Image

Who’s your mentor?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post simply because a lot has been going on in my life lately. As my primary care doctor said Friday while wrapping up my appointment, “You’ve experienced a lot this past year.” There was a pronounced pause, and as I contemplated what she said, my eyes welled up and I felt my lips curve sideways slightly…Yup, I sure have. That conversation is material for a different blog post, but for this one, I want to write about mentorship as I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while.  I’m at a point in my career where I have mentors and the experience has proven to be invaluable.

A few months back, I wrote that I received a promotion which was a big deal. With that promotion, I was assigned a mentor, who was on the interview panel.  Before I knew that he would be my mentor, we chatted briefly prior to the interview and I got a good vibe from him instantly.  Since then, we’ve been meeting for lunch and phone and connect through email.  I’ve been determined to absorb as much as I can, which is why I think I’ve been open to the mentoring experience.

I also have mentors outside of my agency and of different disciplines, backgrounds, ages, sex and race. I think it’s important to get different perspectives.  However, I will write a different blog post on how to handle it if one of your mentors provides advice you perceive to be off base (stay tuned) . As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable with being vulnerable and there are few things more vulnerable than admitting that you don’t know something. I’ve learned the temporary discomfort of vulnerability leads to growth. Therefore, I’m more willing to reach out for help and use my resources.  I’m willing to hear constructive feedback and use it to make myself better.

From my experience, there are many benefits to working with a mentor such as knowing that someone supports me, having someone to listen to my concerns and answers my questions without judgement, and having someone to provide guidance.

Support

Knowing that I have another person in my corner is a great feeling.   I’ve always had people who have supported me, but this is different. A mentor is devoting their time because they want me to succeed. Depending on the work climate, people may support you until it conflicts with their own interests. Because my mentor does not work in my area, I don’t think he has anything to lose by supporting me.  I also have a mentor who is retired and I regard one of my dear friends as a mentor.  Again, neither have any dealings with my agency, so their support is unconditional.

I make it a point to keep in communication with my mentors as often as I can, especially when I’m not feeling confident.  When you have support resources available to you, use them.

Listen to Concerns and Answer Questions

It’s important for me to be able to share my concerns with someone who will not judge me.  I already have issues with trust in the workplace based on plenty of hard lessons learned.  Trusting my mentors will not judge me is an act of vulnerability.  I focus on the benefit of me sharing the information and I trust my judgement that they are trustworthy. 

If trust is an issue for you, it is a good idea to assess if the person you want to mentor you is a good fit for you. Do you trust their judgment? Will they support you? Are they interested in your success? How are they perceived by others (i.e., what is their reputation)? 

I’ve gotten some valuable feedback and ideas that I haven’t thought of myself by sharing my concerns with mentors I trust.  It has also been game changing for me to be able to ask specific questions without worrying I’ll be judged for not knowing something.

Guidance

In order to accept guidance, you need to be willing to hear constructive feedback and be open to incorporate different perspectives into your life.  I have to leave my ego at the door for this.  Since I’m focused on advancing in my career, I am open to following the guidance offered by my mentors.  For complex situations, which I have a few, I listen to the different perspectives of my mentors and then make a decision. This has not always been easy, however, they’ve provided me with great guidance.

I can’t write enough about how life changing it has been to work with mentors. For career growth (or any other areas of growth), it is definitely worth it to reach out to people who are where you want to be. It doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement, although some agencies do have these. It starts with developing relationships and expressing interest in others.  Striking conversations about non-work related activities, inviting them out to lunch or coffee/tea, asking questions about their area of expertise…these are a few ways to start building relationships to get you closer to your mentor.

 

 

 

Image

A week in the life

It’s been a week! It started last Sunday with me at the airport for my monthly business trip and ended on Saturday (yesterday) with an unexpected job opportunity that stirred up lingering insecurities that are difficult to shake. Confidence and doubt. Courage and fear. Bold and reticent. Extrovert and introvert. It is possible to live with conflicting traits. I’m a living testimony. At the end of the day, I have nothing to lose…or do I? There is a beginning, middle and end to my story, but I’ll stick with 2 out of 3 since it’s Sunday and I’m a little tired. Here it goes.

