9 Things I Won’t Miss and 4 Things I Will Miss From My Last Job

jail-cellThis week I started a new job after spending the last 4.5 years working as a social worker/ counselor in a county jail-based substance abuse program, run under the direction of the local Sheriff’s office. I am proud of the work I was doing, helping people take a hard look at what got them to this point, see their own potential, and plan the changes that might keep them from returning to alcohol or drugs (and incarceration) as a coping skill. After 21 years of significant success, the powers-that-be decided to hand over substance abuse treatment to the medical and mental health entity, ending the program as it is, and eventually presenting the dreaded pink slips to any personnel who haven’t found other employment. Although I feel sadness and disappointment for the ending of this chapter of my life and career, particularly in this manner, I accept the opportunity to stretch and grow in other areas as I move forward. Saying “so long” is never easy, and it has been an emotional week. This tongue-in-cheek post is meant to lighten up my own mood as much as it is to give a somewhat humorous but real peek into the life of those who work behind the walls and barbed-wire.

I won’t miss:

Having to carry a see-through purse/bag. I believe this is self-explanatory; however, “transparency” has a whole new meaning when you have to choose a small plastic purse that fits inside your “outside” purse, just to make sure you don’t ever leave behind something you really need while making sure you aren’t carrying “contraband.”

Hearing constant two-way radio chatter. This may not have bothered others, but it was like nails-on-the-chalkboard to this INFJ, who gets more work done and renewed mentally and emotionally in a quiet atmosphere.

Clanging of sliders and clicking of doors. Anyone watch Law &  Order? You know that sound at the beginning of the show, and between scenes? Yes, kind of like that. Any efforts to see clients in their housing unit means you hear that. You get used to it after 4.5 years, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Getting caught in a sally port and forgotten. In the event you’ve never had the experience of being incarcerated, volunteered in, or visited someone in jail or prison, a sally port could be described as a small enclosed hallway between two steel sliding doors. Someone far away at a control panel lets you in from one side and closes that side before opening the other. I was never stranded between the two for more than 5-10 minutes, but that can seem like an eternity when you’re claustrophobic! Yikes!

Eating every lunch out of plastic or paper containers and with plastic utensils. The building where programs and our offices were positioned was within a secure area. This was convenient for seeing clients, but limited us from using ceramic plates and cups or metal utensils. Not the end of the world, I know, but definitely inconvenient for potlucks and cutting or stabbing leftover steak you bring from home. And try to cut a large graduation celebration cake with a spatula! Messy is an understatement.

Multiple county-and-agency-wide emails daily that don’t pertain to me. At all. It remains to be seen if this is only true of a large local government. Nonetheless, it is aggravating, particularly when you return from vacation and most of what you received is to be deleted. If you don’t, you might get that cleanup-your-mailbox warning.

Intercom announcements that echo so much they can’t be understood and seemingly go on forever. I’m sure that much of this issue is due to the concrete structure and design of the buildings, but when you are straining to assess a client and talk over one of the many announcements, you just have to stop and wait it out. (The only loudspeaker “announcement” I appreciated was one clear morning I arrived to work and could hear The Star Spangled Banner proclaimed loudly from Tent City. My throat tightened with emotion and pride as I stopped and faced the flag, singing every word.)

Constant awareness for items that are considered contraband for inmates due to their potential to become a weapon. I never had an issue with an inmate attempting to take something they were not to have, but I had to develop an alertness for the potential risk of a pen, marker, scissors (kindergarten blunt-tip ones used in cutting up magazines for vision boards), glue sticks, makeup in your pocket, etc., that might drop or be left behind in the counseling room or the housing unit.

jail-cell-2Disrespect of human beings based on their current setting. This does not apply to everyone, but it is reality. I am no bleeding heart and believe most of us have to accept consequences for choices we have made. When employees (not colleagues) ask why you are helping “these people,” it’s disheartening, as “these people” are getting released to my community. The more tools they have to change, the better chance they have to contribute positively. They may not go out and change this time, but some time in their future they may remember something they learned and choose to change. I have to take that chance.

