A Letter to A Future Social Worker
Updated: Mar 13, 2019
Dear Future Social Worker,
So you want to be a social worker, uh??? Well before you make that life-changing decision, I've been thinking of you (or maybe I've been thinking of my younger self) and want to share some of my thoughts. My name is Leslie Slemmons and I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing in South Carolina. I've been in the field for almost 15 years (which is insane!). This letter is to future social workers thinking about entering the field. Well, mostly it's to my younger self thinking about what I should do as a living.
I remember the day I decided to switch career choices. I thought I would save the world, and was convinced I needed to do it as soon as possible. You see I originally thought I would be a pediatrician and travel all over the world helping kids in need. But typical me, I realized how long schooling would take for that and quickly changed my mind. I was in high school at the time, a senior and not ready for what everyone else seemed ready for. I wasn't ready to go to college and needed time. So I packed my bags, traveled to the Philippines, and spent a semester in an orphanage. I was working with social workers who were doing what I wanted to do, saving lives. That's what I thought social work was all about. I quickly hopped on that train and have been on it since (though many times wanting off and then on again and then off).
Let's be real here. Social work is tough and to be honest is not a job for everyone. You will see the best and the worst in people, society, and humanity. You will see people stuck. People stuck emotionally, people stuck mentally, people stuck spiritually. It is not a job that ends at 5pm. You will go home and your heart and mind will still be with those you are trying to help. You will wonder and hope that they are doing ok and think of what more you can do to help them.
But then you will see the beauty of change. You will have the opportunity to be a passenger in people's live as they morph into who they were always meant to be. You will see hearts healed and lives reminded of the purpose they were called to. You will see communities come together to help heal broken hearts and families. You will see what you thought impossible become possible. You will get to experience empathy, to the core of what empathy is. You will get to experience so much more that I can't possibly list them all here.
I hate to tell you, it's not you that is making people change. It is people willing to change and working really really hard to make that change. You are there to encourage them, motivate them, and love the heck out of them.
The best part, Future Social Worker is this. YOU WILL CHANGE. As a result of the career you have chosen, you my dear will grow and learn and change yourself. You're heart will expand and just when you think there is nothing you can do, someone will show you otherwise. It's not up to you to change people. It's up to you to help bring understanding and love where at times there seems only misunderstanding, hurt, and pain. It's up to you to help people find their voice and help others to hear them. It's up to you TO LISTEN.
When you are able to hold space for a person to collaborate, listen, and work with them on making peace with their own narrative...that is the beauty of what you do for a living.
Do not take on the burden that it's you, because to be frank it's not. Let go of thinking that is in your job description and make peace with your own internal struggle of what you need. Guess what? Your needs matter too. The more care you give towards others, the more inward care you need.
My dear Future Social Worker, be the change you wish to see in the world. The world needs more of you, fighters for the voiceless, advocates of the broken-hearted, rebels against mis-guided worldly values, bringing communities and families together. You are the hands and feet creating change and that is such a rare honor. Do not let the world make you think your profession is not needed, because we need more of you! The world has always had things backwards, so don't look to it to tell you who you should be and why. We need more of you.
So do it. Be the change you wish to be. It's possible, it really is.