The Beginning

Towards the end to my flight to Lubbock, Texas last Sunday, there was a ridiculous amount of turbulence. Turbulence to the point where I didn’t know if I needed the barf bag or a toilet because my stomach was doing somersaults.

This is bad. As a side note, I had actually typed “summer saults”, then changed it to “summer salts” because I forgot how to spell the word “somersault”. I knew it was wrong, but couldn’t remember so I looked it up. I’ve had recent conversations with people about the phenomenon of losing our ability to spell. I blame the constant reliance computers. Are we the only ones?

I occasionally glanced at my neighbor and we made exchanges about the turbulence, but then after a while, I noticed that she was staring at me rather intently…too intently for my comfort. She asked me if I lived in Lubbock, and before I knew it, I learned that she was a clinical social work therapist in private practice, working with the elderly and that she was returning from visiting one of her 7 kids in Austin. I’m usually hesitant about telling strangers my state business in Lubbock. However, as a fellow social worker, I gave her a vague snippet. I won’t talk about it here either, but for the record, it’s official state business and it’s not really in Lubbock. Lubbock is just the biggest city to fly in.

That Sunday, I wasn’t in the mood for small talk because I was somewhat sad about leaving my family on a Sunday and was prepping my mind for Monday’s meeting. However, I usually end up caught in random conversations because I’ve accepted the fact that folks in Texas are chatty and I think I have one of those faces that say, “You can tell me anything…I’ll listen”. She might have noticed that I was reading a book about difficult conversations. If I remember, I will come back to cite it later, but I believe the author’s name is Harrier Lerner, a psychotherapist, and it’s one of the “Dance with…” books. (UPDATE: Harriet Lerner, PhD, The Dance of Connection). Her first one was called the “The Dance of Anger”. I have that one too. I learned about her through social worker and researcher Brene Brown’s references.

My flight neighbor and I had a nice conversation, exchanged business cards, and despite her offer to call me whenever I’m in town, I knew that was the end of that exchange. Unless, I see her next month. I’m from Chicago, I come from a long line of suspicious people, so I’ll leave that at that. But seriously, I’ll keep her card just in case.

I spent part of Sunday night shopping for some healthy snacks/foods while away from home and prepping for my Monday meeting. The visit went well. I always feel better when I prepare. I pray that I am relaxed, professional, and myself. I channel my higher self and then everything else goes smoothly. I’m sharing this because on these trips, I’m sure that it would be preferred that I not be there. However, I am there representing the state, the agency that allocated funds to this entity to provide a service, so my hosts tend to be attentive and on their best behavior.

The End (of the week)

Yesterday, I was presented with an opportunity that I had not expected. It would mean a great amount of responsibility at work and I know that there are people who have their doubts about me. However, there are also people in high places that think highly of me. My insecurities bubbled up. Never mind, what they think of me…do I think I can do it? This is what I’m faced with. I can’t go into detail now, but I decided that now is as best a time as ever to have faith in myself. I’ve been making moves already. I simply need to decide. I activated my personal prayer warriors…people who I know will pray for me and I asked them to pray for me about this particular thing. I really want to and need to hear God on this. It’s not about the money although that definitely helps. If I am still in consideration for this opportunity, I’m going to give it my best shot. I deserve to do this for myself. Confidence and doubt. Courage and Fear. Bold and reticent. Extrovert and introvert. I have all of these traits. Some of them can be euphoric, and others downright painful, but I still move forward. It’s about growth.

 

 

 

 

Image

I need a change

Do you ever feel like something needs to change in your life, but you don’t know what? I’m at that place. I’m not sure if it’s my job or my perspective, neither or both, but I’ve been searching for something lately. One minute, I think, “Just ride this wave…things are good and smooth!” Then another minute, I think, “I need something new in my life. I need to SHAKE things up!” I’ve been praying about it too. Whatever the case, I made a move today that may set the wheels in motion to shake things up. The truth is that it’s not like me to remain still.

I’ve been thinking about giving back to my social work community and becoming a field instructor after all these years (really only 5 since I got my license). That means that I would supervise a student (preferably graduate level) at my agency for the duration of their internship. I work at the macro level, meaning I work with organizations and systems rather than with individuals and families. When I worked in direct practice (micro level) in the mental health field, there was never a dull moment because clients kept it interesting. By working in program development/implementation and public policy, things can get boring and monotonous. However, I do not miss the thought of having a caseload. My ideal mix would be to work in administration, yet be close enough to clients to see progress. I get a little bit of that in my current role.

