to age out of the system. It was just a matter of time.
More importantly, the children didn’t have any family members, and yet here I was, just another person who abandoned them. As such, guilt followed me for a very long time. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The Department of Social Services operates in this cycle, in which people come and go.
What followed after my decision was a rollercoaster that I wasn’t ready for. I imagined that life would become more manageable, however, I just traded one system for another.
Granted, I can’t compare social work with entrepreneurship, however, for the very first time in years, I had no one to answer to but myself. I couldn’t fall back on anyone and I couldn’t shift the blame to another system.
What rose to the surface during those years that I worked for myself were two things: anxiety and depression. I was completely outside of my element and did things that were out of my comfort zone constantly. The transition was immensely challenging, and I did things that I never thought I would.
Have you done something drastic to your career? Please comment below.
Lessons I’ve learned:
- Whatever happens in life, find your passion quickly.
- In fact, don’t be afraid of what may or may not happen.
- The future isn’t ours. Only the present is.
- Create a self-care routine and be honest about your emotions.
- Don’t feel guilty for taking care of you first.
- Don’t ignore the warning signs.
- Many of us have invested in something at some point in our lives. As a result, the guilt may haunt us because of all that energy that we expelled. Many of us beat ourselves up over it, however, we must practice forgiveness. Remember there is nothing wrong with changing one’s mind. In fact, if you’ve tried something and realize that it isn’t working, then try something else. Furthermore, keep trying until it feels right.
- Keep doing whatever brings joy and peace into your life.