I will miss:

Working 1st shift hours. Traffic! Need I say more? Okay, I will anyway. The 0630-1430 shift means the commute is significantly shorter and less annoying. After only one week, I’m still working on navigating this maybe-I-should-invest-in-a-jet-pack-or-use-Uber-so-I-can-still-get-something-done traffic! So far, Audible books have saved my sanity.

The experience I received of hearing the stories of clients who are at their lowest point. I am honored to have had clients who trusted me and their group members enough to share traumatic histories in a setting that does not lend itself to this kind of vulnerability. I grew professionally and personally. I am a better counselor and can take this experience with me and build on it.

Hearing from former clients who are seeing success. It’s not for a pat on the back. The clients are doing the hard work, facing all kinds of challenges. More than anything, those updates are an inspiration to continue doing and caring, despite the weariness of the work.

Some super talented colleagues who were and are passionate about what they do. I have learned from their experience and viewpoints, and felt valued by their support and encouragement. We hope to stay connected due to our common field of service, but proximity and crazy schedules make it a huge challenge. They will not be forgotten, and I will definitely miss “killin'” lunch, and continuing to say goodbye each day to a former colleague. Okay, maybe not that last part!

As a preacher’s kid, I never ever imagined, in my wildest dreams, that I would ever work in a jail, much less love it. It’s bittersweet moving on, but my time has not been wasted. In my last meeting with my group, more than one member admitted that they never dreamed of or planned on opening up to a counselor before this experience. What a privilege to have had the opportunity to impact people in a positive way. More opportunities are coming my way.

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Invitation to Your Life

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a group of more than 50 men who have worked hard to complete a substance abuse treatment program inside the local jail, 14 of whom were my direct clients. Many would wash their hands of the chemically-dependent, writing them off as the lowest of society. However, they are sons, brothers, and fathers, and I’m honored to hear their stories and help them see there is hope for a different future. This is what I said to them:

“I am currently reading a book called Love Does by Bob Goff. He writes short anecdotal stories that he relates to the action of love rather than love as a feeling.

One story was particularly interesting to me as I read it and thought of you all and the work you’ve been doing to change. He calls the chapter, There’s More Room, and says, “I used to think I needed an invitation to get into most places, but now I know I’m already invited.”

The shortened version goes like this:

He explains that he has been to the White House to visit on numerous occasions, especially around Easter because of the “swanky” Easter egg hunt happening on the White House lawn, but has never been invited to it. His family would show up and hide eggs along the fence that separates those on the “inside” from the rest of us. They’d dress up and pretend to be part of the “distinguished gathering.” He was always tempted to roll an egg under the fence to see if guys in suits might tackle him and talk into their sleeves. They would use a small area to hide eggs, so they were easy to spot, but his kids were young and probably just thought they were experts at finding eggs. He wanted them to know they were included in important things, that they belonged, that they were invited.

There are lots of events he never got invited to – the Oscars, Paul McCartney’s birthday party, or a space shuttle launch. If he did get one, even to the White House Easter egg hunt, he would definitely go. There is nothing like feeling included. He says there is only one invitation it would kill him to refuse, yet is tempted to turn down regularly. All of us get the invitation every morning to wake up and actually live a life of complete engagement, of whimsy, a life where love does. The invitation doesn’t come in an envelope. It’s ushered in by the sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee. It’s the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life every day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the White House, but plenty of you have been turning down the invitation to truly live.

Turning down this invitation looks different to all of us. It could be using a chemical substance or any other number of addictive actions to numb some painful experience or memory. Someone called us a name or put a label on us, and we believe we aren’t worthy of the invitation. It could be distracting ourselves from seeing what isn’t normal because we have not been prepared to deal with it appropriately. It can also look like refusing to forgive or not being grateful for what we have or being chained to fear or envy. It could be fear of reconnecting with a friend because it’s been too long and we are ashamed to have allowed so much time to come between us. It could be that our friends have been participating for years and we’re ashamed to show up late.

