I started to write this just as I was transitioning out of about a dozen years of direct service work. Emotions raw, I was elated at the prospects ahead of me and the freedom I felt in leaving behind the world of weekly on-call rotations, client mental health crises and unrealistic funder demands. The first few weeks felt like pure bliss, a vacation I have not been able to truly enjoy and experience in a decade. And, in all honesty, 10 months later I still feel a sense of relief and am grateful to have left behind so much of the burden that comes with managing residential programs for homeless youth.
However, over this past year, as I have transitioned out of a high stress position and environment into a situation with much more time for self-care and reflection, I’ve found myself wondering if I am selling out. Have I let down my co-workers and the young people I worked so hard to serve for so many years? I’m not doing the on-the-ground work anymore and I often feel immense guilt about that.
There is also a loss of kinship that comes with providing social services. The work is hard, so the co-working relationships are often intense and highly emotionally supportive. I miss those. But I also wonder if the common "martyr syndrome" that often plagues those who do this tough work is what makes me feel guilty and like I'm selling out. A core component of a martyr complex is an exaggerated sense of responsibility to others; namely, putting others' needs in front of your own and seeking validation in that in order to give life meaning or purpose. Surely, this isn't healthy and won't support a long career in the field.
So what have I concluded in this time of less (different) stress? I've realized that I can make a difference in so many other ways. I've realized that I have more time in my schedule now to volunteer for other non-profits I believe in. I've realized that I have more emotional space in my life to pursue passions, build relationships and work towards the full life I want and deserve! Certainly all worthy causes.