April 17, 2017
What do you do for a living? I am a case manager at an agency called Monarch Independent Living Services. I provide case management for adults with developmental disabilities like autism, down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities.
How did you get into that type of career? It was a little bit by accident. I wanted to be a teacher and enrolled in a class about student teaching, and accidentally got placed in a special education class. I decided to give it a try and I ended up loving it. I was really focused on working with kids with autism and had the opportunity to became really involved in that through psychology classes. When I graduated college, I decided to try working with adults and found it really enjoyable.
Describe a typical day for me. Everyday is totally different. I usually have between 2 to 4 clients a day. I meet them either at their job site, at school, at their house, or really anywhere in the community, and then we work on a wide range of goals. I help by acting as their job coach; helping them get use to their job and making sure that they are doing things that they can. At school, I help tutor them and accompany them to class, and at home we spend a lot of time working on developing their independent living skills.
What do you find most rewarding about your job? I would say, helping people find employment because that could last a lifetime. One of the most powerful things I can do is to help connect someone to a job, especially when they work really hard to get it. By joining my clients and not doing it for them, I help support them to be independent. It’s amazing to see their confidence grow and watch their lives change because they develop a routine. They feel like they have a purpose and that they are actively contributing towards society. I find that really rewarding.
What’s the biggest misconception that you think society has about adults with disabilities? People think that they are not capable. I see that a lot. Many times in jobs, they are treated like they have special needs but they really have the same needs that everyone else has. They may learn something a little bit differently, but they need the same things as you and me. They need support from their boss and the organization, and they desire to have community with their co-workers. I often act as a liaison between my clients and their bosses, to help show employers that they are capable, and that they might just need a few extra weeks to get something or a little extra explanation.
What inspires you and gets you out of the bed in the morning? Knowing that my one goal is to make a positive contribution to my client’s lives. I want to help them live their lives in the best way that they can and be the most independent they can. It’s a really simple goal, and it’s all about helping people improve their lives. I’m lucky to witness that everyday through simple interactions, like when they get an ‘A’ in their class, when they get a job, or they get housing, or when they go to the doctor’s for the first time in a long time. It can be really simple things that are satisfying. It’s nice having really great human connection with people. Sometimes for my clients, it’s the one time of week where they get to decide what they want to do and that’s really important because often they don’t get to decide what they want to do, people are making choices for them all day long. What I get excited about is seeing them direct their lives, make choices, and be really proud of those choices.
Our jobs can often be difficult and stressful. How do you deal with the stress? It’s all about self-care. I like to get outdoors, go to the beach, do yoga, go hiking, do some mountain biking...it’s probably why I love living in Santa Cruz. Spending time outside in a beautiful place helps me remember why I am doing what I am. It allows me to forget all of the petty things, or the little details that stress me out.
Why should everyone concentrate on their own self-care? Burnout is so common. In the beginning you start out wanting to please everyone, until you finally realize that you can’t. It’s about getting in the right head space and remembering that your mental health comes first. And that can be hard because you want to please people. Also, I believe in setting boundaries with work. After 5 or 6, don’t check emails or text messages. Create a space and time that is just for you. The goal is to sustain your energy and compassion throughout your career and if you don’t, you’re not going be as effective.
Who is your biggest inspiration? I would say my boss. She has been in this field for a long time and has the most compassion and patience out of anyone I have ever met. It’s very inspiring to see and I’m fortunate to be able to learn and work alongside her. She makes people feel really welcomed and understood. A lot of people we serve are very apprehensive at first, so I try to embody the values of compassion and patience as much as I can.
What do you want to learn in the next year? I actually just got accepted into grad school. I am going to be obtaining my MSW, which I’m very excited about, so I expect to be learning quite a bit in the near future! I really want to focus on learning how I can be the most effective social worker I can be. I have learned directly by being in the field but I have not had a lot of formal training. I’d like to learn move about the resources available, or policies, and big picture things like creating effective programs.
What is something that you wish you had started sooner? Something that I am trying to get better at is mountain biking. It can be scary at first going downhill at a fast speed. I really wish that I was more comfortable with taking risks and going for it. Whenn I was younger this is definitely not something I would have tried. I wish I had learned sooner to be more comfortable about taking risks.
What’s something that you think everyone should try at least once in their lives? Living abroad. Gaining a different perspective, getting out of your comfort zone, having your perspective challenged, and having to rethink your viewpoints is really important. I think that having that type of experience is great not only once but multiple times. I think so many of us can get easily get set in our ways. We think that our perspective of life is an absolute truth, until we have an experience like living abroad, and come to realize its not, and that other people live very different lives. My experience living in London helped me a lot with my job too. My clients live very different lives than me, and have very different outlooks. I constantly have to question mine and try to see life through their perspectives.
How would you define success? Making a difference. Even if it’s a small difference. You should recognize that you can’t always work to change people’s lives in huge ways. What you can do though is help them in small little ways that eventually really shift things in a positive way for them. It’s also about having the emotional endurance to continue with this line of work. In my field, it’s not really about achieving a status, but instead making an impact.
What are you most grateful for? My work. I am grateful that I get to do this type of work everyday. I feel very supported by my agency and I get the opportunity to help people live better lives. I feel like I found my purpose and that’s really exciting. Feeling like I was meant to do this work is definitely something to be grateful for. And to be honest, I found it pretty soon in life. I have had really positive experiences and I want to continue having them. That’s all I can really ask for in life, just helping people and knowing that I have made a difference.
Do you have a philosophy for life? Be someone who makes you happy. I think it’s important to stay true to your values and do what makes sense for your life. Don’t worry about what it’s going to look like. People tell me all the time, “Do you really want to be a social worker? It’s a lot of work and you don’t always get compensated well.” I just remember that what I am doing makes me happy, and that’s all I can ask for. You have to find your purpose, follow it, and make it work.
May 07, 2017