Confusing Enjoyment With Passion: My Journey To Social Work

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When I tell people that I’m changing careers, they’re usually quite puzzled because I look so young.

I always believed that you can never be too young or too old to switch careers. For me, it just happened to take place a lot sooner than I had expected.

I have always loved to write. I grew up barricading myself in my room, writing endless pages of fan fiction, song lyrics, poetry, and memoirs based on my experiences being bullied and learning to understand who I was as a person. Writing represented an outlet for me that was consistently cathartic; a way of releasing thoughts and feelings that I could never express to a person the same way I could with a journal. I loved to write, so naturally it felt appropriate to pursue that as a career. I was wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

You see, writing was something that I enjoyed; rather, I loved it, but largely for my own self-interest. I chose what I wrote and I wrote what I loved. Even though my love and talent for writing landed me many jobs that I was convinced were ideal for me as a writer, I was consistently dissatisfied being told what to write, especially if I didn’t have an interest in the subject matter. I was writing, yet I was miserable.

As I pondered my identity and future as a writer, many people would say that I just needed to “follow my passion.” I thought writing was my passion, so the expression began to lose its meaning, while, at the same time, earning my hatred as a go-to guidance for anyone being asked for career advice.

I remember looking at my resume – the full version, all five pages of it – and I started to reflect on the years of work to try and see what, if anything, I enjoyed about these writing jobs. I learned that I loved mentoring students when I worked in a communications agency; that I grew so much as an advocate during my time as president of a student union; and that when I worked for the government, I was gifted the opportunity to write career advice (ironically) to thousands of Canadian youth who were asking many of the same questions I was. They were small moments where I felt like I was making a difference, though not always directly related to my job description. I remembered that in each of my jobs, my favourite experiences were when I was helping others, whether to complete a task or just being an empathetic ear when they needed someone most.

After this resume reflection, I began a job search to find jobs where I could help others, become an advocate, be an empathetic listener, and feel like I was making a difference. I stumbled across a job description for a social worker and fell in love with what it was asking me to do. To my dismay, I realized I was grossly under qualified, meaning that a return to school was necessary. And that’s where I am today.

As a social worker-in-training, I’ve worked only a few months in the field on a practicum – a full-time workplace experience that I actually pay tuition to participate in. I have never been more busy than I am right now as a student with two part-time jobs, a full-time placement, being a loving spouse and a friend, and a dedicated volunteer, but I’ve also never been so excited to wake up every morning. Going to my practicum represents the highlight of my day, even when it gets stressful or overwhelming if a client says something to me that nearly brings me to tears. I love what I do, and I do it for free (at least, for now). That’s been the most revealing lesson throughout this transition. I love what I do, and I don’t mind that I’m doing it for free.

I guess the moral here is this: Sometimes we can confuse enjoyment with passion. Telling someone to follow their passion isn’t always the best career advice because we can be passionate about many things, but not always to the extent that we want to be involved in those passions 40+ hours a week. Think about tasks or experiences that you’ve loved the most and try to see what’s common about them. Where can you work where you can do that full-time or even part-time? It may involve starting from scratch, but you’re never too old or too young to award yourself with personal and professional fulfillment.

This article was republished from LinkedIn and appears here with the permission of the author.

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About the author

Robert Nettleton is a confident, resourceful, and empathetic clinical social worker, communicator, and educator, focusing in direct intervention counselling and therapy, with a professional focus and research interest in grief, loss, identity, mental health, child welfare, and stress.