One month ago today, I received a Master of Social Work degree. On November 16, my classmates and I donned gowns with very strange sleeves (they’re more like tails or wings), and walked across a stage to shake hands with some university VIPs that most of us had never met. Despite these bits of ceremonial weirdness, the day was more meaningful than I’d expected.
While the extra piece of paper doesn’t change much about my life, I know the process of getting the piece of paper changed parts of me.
But it’s hard to see change in oneself while it’s happening. (That’s also why I didn’t realize how much weight I gained during the damn degree until none of my pants fit. But I digress.)
So, I appreciate the friend who asked, “why did you do this degree in the first place?” It was the day after convocation, and we were talking about what I might do next. And I must confess the question stunned me a bit. It prompted me to check in with the version of myself who decided to study social work/community development a couple of years ago.
Why did I get this degree?
I mentally flipped through the catalogue of reasons I had offered people when I started down this path. Depending who asked, I usually gave one of the following answers:
- Because even though I never imagined myself going back to university, the idea lodged itself in my head, and I couldn’t get rid of it. (Hey, that sounds like starting this blog!)
- Because after working on some difficult international files and later volunteering overseas, I wanted to work in international development – and knew that I needed some additional education to do it ethically or well.
- Because I was using a good deal of free time to volunteer in the social sector, and it began to feel sensible and desirable to align my work and volunteerism.
- Because the tasks in my old job were feeling routine, and the changes I wanted to see were developing slowly. My work didn’t seem to get me fired up anymore.
- Because even when I did feel enthusiastic about my work, I was running out of knowledge and experience to draw on when pushing for change with my colleagues and leaders. “Cuz I think it’s right,” didn’t seem like it would do the trick much longer.
And what about now? Are these still the reasons I invested time, money, and headaches into an extra bit of education?
- I’m glad I went back to university. I was excited to shop for school supplies, intrigued to read new (to me) ideas, and happy to be writing. (These feelings were definitely not constant through the two years, but my nerdy self admits the feelings existed.) Moreover, I think the best part of any educational experience is the people and classmates you meet, and that was definitely true for me.
- I no longer want to work in international development. If I did work overseas, I think the MSW experience would make me better suited to doing that work with appropriate intentions. But I’m no longer convinced it’s possible for me to do this work in ways that are culturally appropriate enough. (There’s more to say on this one, and lots of grey area…maybe a future blog post awaits.)
- I now see more connections between my work and my volunteerism. I think I understand more about the social sector context, and I feel like my work affects my volunteer time – and vice versa. These parts of my life feel more like a Venn diagram than separate siloes, and that’s nice. (Well, it’s usually nice. It’s also sometimes harder to take a break.)
- It turns out that some of the things that felt slow in my old job are probably moving faster than some of the things I’m working on now. I think there was a “grass is always greener” vibe happening here. But seeing the similarities in slowness has provided a reminder about the patience and strategic thinking that are required if I’m going to address the systemic challenges I keep feeling called to work on.
- I do have more knowledge and experience that I can now take into my next job(s). But even more important than using this information to convince people to do things in the ways I think are important, I now have a greater understanding of all the things I don’t know – and therefore how important it is to meet and work with people who have totally different perspectives.
In addition, and beyond my original reasons for doing the MSW program, I know there are several more things I gained from going through it. (And I don’t just mean the extra weight.)
Was the experience perfect? Not in the slightest.
Was it maddening? Quite often.
But I’m glad someone asked about my original objectives, because answering that question has been a good accompaniment to the special day, to the gown with sleeve-tails, to the shaking of VIP hands, and to the new piece of paper.
Is there something in your life that requires asking a similar question?