Success… is that all there is?

“It’s like having your entire investment in one stock and the stock is your job. You are going to be extremely anxious about losing that job, and depressed if you do.” says Robert Leahy, Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York as quoted in the Wall Street Journal article You Might as Well Face It: You’re Addicted to Success on Feb. 12, 2009.

These days there is an awful lot of fear in the air. ‘How secure is my job?’ “Forty years of work down the tubes.” “What if I lose my job; will I be able to find another one?” “How will my kids ever able to finish college?” “Will my house ever sell and just how much am I going to lose when it does?” These may be significant contributors to what has been referred to as “recession-related anxiety”. We hear these types of concerns in our conversations with colleagues, clients, friends, neighbors and family, and perhaps even from our own lips. It is enough to make anyone’s heart start to race, thoughts to spin, breaths to become shallow and rapid, and palms clammy.

Clear your mind and count for four breaths, inhaling slowly, deeply and exhaling slowly and completely. If a thought enters your mind, let it go. Return to counting and breathing.

Now let’s add an other contributor to “recession-related anxiety”, something that has become a “virtue” in today’s world, Success Addiction, or as Kevin Helliker wrote so perfectly “ the unmitigated identification of self with occupation, accomplishment and professional status.” I am an insert your profession of choice therefore I am. But in doing so, I believe we deny all else that we are or could be. I am a Social Worker; I am a Coach. That’s it? Really? That’s not enough for me. I want to be greedy with my life and diversify it as fully as my retirement investments (Thanks Mom and Dad for seeds you planted early about diversification in life and money). So yes, I am a Social Worker, I am a Coach, AND I am also a Wife, a Sister, a Daughter, a Friend, a Dancer, a Cook, a Traveler, a Reader and a Gardener.

Like with the stock market or any type of investment, if you put all your resources in once place, the payoffs may be big, but if the floor falls out, there’s nothing else to help absorb the blow.  All one’s worth is gone as well. We may not have enough power as an individual to change the flow of our investment portfolios or prevent being laid-off, but we can most certainly exert our individual power and resources to address over identifying with our work.  We can step out and diversify our lives, creating a bit more balance.

One of the first things people always say when you are looking for a job is to network; something that is not easily done by all people. Well, the same basic principle applies in working to create a bit more balance; you gotta reach out, probably reaching outside of your comfort zone, and network. Usually that means, getting clear about what virtues and characteristics are most sacred to you, broadening your circle of friends- not as easily done as when we were in school and for some of us it was not easy then- and investing more in your family.

Clear your mind and count for four breaths, inhaling slowly, deeply and exhaling slowly and completely. If a thought enters your mind, let it go. Return to counting and breathing.

Now what is that you have been craving to do for years? Join a writers group? Learn to knit? Take your kids to fly a kite?  Learn to fry a turkey as well as Uncle Lou? Take up fencing? Learn to leave the office by 5 pm?

This time clear your mind and count for four breaths, inhaling slowly, deeply and exhaling slowly and completely. If a thought enters your mind, let it go. Return to counting and breathing. Now what comes to mind when you think about what really matters?

Got it? Good now go do something, big or small, about it. I know you can. I am going to write some overdue letters to loved ones.



It is National Social Work Month, I should be celebrating, why am I so cranky?

“Work-related stress is common in today’s workforce, including individuals practicing social work. Given their professional client-centered nature, stress is a concern among social workers- particularly among those providing direct services (NASW Membership Workforce Study, 2009). “

I know that statement is true. I lived it in the field for many years as a case manager in Ryan White Funded organizations working with HIV infected and affected adolescents, children and women, as the social worker for an Adult HIV Clinical Trials team and as a technical assistance provider for State Substance Abuse prevention systems. With common stressors such as, not enough time to complete the necessary tasks to get our job done, not having enough resources to meet our clients needs, heavy work loads and difficult or challenging clients, plus our natural desire to help people with problems, it is no wonder we are feeling stressed and a very many of us feel burntout.

The work we do is too important for us to just stop, but we can’t continue to put in all of our resources without taking deliberate time and action to attend to our needs and replenish our resources. Is this hitting home for you too? Not sure? Here’s a quick quiz to check in with yourself about your own work-related stress.

As a result of work do you…

  • Feel fatigued regularly?
  • Have trouble sleeping sound, falling asleep, staying asleep or just plain feeling rested when you wake up?
  • Are you experiencing psychological problems like anxiety about work, feeling “depressed” about work?
  • Feel like you are not working at your peak performance level?
  • Feel irritable or angry?
  • Experience a tired, achy, heavy and/or sore body or other physical symptoms?

If you have answered Yes to 1 or more of these questions, you might just be feeling stressed and headed towards burnout. Stress, like with many things, a little goes a long way,  and in small doses it may act as a motivator, too much and it’s overwhelming and harmful.

But it is not all gloom and doom. Because of our nature and drive as social workers many of us do things to help manage our work related stress. According to the recent NASW Membership Workforce Study many of us exercise regularly, meditate or use some form of counseling to help cope. We are creative and resilient and by using healthy strategies to cope with stressors and maintain/regain our sense of control, mastery and competency in our jobs we can find ways to continue our exquisitely important work.

So take heart and take care, its probably not “just you” its probably the job and the very real demands we feel. And there are things you can do. Jump on your bike, take a walk, go dance, pull out the kayak, take some time to be still and reflect, journal or talk to someone about what is or is not going on. None of those appeal to you?  Go find some other personal and healthy way to restore yourself and honor the good work you do. Me, I am going to go dance.