This week’s profile features an interview with Sarah Black. I met Sarah towards the end of December through 20-30 Something Raleigh Chicks, a meetup group I’ve been organizing for over 6 years now. We met up to take a walk around a local park and have since gone on other walks and hikes together. I love her passion for taking in small moments in nature and was also drawn to her desire to help people. Since my loved ones and I have had our own share of struggles with anxiety and depression, I was appreciative of her desire to see people make progress beyond emergency recovery.
- What did you want to be when you grew up and how has that evolved?
From the time I was old enough to have a clear picture of what a career was, I have been drawn to the mental health field. I was first interested in the field for its focus on understanding some of the big questions around human nature especially around areas such as motivation and strength. This interest lead me to psychology which I majored in during my undergraduate studies. As an undergraduate, I took a few social work courses and found that this field was a better fit for my interests in advocacy and that it would allow me to explore diverse settings while still focusing on my initial passion for the mental health field. I went on to pursue a masters in social work and began my work in the field as a clinical case manager for a nonprofit organization in Wisconsin.
- What do you do in your “day job” and why have you chosen that?
I am a social worker and have a specific background in clinical case management with young adults who have severe and persistent mental illness. I chose clinical case management because it allowed me to coordinate services in multiple areas such as physical health, assistance with employment, and assistance in obtaining and maintaining benefits, while holding a focus on mental health. I enjoy many aspects of case management, in particular teaming with multiple disciplines within the mental health field and beyond for the joint goal of enhancing the lives of clients.
- That can be challenging work. How happy have you been with those choices?
Being in the social work field comes with satisfaction in knowing I am in a field which values the worth of everyone and celebrates our differences. I find my personal values align well with the social work field and this has contributed to my commitment to this work as it is the bedrock of the field. Many challenges accompany social work practice, as well. This is especially true in the nonprofit sector where gaining and maintaining funding for this work can be difficult. Overall I am happy with my choice to continue to pursue work as a social worker and grow in the field.
- The work you do has a lot to do with people personally. What are your best sources for learning?
I use multiple resources for finding information in the field. I find podcasts and speaking with others in the field to be my go-to sources of information. I find it is important for me to diversify the discipline of information I receive so that the wealth of perspectives on a topic is greater. This is especially important as a social worker where many are working on multidisciplinary teams and are an integral part of bringing these perspectives together.
- What advantages, barriers, and motivators for women have you observed?
In my observation through my work and education as a social worker, I have observed the field having a higher proportion of women who have dedicated themselves to this work.This observation is true to form as the pioneers behind the field were women. After speaking with several of my former female colleagues many of them feel called to this work because they believe in serving others and that everyone’s story is important.
- What is your passion and why is it important to you?
I have a passion for working with and bringing awareness around mental health issues. Mental health is something that is often misunderstood and misinterpreted because of its complexity. This is one of the many reasons working with this population is valuable to me.
- What do you devote most of your time to “outside of work?”
As someone who has recently moved from Wisconsin back to North Carolina, I try to spend as much time outside as possible. In particular I find hiking to be particularly peaceful especially in the piedmont area where there are so many areas to explore.
- Who do you look up to?
An important common denominator of the talented people who have been mentors and/or role models both personally and professionally for me is the concept of work, life, balance. Someone who I have seen particularly embody this concept is my father who is an engineer and in the field for 30 years but still seems passionate and committed to his work. He also has many interests and hobbies outside of engineering, which have allowed him to continue to feel renewed and avoid burn out.
- What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
After I completed my masters program in North Carolina, I decided to take the opportunity to move to Wisconsin and begin my career. I had not previously lived in Wisconsin and had few connections in the area so it was challenging to start over building personal and professional networks.
- Best and worst advice you’ve ever received?
During my masters program one of my professors shared with the class that our job as social workers is to plant seeds in our client’s lives but we rarely get to see them grow. I keep coming back to this statement because it reminds me social workers mostly see a small part of the journey our clients and families are experiencing and while outcomes for our work are important, you rarely know what will grow from your work. For me all advice is welcome even if I think it will not be something that would fit in my life, it gives me an opportunity to further examine my values and beliefs.
Thanks for reading Sarah’s story. Share in the comments how it impacted you or share it on social media. Check out next week’s weekly post on Women & the Ways We Work. Missed the others? Take a look at my blog to read the others. Know someone you think should be featured? Can I help you or your organization with a storytelling project? Contact me and let’s chat.