I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was a sophomore in college and needed to declare my major. I was lost at sea. I was a student at Westmont College, a small liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, California. I knew that I had a heart for service or ministry, but I didn’t have a compass for what that meant in practical terms. I was considering sociology or religious studies as my major but neither one of them felt right. I flew back to my home state of Texas over spring break to visit colleges. I wanted to transfer to a new school, partly because I wanted to move closer to family and partly because I was looking for the right educational path for me.
I was standing in the admissions office of TCU (Texas Christian University) in Fort Worth, Texas. I had just taken a tour of the campus and needed to make 2 major life decisions: was I going to transfer to TCU? If so, what was I going to declare as my major? They had a display shelf with a 1-page brochure for each major offered at the university. I read them one by one. I picked up the one entitled “social work” and read it from beginning to end. I looked up at my parents and the admissions officer and said “This is it. I’m going to major in social work.” One definition of a beacon is “a lighthouse or other signal for guidance.” Social work chose me and became my beacon on that day.
I earned my bachelor’s degree in social work from TCU and my master’s degree in social work from UTA (University of Texas at Arlington). I have been a social worker for 25 years! My social work education and career have guided me to a safe harbor where I can be a beacon for others. Another definition of beacon is “a source of light or inspiration.” Now I teach self care tools to other mental health professionals. To be a beacon for others, I have to be standing on solid ground and be willing and able to shine a bright light out into the darkness. Here are 3 ways that I stay grounded and able to keep shining bright. I’ve organized my thoughts by the personal strategies for self care outlined in Self Care in Social Work by Kathleen Cox and Sue Steiner. I started learning and applying these concepts when I was at TCU and UTA. I have continued to grow in my understanding of them throughout my career as a clinical social worker, yoga instructor and life coach.
Self-awareness. It started with the introspective papers that I was required to write for my social work classes. To become a social worker (or any type of mental health professional), you need to examine your own thoughts, feelings, biases and perspectives. This is an ongoing process. To be a beacon for others, I need to be honest with myself about whether or not I am walking the walk or just talking the talk. If you are helping others to deal with their stress, are you being honest with yourself about your own stress level?
Self-regulation. As professionals (and as parents, teachers, bosses or even friends), we are often really good at giving advice or guidance to others. We may be able to clearly see the course that someone needs to take to make it back to safety or serenity. When you notice that you have gone off course in some area of your life, are you willing and able to self-correct? Do you have the necessary skills and instruments to get you back on track? I learned many fabulous tools while I was in school and I have needed to continue learning in order to keep my light shining bright.
Self-efficacy. In order to be a beacon, you have to believe in your ability to stand strong, shine your light and withstand the waves that crash into shore with storms or the changing tide. “Some social workers may be surprised to learn that many of the most powerful threats to our self-efficacy come from within” (p. 79 of Self-Care in Social Work). This obviously applies to all of us (professionals, parents, leaders). Active self care is essential to becoming and remaining a beacon. I am eternally grateful to the many beacons who have guided me along my path. This includes countless people (family, friends, professionals) as well as my professional training and my life experiences. I am proud of the beacon that I have become. May you be a beacon, a guiding light and a source of inspiration, for those who need you.