Let Your Clarity Define You

by Susan Pogorzelski on July 20, 2009 · 16 comments

All of my regret
Will wash away somehow
But I cannot forget
The way I feel right now…

Rob Thomas, “Little Wonders”

clarity outbj (flickr)

I wish I could say that I’m proud of what I did today. I wish I could say that I stuck it out for at least awhile. I wish I could say that I would do it any differently.

But I can’t.

I started a new temp assignment today. Six and a half hours later I was driving on my way to meet with the employment agency after having a conversation with my new boss, explaining the best that I could that I wouldn’t — couldn’t — return.

My temp agency had called me two weeks ago asking if I would be willing to do dictation work for a social services agency. It was a job, it was income, it was something that would continue to keep me busy and my skills matched the position, so I readily agreed. This morning I went in as enthusiastic as ever; I was eager to meet new people, eager to learn about a new industry, eager to play with that pedal thing that controls the tape recorder. I had about a half hour of training before my new boss excused herself for a meeting, and so I decided to just jump right on in and start typing up the case.

The actual job itself was easy — listen to what the caseworker was saying and transcribe it into a word document, formatting it in accordance with previous sessions. Simple. Three and a half hours and two tapes later, I was finished with the case. No problem, right?

Only, yeah. There was.

I swallowed back tears as I ate my PB&J sandwich and gulped down a bottle of water. I breathed in, I breathed out; I tried to distract myself by counting how many different colors made up the cubicle paneling (answer: not enough.).

Later in the afternoon, I was handed some copy work and another case. I barely looked at the pages I was copying as I fed them through the machine. But that other case? That couldn’t be helped. I tried to hold back tears as my stomach fell and my heart broke and I shook my head, ashamed to be human. I gathered up the completed file and crossed the building to where my new boss was located. Handing her the file, I asked if I could speak with her privately, to which she guided me into a secluded conference room. I tried to keep my wavering voice steady, tried to remind myself that I was a professional, tried to separate from the situation and become unfeeling, uncaring…Tried to become not me.

I couldn’t. I apologized profusely, explained that I was trying to be professional and that I was here to help them. But she nodded sympathetically and said she understood. She had been at her job for 31 years and cried every single day in the beginning. Even now, she said, she couldn’t do what those caseworkers did; not everyone can. And I nodded and said that I respected and admired every single person in that building because I couldn’t do it. Not even as a temp, not even for a relatively short amount of time.

I’ve never quit anything like this before; usually, I would have looked at it as a learning experience and stuck it out for what it could teach me, for as long as I possibly could. But this wasn’t a bad job, and it wasn’t what the work itself entailed. It was everything else behind the work. I just couldn’t do it. Every single part of me said that I wasn’t strong enough for this. Not this time.

She said that she was sad to see me go because she thought I would fit in perfectly and that I had been so personable that morning, but I could see sincere sympathy from her and I knew that she understood, possibly better than anyone. So I apologized again and we bid each other good luck and best wishes and I gathered my things and drove to the temp agency where I sat down with them, where they were, gratefully, just as understanding, if not a little surprised.

I could have handled anything else, I think, because I’ve learned and I’ve grown and I’ve experienced all of that before. I could have handled the tough boss, the catty co-workers, the challenging workloads…But I couldn’t handle this. And I’m still not entirely sure why.

Suffice it to say, I feel very weak right now. Very much like a failure, a disappointment. Though through it all, I also know that it was the right decision for me. Yes, I would have learned. Yes, I would have developed a thicker-skin. But with where I am now, with where I’ve been the past few weeks, I know, beyond reason, that it would have done more harm than good. Because I would have wanted to help. And I wouldn’t have been able to. And I would have taken it all to heart and I wouldn’t have been able to handle that.

I did learn from today, though. Possibly more in six hours than I could have ever realized, and maybe that’s the point. So much was placed into perspective for me, and I feel almost ashamed that this is what led to it.

