In my line of work we are called on to advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations. If it comes to getting my client a resource then I will call whoever I need to, talk to whoever’s supervisor that I need to, annoy whoever is standing in my way, etc. in order to try to get my client what they need. Any good social worker knows you sometimes have to act a bit…extra…. to get what you need for your client. In my personal life I can barely tell the waitress the kitchen messed up and put onions on my burger but professionally I will hunt down whoever is necessary to get my client’s needs met.
I’m good at advocating for individual clients. What I’m not so great at is advocating for a program or service in general. I’m not great at “selling” my program or my agency. I think our mission is extremely important and I’m proud of the work my staff do. But I’m not good at telling people about it, particularly people I perceive to be in a position of power. I’ve noticed my anxiety level is highly dependent on perceived power differentials. When I feel like I am in a position of more power, I tend to experience less anxiety (example, if I’m facilitating a training for staff – not if I’m doing something miserable like letting someone go or writing them up for something). Some people, when they feel powerless, are still able to have conversations and answer questions. Me, I totally blank out. I lose the ability to communicate any relevant information, I sweat profusely, start to stutter, and lose my voice. It’s not pretty.
Imagine my dismay when my supervisor tells me that I am going to have to start advocating with state leaders for funding for our services. In addition, I am to do this in conjunction with one of the employees I supervise. The thought of doing this causes me a great deal of anxiety. I will be forced to enter into situations with individuals who I perceive to have more power (state representatives) while accompanied by my employee (who I am expected to lead/set an example for). I will feel pressure from all sides. Pressure from my supervisor to be an articulate advocate for my organization, pressure from the state representative to succinctly sum things up and get out of their office, and then pressure from my employee to model effective advocacy behavior. It feels like, if I mess up or freak out, that not only will I be creating a bad impression of our agency to people who control important things like funding, I will also look like an ineffective supervisor.
Can’t I just write a letter or something? Why can’t we play to my strengths?!
I am dreading this new expectation of the job. Dreading it so much that my first (admittedly dramatic and not rational) thought was maybe I can quit before I’m expected to do start doing this.
So how am I going to deal with all of this? By taking some time to examine my irrational beliefs in the situation (there are a LOT), visualizing myself being successful in these situations, and learning more about how to effectively advocate with government leaders (something I don’t know anything about). Wish me luck!