Cultivating a Life of Learning | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
MSW Student Jonathan Rieck
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Cultivating a Life of Learning

In the fall, I registered for my final semester of classes at the Brown School. I also submitted my intent to graduate in May of 2019, and the email asking me to do this came at a complete surprise. It's really intimidating to think that I have five months left of schooling left before I go out into the field and work full-time. As I found myself anguishing over my final semester course selections, I realized that there were several options that I could take, and this made me wonder about the compromise between certain courses over other. What if I missed a learning opportunity? What if I am in practice and something I've never learned about comes up with a patient? Do I truly know enough to go out into the world and make a life of helping others? It's safe to say that this existential spiral can become pretty debilitating. However, it prompted me to think about the role of graduate school as it relates to the process of becoming a professional.

Graduate school is the place to learn, and with terminal degrees in social work, public health, and social policy, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the thought that this is it. When the books are put away, the papers are written, and the diploma is in your hands or framed on your wall, there comes a sense of finality that permeates throughout the conscious. Is this really it?

The Brown School has done an excellent job building up my skills I had coming in while teaching me more about intervention methods, theory, policy, and leadership through an anti-oppression framework. However, I candidly say that it feels scary knowing that I should be prepared enough to be a competent practitioner once I cross that stage in May. It's scary choosing my last classes for my MSW program. It's a signaling of finality. Or, so I thought.

After spending some time reflecting, I realized that life is full of learning. When I am viewed as the professional, the patient will always be the expert in their understanding of the world. I will always learn when I meet my patients where they are at. I will continue to learn and stretch my skills as I practice over the years. As well, my profession requires that we demonstrate consistent continuing education to renew licenses, providing more opportunities to learn. I will learn from my colleagues, my supervisors, my communities, and myself. 

Life is truly full of learning, regardless if you are taking the plunge to apply to graduate school or if you are in your field of practice. A growth mindset is essential, and the removal of the perfectionist complex is critical in arriving to this space. Sure, I'm doing a great deal of work trying to get and stay in that space, but even this involves some learning.

We as human beings are dynamic and changing. We will always continue to grow and develop our abilities while taking on new skills. Regardless of your field, this will inevitably happen. And that makes me more excited than anything.