A Mass of Dots | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
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A Mass of Dots

A semester in full swing takes many by surprise. In a seemingly exponential curve, the coursework, readings, group projects and late nights compound.

Now, a simple glance at my task list is all that's required to spit out my cup of lukewarm coffee. Where has the time gone? I swear that paper was not in the syllabus a week ago. What do you mean I'm supposed to be registering for next semester? I don't even know what I'm scavenging up for dinner. What is this "self-care" you speak of?  So there. I have presented some images of what seems to be my experience thus far—or at least I've done enough to earn passing marks on this blog post…*pause for laughter*.

Sometimes, it's easy to get so absorbed in the day-to-day minutiae of coursework, group work, homework, housework, fieldwork, budget-work, self-work, work-work, and any other type of work you may be committed to. The responsibilities of graduate school can seem like one big mass of dots—incoherent and confusing. For students who relocated to St. Louis, homesickness may rise; for some students, motivation may fall. With so much going on both around us and in the mind, it is not all that difficult to lose sight of the bigger picture.

I recently had a long phone call with a friend. It began with a "how are you?" and continued into a torrent of mixed emotions, stress, and lamentation. My confidante listened patiently before saying, "So I've heard much of what's stressing you out. What I'm not hearing is the positive aspects of your experience." Whoa. 

It's almost ironic how easy it is, as a student of social work, to lose sight of the strengths in the decision I made to take this professional step. It's true: we all volunteered for this. So what was my positive reframe?

First and foremost, I'm learning exactly what I hoped I'd be learning—nuanced perspectives on issues in social justice; skills that will allow me to work one-on-one with clients; and how to address, evaluate, and push to improve the systems in place for the best outcomes of the people we serve.

Secondly, I'm doing this from a strengths-based perspective (though we now know how easy it is to lose sight of that).

Thirdly, that strengths-based approach lends itself to an auspicious view of what lays in store for me in the coming years, both next academic year and post-graduation.

This is not just a mass of dots. It's intentional. It's purposeful. It's manageable. 

I simply need to remember to take a step back—not in progress but in perspective. In a never-ending effort to make movements forward, we seemingly forget that where we stand is not just a mass of dots, a blob of assignment-fueled stress. It's all part of a bigger picture.