Today I finally did it. It felt like cutting an umbilical cord – albeit a chord that carried toxicity along with nurture…
…I cancelled my registration as a social worker.
No big deal I suppose- after all, I have not worked in that capacity for over two years now,since leaving my last job as Service Manager for a mental health service.
But then again, it has been a defining factor in my life. I became a social worker straight from university full of a missionary zeal; I was going to be one of the good guys. In a world full of injustice and brokenness, I was going to make a difference, one person at a time because emerging as I was from my own experience of poverty and deprivation as a child of the Welfare State, I could imagine no higher calling.
There were moments of deep beauty. People whose lives touched mine- professional detachment be damned.. There were even successes in the justice-making and people-mending business. But overall, my career also knew enervating disappointment. There was never enough of me. Never enough resources, never enough energy. Despite the manifest failure of the system, I often internalised this as personal failure, like many of us do, leading to a depression and a sense of impotence. Also, the loss of any kind of ethical missionality that began to overtake the whole profession ate at my soul. Perhaps in the face of so much bad publicity, we no longer believed in what we were doing. We became ‘professionals’ but lost our radical edge entirely.
In hindsight, I made other mistakes. I accepted promotions, thinking I could make a difference higher up. I had some very relevant skills to take on management tasks, but lacked other crucial ones entirely. Perhaps above all, my skin was too thin.
Even though I made a positive choice to STOP and to use my life for something else, I kept paying my registration fee, until today that is. I told myself that I might need to work to earn money (which of course is still true) but the greater truth was that this was it a connection to the old me that I was not quite prepared to let go.
So what now? What am I, now I am no longer a social worker?
There are other labels I can apply. Some of them (writer, poet, artist) feel self-aggrandising and not really me. Others (craft worker, picture framer, carpenter) are too specific and task centred. Anyway, after being a social worker t is not enough merely to ‘do’.
Neither is it enough to just be a ‘former social worker’.
Social work was about reaching for something better, for others as well as ourselves. It was about being part of the resistance. Remember how we used to talk about being both ‘in and against the state’? The fact that the reality was often reduced to mundane administration and form filling never killed this hope in me, and it remains still.
Since I stopped working as a social worker, the lack of urgency has dogged me at times. After all, social work is mostly driven by a series of life-and-death crises and after that finding motivation is not always easy.
But I am not done yet. I am 52 years young, fit and mostly intact with half a life time of experience working on the ragged edges of the welfare state, doing a job that became almost synonymous with tabloid hatred, even though ‘normal’ people had no idea just what it entailed and how much it cost. There are missions left in me.
My life of late has become rather inward looking. I write after all. I spend a lot of time at my desk, or working with my lovely wife, or digging veg . I like it. I am happy, but I am not totally fulfilled. Social work stole that from me, for a while at least.
Now I am no longer a social worker, I have no excuse any more.