I started a new job yesterday and have a buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, and my friends to thank for it. I left teaching philosophy behind to return to my roots, working directly with people who truly need support. Its been a while since my stint working as a case manager for people without homes in Chicago. I was younger then and had more verve, or, at least, nerve. This time around, I was offered a job working as a case manager for people with a dual diagnosis of a developmental disability and a mental illness. Despite my past work experience, I hesitated. I wasn't sure if I was up to the task. My friends, however, had confidence for me. With that belief in my ability and Pema Chodron's advice in Going to the Places that Scare You audio book, I took the plunge.
Today is my second day and it has been overwhelming. I know, though, that I am in the right place because of how I felt watching my clients do their thing. I could feel how much I could care about them--how meaningful this job could really be for me.
I love working with people who are their very own brand of unique. When my heart opened up to the experience, something it didn't do until I actually was on the job site and got to interact with the clients, I knew I made the right decision to accept the job. A genuine fondness emerged in my experience, cutting through the intimidation and fear. I could hold their way of being at the center of my attention and let my own worries subside.
Up until now, though, I was putting my full trust in my friends' knowledge of me and my full faith in Pema's advice:
1. Confess or reveal your hidden flaws.
2. Approach what you find repulsive.
3. Help those you think you cannot help or who you do not want to help.
4. Anything you are attached to, let it go.
5. Go to the places that scare you.
1. Confess or reveal your hidden flaws: I am pretty good at this, in general, but in this instance I had to confess to myself something I wasn't used to confessing. I had to confess that I didn't know if I had it in me. Usually I put up a brave front and bowl ahead doing the best I can, no matter what. This time, though, I was hesitant. I didn't know if I wanted a job that I didn't feel I could do well. I had to confess that I wanted it easy for a change, that I didn't feel like challenging myself any more, that I wanted a free employment pass.
2. Approach what you find repulsive: I also had to confess that I was intimidated by the idea of working with people who had a dual diagnosis. I wanted to reject the offer because I didn't want to be intimidated. It is quite rare that I would find another person "repulsive"--usually the weirder you are the more interesting I find you. I talk to all kinds of people all over the place about all kinds of things. However, I do find myself repulsive on occasion, which usually happens when I am deeply disappointed in myself. I wanted to reject the offer because I wasn't sure if I had it in me any more and I didn't want to find out and be disappointed. I didn't know if I was close enough to the person that I used to be to work with high needs clients again.
3. Help those you think you cannot help or who you do not want to help: this point really hit me over the head when I went to make my decision. How much clearer can you get? After thinking about whether or not to take the job for couple weeks, I just said out loud "Alright Pema. I'm going to do it your way." I simply chose to take her word for it. After sitting with this instruction for awhile, I could really understand why this would be the task for a compassion-centered buddhist. By approaching the repulsive and helping those you don't want to or don't think you can help, you journey through yourself and out the other side. You journey through the feel-good ego, past the neurosis of the feel-bad ego, and right into life as it is.
4. Anything you are attached to, let it go: In this instance, it was my reputation as a stellar employee and as a good person. I had to let those concerns go, believe in my friends' knowledge of me, and embrace the opportunity, come what may.
5. Go to the places that scare you: I'm in the midst of this right now, but the insight I had at work was a flash of compassion that really cut through it for me. It isn't just a place that scares me but a place that helps me march directly into the maelstrom of my own mind and out the other side. I owe thanks to Pema, my friends, and last but not least, my new clients.
About the PictureI took this picture in Philly behind PMA; I love the juxtaposition! It is kind of like my life right now.