I have no right to complain. I have no reason to cry. I have been blessed with a beautiful life and I should thank my lucky stars for everything that I have and be grateful every single moment for every single day for every single piece of it.

Because there are those who are hurting and not comforted. There are those who are alone and not loved. There are those who are vulnerable who can’t speak up for themselves.

These children are in circumstances where they are tested every single day, and they live every single day with a quiet strength at which I can only wonder and admire. And then there are the people who help them realize that strength, help them find that voice. And I can only watch them in awe and be grateful for who they are and what they do and wonder if I will ever have the strength to be able to do the same.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Alyssa July 20, 2009


I know how difficult it is to deal with those situations. When I was a teacher, I had to deal with seeing abused children, difficult and ignorant parents, and child services. It’s never easy, and it’s truly heart-breaking. I can only imagine the things you saw transcribing those cases. I admire your ability to be honest and frank about your feelings with your boss. No one can blame you for having those kinds of emotions. Conversely, I don’t think enough people feel those kinds of emotions.


Tom July 20, 2009

Susan, that must’ve been so difficult. Don’t feel like a failure. If anything, be proud of yourself for knowing your limits and being able to admit them. That, in and of itself, requires a certain bravery.


Nean July 21, 2009

Susan~ I would have done the same; I have become desensitized to a lot of stuff in my life, but violence or abuse toward children is NOT, and never will be, one of them. I admire your courage to even take a job like that in the first place. I’m sure that your response to those “cases” was not atypical and as the boss told you, it happens to a lot of people. Kudos to you for even giving it a shot. ~hugs~


Anna July 21, 2009

I can’t imagine anyone in the world who would think less of you for giving up in this instance. What’s a shame is that your compassion and empathy are also traits that would help the kids involved in these cases so much. One would think that you had the perfect personality type to work in social work. But we don’t think about how much inner strength and resolve it takes, every day, to continue believing in the greatness of humanity when you’re faced with how inhuman some people can be.
You aren’t a quitter. You were faced with an insurmountable challenge. If anything, I’m proud of you for recognizing your limit, admitting your limit to others, and doing what was best for yourself.


greymous July 21, 2009

Try not to look at this as a failure or at yourself as being weak. You live your live through your heart and your soul, as evidenced by your writings, so you have done nothing except be true to who you are.

It is extremely difficult to cut off that side and be “cold” to what you are taking in with this type of work. It takes a hardness that is not natural to most feeling based folks and especially so to those who wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Let go of the self critical thinking and hold on to knowing that you have grown in a way that you did not expect.


Sam July 21, 2009

Susan: I agree with everyone else. You are not a failure. Social work is difficult, and the fact that your would-be boss, a trained professional in the field, told you she’d felt the same way when she started just goes to show that your feelings were totally normal. I think it was brave and wise of you to realize that this job would be too much for you, to put yourself first and do what was right for you. It wasn’t meant to be, and that’s okay. Thanks for sharing this story. You are stronger than you realize.


Caffeine Maniac July 22, 2009

Hey at least they didn’t make you go work the cases. In South Carolina, they make all lawyers in private practice go serve as “guardians ad litem” – whether they want to or not; whether they have any training or not. The unwilling, untrained, appointed GALs must go investigate the family and find out if the kids have been physically/sexually/emotionally abused. It’s a great way to get behind the scenes of the most crime-ridden housing complexes in your area. Oh, if you’re not appointed as the GAL, the state can appoint you as the lawyer for the alleged perp.


Harl Delos July 22, 2009

Your post reminds me of the 3-hour trip I took to bring my stillborn daughter home to the funeral parlor, her body in the trunk, my seriously wife still in the hospital. It’s been a few years; she’d be about your age now, if she had lived.

I cried all the way, thinking about the girl scout cookies I’d never be proud of her for selling, the prom I’d never see her dressed for, the aisle I’d never walk her down to a fiance and a preacher, the grandchildren I’d never dandle on my knee.

What kept me going was the fact that this was the last thing I’d ever be able to do for her.

