N I C K I M U S G R A V E
I began my career as a newly qualified social worker almost exactly one year ago. I had tried various vocations prior to this; freelance photography, hospitality, bar work; but it was working with young people within the voluntary sector that had ignited the spark to pursue a career in social work.
I had worked for two years for a large charity supporting young people to further their aspirations, learn new skills and build their confidence. It was immensely challenging and very rewarding. Social work felt like a natural step, to further my skills, apply theoretical frameworks, learn strategies, therapeutic approaches and models, and to continue supporting and empowering others. A social worker friend encouraged me to pursue my interest and I embarked upon the most challenging, intense, and emotional journey of my life. Last year I secured a post as a newly qualified worker within the long term (or permanence) team of a busy local authority in northwest England.
The object I’ve chosen is my mobile phone. Some (initially including me) might think this choice a little uninspiring. It’s functional, not particularly sentimental, and to anyone else it’s probably just another mobile phone. It’s old (my Mum’s), battered, and has seen better days. It sports a cracked and peeling orange case that has been endlessly picked at, chipped and fiddled with in absent-minded moments.
I chose my Mobile phone because …
… this little nondescript piece of technology has somehow become a conduit for personal and professional development in ways that I could not have imagined at the start of my career. And who can ignore the cultural and historical significance of the mobile phone, changing the way people communicate, socialise and develop.
During the last year, I’ve felt more mixed emotions than at any other time in my life. I’ve felt excited, confident, capable, and lonely, overwhelmed, sad, and angry to name a few. I have learnt about myself, met others who inspire me, and needed time to escape. My relationships have never been more important, I reach out to those I care about when I need to.
My husband is a teacher and also works long hours, and most of our closest friends and family live over 100 miles away. There are times when I’ve felt guilty for not being more attentive, or for forgetting a birthday, and times when I absolutely do not want to leave the house but still want to hear a familiar voice. The value of a phone call, or a text message, of laughing, offloading and crying, and of a simple verbal hug can’t be measured. My trusty little phone helps me to celebrate these relationships when I can’t be there in person, it helps me to keep the people that I love close.
My professional identity is also enhanced through the digital channels of this little device. I access forums, read posts, and engage in discussions with other social workers. I feel like part of a community, that I take with me and take part in on a daily basis. I gain advice and guidance about areas of practice, read commentary and critique of policies that impact upon my role, and learn about the development of legislation or case law. I find excitement and inspiration about social work through the information available to me instantaneously and continuously, and I do feel solidarity with other professionals practising, learning or sharing their experiences across the UK and the world.
My little old mobile phone has also helped me through one of the most important lessons of my first year of practice. I’ve come to realise how important self care is, and at certain points been forced to acknowledge the need to be kind to myself. In learning about myself and my own strengths and challenges, I have found strategies that help me to survive. I know more than ever now that I need to find creative outlets (ironic, given my time spent working as a photographer). I can take pictures and share them with people around me. I’m currently working on a ‘picture a day’ project, creating a photographic documentary of personal memories for each day of the year (see my instagram account for a peek – niki.wiki). I’ve also started to draw, and sharing pictures of the pieces that I’ve done motivates me to keep learning and creating. My little phone helps me to find ways to keep in touch with the things that make me who I am, I use it to listen to music that I love while I run, follow a guided meditation, and do a yoga class when I need to wind down.
Finally, and it’s not without some shame that I admit this, I would literally be lost without it, thanks to my trusty satnav app!