“New Horizons” by NSWM Member, Frank Perez

I am, what you can call, an “old dog.” I am quickly approaching my golden years (whatever that means), and what is interesting is that being a social worker, and managing my own nonprofit, is my second career after retiring in the 1990’s working for a major automotive manufacturer.  It’s funny that my first career introduced me to my second career as a social worker.

After retiring from my first career as an automotive repair instructor, I settled down to do auto repair work to make a living, but also as a “hobby”, something I’ve always enjoyed doing.  I had a little shop in a part of the country where folks didn’t have a lot of money, and many times when they asked if I could fix their car, they then asked if they could make payments.  Sitting down with some of my customers reveal that without having their cars running and reliable, they were one-step away from homelessness and poverty.  It was from this experience that I started my social work journey because I realized that the car is a car – it’s the person in the car that’s important.

Presently, I am humbled that many folks trust me to help them solve problems.  Interestingly, one of the many problems that I hear are from colleagues that are at the same age I am (Jurassic period), and now they are starting to worry about things we all worry about – will I be able to work as I get older, will I have enough to retire, and one question which is the premise of this narrative – when I get older, will anyone want me?  Many older folk, social workers included, are afraid that because of their age, they will be useful anymore due to their age.  I am here to tell you that that perception is malarkey.  Regardless of how old you think you are, you’re not.  You have knowledge, skills, and very importantly, experience, which can be translated into action for the benefit of others.  In fact, like me, you can set yourself upon a journey of new horizons because of all your attributes, and the only thing that will limit your abilities to grow and prosper is you.  So, here is a couple of tips that I would ask you to consider every time you think you’re too old.

Authentic Pride – Unlike the old Proverb paraphrase that states, “pride goes before the fall”, pride can also be defined as dignity and satisfaction.  There is no shame in acknowledging your accomplishments, but first to yourself, as you need to be able to accept the fact you worked hard, study hard, and given your best so others may prosper.  In this, their success is your success.  In other words, for you to love others, you must learn to love yourself first.  Go ahead – give yourself a hug, cause you deserve it.

Inventory – the smartest person in the room is the person who knows they need to be smarter.  In other words, there’s no such thing as static knowledge.  I find, and I sure you do, that there is always something new to learn every day.  If you need an example, look at that cell phone you have in your pocket or purse and imagine that once upon a time your phone had a cord and was stuck to the wall.  Technology, techniques, and evidence-based practices are constantly updated, and you theories emerge.  So, keeping up with stuff you don’t know is the best way in staying smarter, and staying smarter means that you can be a better service to others, now, and in the future.

Fearlessness – many folks my age are afraid of interviewing for a new position because they think their age is a detriment toward new employment.  That may be the case, but so what.  If there’s one thing I know regarding social workers it is that if anything, they are flexible and resilience.  That said, be fearless in trying something new.  You have to believe that social work skills have an application in a wide assortment of careers.  You just can’t help being helpful if you’re a social worker, and sometimes just your presence can make a difference, so be fearless.

A Natural Resource – just like the four elements, a social worker, regardless of age, is a natural resource that can be tapped into.  A natural resource has immense power that can change environments, situations, and conditions.  Social workers are agents of change, and they do not have to have the label “social worker” tattooed anywhere on their body.  Their knowledge and skills, and their actions, speak more about the power of helping others more than the label.  When you walk into a room and flipped the light switch, the light comes on even though you may not see or understand how electricity works.  In the same respect, social workers are the “lightbulb” that illuminate those around them, regardless of location.

So, if you are worried about getting old, don’t.  Getting old is a natural consequence of life and should be cherished and appreciated.  If you are worried about becoming antiquated or an anachronism, don’t.  You may feel old on the outside, but you are young on the inside, and you prove it every time you help those who cannot help themselves, regardless of circumstance.  Finally, if you feel that you have nothing more to give because of your age, get that thought out of your head right now.  Social workers, like gold, retain their value, and have worth because we do with many cannot through empathy, caring, and concern for those around us.  And if you decide to try something new – go for it!  As I love to say “if I can do it, you can do it.”

Frank Perez, M.S.  M.S.W.
fperez@cs-r.org

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