Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Trailblazers in Social Work: Blaze Trails and Make Waves


"Find and follow your trail to stay on your path. Be aware of yourself and your surroundings. Trust that you will find your way, and don't hold yourself responsible for the trails and trials of others. –Sabrina Moyle

We hear terms like a trailblazer, but do we know exactly what that entails? Did you know that each of us in this room is a trailblazer in our own right? A trailblazer is defined as a pioneer, someone willing to take risks and go on a path that isn't already there. They blaze a trail and leave a way for others. One that blazes a trail to guide others. As social workers, we are trailblazers according to the definition. We listen to others. We assess others. We guide others. We help the helpless. We help advocate for others. We help connect others to resources. We are kind, compassionate, and welcoming to others. We are trailblazers whether we accomplish something minimum to momentum.

Your trailblazing moments started when you decided to apply and attend our beloved illustrious Mother Tuskegee. You both decided to become trailblazers by leaving your respected hometowns, making the Pilgrimage to Tuskegee University by showing up for classes, studying, asking questions, being guided by professors, staff, and advisors, and partaking in personal and professional development, all while getting to know who you are and who you are becoming.

You probably questioned why you were chosen to partake in the social work career path, not realizing that social work chose you, and you accepted and completed the assignment.

Now you have reached the path of transition. You are going from part-time adulting to full-time adulting. First, you have matriculated through TU by completing the requirements of social work and University. Then, you assed an accelerated, macro practice Summer virtual internship that not only stretched and challenged you both but helped enhance and broaden your skill sets in grant writing, research, leadership, and becoming trailblazers as the 1st interns at your particular internship. But, you set the trail ablaze by partaking in your internships when the world got turned upside due to the global pandemic, uncertain how to meet hours due to time zone differences, military obligations, and overall adulating decisions.  TrailBlazers help people develop a strong sense of self-worth, know how to problem-solve, deal with tough times, and have the mindset of being a leader. 

Eight ways to continue to make waves and blaze trails:

1.    Be fearless and advocate for yourself (Be your client) and others: Social workers constantly advocate for change for clients, communities, policies, and human, social, and environmental rights. Make sure you support yourself as well. Advocate for better work conditions and mental health, and be fearless. As a social worker and full-time adult, you will face challenges and unpredictable situations. Be courageous and face them head-on. Fearlessness also calls for being imperfect and okay with making mistakes; you have the bounce-back magic to recover from them. Be a force to be reckoned with. Set the tone. Be your first client by exercising self-awareness and self-reflection, and help yourself first.

2.    Be coachable and teachable: It's okay if you are not the smartest or most seasoned in the room. It is okay to be coachable and teachable. You do not know everything, nor will you know everything in this lifetime or the next. Be vulnerable and open to learning from the babies, elders, and people who look and live differently than you. We all have something to share and learn from one another. We all have lived experiences that can help guide and mold us. Learning from others enables you to grow, evolve, and become more empathetic, well-rounded, and well-read.

3.    Be self-accountable and responsible for showing up for yourself and others. Stop making excuses, limit yourself and opportunities, and take accountability and r responsibility for YOU! It comes to a point in your life where you must stop blaming others for your shortcomings, imperfections, and limitations and stagnate energy. Be aware of these things and decide your direction or direction. Change is never easy, and humans despise change. To become a trailblazer, you must be okay with being uncomfortable in your comfort zone, learn from feedback, look in the mirror, and hold yourself accountable for where you are mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

4.    Ask for help: As the African Proverbs states: "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together" It is okay to ask for help and receive it along the way. We live in a society where people use the term "self-made"; no one is self-made or pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. We all had someone help elevate, inspire, uplift, educate, empower, hold us accountable, and help us to live. It's okay to provide help and to give support when needed. But make sure you have a balance and reciprocate the help.

5.    Each One, Teach One, Each One Reach One: As social workers, not only are you a trailblazer, but you are also a coach, mentor, educator,  and ambassador of Tuskegee. Your job is to reach and teach somebody and help somebody. Actively listen, and provide a safe space for every room that enters your space. People want to be heard, seen, validated, and humanize. You must handle people with great care because we all are fighting an internal battle. Everyone can't be saved or helped, but make sure you show up, do your best, and do your job well. Meet people where they are and lift them. As our co-founder and ancestor of the prestigious institution,  Booker T. Washington, stated: "If you want to lift yourself, lift someone else."

6.    Practice Radical Self-Care, Confidence, and Boundaries: Put your oxygen mask on first. You cannot and will not be everything to everyone. As social workers, we pour into people daily. We are the problem solvers, advocates, facilitators, policymakers, and movers and shakers. We are often left drained, burnout, and experience compassion fatigue. Make sure you practice self-care while doing this work. Learn how to live a peaceful, simple, happy, and healthy life. Know when to shut things down, try not to become a workaholic, try not to bring your cases and client's problems home with you, know when to take a vacation, not work-cation, exercise, eat right, laugh, live life to the fullest, be confident in the work that you do, create professional boundaries by not overexposing yourself and don't become a yes person and overload yourself with an endless to-do list, while neglecting yourself, your health, and life. Remember, health is wealth. If you aren't right, everything else will be misaligned. Know when to say no and delegate tasks. No is a complete sentence. It is called balance. Find your flow and roll with it. Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, an act of political warfare." --Audre Lorde.

7  Be Patient, Be Persistent: You must be patient with yourself and others because we all are a work in progress. Take life moment by moment. Live for the present. Don't worry about yesterday's mistakes or tomorrow's problems. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your career path, salary, and growth. Everything takes time. Be persistent and go after what you want and need. Remember, you may not get what you want, but you get what you need, and that's okay. You may be redirected to something better and grander. Nev r limit yourself. Be prepared and not scared. Let your yes be yes, and let your no be no. You never know what new heights you are being prepared for, whether on the job or in your personal life. Be prepared to say yes or no.

8.    Believe In Yourself, Have Faith, and Give Thanks: In a world filled with uncertainties, you have to believe that everything will be okay, and if not, you will be okay. Believe in your ability to improve the spaces you enter and the people you encounter. Be kind and believe in a belief system outside yourself to maintain your sanity. Always give thanks to those who believed in you, those who have helped you, those who provided words of wisdom, encouragement, and care pack gas, provided an opportunity and gave you a helping hand. Please make sure you pay it forward.


In conclusion: 

  • "Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach his goals."

Dorothy  Height


We all are trailblazers in our own right. So continue to make waves and blaze that trail. 


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