It wasn’t the first. I’d been reading to her and singing to her for months. My son got excited when I would read or sing to him in the womb, and he’d kick, but my stillborn daughter would settle down immediately, as if she was hungry to hear every syllable.

But I couldn’t see letting some stranger, some commercial shipper have possession of her body. She was mine, and by god, I was going to give her everything I could give her, even if it was a ride in the trunk, with papers on the seat to show the state troopers in case I was stopped or was in an accident, and they wanted to know why I had a corpse with me.

My current wife isn’t allowed to tell me anything about her clients as a TSS, but sometimes, we’re out and about, and they see her, and rush up to her, and they want to be introduced to me. She has some real horror stories.

Nobody should have to transcribe that matter. Interviewing those kids is worse. The kids have it worst of all.

Thank you, on behalf of the kids, for doing what you could. My respect and admiration for you continues to grow.


Susan Pogorzelski - admin July 22, 2009

When I say that I appreciate each and every single comment here, I hope you all know how sincere that sentiment always is, from the very bottom of my heart. My blog is where I pour out my heart and what I’m feeling in the moment, and in those moments (hours, days) of weakness, you are all there with words of wisdom and perspective, support and encouragement. Maybe it’s the emotional roller coaster I’ve been on, but when I read the friendship and support that stem from your words, I kind of want to cry. But I won’t, I promise. I’ve told myself I’m all out of tears. 🙂

So before I respond to each of you, I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read and comment with your own thoughts. You have become such an important and integral part of this and, more than the comments, I appreciate each of you. Thank you.




Susan Pogorzelski - admin July 22, 2009

Alyssa: I can only imagine what teachers must see and applaud those that take action. I was actually told that the cases I saw were relatively mild, so I can only imagine what the next few weeks would have brought. I can only imagine what those caseworkers actually witness and what the children go through. My job wasn’t tough. Theirs is. But it was tough for me because I feel so much, sometimes too much, and I don’t quite know how to separate that, nor do I think I want to, if I want to be honest. Anyway, it’s hard to realize that those are realities in the world, but I’ve learned from just a short experience and I hope that I’ll never forget. Thanks for your support, Lyssa. Love always.

Tom: Thank you so much for these words of support. It’s hard not to feel like you’ve failed when you quit something, but I’ve come to realize that it really was the best choice. And these comments have made me realize that I do have my limitations — that maybe everyone does — and that I can’t do everything. I think I’ve finally realized that I can’t save the world, as much as I would like to. But you can help, in little ways, and there are those who can help here and for that I’ll always be grateful. Just like I’m grateful for your words. Thanks for opening my eyes on this one!


Susan Pogorzelski - admin July 22, 2009

Nean: I’m in complete agreement with you. There are so many harsh realities in life that you realize are just a part of life. But then there are things that are just unacceptable and you can never understand or excuse. Children and animals, for me, are just two examples. As you say, and I agree, I don’t ever want to become desensitized. I think maybe if you become desensitized, you begin to think that maybe that’s just the way things are and that is never, ever acceptable. That said, there are those who are just as feeling but who can handle it, and I respect and admire them beyond belief for that. I wish I had that strength…For now, I can only offer support from the sidelines. And maybe that’s ok, too. Thanks for your support, Nean, and for your friendship and hugs — I could use them!

Anna: You know I always welcome your insights and appreciate your opinions, and this time is no exception. I think my problem was that I thought less of myself — for not having the courage to stick it out. You say, “we don’t think about how much inner strength and resolve it takes, every day, to continue believing in the greatness of humanity when you’re faced with how inhuman some people can be.” I love this statement. Love it. Because there’s so much truth behind it. As an optimist, I want to believe in people, in humanity. Working on these cases, I was ashamed to be human; however, seeing these caseworkers and what they do daily, I was proud. It was a mix of emotions that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully understand, and I’m not sure if we’re meant to.