I read some information and sent a few emails, which perked me up (not that I was down). I also ended up committing myself to some extra work to the tune of developing a curriculum. We’ll see how that goes…if it goes at all…I have some questions out.

I’m curious to know how you manage those moments of wanting a change, but not being sure of what that entails? Feel free to drop a line. I’ll keep posted on my endeavors.

Access road

In my last post, “On the road again…”, I wrote about some ingredients that help me to deal with judgmental people such as courage, confidence, persistence, perseverance, and downright stubbornness. I thought of another essential ingredient that pulls it all together.  

I have a small window before I take my shower, wash and comb my daughter’s hair, and get us ready for work and school tomorrow, so of course, I will write (there really is not a window…ha!).  Let’s just hope that 3 hours doesn’t slip by which tends to happen when I’m on my blog.  I had an inkling that I was missing a key ingredient, but I couldn’t quite get it until I was at the grocery store.

It goes without saying that I love my mom with all of my heart. She loves me and has instilled in all of her children a work ethic that I think is rare nowadays.  She is beyond humble….humble times 22.  As much as I try to reason with her, challenge her, impart my stance on issues based on my life, mental health and social work experiences, she is going to hold onto to her deeply held beliefs. Those beliefs are based on her experiences as a woman who has learned English as a second language, was born on an island, grew up devastatingly poor, raised 4 children in the U.S. as a single parent, and retired as a janitorial staff member at a hospital. That is not all that she is, but my point here is that on some things, we will not see eye to eye. She may even find me as amusing as I find her. Seriously, it’s not always amusing. It has become apparent that I have my judgments as well. I do think it’s vital to seek understanding on opposing points of view, especially pertaining to the people that mean the most to you.

The other ingredient that I will add to my list is acceptance. I accept myself including my imperfections, which is difficult for a recovering perfectionist like me. I accept failure even though it’s painful. I accept love, joy, and abundance. I accept people for who they are, but I acknowledge that I’ve tried to change family members’ mindset to a degree. Ultimately, I’ve learned to accept that I will not win everyone over on my hot button issues,  even the most important people in my life. I am ok with that because my goal is to live in my truth, not any one else’s. 

Image

Confidence, humility and ego

This week will go down in the record book as a memorable work week. I was debating a bit on the adjective that best describes it, and “good” didn’t quite cut it.  It was “memorable” because I received such a wonderful compliment on Wednesday that it had me floating through Friday.  I’m hesitant to type that my week was “fabulous” or “fantastic” because the work highs come far less often than the lows and I don’t want to let it blindside me. In my work environment, I often have to balance confidence, humility and ego.

In last week’s post,  I mentioned a presentation I made that went over fairly well at a meeting with some very important people from agencies that are very important to my agency.  What I didn’t know, but was told on Wednesday, was that during my presentation, one of the very important attendees, sent a text to my director (WHAT!) indicating how thrilled he was with the information I was presenting.  Another executive director told my director that she was so proud of me because I presented the information in a way that the stakeholders, who were not as familiar with the topic, could understand and get this…on top of that, she was so proud of me because I am a social worker like her.  I say, “What!” That tidbit about getting those stakeholders to understand is important because they are decision makers that have a lot of influence.  The other tidbit about being a social worker put a smile on my heart.  I could end this blog right here, but as you’ve guessed, I will continue.  My director came over and shook my hand after telling me this.  I was beaming from ear to ear.

Although I work in public policy and not in direct practice, I am fortunate to work in an environment where mostly (but not entirely) counselors, social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists are leading the work of mental health public policy in my division. Creating systems change to ensure that resources are adequately and effectively delivered to citizens in entities such as state government is difficult, but we take a stab at it everyday.

