When I was an undergraduate English major, I can tell you that I had no idea that Social Work would end up being my career field of choice. Nor did I know that some of my favorite authors, with their focus on the intricacies of human relationships and their exploration of complex social issues, had values that were well-aligned with Social Work’s code of ethics. Back then, I simply I knew that I was fascinated by the metaphors, loved the prose, and championed the protagonists’ causes.
Now, a number of years later, it looks rather inevitable that I would have ended up in this field. All of my favorite novels were contemporary works that examined the relationship between individuals and society, the dangers of oppression, the terrible power of discrimination. Such reading increased my understanding of the ways systems can work to disenfranchise and disempower, and added to my passion for helping and advocating for those who are most vulnerable to such forces.
It has been a winding path through volunteering and working in the nonprofit sector, as well as teaching in the public school system, that finally led me to Social Work. But looking back—especially at the authors I valued during those formative years—it is pretty easy to trace the route, though it did not always feel so clear along the way. As one of my favorite professors pointed out when I was attempting, rather futilely, to determine what exactly my career path would look like right after completing undergrad, “Sometimes you don’t choose the path. The path chooses you.”
It’s nice to know from experience that this wasn’t an empty platitude. There are many elements that go into helping determine the next steps in life, and in the thick of it, it can be challenging to see what it will all lead to. Nonetheless, it has become clearer that by returning to one’s core values, the ideas that inspire, you can end up where you’re supposed to be.