Several years ago, before I became self employed, I worked with a wonderful play therapist. I watched her set up her space within the program we both worked for and saw her and her clients flourish. At the time I was in a management role and hadn’t been seeing clients for a couple of years. Working with her and speaking to her about her role and her clients I realised I wanted to get back to working directly with people who were seeking support. I was encouraged by what she did and the steps she took to get there and I started taking steps myself to get to where I wanted to go.
Part of that was applying for mental health accreditation. So I sought out others who had done the same but unfortunately, I found it hard to get the help I needed. I was in an online group of social workers who had come together to share ideas and information and there was another social worker applying for accreditation as well. We chatted about the stress of it all and then she said “I’m going to sit down and do it this weekend”. I agreed I would do the same. I came out of that weekend exhausted, buzzing from all the sugar I consumed to “help” me stay focussed (bad idea by the way) and with not much more done than I had started the weekend with. My online colleague had a very different experience. She completed it, gathered her evidence and submitted her application. It was approved within 4 weeks. I was crushed. I decided that the reason she had completed her application and become approved so quickly is because she was better than me. Clearly. I mean she was already accredited and I wasn’t even finished my application. This sent me into a spiral of toxic comparison that I wasted a lot of time in.
As social workers we know not to compare our clients with others. We know that they all have different starts in life, different experiences, and vastly different access to supports. But when it comes to ourselves, we aren’t so caring.
Whatever it is you are doing, your experiences and journey are unique to you. You perceive of what you see around you through your own values and the lessons you have learned throughout life. My online colleague and I had only interacted through online posts. Neither she nor I had in depth knowledge of each others lives or experiences and yet I decided, in that moment of feeling wretched and tired and no closer to my goal than when I started, that she was smarter and more capable and more deserving of having her accreditation than I was.
I did of course manage to pull myself out of that space, and I did so with support and encouragement and yes, I’ll admit it, just a little bit more sugar.
When I looked at my play therapist colleague, I did so with positive comparison. I looked at where she was and asked her how she got there. In doing so I was able to seek out what I thought would be best for me. I am not a play therapist because that wasn’t my path, it was hers. But I was able to draw on the parts of her journey that worked for me and apply them accordingly. However, with my online colleague the comparison was about tearing myself down, not thinking about the differences in our experiences and what I could take from what she shared and use it to help myself.
When you decide where you want to go, or even if you are just thinking about it, be sure to draw on the experiences of others, have conversations, offer up your own experience, but don’t get caught in comparison that will stop you getting to where you want to go.
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