It’s funny that you say I have the personality type for social work because once upon a time I thought it was something I might want to explore. Now, as I said to Tom, I’ve realized what my limits are. I can’t save the world, as much as I’d like to. I can work with animals, no problem. But this was a different story, a more difficult story. Hopefully, I can play my part and help where I can. Maybe that’s the point, as well. There’s a lot to think about, thanks to your comments. And I appreciate that, and I appreciate your friendship and support, so, so much. Thanks for the reminders and, always, for your words.


Susan Pogorzelski - admin July 22, 2009

Greymous: I can’t tell you how this comment speaks to me. I’ve always known that I’ve been an incredibly emotionally-intuitive person, but I don’t think I realized how much a part of me that is until now. I’m beginning to realize that there might be different kinds of strengths. I thought it was either/or — you were either thick-skinned and strong or emotional and weak. But now I’m realizing that might not be the case. Actually, now I’m realizing that it’s anything but…

I don’t know if any of that makes sense — what I’m trying to say is that while I will always wish I could help and hang in there, I know the kind of person I am and what I’m capable of. And I understand that it’s ok that I wasn’t capable of this, as much as it kind of sucks. But that doesn’t stop me from being grateful to those that are. Thank you for your perspective and, as always, for your support.

Sam: I know I’ve talked with you this past week, but I want to say, once again, thanks for your friendship as well. Truth be told, this may have been one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done, which might play a part into why I felt like such a failure. To put myself first and quit because I couldn’t handle it when there were others witnessing much worse just sounds so many shades of wrong and weak and disappointing. But I’ve also realized that it was for the best — because I wasn’t in a position where I could help. And I really do believe, especially where I am right now, as I said in the post, that it would have done more harm than good. I appreciate your support — and everyone else’s — with this decision, as it wasn’t an easy one to make, but I think it was the right one for all involved. And I’ve learned from it. And maybe that’s the most important part, after all. Thanks, Sam. So much, for everything.


Susan Pogorzelski - admin July 22, 2009

Caffeine Maniac: You’re exactly right, which is exactly why my respect for those caseworkers is beyond measure. I was only transcribing, but they have witnessed firsthand these cases, and, as such, they have a strength which I admire so much, only eclipsed by those who live it. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those GALs, as you described, especially if you’re not prepared or trained for it. I can’t say that I agree with that practice, but I certainly feel for them. Thanks for shedding some light on this!

Harl: Thank you, so much, for sharing your story — I know how difficult these situations can be to put into words. I can’t tell you how much your story moved me and how much I feel for you for having experienced that — I certainly couldn’t imagine. I’ll be saying more to you in a private email, but I want you to know how much my respect for you has grown as well, and for your family, and your wife, who I’m sure sees these things firsthand. I once said that it would be an honor to call you a friend and I stand by that, now more than ever. Thank you, Harl. Thank you for sharing your story and thank you for your support and friendship.


Grace Boyle July 26, 2009

Susan, I would definitely not look at this as a failure (I know everyone has said that, but I will say it again). I always thought it would be really hard to be a Doctor. I’m not talking about the years of med school and sleepless nights, but rather the times when they have to separate emotion from their work. They have to walk away from the death that day and go eat dinner with their own families. There are some people who just can’t separate emotions like that, they aren’t cold and can’t be numb to hearing what you had to hear. I’m one of them too and I think it’s perfectly legitimate and an honest way of living. So cheers to you…and you walked away learning something new, with a perspective that has helped although it hurt your heart. Great post!


Susan Pogorzelski - admin July 29, 2009

Grace: Thanks for your comment and, as always, your support! Teachers, doctors, social workers I think are all in the same category of people I wholeheartedly admire for the very same reason that you expressed — they help the world without harming who they are because that is who they are, with an ability to separate themselves. I don’t know if I would be able — or, admittedly, willing — to do that. And you’re right, you’ve helped me to realize that it is a “legitimate and honest way of living” — just as that may be who they are, our sensitive, yet still compassionate, natures may make up who you and I are. And I’ve begun to realize that that’s ok.

Thanks so much for your comment, Grace! It’s nice to know we’re not in the world alone. 🙂


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