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Feeding Your Soul: Do What You Love!!!

Over the course of my life, I have told a number of people about my plans for my future. I would become Dr. Dopwell, would find out the reasons behind inequities I noticed, and would work to correct those issues. I was about seven years old when I first said something to that effect- using my age-appropriate vocabulary.

How did I know at such a young age what I wanted to do? My future orientation comes partly from my experiences and conversations with my parents. Mom was always teaching us empathy. I didn't know the word, but I knew that Mom spoke with my brother and me about considering how other people felt, what they were dealing with that perhaps we didn't have to, what seemed right or wrong in the world. She admonished us to think on how we might feel if we were in positions of others. Even at a very young age, I was taught not only to notice my environment, but to study it and the people in it.

Both of my parents have acted in ways which sought justice over time. Whether they held community meetings to address neighborhood needs, sued the police department for police brutality, or spoke with a school administrator about some prejudicial actions against one of their children, my parents have taken steps which sparked my justice-seeking mindset.

Something else which I believe influenced my firm decision to become Dr. Dopwell is an experience I had quite early in my life. When I was little, my father worked at St. John's University in Queens, NY. Once in a while, Dad would bring my brother and me to work. We had conversations with people titled Dr. who were of diverse genders and ethnoracial identities. I learned without realizing that the title Dr. was not outside of my realm of possibilities. Today, I remember those times almost as dreams. Perhaps they were dreams. Whatever they were, these moments allowed me to envision a future which many cannot fathom for themselves.

I eventually became Dr. Dopwell, and I conduct research on disparities related to physical and mental health, among other things. I am the Director of Social Work and a faculty member at an HBCU, where I have the ability to teach a diverse set of students about the Social Work profession. I enjoy engaging in research, connecting with my students, networking with community members, and so many other activities in which I am involved. I love my career.

I am doing what feeds my soul. It makes me happy to get up and go to work. I laugh, cry, and watch students expand their understanding of the world. Being a part of something greater than myself, taking steps to clear barriers for minoritized groups, planning for the future of the Social Work program: all of these help me to feel fulfilled.

It is my desire that everyone have the opportunity to do what feeds their souls. I think that so many of us are stuck in a world of expectations which limit our understanding of what we CAN do. So often, I hear stories about people who were told what they CAN'T do. Some simply believed what they had been told, and didn't try. Others tried, but didn't have the supports in place to move forward. Still others used that CAN'T word as fuel, and worked to prove they CAN.

When I speak with students or prospective students about their choice of major, one of the first questions I ask is what made them decide on the major. Most Social Work majors can point to a specific event or time in their lives during which they learned about the profession. Their experiences speak to the good social workers do, as well as the resources and personnel lacking in the profession. The former may be related to our codes of ethics and rigorous educational requirements. The latter generally indicates that our social service organizations are not well-funded and not well-supported. Students either want to emulate good actions they have witnessed or fix problematic systems and circumstances they have identified.

Not everyone needs to be a social worker, and I make sure to steer students in other directions who clearly have passions for other disciplines over social work. I want people to feel the sense of fulfillment that I have with my career. I ask what feeds their souls. I often offer some examples: activities which promote a sense of joy and peace within a person; which perhaps allow the person to smile and laugh genuinely and spontaneously; and which, when completed, bring a sense of accomplishment and of having improved life, environment, experiences of themselves and/or others. Actions which feed the soul will likely encourage the person to continue, to do more of the same.

Why is it important to do what feeds your soul? It increases the likelihood of satisfaction with one's career. It makes a person want to go into the office. It increases employee retention, as they are more likely to stay where they feel they make a difference. A person can feed her soul as a Social Work Program Director, as a physical therapist, as a K-12 teacher, as a garbage collector, as a deejay, or as a member of a multitude of other professions. And sometimes, the first step on her journey toward a profession she can love is for someone to ask her about her passions, her values, and what feeds her soul.

I urge us all to ask ourselves: Am I doing what I love? Is my profession feeding my soul? How can I best serve my community, given my strengths and passions? I understand that many times circumstances create barriers to doing what we love. But as a person who is doing what feeds her soul, I highly recommend giving it a try.


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