"You don't have to think about doing the right thing. If you're for the right thing, then you do it without thinking."
~ Maya Angelou

November 7, 2011

When You Fall Back

For too long I was trying to do everything alone.  I was selfish and weak.  Full of pain and full of pride.  Holding on to so much anger.  Never knowing what I was truly angry at.  
That's all over with.
Ramiro Rodriguez

Today I begin with a quote.  I just finished reading It Calls You Back, the memoir of Luis J. Rodriguez. http://www.luisjrodriguez.com/  Some might remember one of Luis' first (nonfiction) works the bestseller Always Running La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.  The quote above are the words of his first born child Ramiro, who is a central figure in his current book.  Luis is a really great writer, cultivated from much experience and determination, and this shines in his words and storytelling.  I really connected with Ramiro' words, and if any of us have ever been in a place that is deeply rooted with pain and suffering, then perhaps you can as well.  It's interesting how life can shape and influence us when we stop fighting ourselves.  Often, we do not see it like this because we are so ingrained in just trying to survive and do what we think is the best, at that particular moment.  It's only when we continue to struggle with our own behavior, one that can limit positive direction and outcomes, that we are able to see an opening.  Like Ramiro (no, I didn't join a gang or go to prison, but what if my environment was different?) I had to self-destruct and go through some challenging times before I was able to accept help from others, and thus move forward and into a healthy way.  When we are hurting it is very easy to project our pain and suffering on to anyone and anything that is available, whether or not we can see that its in place to help and support us.

It's almost like a rite of passage for some.  Often you have to fall down many times before you can make a conscious decision to stand up and stay up for yourself.  I had a moment like this as I approached my 25th birthday.  Believe it or not I was not always a social worker.  In fact quite the opposite.  After getting fired for the first and last time (from the factory job I wrote of earlier) a friend of mine turned me on to a job in construction.  I was hired by a general contractor who had a pretty successful construction business.  I was right around the age of 19.  I had no experience or exposure to this world.  I didn't grow up with tools in my hands.  However, what I did have was a strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility that conveyed that I could be trusted.  Even during the most challenging periods in my life I had something inside of me that wanted to be liked, cared for, and trusted.  I wanted to show others that I could do right, just give me a chance.  I learned much during this period.  However, the work is only good when it is there, when it is not you struggle to pay the bills and survive and ultimately I was laid off.  The friend who initially turned me on to this gig still had my back, and thus opened another door in the construction field.  He had recently been employed as a union carpenter starting out as an apprentice (a four year training period that included classroom and field work, and at the completion you were deemed a journeyman carpenter) and they were looking for suitable candidates.  So, I filled out the application, waited,  and sure enough I was offered an opportunity.

I was a union carpenter for nearly seven years.  I made pretty decent money, and was able to learn a trade.  I met some hard working people along the way, and was exposed to experiences that had a very influential effect on me.  I wish I could say that there were more positive influences than not.  It turns out that those years were challenging beyond what I thought I would be signing up for.  I experienced many days of unemployment (due to the weather, lack of work, and the union politics that are always present), tough and rough hazing, and role models that used and abused and always made sure that your voice didn't even matter.  Now, this was not all but in my interpretation and memory of these ones stood out.  I often felt that I was in the wrong professional world, I was a so so carpenter and it wasn't because I didn't work hard.  My heart was just not in it, even back then I felt that I had something more to offer others.  I knew my destiny was not to ride out a 30 year career in this business and retire.  This came to me one day on the job, in a manner that some call an "epiphany" and my direction changed from that moment on.

I was about to finish a long term job and knew that a period of unemployment was waiting for me.  I had time and so I enrolled myself in a local community college taking two classes (English and Sociology).  It was through higher education that I saw an opening and the rest is as they say history.  After completing those classes I made the decision to resign from the carpenters union and move forward into the transition from carpenter to social worker.  I enrolled full time and got a job as waiter, a job that would accommodate my new schedule while still providing me with an income to support myself.  There were many challenges, sacrifice, and struggles within this period of  my life, all of which I have learned and grown from tremendously.  I reflect often and am amazed with all that happened during this time in my life.  Achieving a BA (Sociology) and Masters in Social Work (MSW) truly changed the quality of my life.  These accomplishments were never about increasing my earning potential.  No, that was not it.  I have much more to share, and will fill in the gaps along the way, but for now we will end.  But before I do let me just say that I would of never been able to enter this new chapter (in life and profession) if I did not begin the process of identifying, understanding, and working through my own pain and pride.  It's a wonderful thing when you can see it, feel it, and embrace it!  As always may you be well to your day, and your day will do the same.

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