Have you ever had the experience where an idea or a goal or some other type of concept is on your mind but you just can’t put words to it? You just can’t quite put your finger on it or get the perspective you need? Welcome to what was my reality as a freshman in college. I went to undergrad not knowing what in the world I wanted to major in. I knew what I didn’t want to do…Medicine? Nope. Business? Nada. But I didn’t have a clear sense of what I wanted to do. (Can I get an Amen from all you out there with the same experience?)
Enter in a session at the campus counseling center. The counselor I spoke with took me on a tour of personality and career assessment-type tests and discussions. We ended up with an arbitrary list of careers I would be suited for, most of which were way far out in left field. But one in particular, social work, stood out. I left that session with an assignment, to read up on the social work profession, talk to social workers about what they did and otherwise see if this might be that which I was looking for. With six years of higher education, and two degrees in Social Work later, I can safely say I found where I was meant to be!
More than anything, I found that the values of the social work profession really resonated with me: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence. And when I thought about it, I could see many ways in which these values had already been playing out in my life before I studied Social Work. I was amazed at all the different ways in which someone could practice social work, from serving as an executive director of an organization, to lobbying on Capitol Hill, to researching evidence-based practices, to working with clients with developmental disabilities.
While I was pleased as punch that I had found my niche, my family’s reaction was less than emphatic when I announced my new-found life path. “You want to do what with your career?” they said. “Why don’t you become a doctor, or a lawyer?” You can imagine their reaction when I chose to specialize in gerontology, or the study of the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging.
Naysayers aside, I love what I do. Each day, I have the opportunity to make a real, tangible impact on a person’s health and their life overall, not only at the individual level but on a community level as well. And, I am in a position to train others to carry out this work in their own communities by equipping them with the tools and information to do so. It is so exciting to be part of a network like YNPN Chicago where I have the chance to tell others about the work that I do, hear about their experience and explore potential ways to work together.
The moral to the story, mine anyway, is to follow your passion, that little voice in your head, your love, whatever. Build your career around what will make you happy and surround yourself with like-minded peers that provide you with validation and support by joining YNPN Chicago and organizations like it. By doing so, you will be able to say proudly, “Yes, I want to do that with my career!”
– Dana holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Xavier University (Ohio) and a Masters in Social Work and a Specialist in Aging Certificate from the University of Michigan School of Social Work’s Geriatric Social Work Fellowship program. She currently works as the Coordinator of Health Promotion Rush University Medical Center’s Older Adult Programs.