my first week as a “social worker”

originally written on June 27, 2015


I’ve finally come to have a job title of “social worker.” It’s a fact that still has me all giddy. After nine years learning and training to be one, wearing an ID card that reflects this official title I consider it quite a momentous thing.

A large part of me though still wonders if really is right to consider myself a social worker at this point. The program I’ve been hired by has barely started, and currently the work of supporting individuals and families who’ve become tenants after experiencing years of homelessness, is the kind of stuff more clinically minded social workers would likely find boring and dull – lots of time spent behind the computer screen or managing files and documents. At this stage, it might be more accurate to call me a program aide or policy/staff analyst, or something to that effect. Still, even if I was at this moment engaged in more clinical interactions in my workplace, I think I’ll still have this reticence to fully consider myself a social worker.

This one week has felt fairly long, and I do feel like I learned a lot and did quite a lot as well. Thanks to the many things I learned interning for an executive at a government agency, I got to put my project management skills to work and draft some policy documents and letter templates and whatnot. I really enjoyed the company of my coworkers as well. It’s not anywhere near the sort of camaraderie I felt with my overnight coworkers back when I used to work at a homeless shelter, but I do think I got to be part of a very collaborative team effort. This Friday, I actually got to meet and chat with the org’s CEO and CFO, an exciting nature of being engaged in a start-up project in a small agency.

It’s still just a week though. I’ve barely got my toes wet. Not sure how long it’ll take for me to feel like I can confidently say I’m a social worker. At this point, I’ll admit I’m far too inexperienced.

I feel myself growing and learning though. In one of the conversations I had with a coworker during lunch, I was told, “god, you’re such a policy social worker.” I felt that was a bit ironic, considering I’m an NYU grad, a social work program reputed to be all about clinical work and the person who found me too macro-minded is a Columbia grad, a social work program well known for focusing on policy. The remark left me a bit uneasy though. I want to think of myself more as a micro/macro social worker than a policy social worker. I enjoy direct practice. I mean, I’m not all that into super clinical stuff that veers into being psychotherapy, but the person-to-person or the small group facilitation engagement of micro social work is definitely what I find most enjoyable about being in this field. That my mind naturally tends to gravitate towards larger socio-economic-political policy considerations I don’t think negates the micro social worker within me. I like to picture the social work profession as broadly and as inclusively as possible. We can do both and all I think; we can empower the individual towards positive change, and we can deconstruct and revise systems for the betterment of society.

Oddly, I liked going to work in suit and tie. Technically, my job’s dress code is “business casual” so I don’t have to go wearing a tie and a blazer. Perhaps this is another lingering effect of having been an intern at an executive branch of a city agency. More than that though, walking around the office like that feels motivating. It’s not comfortable as wearing Jeans obviously. It’s this thought that I am making the extra effort to look “nice” and “professional” (in quotes because that’s relative to cultural perspectives) to come and do this work. My salary would be considered low by many but it’s a fact that I’ve never had this high of a salary before in my life, so I want to work like I deserve it.

There are some sucky aspects of the job so far. Commute to work is about an hour and 10 minutes in the best circumstances. On the plus side, that means I get to read or doze off a lot in the long subway train rides. Just this week, I finished reading the book What If and finished a couple of magazines as well. Probably the worst part is that the area around my workplace doesn’t really have good eateries, especially considering that I’m vegan. I’m not very good at packing my lunch so a few times I ended up not having much for lunch. On the plus side, that means I save a lot of money on food-related expenses.

What still feels quite surreal is working the shift, and coming home to find that I don’t have to do any social work-related thing if I don’t want to. I’m not a social work student anymore. I don’t have any midterm papers due, I don’t have to prepare to attend classes, no reading assignments, no process recordings to do or anything like. After I’m done with my shift and I’m back home, that’s it. My social work obligations is just my 40 hours a week at my agency. Suddenly it feels like I have all this free time to do whatever, and for this week, that mostly just meant watching a lot of Korean dramas. I’m really enjoying this show Producer and Love from Another Star, matter of fact.

Overall, it’s been a good first week. I was nervous when starting, afraid that I might oversleep and screw up. Well, getting adjusted to a 9-to-5 schedule for a nocturnal person like me was definitely a challenge (and it still is) but on that end, I’m doing alright.

I tell myself, this is it, this is how my career begins.

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