I am privileged to work with some very smart, educated people who have no qualms about sharing their knowledge.  I’ve learned so much from them. However, on occasion, the “sharing” can feel downright, overbearing, self-righteous and egocentric. What I’ve learned is that I (you) can’t be intimidated when working with smart people (or perceived smart people or anybody else for that matter).  You have to use your voice.  I’ve definitely seen egos flying around the office, and let’s face it, we were hired because of our knowledge. Ironically for me, most of the staff, including myself, are identified as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs- yes, we have an acronym) and we are required to collaborate on a host of things to make decisions that affect citizens. However, having the type of negative attitude I noted above is off-putting and unproductive.  I believe there is a way to operate without resorting to that.

I sometimes find myself on this thin line of balancing confidence, humility and ego.  I lean towards the belief that the work (whether hard work or lack thereof) you do and the integrity you demonstrate will speak for itself.  I’ve since come to realize that in some environments, that is simply not enough. I value humility, have integrity, and don’t like to compete with people (only myself). However, sometimes, you do have to “toot your own horn” and give yourself credit, especially if you want to advance.  Despite what you think, directors, managers and/or your colleagues, may not even notice all that you’re doing.  Those who are in competition with you for advanced positions will usually not speak on your behalf.  What is at stake is higher pay and possibly more prestige, which most people want for themselves.

The reality of many agencies (I’ve worked at private, nonprofit and governmental agencies) is that higher positions are few and far between which causes workers to feel pressure to stand out, and possibly (and I’m not implying “likely”), do unethical things to advance.  When I describe work situations to my good friend who’s employed in the corporate world, she says it sounds pretty “cut throat”, and at times, she is right. I won’t even go into the politics either.  The professions that I mentioned above are all required to abide by a set of ethical standards, but they are not immune from this type of pressure. It’s the scarcity of resources factor that many learn about in social science classes like sociology that drives this behavior.  Whatever the case, I don’t think it’s an excuse to compromise integrity and behave badly.

I’ve managed to balance confidence and humility without compromise, while still being recognized for my work ethic.  At the end of the day, I had to hone in on using my voice to shine the spotlight on myself at times, so how did I do that?  I’ve spent some time thinking about my accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses, and goals. My “thinking” includes journaling, planning, and visualizing where I see myself. I ensure that I have a thorough understanding of what I’m expected to know, which means I do research and study.  I read all the time and when I’m not reading for work, I’m reading for personal growth or leisure.  I usually practice speaking about myself before interviews, presentations or other venues, but I find that the more comfortable and familiar I’ve become in my current role, that I don’t need to do that so much before presentations and other meetings.  I strive to be authentic, which makes it more comfortable.  To this day, it is not natural for me to go into a soliloquy (slight exaggeration) on the highlights of my resume upon first meeting someone, so I have to work at it.   I know I’m not alone in this.  There are cultural, social, psychological, and other factors that come into play as well.

At the end of the day, I do think it’s possible to be both confident and humble. On one hand, I don’t want to come off as a “know it all” (with the attitude), but I want people to know that I am adept at doing what I do. Truth be told, I don’t ever want to think too highly of myself that I stop learning.  I view the people I know, who do think they know it all, as very sad.  They become stagnant and I worry about becoming stagnant.  And as much as I love compliments because it serves as validation to a degree, I don’t want compliments to fuel my motivation or cloud my thinking.  I want to be clear and grounded so that I can keep producing quality work.

I’m thankful that I’m starting to see some fruits from my labor and that I received some recognition for it.  I admit it feels great, but it doesn’t end here.

I hope that this information encourages you to discover new things about yourself and use your voice.

 

 

 

 

Image

So much for that

I have been itching to write all day.  Literally, while at work I thought about how I wish I could have my thoughts recorded somehow for a new post while I do my work and no one would ever know.  Sounds silly…I know, but I’m onto something.  Today, I would rather have written a blog post than spend 2 hours in a meeting rehashing what was discussed 2 years ago.  At the end of the day, I facilitated that meeting, got on a conference call shortly after to address a pressing issue, and practically ran out of the building to teach my Tuesday night Zumba fitness class.

