“Miss, we’re all gonna die in 2012.” -Actual quote from an eight year old client

29 12 2011

As my outgoing voicemail message, e-mail autoreply, and look of relaxation and glee will all tell you–I’m on vacation. Some people will tell you that taking the week between Christmas and New Years off is just for parents. I’m here to tell you that those people are idiots who want to hog all the vacation days for themselves.

Anyway, I was thinking of taking the week off entirely, and seeing you all in 2012. But then I remembered I wanted to do my 2011 retrospective, and that would just be passé on January second. We’re all a year older (another trip around the sun, if you’re fifteen and thinking that indie music is deep for the first time) but I’m actually a year older, as that’s when my birthday falls. (Oh wait, you didn’t care? How embarrassing.) This, plus being an emotional social worker, means I get a little extra reflective.

Therefore, I present: What SocialJerk Learned in 2011

  • Good supervision matters. A lot.

I’ve not made any secret about the fact that my supervisor is great. She trusts her employees, never micromanages, puts up with my weirdo sense of humor, and she bakes cupcakes.
Perhaps most importantly, she has my back. She is not afraid to break out the Bronx when necessary, in a respectful and professional manner, of course. I have been told that I’m not one to suffer fools gladly (what kind of an idiot said that?) but if someone else’s supervisor is accusing me of handling something incorrectly, there’s only so much I can do.

An ACS worker, who failed miserably at her job by losing track of a case that had been referred to me–literally, the family moved and  she didn’t know where they went–tried to put her massive failure off on me. My supervisor was out, so she spoke with the only other supervisor who was in the office.

We’ll call that supervisor Cruella.

Cruella essentially apologized for me not being clairvoyant, and believed everything this ACS worker fed her. Fortunately, I was able to hand her my carefully dated notes (I think Cruella was a bit upset that I did not curtsy when I did this) and waited for MY supervisor to return. Not unlike a child waiting to be picked up from day care.

When my supervisor came back, I only got the ACS worker’s name out before my supervisor said, “Oh no. You were not responsible for that. I’ll speak with her supervisor, don’t worry about it.”

Told ya, Cruella.

Knowing you have someone to go to, when you’re stuck with a particular case, being railroaded, or having a shitty day makes a world of difference in this field.

  • Document everything.

Write a note  for everything. Write a note when you sneeze. And don’t cut and paste, they’ll know. (For further explanation, see point #1.)

  • Thank your wonderful supervisor, if you have one.

Again, see point #1.

  • Tell people that you need help, and accept it.

I learned this one in teen group. For some reason, I am one of those people who has a hard time with this at work. I have a desperate need to be the hardest working one in the room. I blame my parents’ 1950s style work ethic. (If I hear my dad took a sick day, I assume one of his limbs spontaneously fell off and he was unable to find strong enough thread.)  I somehow got the idea that I should be doing most of the work. I carried this into teen group, for which I have a co-leader. This promptly resulted in me hating resenting my co-leader.

Yes, she should have done more. She shouldn’t have thought that having other work to do excused her from setting up or planning for group. But I should not have been so quick to say, “I can do the note this week. I can bring the materials in from home. Oh, I’ll set up the activities if you’re busy.”

Taking on more than we should, can, or have to, and then feeling run down and complaining about it, does not make us noble. It makes us idiots.

  • Offer to help.

Actually, don’t offer–just help. On the off chance that my co-leader, or anyone I supervised when I first graduated from college, is reading this, please just fucking do it. Standing around and saying, “Well, I’m happy to help! What do you need me to do? Just tell me what to do! OK. How do you want that done? How many do we need?” is actually not helpful. It just creates more work for idiots like me, who eventually get frustrated and tell you to go away so we can do it ourselves. Because really, we don’t mind.

Except we do. We hate you.

  • You are not entitled to an explanation.

This really ought to be “you are only very rarely entitled to an explanation,” but I prefer to be dramatic and deal in absolutes.

I’ve been learning this one my entire life. I have two last names, and cousins who are clearly a different race than I am. People, most often strangers or casual acquaintances, have really, genuinely believed that they had a right to know how these things came to be. Were my parents divorced, or never married? Did my mom keep her name for “professional reasons?” (Whatever the fuck those are. She’s not a Kardashian.) Am I married? Are my cousins adopted, or perhaps racially mixed? Are they Filipino, or what?

In social work, we get these kinds of situations. There are times when we want information, just because it’s interesting, and as humans, we are nosy. I have been asked on two separate occasions, by coworkers, if a twelve year old girl I work with is gay. How could this possibly impact their lives? Unless they have a pre-teen niece who is looking, but still, I think that’s inappropriate.

