By Sterling Hawkins, MSW, LICSW, LCSW-C
Learning is a form, a growth. At the least, it involves examining areas of strength and areas of weakness. And at most, it involves change: a total reconstruction of ideas and a reorganization of what we practice and how we live. Good learning always begins by asking: What do I know?
We should each be asking ourselves several question: What are my strengths and weaknesses? What have I learned from my mistakes and failures? What ideas and practices have I derived benefit from? And, who has been helpful and supportive in my learning? These questions and others should help us to build confidence, which is essential to developing the motivation that will move us closer to our goals.
I have learned over the years that learning of any kind is most successful when it includes:
real or simulated learning;
reflective observation (What happened? What went right? What could be improved?);
and abstract conceptualization (Finding explanations for what happened and why? Proposing ideas about what can be done differently).
Over the past several months I’ve asked myself these questions more pointedly. This is what I have learned:
What’s no longer working for you?
I have come to accept that I no longer have the same mental tolerance and physical endurance to simultaneously work on several projects that I did twenty years ago. Instead I now settle for one or maybe two tasks, where my productivity can be more measured and more focused. I now have an increased sense of satisfaction when the project is completed. This approach enables me to rest more. When I take on too many responsibilities, I’m more easily distracted and often my diet and sleep patterns suffer.
If being healthy is important to you, it can be frustrating if too many tasks or your busy schedule leaves little time for rest or a proper diet. Building time within your routine for relaxation, nutritious meals, and a good night’s sleep will enable you to perform at your best.
2. What is your vision for your future?
During my 20s and early 30s, I was an avid cyclist. I enjoyed recreational riding and even commuting from my home to and from campus as a graduate student. However, over the years riding lost its special place in my life, as life became over-crowded with other things important and mundane. I missed this activity in my life. So, this year I decided to change that by joining a cycling group that schedules rides throughout my community most weekends. I also began using a set of stationary rollers that allow me to train and prepare for when the season is in full swing. My goal is to complete 5-6 group rides and perhaps one or two sponsored fundraisers by the end of the year, and to improve my cardiovascular health and physical stamina.
Having a vision for your life is good mental hygiene. Create a vision board on paper or on your computer with words and pictures that represent your core values and your most important roles. Look at your vision board often to stay focused on what you aspire to accomplish, and who you want to become.
3. Who is your role model?
This was the most challenging question for me to answer. While there are many people I admire and learn from, it takes time and a connection for true mentorship to happen. Finding a role model and mentor for myself is still a work in progress, not for lack of possible mentors, but for a lack of initiative and creativity to seek out those who can contribute to my lifelong learning in meaningful ways.
I personally serve both as a supervisor and mentor to other social work colleagues and graduate students new to the profession in my community and at the agency where I work. I enjoy this role as a teacher/mentor because it allows me to meet with them regularly and to share my experiences and information, which will help them become licensed clinicians ready for independent practice.
Mentees also teach me their perspectives on various topics as I help them to study. This relationship grows by establishing good and appropriate boundaries with respect to time, the material we discuss, and how to appropriately examine and assess their own learning expectations. Through this, they practice healthy boundaries for themselves, their colleagues, and the clients they serve.
Identifying our vulnerabilities, as well as our strengths, can lead us to make improvements in certain areas of our life, which should in the end yield a high degree of contentment. Our environments including people, can either help or hinder our learning process, which affects how we think about ourselves and how we behave. Learning is an intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically demanding job. The healthier and more confident you are, the better you can learn. Educators have known this for centuries, but it remains a lesson that we learn, as well over and over again. Each day however offers new opportunities for growth as we experience new challenges and navigate old pathways.