Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Al at a Crossroad

Some days ago I mentioned I wanted to talk about something personal but I was distracted by events in Oz.

So tonight I want to go back to the personal.

You may know I have been working for some time managing a couple of charity programs that provide a number of services to homeless people in Melbourne.

In fact I have worked for a number of charities in disability services, mental health and homelessness for well over a decade.

I choose this work because it is immensely satisfying and personally rewarding.
At the same time it is challenging, frustrating, and dangerous.
I say dangerous because in Oz after the police, workers in social/human services are the most frequently assaulted profession.

Stress and burnout are occupational hazards. Yet I have stayed in this area for many years.

Why? Because I love my work. You see the worst aspects of our society, but again and again you see the absolute best of people.

Just two examples: a woman in her 80s who volunteered for 10 hours every week because she wanted to give something back and felt she was letting everyone down when her health prevented her continuing; and a homeless man who gave his coat to someone who was colder.

Having said all this I have decided I am not carrying on in my job.
Perhaps, I am after all this time burning out, but I spend too much time worrying about the worst. I have been assaulted 3 times in the past 10 years and have dealt with dozens if not hundreds of incidents which could have resulted in violence (more often directed at someone else but it is still stressful).
I find myself dwelling on how to support my team when something terrible happens. Don’t get me wrong, I am good at supporting people as they do this work and I enjoy being able to do this. I always have very low turn over rates in my teams, the key is making sure people are not only supported but feel supported.

Usually I am good at looking after myself through all this. I have a very simple philosophy, that in this work if you don’t help yourself you can’t help anyone else.
Using some mental tricks I generally leave work at work. And when I can’t I seek the appropriate support for myself. My self care regime usually works a treat.

But unusually when I came back from my holiday in Tasmania I wasn’t ready to go back to work. Now when I get to the end of a weekend I dread going back to work. This isn’t me, maybe this is burn out.

So where am I going? Well I am now looking for another job.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to go for but it certainly won’t be coal face in human services.

I hope I will find something related but in a more admin type role.
Time to recharge.
Now 'cause I need to cheer up a bit.
A native orchid in from Cradle Mountain National park Tasmania


Old Kitty said...

Gosh! What a cathartic time for you. But only you know when it's time for such a change. I think you have a wealth of experience behind you to stand you in good stead for your next adventure in your work life! I wish you all the luck in the world with your job hunting!! I know you will find one with your name on it!!

Take care and all the best!!!!
p.s. lovely flower - very delicate!

Kathleen Jones said...

So sorry Al, but you are absolutely right to listen to your instincts. They're telling you something. And if you're exhausted by all that 'giving out' then you need to recharge your own batteries. it's the old question - 'who takes care of the carers'?
I do hope you can find something sufficiently rewarding so that you can enjoy the thought of actually going to work! You've given so much - now's the time to give yourself a bit of TLC!

Christine said...

Al, that beautiful orchid is a great cheer-up. I think that you are right to seek alternative employment and hopefully you will soon be successful. It sounds as if the hardest aspect, ie making the decision, is now behind you. It's a wise and brave person who can make such a change. I think many people continue in jobs that have become unsuitable for them, simply because it's an easier option than making the change.

Best wishes

Jai Joshi said...

It's very natural to want a change in your work after a time. Especially when it's something as emotionally exhausting as what you been in involved with for years.

I hope you find the right job that you're looking for and that the burn out goes away. I truly admire the dedication you have for this field.


Hannah Kincade said...

It's definitely healthy to switch things up a bit. It stimulates the brain and in this case, might be even more healthy for the soul.

good luck!!

Talei said...

It's a good sign when that something is not working out when you have such strong feelings not to go back. I hope you can get some rest and recharge.

My experience with charity work, just voluntary is that I tried to do too much last year, and I had no energy to do anything properly, I also work fulltime and I'm pursuing my writing, so I cut back and now I volunteer on an adhoc basis, there's also other ways to help out without doing it physically.

Have a good week! ;-)

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm sorry you're burned out. I think sometimes after a break from work, instead of feeling refreshed it's harder to return.

I knew someone who worked at a halfway house for ex-drug addicts in Brooklyn, NY for Catholic Charities. But if the residents starting using again, they couldn't kick them out. Once a guy bashed her head into a wall.

Whatever you decide, I wish you the best.

heidenkind said...

Aw. It sounds like it was time to leave--maybe past time! I'm sure you'll find a great and fulfilling job soon.

Susan Fields said...

I've noticed in my own volunteer activities that there definitely does come a time when I get burned out on it, and if my heart's not in it, I'm not nearly as effective. It sounds like it's time for you to move on. Best of luck finding your next calling!

Claudia Del Balso said...

First of all, congratulations for doing such a noble job for so long. It takes a special person to endure what you've gone through. So pat yourself on the back and don't feel bad for leaving behind this job. Your body is telling you it's time for a change. You helped a lot of people and now it's time to do something else. We have many jobs/careers throughout our lifetime so chin up and embrace your new challenge. Good luck in your job search and your new path.

Myrna Foster said...

I hope you find something that you can get excited about. It sounds like you need the change.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Al .. good luck with the job search - I'm sure this is an arena you'll bring your skills back to, in due course and when you're ready.

Go well .. and am sure things will work out ..
The orchid is pretty and cheerful ... cheers Hilary

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Ten years in a job like that is almost superhuman, Al. The first time round, I burnt out after just two years, and I wasn't even direclty working with people.

The non-profit world does apparently see the highest rates of burnout, because you cannot help but get emotionally involved with the people you work for.

Take care, and I am sure something that suits you will turn up.