Where the sidewalk ends....
By Krystle McGrady, MSW
Social Work is a funny thing. Many go into the field with the expectation to help others, fight the system, make a difference or because someone once told them “it's a career as a professional volunteer.” No one ever said it was where you learned to build a sidewalk.
During these current Quarantine times, much that is planned and expected is no longer such. Many may be working, working more, working differently, or working to find work. My current workplace has become my dining room table.
My four-legged co-worker really needs to meet with our HR department regarding his walk times and flatulence stench. I work in a community agency providing therapy to those within my service area. Said dining room table. So during these uncertain times, spending quality time with those who are important to us is so important to me. During a recent, and socially appropriate walk with a friend, we shared our struggles and our new favorite books and Netflix shows. She shared that her current area of growth has come from working with and over two departments fully outside of her wheelhouse of comfort. She also happens to be a social worker. Then casually slipped in that she has been tasked with building a sidewalk before her two upcoming meetings and how she would prepare. I stopped dead in my tracks. And proceeded to laugh my very warmed up butt off. Not at her, we all get ridiculous asks of us in our workplace. What was so funny was the reminder it gave me. A reminder that as much as we want to give of ourselves, those around us are not often matching those energies to our own. As much as we think we want to make a difference, the sidewalk was never a part of that process we planned when entering.
Building a sidewalk….I mean, what? If you were working at Starbucks and in between discussing new milks added to your menu and your supervisor tells you that you will be building a sidewalk, then moves on to the new to-go order procedure, how do you respond? If your restaurant manager asked you to build a sidewalk, what do you do? If your car shopping and the human you’re working with suggests that you have to build a sidewalk to get to the car you want, what are your next words? Hopefully you’ve noticed that each scenario is just as unsuccessfully and ridiculous and unexpected as the next. Just as it is for a social worker.
There’s a metaphor here. There’s also a lot of hard work and growth and figuring out what you lack before you know what you have here. We saw it during our walk, when passing others, each party did their best to avoid the sidewalk by choosing the grass on one side or the empty car lane on the other.In the words of Rachel Hollis, who quoted her friend, “if it doesn't make you say Hell Yes then it is a No.” Feels great to know that laughing ridiculously as a response is justified right? Practically, that wouldn’t work. You run the risk of loosing said work, offering your boss and fully giving into the imposter syndrome feelings you’ve been fending off for weeks.
So why not build a sidewalk? If the worst thing that would happen is that you use your skills to create a strong image for a lasting ‘bridge the gap’ then why not? My first instinct is to always say no to something that doesn’t give me warm and fuzzy feelings of hope inside. Sidewalk’s don’t do it for me. Knowing what you have and what you can do with it is vital to building a sidewalk. We know it involves cement, water, probably mixing and people that now how to build a sidewalk. So, it’s all about resources. Shel Silverstein has a great point, that where the world ends, when we get to the end of the sidewalk, the wind is very wild. Bridging the gap between what we know and what we don’t know if a very uncomfortable first step.
Doing this in the time of quarantine, I would argue, is easier. We can control who we go to for direction, the cement we find and the tools we use. It feels more comfortable to focus on what we can control, even if it means putting aside those fears of the unknown for just a few minutes to take that first step…onto our sidewalks.