Cam“You don’t wake up in the morning expecting applause.”

As a youth worker, I can’t really say that there are a lot of happy endings. If you measure the time you spend against the results you get, you’ll look for another job. You have to be satisfied with small changes that just might make things a bit better for someone and for the situation they’re in. Hopefully a lot better.

I love what I do. It’s great to feel that you’re doing the right thing, even if you don’t end every day with proof. One thing I’ve learned is that you can change people by helping them to change themselves. Not by telling them what to do, but by just being there and honestly giving a damn.

You have to care. Really care. You can’t fake that and it makes all the difference.

You’re going to walk into situations that you’ve seen over and over again. But you have to think of every person you’re working with as someone unique and not just falling into a category. You’re strangers drawn together by circumstance. Your relationship is a blank sheet of paper. They write the story and you try to help them find the words.

“Everybody is different.”

When your life really sucks, the only thing you can cling to is the idea that at least you own it. Maybe it can be better. The power for people to overcome challenges is inside them. Your job is to bring out what’s already there.

This is my list of the-best-you-can-do.

Don’t just listen. Hear. The words that come out of people with problems are from the heart. Just encouraging them to talk and feel free to express themselves can help a lot.

Put yourself in their shoes. You’ve come into the picture after 10, maybe 16 messed-up years. A few hours or days of you time won’t change that. Months, years even. As much as you can you have to travel the journey they’ve taken so you can understand where it’s led to.

Know what you’re doing. A youth worker has to be intuitive. That doesn’t mean you don’t rely on experience. It’s gut. And smarts. Some things work over and over again. A lot of the time  you have no idea what will work.

Keep in mind that what you see may not be what you get. You can think you’ve done a good job and had a real effect and then someone tells you that it all fell apart … that in the end you didn’t have any effect at all. Not true, and only time will tell. Or, sometimes when you feel you’ve failed something you said or did sticks and there you have it … your happy ending.

Either way, you keep trying. It’s what you’re asking want the person you’re working with to do and it’s the least you can ask of yourself. Perseverance pays off.

At least part of the time, anyway.