Do you have a guilty pleasure? I hate to admit that I have several. There are times when I love to eat peanut butter right out of the jar. I love staying in bed until 10 am, reading whatever novel happened to capture my attention at the moment. I love reading new cookbooks and experimenting with food. And finally, I am slightly addicted to Netflix. More specifically, I am really into the show Orange is the New Black. It’s nothing like what I would normally watch, but it’s intriguing in its own right.
Orange is the New Black is inspired by a novel of the same name, penned by Piper Kerman. The show focuses on the stories of the women in prison: women who participated in the drug trade or even killed others. It is gritty, raw, and often graphic, but it gives you some interesting perspective on the women inside this prison. You almost begin to feel sorry for some of the inmates, who do have moral compasses, despite their past transgressions.
In the most recent season, the warden of the prison is talking to a young guard. This guard has proved to be somewhat different than the other guards there, who treat the inmates inhumanely. During their conversation, the warden advises the guard to find a different job, because “this job changes people.” This triggered something in my own mind; specifically, I began to think about how my job has changed me.
I think about this because, in all honesty, my job has changed me in some wonderful ways. In the past three years, I have become a much more patient person. I have become a better listener, and have broadened my imagination and ideas in more ways than I thought possible. I’ve learned more about the dangers of first impressions and the tragedy of poverty; I’ve met students with extraordinary stories overcoming amazing odds. I’ve become a slightly stronger individual emotionally; I’ve learned how to advocate for a student, and I’ve learned what it’s like to come across people who may stymie the progress of a student. I’ve also been able to apply some of these new lessons to my personal life, not just my professional one. Just like my students, I’ve learned to turn away from drama and people who are toxic in my life. I’ve recycled some advice and practices with children in my own life, from my nieces to friends looking for advice about their middle school child.
I can also say that this job has changed me in some not-as-positive ways as well. Though I’ve become much more patient at work, this sometimes leads to me being a little less patient at home. I’ve also become a little more cynical in some ways: I am more suspicious of people lying to me than I was before. I’ve seen some examples of parenting that make me happy; I have seen some examples that make me sad. I have realized that love is sometimes not enough to solve every single problem, as much as I wish it could. My eyes have been opened to worlds different than the one I grew up in.
When I first started as a counselor, I had all of these dreams and ideals that I wanted to achieve. Some of them I’ve achieved, some I am still working to achieve, and some I am able to recognize are things that may never happen in my lifetime. I’ve learned to be okay with that. There are still days when I wish I could take every hurting child and adopt them, bring them to my home and keep them there where they are loved and supported. Unfortunately, I know that this is impractical. It may even be impossible. It’s something that I will not be able to accomplish. But I am comforted that all my students know that I care about them and believe in them. I think of all the things I’ve achieved, all the things that I’ve learned, that one is my favorite.
Change is good. Change helps us grow. It helps us recognize our flaws; it helps us build character. This job, with all of its stressors and all its triumphant moments, is helping me change. It’s making me the counselor I am: good, bad, and everything in-between. I said it once, and I will say it time and again: I wouldn’t change my job for the world. But I’m more than happy to change a little for my job. It has, after all, brought me this far.