Walking Away: Leigh’s Decision

Oh, wow! Wait til you finish reading this identity post from my friend Leigh, who I know from twitter. (I’m beginning to wonder if I have any friends In Real Life…) She tells quite a story about finding work, purpose and making tough decisions. I felt positively filled with excitement for her when I reached the end. Share your experiences with Leigh.

When I was in high school, I was quite certain that I would fall in love and marry in my early 20s. After a few years of working and wedded bliss, I would bear four children and live out my dream of being a wife and stay-at-home mother.

Instead, I am 31 and still single. While I’ve always been a hard worker, I fell into a career out of necessity, not drive.

When I was young, my mom believed I would be a nurse when I grew up. I was forever taking care of my peers on the playground, showing concern over skinned knees and bug bites. I, however, wanted to be a writer or an artist.

This ran against the Midwestern sensibility that art was a nice hobby, not a career. Over time I adopted the same mindset and headed toward the noble profession of social work. By the time I arrived in grad school, my paints and pens were pushed to the back of my closet.

Social work has highs and lows. I found I was good at counseling those going through their darkest hours and I liked it. My time as a hospice social worker allowed me to help people make sense of their lives and cope with loss. I even shepherded my own family through the deaths of my great-aunt and grandmother. Though I received affirmation from many, I sensed I was made for more. But a job is a job. The longer I stayed in social work, the more my identity was tied into Being a Social Worker.

I began blogging stories about work in order for family and friends to better understand my days. There was much I enjoyed about hospice work, even though it began to exhaust me. Self-care became my focus. I safeguarded my time and sleep. I insisted on an hour after work in which I didn’t have to listen to anyone. I started to wonder whether I would be a social work lifer.

I switched to pediatric medical social work last year, thinking my old dream job would do the trick. It hasn’t. My best friend’s husband, who never lived in the same place as me prior to my move to Nashville, actually believes that I’m a homebody. Me, the girl with a million things in her planner, always scheduling the next party and surrounded with friends. My busy social life, once my saving grace, has taken a back seat due to the emotional demands of work.

The longer I have been a social worker, the less Me I have become.

Of the many lessons I’ve learned this past year, at the top of the list is that just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean it should be my career. Listening and counseling comes naturally to me but I would much rather do this in the context of doing life with people, instead of being paid to listen and consider everything from a clinical point of view.

Not only has the stress made me more introverted, it’s stolen time and energy from writing.  Sometimes we have to work so that we are able to do what we really want to do. And sometimes we need to walk away so that we can do what we were meant to do.

I quit a few weeks ago. I asked to speak with my boss and gave her one month’s notice. This Thursday will be my last day there. It might even be my last day as a practicing social worker.

It will either be the best or worst decision I’ve ever made. I know this: I could not lose any more of me.

I’m giving myself permission to dream and wonder and free-fall for awhile.  I may not be who I envisioned way back when but I am finding that’s a good thing. It’s time to become reacquainted with the woman God made me to be.

In May 2010, Leigh Kramer intentionally uprooted her life in the Chicago suburbs by moving to Nashville in an effort to live more dependently on God.  She writes about life in the South, what God has been teaching her, and her ongoing quest for the perfect fried pickle. You can follow her adventures on Twitter (www.twitter.com/hopefulleigh) and her blog HopefulLeigh (http://www.leighkramer.com).