We receive an invitation to live each day and sometimes we forget to show up because we’re just tired or have convinced ourselves that we weren’t invited. But we are invited. Every day. Over and over again. When you don’t show up, others will. And yet there is still room for you.

Two things happen when we accept the invitation to participate in life.

  1. Obstacles and hurdles that seem insurmountable aren’t. Things we believe disqualify us don’t.
  2. It’s contagious. Others watch and see that life is amazing, and start believing the invitation is open to them as well. There IS room for them, too.

So, you’ve spent about 18 weeks here, clearing your mind and your body of chemicals that are capable of damaging your body. Understanding that the choices you made are not who you are. Opening your eyes to the opportunities that are yours. This place is not a place to live your life. But this is a place to start again. This is your invitation to truly live a life of engagement. To fully participate in the work of showing up. Time to show up for the real party called life. Welcome to your amazing life.”

In reality, these words were not only for the graduates. Much of the content was also directed at me, as a reminder that I need not wait around for the perfect storm to put things in motion. I must get moving, taking each small step after another to create the life I want.

Goff, B. (2012). Love does: Discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Loyalty: Still a Fan

IMG_1651A year ago, I published this post regarding my reasons for being a University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball fan. With a nearly perfect record, last season was awesome. My stance on that subject has not changed. At all.

This year has been a more difficult year for the team. New players. Hurt players. Miscommunication. Lack of cohesion. Some painful, last minute losses. And haters.

There are some things I’ve learned through this season and as the team was eliminated from the championship in the Round of 32 to long-time rivals, Indiana. Am I disappointed? Absolutely! Any fan would be. Is it the end of the world? NO!

While I always want Kentucky to win, I’ve realized that life is so much like the life that March Madness takes on each year. I will always cheer for Kentucky. I will always cheer for the teams who play against teams that have taken down Kentucky in last-minute-unbelievable wins in the past. But I do not hate them. I do not wish for bad things to happen to their team or their players. In a recent game, when a talented opposing player went down on the court in obviously excruciating pain, for two seconds I thought, That’s a win for us. Yeah! But winning because their best player is hurt is not an honest, do-it-or-die win. It’s hollow and cheap. I would rather see Kentucky lose a game than win like that. There will be other games. Other seasons.

I’ve also seen comments on social media harshly judging players when they have a bad day or Coach Cal for the way he runs his program. These are kids, folks. Yes, they are adults according to society’s evaluation of their age in years. But they are kids. They are young. And green. And they have to work hard to not only perfect improve their skill, but to work as a team, supporting each other. I know people far older who struggle with team-building skills at their jobs. Just because these young men are in the limelight doesn’t mean we have the right to demean them. Everyone has bad days. That’s how we appreciate the good ones. And I have to give kudos to Coach Cal for taking a group of young boys and teaching them how to play together for the good of the team. He’s doing an awesome job, and even when he is tough on them, calling out their inconsistencies, he remembers that they are just kids and need to know they are valued for whatever they contribute.

Let’s face it, folks. As another Kentucky fan reminded me recently, we are spoiled. We have gotten used to wins. We enjoy them. We count on them. We expect them. We have 8, count them, 8, E-I-G-H-T, national championships. That’s more than any other school except for UCLA. Add to that numerous conference championship titles. And Kentucky is the number 1 school represented in the NBA. That, my friends, is not shabby. And that is why other school’s fans hate feel intimidated because of us. Recent losses can only make future wins sweeter.

Loyalty is what it’s all about. We can’t hold down our sofas or scream from the stands about what should or shouldn’t be done. At college games or in life. Cheer on the players when it’s their turn to play. Remind them they can try harder the next time. Ask them what they think can improve their game. And when it’s your turn (or mine) to get on the court, DO THE BEST YOU CAN DO AT THE MOMENT. That is loyalty. In your family. At your job. Or for the stranger who needs help opening a door because their hands are full. Life is a game. Some days we win. Others we lose and need to support others who are winning. No matter what, quitting is not an option.

 

Evaluations: Is Satisfactory Enough?

