Professional Self-Image

15 Nov

By Luci Kidwell and Leslie Scott
NASW Ohio Chapter Interns

In a profession where new problems emerge every day, it can be easy to develop a negative image of ourselves and our career. While public opinion might affect our work with our clients, the perception that can help or hinder our work the most is our own. How do we create a positive self-image that carries us through daily problems?

1. Know your strengths and weaknesses.

Society teaches us that weaknesses are bad, and we need to fix them. However, in some cases, that mindset can be harmful instead of helpful because it pushes us to focus on what we can’t do and neglect developing areas where we excel. Part of being a competent and confident social worker is knowing what you can and can’t do. Then, practice the 80/20 rule. This means spend 80% of your time developing your strengths and 20% of the time improving in areas of weakness. This will help you become one of the best in the area of practice you love while still keeping you well-rounded in your field.

2. Set realistic goals for yourself.

Sometimes being a social worker feels like being a superhero without all of the super powers. Your compassion for others can quickly become harmful rather than helpful if you live without limits. First, be honest about what you are able to do in the time given. Then, be specific about what you want to accomplish and make your goals measurable.

3. Celebrate your achievements.

The best way to develop a positive self-image is to dwell on the positive. When you are dealing with self-doubt, start by remembering how far you have come as a professional. Remind yourself of the time you helped a client succeed or the time you excelled in class. This will give you the confidence to face new challenges.

4. Take it one day at a time.

Self-esteem is part of survival. Without it, we burn out. Take time each day to refresh. Remember, today is a clean slate and a chance to do your best. Yesterday is gone and you can’t reach tomorrow without making it through today.

5. Know your own worth.

Knowing your own value is crucial to your self-image. In order to be appreciated by others, we must first appreciate ourselves. Then, we need to vocalize our value by advocating for ourselves. Unlike any other profession, social workers are trained to work anywhere and often without needed resources. Be proud of the work you do and resist stereotypes and slander. Tracy L. Chenoworth, an expert on professionalism in the workplace, had this to say on knowing your value: “Counter devaluation and demonstrate legitimacy. If you are not managing your professional self-image, someone else is.”

Please post comments, questions, or suggestions below. Check back for December’s post about Professional Confidence.
Follow-Up from October’s Post, The Image of Social Work

What is social work?
Social Work is the professional activity of helping individuals, groups, or communities enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning and creating societal conditions favorable to this goal. Social workers enhance quality of life, change social stigmas, advocate for the respect of all persons, research psychosocial functioning, advocate for culturally relevant and affective public policy, and so much more (National Association of Social Workers).

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