By: Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, MSW
Today, I’m officially one week away from beginning my first post-MSW job. People tell me I’ve done “the hard parts,” and by that they mean finishing school, applying everywhere, choosing what to wear for interviews, attending interviews, asking the right questions, answering the questions without sounding too green or too self-assured, and receiving a job offer. Yes, after listening to social work podcasts and articles on how to negotiate, doing the math to figure out how much I’d need to earn to be able to survive and enjoy life (after taxes and student loan payments), and letting go of the idea that maybe another job offer might call tomorrow, I’ve accepted a job offer. And, to be completely honest, I’m a bit terrified.
I know, I know, social work students spend their academic careers planning for this, knowing that the end goal is to find work in our field, with some level of responsibility, earning enough money to make ends meet (or more), doing good, doing well, blah blah blah. Trust me, all of those things are definitely important, and I am beyond thrilled to prepare to embark on the next life phase: Kryss Meets Career.
But what about the other side, the one I’ve become very well acquainted with: Kryss Is a Student? What about the side that enjoyed not scheduling classes or internship hours for Fridays in order to have a three-day weekend? What about the side that felt content in having a syllabus provided at the beginning of each term, outlining each requirement, allowing for the knowledge that, if one does X, Y, and Z, one earns this specific grade? What about being able to e-mail a professor at 3 a.m. with a question and often awaking to a response, without judgment for asking? What about new coursework each term? What about one- or two-hour lunch breaks with classmates doing the exact same work? What about always being seen as a “student who’s still learning” by faculty and supervisors?
In the meantime, I’ve also been doing a great deal of reading, including information from books such as Young, Broke, and Fabulous and about Women and Money. (Thanks to fellow social worker, Suze Orman, for so many tips!) So many of them warn that women don’t see business the way men do, that women don’t make enough because they don’t negotiate for bigger or better, because men are fine with waiting or demanding the right thing for them, yet women just want to be wanted. In the first weeks of job applications, I scoffed at this. I am a young woman with a master’s degree, for heaven’s sake. In the following weeks, I began to understand the perspective of those women who were nothing at all like me. By month three, I couldn’t figure out why no one seemed to like me.
So I decided to gain some balance and some perspective and to enjoy both the City and my friends who live here. I set regular working hours to job search, tweak résumés, and send e-mails. I made it a point to participate in charity functions, and to live up to the inherent title of “Twenty-Something in NYC.” Moreover, I decided to listen to the actors, performers, and artists in my life—not in a way that made me jealous of their open schedules and ability to party until the wee hours, but in a way that reminded me that, when the job did come, I wouldn’t have to worry about benefits or where my next paycheck would come from. My work doesn’t require me to keep a certain figure, to never lose my voice, or to appear to never age. I’ll likely never walk out an office door to a crowd of fans seeking my autograph (unless you count insurance paperwork or HIPPA forms). I’ll also never stand at an audition next to twenty people who look just like me, hoping the stars align that day and I get offered a role. Nope, my role of social worker/advocate/do-gooder is guaranteed...and I suppose, in many ways, it always has been. I just didn’t yet have the diploma to prove it.
So, I’m a week away now from the first day of my first post-MSW job, and I’m already certain I won’t sleep much the night before my first day. I’ll be far too concerned with whether I should wear the blue or the purple sweater, whether I should take lunch or if co-workers tend to buy it somewhere, whether I’ll be able to find the bathroom on my own, and all of the other things people worry about on the first day.
And in this moment, as I write this, as the fears continue to envelope me, I realize that, in a way, a new job is just like starting school. Worries about friends, about fitting in, about politics, about wardrobe, and about expectations flood my mind. But this new perspective is surprisingly helpful. It doesn’t stop the questions, but at least it allows me to remember all of the other times I’ve wondered these things...and all of the times I’ve successfully figured out the answers as I’ve gone along.
Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, MSW, earned her BS at The Ohio State University and her MSW at Barry University. She is currently working with the elder population as the program director at HANAC’s Ravenswood NORC in Astoria, NY. She is also on staff at www.socialworkchat.org and continues to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community on local and national levels.