Motivation and reflection


Getting satisfaction from a job is an important factor of any career decision and ‘wanting to help people’ is an oft-quoted reason for wishing to enter the general ‘social care’ arena. All good things – but this isn’t altruism. Not as far as I’m concerned. I am being paid for my job and to have a job that is satisfying and interesting is a lot more than some people have.

image (wanting to help.. )

I read an article called ‘Do you need to be needed?’ by Carol O’Dell on Mothering Mother and More a while ago and  I was drawn back to it recently. It talks about the need of the carer, professional or not, to be needed and what gaps the position of caring might be filling in that person’s life.

It’s something we spoke about with a fair amount of regularity when I was doing my initial social work training and it’s a thought that has flitted in and out of my mind ever since.

Looking around the people with whom I trained – there were a few who had been users of services, some with good social workers who they wanted to emulate, some with horrible experiences of social workers which they wanted to combat from within and prevent others having the same experience that they had  had.

Some were completely oblivious to what social workers actually did on a day-to-day level and just kind of stumbled into it.

Others had family members who were social workers so just as there are families of lawyers and doctors, they were doing what their mother, or sister had done before them (among the people I know, it’s always female family members –  it could well work the other way round!).

I think there is an inherent ‘need to be needed’ though. By running around dealing with other people’s problems, how much are you able to avoid dealing with your own?

It’s something I’ve thought about and considered for a while.

I am aware that I gain some kind of personal satisfaction from working in a ‘helping’ profession and I hope that by acknowledging that, and reflecting on it, it is allowing me to focus on the needs of those for whom I work, rather than my own needs.

But it would not be honest to pretend that those needs do not exist. It is a basic human condition to want to be liked or wanted or needed, perhaps respected. Without acknowledging what I am gaining personally through my role, I am not being honest in my undertaking of it.

Reflection is used a lot in practice learning and extensively in post-qualifying training. Where I thought at times, it was a bit vague, ‘soul through a lens’ stuff, I can see that it is the best way of keeping yourself in check through the work that you do. As a result I think reflective practice and constant and consistent reflections on motivations is one of the most valuable skills I learnt through my training – particularly since qualifying.

If I am aware of my own weaknesses and prejudices, I am much better able to nullify and combat them in my working practice.

And to quote Confucius

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

So really, as there is nothing new here. It just takes a while to come round to it although accepting that  I am helping myself through my work – but I would honestly hope that this is never at the expense of those for whom I am paid to help.

11 thoughts on “Motivation and reflection

  1. Cute kitty, cb! I agree that all of us in this profession need to examine ourselves first. In the class I just finished, that topic was addressed in our final paper – we had to write our “life story” from birth to age 18. It was not altogether pleasant, but necessary. But, once the self-reflection is done, I don’t think we need to worry about losing focus. I know, at least at my job, I never think about what I’m doing as meeting MY needs! But it’s good to remember that it is- it helps me keep going.

  2. I think you’re right, the need to be needed is inherent in humans, but that doesn’t mean everybody is capable of being in a position of giving care to others (whether paid or unpaid) on a daily basis. People like you who are in those professions and doing that kind of work do an amazing job – it’s something I know I couldn’t do. I did 2 years as a ‘house husband’ and that was enough, and that was looking after my own kids! So you’re right, there is an aspect of needing to be needed but I think you probably bring a lot more to the job than you receive yourself.

  3. Thanks LA.. my sister’s cat! She’s trained him to do the housework 😉 I think the reflection needs to be pretty consistent – sometimes you get so carried away in the things that need to be sorted/filled in/telephone calls to be made/potential disasters to be averted that you can lose sight I think of the wider issues and that’s what I was thinking of.

    and thanks Chuckle – I think that people who find jobs they feel they are suited to are lucky and I’m glad to have been in that position. I would have been miserable in any number of office based jobs. I think it’s important to be aware of what your own motivations are in doing the work though..

  4. The need to be needed was definitely a huge part of my life when I first went into social work, although it was not actually why I went into social work (that was my need to please others). 4 years of school and 2 years of therapy later, I’m much more self aware, and able to realize when I’m doing something for the wrong reasons. It’s hard to explain. Social workers have a lot of power, and we need to make sure we’re careful with how we use it.

  5. A good post cb – I read somewhere that people who were attracted to roles such as those in the health/social care fields were often trying to compensate for damage done to them by caring for others. I am not too sure that is true – sounds too general for me. Sometimes we just sort of end up where we are.

  6. Thanks Silva – actually, thinking about it, I possibly ponder on these issues about motivation more due to the experiences I had when I worked in residential care. I think I came across people who seemed to enjoy some of the power dynamics in a way that really was frightening. And in some ways, in residential care, there is more scope for harm as you are with people in their homes for 24 hours a day..

  7. Great post! I definitely think there is a need to be needed and like you said…there is a lot of power in being needed. I don’t think it’s often that people recognize that about being in the helping professions. So, self-examination is very important to make sure that power is handled wisely.

  8. cb, when I was doing management training courses, they used to like to teach us about the hierarchy of needs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs). If you look at this, you’ll see he includes the need to be needed (or at least to feel needed) under the heading of ‘esteem’. That is, he thinks people value it more highly than the need to do creative or interesting work.

    They used to teach us this because it’s all to do with how you motivate staff. The needs at the bottom of the pyramid are more important (eg. need to be able to eat, have a roof over your head, etc before you worry about job security.)

    Just thought you might find it an interesting way to look at things.

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