When you were a child, did you dream of becoming a social worker? Ok, stop laughing. Most of us did not. Yet, here we are, protecting children, helping families and often to the very detriment of our own lives. We chose a path that was fraught with rocks, brambles and all manner of things that bruised our feet, making it painful at times just to keep walking. Do you sometimes want to just stop walking? You want to turn around, go back and choose another path? We all do have those thoughts sometimes. Let me challenge you to keep on the path of your choosing and find the rewards.
Robert Frost, one of my favorite writers, is most famous, perhaps for the iconic poem: The Road Not Taken. I love that poem first for the cadence, the simplicity and the beauty of the imagery. As I grew more mature in my thoughts and consciousness, I loved it for the message of hope I felt when reading it. Most people may not hear hope in this work, but I do. You only have to Google the interpretation of this poem and would be offerred a myriad of scholarly thoughts and interpretations. However, I like to think that great poetry, like great art has the ability to transcend just one interpretation. For me, the miracle of the words lie in their ability to whisper the message that you were meant to hear.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth
For me, the poem recounts that crossroad in my life (and most assuredly most everyone’s life) when the realization hits that, No, you cannot be a doctor, a lawyer And a circus clown. You must choose your path. You must make a decision. Sometimes people choose one path, realize their mistake and start again. I understand that. I had different dreams for my life before I started down the path of social work. Yes, my dream was to emulate Mr. Frost and become a great poet. Or perhaps a novelist…and there was always my back up plan to become a country singer…..(tis true she says, hanging her head).
Because public service was not in my thoughts at all growing up, I thought, perhaps I just backed into Social Work. But the truth is that through every experience (both good and bad) in my childhood, my teen years and even my young adulthood, I had been preparing to choose the Social Work path. I made the choice to pursue the less traveled road.
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
The moment I started working for child welfare, a spark ignited in my heart that has never been extinguished. It has been tested repeatedly, and flickered occasionally. But it has never been put out.
The path was not well worn. Articles touting the most lucrative careers do not mention social work. And those who voice a desire to enter the field are often met with criticism. So many people in my life have asked, “Why do you do it? It takes so much from you and gives you so little in return? “. My answer repeats on a loop almost. “Because it is what I am supposed to do.” As you can imagine, that answer does not satisfy most. But, for me, it speaks my truth. So many social workers feel “called” or drawn to the work. They know their life’s purpose is to help those who cannot help themselves. Does that make them better than doctors, lawyers or even circus clowns? No. For those people also have to walk the path they have chosen. For where would we be without them? (Sick, in jail and unhappy). But the call to social work means a committment to stand against the briars, weeds, and even snakes that will threaten your continuance on the less traveled road. If your committment is strong you will do whatever it takes to stay the course.
What have I lost on this path? I could count the losses, the personal sacrifices and the cost of walking the lonely, thankless path. As could we all. No use denying they are there. But dont fixate on the things you have lost along the way. Remember the things you have found.
So, What have I found on this path?
Contentment: Some people work their entire lives chasing bigger dreams. Unfortunately, they sometimes find that when they catch the dream, there is no contentment in the victory. Contentment, for me, came when I realized I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Despite the hardship, there was a peace that comes from knowing your life is on the right path. There was no need for struggles and chases. I am here.
A Sense of Purpose: Not only am I where I am supposed to be, but as a social worker, I have the opportunity to contribute something positive. I have the opportunity to help others who may be in a time where they cannot help themselves. I get to listen to those who had no voice and to help them find their way. Purpose is a powerful life balancer. Without a purpose, my life would merely be a chain of events and years. With purpose, I feel direction and meaning.
A Front Row Seat to Miracles: I have seen more horror than you can imagine, in my 30 years in child welfare. But I have, also, witnessed miracles of hope. I have seen addicted parents get sober. I have seen children who have been abused in unimaginable ways, survive and thrive with care and support. I have seen men, bound up by anger learn appropriate ways to channel it. And I have seen babies with no chance to live recover and become whole. Watching a mother, beaten down and hopeless, create a vision of what life could be like for her…watching the tiniest seeds of hope sprout into viability…that is the miracle of change. And each miracle of change strengthens my resolve to keep on the less traveled path.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
I remember , when I first read this poem, thinking that the traveler was sad…that he grieved his choice. Now I believe the opposite. Like the traveler, I looked down the path I chose. I saw the difficulty and the joy. I, too, am telling this with a sigh. A sigh of contentment for the journey and a resolve to keep walking this less traveled path until it ends for me. As I wrote in the beginning, I challenge you to look at your path and see what you’ve found.
We took the road less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.