Mission, mission, mission


And so, year two of social work grad school begins. Three days in the field [1] and two days in the classroom. The school part rocks. I’m learning about trauma and managing child welfare agencies. I’m tolerating a required course on research methods because it forces me to read research studies, which always lead to learning. The field – aka placement or internship – is teaching me how to efficiently use public transportation in Boston, how badly I want to live in the city when I graduate, and how sweet the managers at Pret a Manger are. I remain hopeful that the internship will teach me something of professional use, but until I’m assigned more than busy work, I can’t say.

During the first three weeks of the internship, while doing said busy work and watching training webinars for a job I’m not training for, I started to panic.

Here is a sampling[2] of my panic thoughts, in order of ridiculousness:

*What if I don’t acquire any resume-friendly skills?

*What if choosing this internship was a mistake?

*What if internships aren’t designed for people with decades of professional experience?

*What if going to grad school was simply a very effective procrastination activity before writing another book?

*What if all I gain are pounds from the large Pret ginger cookies I eat every day?

I clearly don’t need an internship to perfect my premature panicking skills.

I calmed myself down by remembering my mission. Turns out missions aren’t just for agencies – they’re for people, too. We all have one, but they’re delicate organisms that often get squished by responsibilities, neurotic coping strategies and other distractions. So, it’s important to assign yourself a quiz question once in a while.

Here’s the question. Answer in essay form:

I’m doing this because ____________.

The answer should come easily if you’re on the right track[3]. If you can’t answer the question, you might be on the wrong track or not on a track at all or perhaps you need to return to the station and exchange your ticket.

I think I have the right ticket because I know my answer.

I’m doing this because I want to help kids no one else is helping.

In particular, I’m interested in kids involved with the child welfare system, whether they’re living with their biological families or in foster care situations. These kids, through no fault of their own – obviously, because they’re kids! – need more support than they’re getting. Too many of them are being tossed around and further traumatized by the system that’s designed to help them. Too many of them just need someone on their side.

While remembering one’s mission doesn’t solve the practical issues, such as how to get to a place where one can do one’s particular work, it helps to douse the panic. It can also serve as a bullshit measuring device. Does your current activity/course load/internship align[4] you’re your mission? Will it get you closer to achieving the mission, or is it time-wasting bullshit? And if it’s the latter, how are you going to remedy that?

Year two of social work grad school is underway. It’s the final year, so there’re fewer moments to waste. Because I’m a non-traditional student[5], I have less time than my young classmates to figure this out. So, I’m remembering the words of the prophet Eminem, who knew a little about mission when he wrote: “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance …This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” And I’m backing up that challenge with the wisdom of esteemed spirit guide Mary Oliver, who asked, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

What’s your mission?


[1] All clichés and social work jargon terms will be italicized. The creative writing professor in me must acknowledge these insults to the English language even if the social worker in me is letting them through.

[2] A Research Methods term – see, I’m paying attention!

[3] For the love of God, Sue, a cliché this blatant?

[4] Yeah, it’s a real word, but real people don’t use it.

[5] Cliché for “old.”

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