One coworker, with whom I prefer not to associate, as she is horrible, suggested during group supervision that a fellow social worker lie to a client, saying he needed her children’s birth certificates, in an effort to determine if her brother (who had raped her) was the child’s father. One, I doubt that would work. Two, I repeat–you are horrible. Three, how would that help his practice, and this woman?

In social work, and in life, we need to ask ourselves: is this question going to help us to move forward? Is it going to keep everyone safe? Is it just satisfying my own curiosity? Is the world going to be a better place if I ask this?

We’re not entitled to an explanation, except when we are. We need to think more about when that it.

  • Nice is different than good.

Brilliant advice I wish to impart on everyone, especially my teen girls, taken directly from Sondheim’s Into The Woods. You can learn a lot from musicals. I swear. My girls talk about the importance of being nice, or finding a nice guy. I tell them, as delicately as I can–fuck nice. Be good. Not like E.T., except he was pretty good, wasn’t he? Look for good people. The people who act nice, tell you what you want to hear, are not usually good. Being nice often involves not making others feel bad. But when kids have been victimized as often as ours have, they need to know that they can be a little rude if it makes them safer.

And I know things now
Many valuable things
That I hadn’t known before:
Do not put your faith
In a cape and a hood
They will not protect you
The way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting
Nice is different than good.

  • Take a fucking vacation.

When I took these four days off, my supervisor told me that the amount of vacation time I had banked was “offensive.” I was getting to a point where I knew I was not the best social worker I could be, because I was getting a little burnt out. This is not a fancy vacation. It’s actually a staycation, if you want to be a dick about it. So far today, I have gone running, grocery shopping, hit up the post office, done laundry, vacuumed, and deposited checks at the bank. You know, mostly errands and things that I’m pretty sure should actually still be my dad’s job. Very exciting. But I feel like a new person. And I will, through all the dread, actually be looking forward to getting back to work and seeing my clients again.

There is no prize for making yourself the most miserable. If there were, I would have several worthy candidates to nominate.

See you all in 2012.

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10 responses

29 12 2011
mjfrombuffalo

Happy vacation, happy new year, and happy birthday! and thank you for your always-enjoyable posts throughout the past year. 🙂

29 12 2011
socialjerk

Thank you for reading! The support is truly (not sarcastically) very much appreciated.

29 12 2011
Alannah

Just wanted to say that I stumbled on your blog earlier this year and have really enjoyed it. You are honest, real, entertaining and obviously a skilled writer. As the daughter of a former English teacher, I also greatly appreciate your grammar & spelling skills (which are so lacking in the blogworld in my experience). Thanks for sharing your world with the public! This stranger appreciates the good read. Happy new year! 🙂

29 12 2011
socialjerk

I am copying this and forwarding it to my (English professor) uncle. Complimenting my grammar is the way to my heart. Thank you so much! Happy new year to you too!

29 12 2011
Advice for the DC government from Stephen Sondheim « DC.Nerd

[…] to SocialJerk, who reminded me in her post this morning to switch from my Simon & Garfunkel Pandora station to my Into the Woods station. Share […]

30 12 2011
wiggy

Thanks for your blog and your words of inspiration and reminders of good practice. Look forward to more of your words of wisdom in 2012.

11 01 2012
socialjerk

Thanks for reading, and for your support! And for saying I have words of wisdom, that makes me feel cool 🙂

3 01 2012
Bippidee

Isn’t it nice to know a lot?
And a little bit not.

Sondheim should be the ruler of the world. And wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if everyone sung everything? Or maybe it would be better if life was a book musical rather than a sung through one, so you never knew when the next song was going to happen, and it would be a wonderful suprise when the other person broke into song. Just thinking out loud here….

Love your blog, keep up the great work!

11 01 2012
socialjerk

Sondheim should definitely rule the world! I would be very happy to live in a musical, and I’m pretty sure all the guys would be in really good shape.

Thanks so much for reading!

11 01 2012
Melinda Hartman

I followed someone’s facebook page to someone else’s facebook page to this post. I like a lot of what you have to say, but I want to add on to “Offer to help.” Don’t just do it – you may be creating more problems. But be proactive rather than reactive. Instead of saying “What can I do to help?” say “I’m bringing dinner over Thursday, do you want Chinese or pizza?” or “I have some free time, do you want me to make those calls you need to XYZ or to do your filling?” or whatever – just offer something specific.

I moved into a new house this week and have learned how great my friends are. They helped pack. They helped unpack. They helped me destress. They helped me make decisions. They talked me out of bad decisions. Accepting help is great!

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