Outstanding evaluation.  Red pen on evaluation, with "outstanding" checked.

According to Webster’s Thesaurus, the terms satisfactory and enough are synonymous. On an evaluation form, satisfactory generally means “meets minimum standards.” For some reason, that choice bothers me as much as unsatisfactory or “below minimum standards.” Maybe it’s because I know there is more in me than average. Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood and teenage years thinking I was average others saw me as average. Maybe it’s because I knew there was more, but didn’t have a clue how to get beyond the thinking that others saw me as average.

I did well in elementary school when I applied myself, and I had the support of educator parents who continually made me accountable. But I wasn’t the best. There was always someone better. In academics. At piano playing. At drawing. At popularity. At fitting in. At everything. (I’m sure there were some who were behind me at some of those things, and I suppose it’s a good thing that that didn’t make me feel better. I truly never wanted anyone to feel “less than,” as I did.) Consequently, I felt lost in the crowd. Average. Unexceptional. Unnoticeable. And, consequently, I frequently made choices that might make me noticeable in the wrong way.

A few things in my life made me feel valued. First, I was born into an exceptional family. I was the baby on both sides and was quite aware of how much impact my extended family were and still are. Second, my brother who was nearly six years older trusted me with the secret that he possessed a Carpenter’s album, carefully hidden under his clothes in a drawer, and discreetly played when our parents were out of the house. (Yes, I know some of you are shocked to know the secret, while others are questioning the need for a Carpenter’s album to be hidden. For any reason. It was my life, folks. Challenging to explain to those who had different experiences.) Third, my brother not only chose to marry a beautiful girl I already considered a friend, but they both wanted me in their wedding, and they both wanted my 14th birthday to be special – my first time at King’s Island, riding roller coasters and laughing at Chris’ antics. It was special indeed.

Less than three months later, my world changed drastically. The dynamics in our home were something akin to attempts at keeping a full glass of water from spilling a drop on a table with one leg significantly too short. Suddenly an only child, I was lost in a cloud of grief. I didn’t expect comfort from my parents, as they were experiencing more grief than most can handle. Somehow I survived by minimizing my grief, telling myself I wasn’t important enough to feel so sad. My grades dropped because my head wasn’t in the game. The feelings of “only average” became my automatic thoughts, supported by average grades and average standings as I graduated high school and continued in college until I quit after only three semesters. For twenty + years, those thoughts ruled my life and led me to make choices that proved them valid.

Until ten years ago. When I started believing in myself. And started back to college. I can’t say that I’ve “arrived,” but I gain ground each time I step forward and believe I’m capable of accomplishing, not just doing, what I want in life. And I remember a conversation from a few years back. I went to a movie with a much younger male coworker, for a break from studying. Somehow the conversation became an unexpected sharing with a trustworthy friend my struggle in feeling average over the years. When we parted ways, he said, “You are not average. You have plenty to offer.” I held onto that and had to start believing in order to be exceptional.

As I worked at being exceptional in obtaining my degrees, I encountered those who challenged my effort, telling me that as long as I got the diploma, employers rarely notice the actual grades. That could be true, but I can know that I did my best, and that is not average. (I was  actually surprised when friends told me they knew all along that I had exceptional in me.) And as I recently received my first evaluation on my latest side hustle of teaching college students, having challenged myself to be “better than I was yesterday” has proven worth the effort. Previously, I would mentally take myself to the proverbial woodshed each time I made a mistake. Now, I ponder what I can learn and how I can do better the next time. And I look objectively at constructive criticism. I’m not better than anyone else, but I strive to be above average. And I find it much easier to offer grace to others who aren’t at the same place in their journey.

Albert Einstein once said, (Vicky’s translation), “Try not to become a [woman] of success, but rather try to become a [woman] of value.” When I see behaviors in others that are less than complimentary, I want to give myself a check of accountability to prevent curb that behavior in myself. Satisfactory is NOT enough! My desire is to be exceptional. Not better than the next person, but my best self! I have a long way to go. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.