As a young, ambitious social worker, I worked hard to grow professionally while achieving goals. After a year of focusing, learning and experience, my statistics were good, client satisfaction was high and my small county rated highly in state ranks in child welfare.
To be sure, I was fortunate to be part of a great team of social workers, mentoring and encouraging me to strive for excellence. I am convinced I would not have fared half as well without their support and my supervisor’s encouragement.
I was never needy for approval or praise, yet when my supervisor acknowledged my work privately and occassionally, I have to admit it felt good.
Intrinsic motivation was high. Because of the team expectation, I held myself to an extremely high standard and pushed myself daily. My supervisor started picking complex cases to give me, which demonstrated to me that she trusted my judgement. A good judge of motivation, she knew that I would strive to justify her faith in me.
And so it went for a couple of years.
Until I was promoted and got a new supervisor who:
- Questioned my every move
- Challenged my high completion stats
- Actually audited all of my cases, (to make sure I wasnt ” doctoring the stats” finding that the cases were thorough and my stats were correct.
- Sent me daily excruciatingly detailed instructions and directives
This went on for several months. I began to seethe inside when I saw her name pop up on my computer. I fervently hoped the pressure would die down eventually as she came to see my motivation and my passion for the work.
One day, after receiving a particularly lengthy email detailing every single step to be made in a new case, as if I was a first year social worker, I had HAD it.
I replied back that to her these very words.
“I am acutely aware of the procedure for assessing new cases. If you feel that I need such elemental instruction, you might want to remove some of the extremely complex cases assigned to me and give them to my peers”.
Yes…I know…The arrogance. The most immature arrogant and unprofessional reply. (But hey! Transparency here…I’m fallible).
Immediately, upon sending the email, I regretted it. I followed up with another email apologizing for the insolence and agreeing to follow her directives.
She never responded. She never reacted.
As weeks passed, the daily emails came as before and I thought the issue had been resolved.
Several months later I was at a training in the Regional office. An assistant to the Regional manager called me out.
“Mrs. Clarke wants to see you.”
My unit had made 100% on their contacts that quarter so I thought she was going to remark on their good work.
I could not have been so wrong.
As I walked into the office, Mrs. Clarke offerred me a soda and a seat. Once I settled, she pulled out a copy of the insubordinate email that I had sent to my supervisor. She then proceeded to reprimand me, tell me that she expected better of me and warned me to basically “get over myself.”
The unthinkable then happened. Surprised, betrayed and humiliated, I left her office, walked to my car and sobbed like a baby.
How could they not appreciate how hard I work! How much I give! How much I sacrifice! How unfair! I’m quitting! I am not working one more day for a place that doesnt appreciate me!
At the conclusion of the massive pity party, I sat behind the wheel, miserable and resolved to make a change. I started up my car and drove towards home.
As I drove the 2 hour route home, the fog-brain started to clear. I loved my job. I didnt want to quit. But what had just happened?
Then, I asked myself two questions.
Why did this happen?
What am I suppose to learn from this?
The “hard to hear” answer reverberated in my head…
“Get over yourself”
I realized, once I got out of my own head and looked at the situation from the supervisor’s viewpoint, that I had never given this new supervisor a chance. She came to our office from another agency. She had no frame of reference for any of her new employees. But she did have demands from her superiors. Until she knew the strengths and weaknesses of her staff, it was understandable that she micromanaged. I saw her hovering as an Insult, but realized it was an assessment.
As mentioned in a previous blog, I contacted my previous supervisor for advice on how to deal with this new supervisor. She gave great advice on following leaders with inherently different styles. (See “Follow the Leader).
I understood that I had allowed my ego to push back instead of allowing myself to learn and grow from her knowledge and skills.
That self revelation was a real piece of humble pie that turned into a professional growth moment for me. I learned to self assess in disappointing or frustrating situations to determine my contribution to the problem before I started pointing fingers at others.
And, to be sure, throughout the decades I worked in child welfare, there were other disappointments, setbacks and humbling events. But I learned from each one. And I did not quit.
Using the new tools I had added to my kit that day in my car (those two questions answered objectively and analytically.) I have been able to refocus my energy away from “self” and towards growth.
So simple, these two:
Why did that happen?
What am I suppose to learn from this?
Those are very powerful questions. If you can objectively answer them, you will find context and maybe even meaning.
Every experience in your life can shape you like a trickle of water flowing down a rocky ledge can carve out gullies and trenches. Negative experiences provide you with two powerful choices:
1. Give up..give in..quit
2. Learn, grow and keep going.
If this good work is your calling…eat the pie. Humble pie taste bitter in the mouth but can turn to honey in the soul.