I was sitting in the caf with my best friend here at Luther. It was just the two of us, chatting over lunch, when all of a sudden, her face lit up:
“Abby,” she said, “I just need to tell you that I have loved watching you grow as a friend,” and her voice got all throaty and emotional as if she were going to cry.
And this girl NEVER cries.
To be honest, I was so caught up in my usual every-day college-student business that I wasn’t entirely sure what she was referring to.
I think that often our progress and achievements are not as visible to us, because we are too close to take note of them, where as people on the outside can see them clearly, and when they are good friends, like this one, they point out our achievements and praise us for them.
I’m not saying we should rely on friends for self-confidence. But it’s a good reminder of why relationships we make with people are so important. We spend time around people because they make us feel good about ourselves.
It’s a reminder to us as social workers to prioritize the kinds of relationships our clients have with people as one of our main concerns.
…So you might be wondering what kind of growth my friend was referring to. She looked at the ceiling, trying to put it all into words:
“I just remember you as a freshman, and you are such an empathetic person, and you wanted to let everyone in, and you wanted everyone to let you in. And you wanted to help everyone who was going through anything. But sometimes it broke you apart. And now you know yourself. You know what you can let in and what is going to be too overbearing.”
My jaw dropped, astounded at her words.
“I just wanted to tell you,” she said, “It’s been really fun to watch.”
And never for a moment did she sound superior. It was just a moment when a friend was admiring a friend. And I wanted to press pause so that I could hold onto it forever.
She already seemed like a social worker to me – pointing out my strengths and my growth without sounding high and mighty. It was an inspiration for how I hope to conduct my practice.
Then I paused. She was totally right. It was in the past few years that I had consciously started searching out a better balance in my life. Just like we’re learning about in class. Semi-permiable boundaries: letting in some, but not too much. Relationships are extremely important to me – I think they are to everyone. But sometimes we can’t let everyone in at once. And we certainly can’t take on all the problems we’re faced with at once, even if we’re ambitious. We crack.
I had learned to nurture and sustain the relationships that were most important to me…to immerse myself in social environments that make me feel good…that praise me, like this particular friend, and remind me of my achievements. These are also environments that appreciate MY admiration for them. They aren’t perfect relationships by any means. And how boring life would be if they were..But we certainly aren’t always in conflict with one another.
As we mature, we learn that life is too precious to spend much time around negative energy. We learn to separate ourselves from discouraging environments – places where individual growth tends to get stomped on. We make these choices in order to be balanced, healthy, happy individuals.
Just as Craig (my professor) tells us, as social workers, our goal is to help people. But that all begins with taking care of ourselves.