It feels good to have my fingers on the keyboard, but I’m having to navigate my thoughts while listening to my husband express his concerns regarding our son and the marching band. Parenting is hard work.  It can be emotionally, physically and spiritually draining.  This is further complicated by having to deal with one’s own insecurities that can bubble up to the surface when dealing with one’s own child(ren). I’m now counseling my husband on strategies that would help the relationship and how we can best move forward.  Some of the issue is communication and communication styles.  Inadequate communication is a problem that I’ve observed in more and more settings (i.e., home, school, and work). I’m glad that I can offer calm, rational and relatively objective feedback.  That would not have been the case a while ago because I would get frustrated by my husband’s frustration.  However, my stance is that the atmosphere starts with me and if I could listen to the problems of about 35-40 clients every week for years, I could certainly be patient enough to listen to my husband’s.  (On a later post, I’ll write about the message God sent me with regard to serving my family.)

So much for my brilliant, thought provoking blog piece.  It’s getting late and I need to get some rest. I’m not adhering to the guidelines I set for myself to shut off electronics at least an hour before bed.  I couldn’t help but get a blog post in.  Actually, I could.  (I caught myself. There are things within our control that we act like are not. Stop it.) I made a choice to sacrifice some sleep to write. The problem with that is that I am at a place where I could go from a few days to a week of getting little sleep, which is usually prompted by stress. I know first hand what lack of sleep does to the body and mind.  I hope to get some solid hours in tonight and I hope you do too.

 

 

 

Image

Make room for the sweet stuff

It’s been 2 weeks since we welcomed our sweet babies, actually our new kittens, into our home and it couldn’t have come at a better time. My 15 year old son took one look at one (supposedly the more outgoing of the two) rolling around and said that kitten reminds him of a cannoli because of the contrast of the solid white on his tummy against the grayish stripes on the rest of his body. And just like that, my son proclaimed with a grin, that he should be named Cannoli.  I laughed because he is characteristically usually thinking food, but I kind of liked the name. So then my children and I agreed that their names should have a theme and since Cannoli is an Italian dessert, we’d find a French dessert name for the other.  After a quick google search, we landed on Beignet, which was PERFECT because my husband has made beignets (our first time ever having this dessert) twice to help my son earn extra credit in his French class. So there you have it, our kittens are named Cannoli and Beignet. As it turns out Beignet is the more outgoing of the two and Cannoli is more chill. Cannoli is also completely litter trained unlike his brother.

In June, my coworker was going around telling folks about a litter of kittens that her mom’s cat had and they needed a home. I jumped in right away and not only said that I wanted one, but I was thinking about two. The look on her face was of surprise and delight. I had never been so sure of anything in a long time, at least sure of one kitten, but I had thought about maybe two in the past so they wouldn’t get lonely while the family was away at school and work. You see, my children and I created a 2016 vision board in January and a picture of a cat is on there.  Yup, I told my husband that this was the year, so he’d better get his mind right. I’ve missed having cats, and in the 19 years of living in Texas, I haven’t had one, except for the neighborhood cat that we feed sporadically.

The kittens are a complete joy and everyone, including my husband, is in complete awe of them (ok…maybe my husband isn’t in complete awe, but they make him smile a lot, especially when they fall asleep on his lap). I know families who have pets when their children are much younger than mine, but my son used to be allergic to both cats and dogs, so that was a big part of the reason that we didn’t have pets. When he was tested a few years ago, we found out that he was no longer allergic to cats, but still allergic to dogs. Now my children are ages 15 and 10 (11 next month), which is old enough to really appreciate and help take care of them. It’s been a joy  to see how loving my children are to them. This really was the perfect time to receive them into our home because we’re getting them litter trained while we’re still on summer schedule and we have more time to play and enjoy them before the school year hustle/bustle starts. Plus, with my husband’s surgery in May, and disappointment with not making it to Florida for my cousin’s wedding that same month (see my first post), we needed a burst of joy.

I see why some animals make great therapy pets.  Pets don’t judge you. They just want to be loved and cared for. This whole experience makes me think about how you have to open yourself up to receive joy. I wrote a previous post in response to the daily word prompt about being open. I’m convinced that being open is a conscious decision that you have to make. I could be bitter about a lot of things, but it’s my decision on how negative experiences affect me.  I know it’s easier said than done, but it takes work, and for some, fight. If negative internal dialogue is an issue, then it will take consistency to keep your internal dialogue positive and in check.

I could type more, but I want to end noting that there is a lot of misfortune, hate and injustice in the world, but seize opportunities to receive and express joy. Be grateful. Make room for the sweet stuff.