In my essay, I will initially provide a description of the concept of work, from an etymological and historical point of view, to give a possible explanation of why people work. Then I will refer to relevant human development and career theories to illustrate how people choose their career. In doing so I will draw from my personal experience to put into context the emotional and profession journey that drove a qualified accountant, as I am, to become a Therapeutic Care Worker at the Mulberry School.
From an etymological point of view, the term ‘work’ is derived from the term ‘Tripalium”, a Latin term that describes an instrument used for torture (Johnson and Milani, 2009). This ‘Tripalium” was once used by Romans as a means to force their slaves to work. However, the term “Tripalium” began to lose its original meaning, as an instrument used to enforce labour, and was later associated with struggle and effort. Eventually, “Tripalium” was altered to the word “Trabalhar”, which now means to work (Johansson, 2005). From its early description, work was once associated with forced labour and punishment. It was also associated with negative experiences such as ‘struggle’. For a period of time, work was perceived as a divine punishment. However, its relationship with divine punishment is also the same reason it took a more positive meaning. During the Protestant Reformation period, the meaning of work was changed and was now viewed as a critical step in achieving salvation.
Work is also described as a means to sustain families, communities and human systems and a means to create and generate something useful (Hoffman, 2007). It also signifies an ‘action’ that could be used to evolve and survive. Work is crucial in the human system since this allows people to serve themselves and others. However, motivations towards work could influence how one perceives work. For others, work is seen as a right but some could merely see it as a means to attain financial stability (Gagne, 2014).Yet, failing to recognise the real meaning of work, which is to survive, to serve others and to serve one’s self, might lead one to work aimlessly. Perhaps a reminder of the human history of why people work could help individuals appreciate the value of work or why there is a need to work. As seen in history, manmade tools were created in order to survive, no matter how archaic these tools were. These tools were able to help ancient people hunt for food and survive. Later, tools were developed by early human beings to farm lands, support a family structure and later, form communities. As groups turn into tribes, people began to live together and form communities. These eventually evolved to become societies. As a response to the changing structures in human relationships and group working, tools also became more sophisticated as humans changed and became more diverse. Today, work tools range from computers to machines. All these tools serve the main goal of sustaining society and ensuring the survival of this society.
As societies become more advanced, needs also become more diverse. Addressing the needs of the community requires work suited to address these needs. For instance, the need for food means workers are hired to farm land, produce food and sell it to consumers. On the other hand, people could get sick and require acute and long-term care. This time, workers are needed to address the health and wellbeing of individuals. Physicians have been recorded in history as far as thousands of years ago. However, nurses and other healthcare practitioners have only been identified in the last few centuries. The evolution of the physician, the nurse and other healthcare practitioners has led to the formation of healthcare practitioners who participate in multidisciplinary team working (Greene, 2011). On the other hand, there is a need to build buildings, in order to provide shelter for people. Today, workers make architectural wonders, buildings, malls, roads, bridges, houses and communities at a rapid pace. Considering the different ‘work’ that one could enter into, it becomes important to determine why one chooses to work as a builder, producer, teacher or healthcare practitioner. The question of how one chooses one’s work could be addressed through an evaluation and analysis of the different career theories.
One of the human development theories, that could be used to explain one’s motivation in choosing his work, is Erikson’s Stages of Development theory (Nevid, 2008). Erikson asserts that much of one’s early life is spent preparing for early and late adulthood (Nevid, 2008). Hence, what occurs during the early stages of life has a crucial impact on the choices that an individual makes at a later date. When related to understanding one’s motivation to work, it is essential to examine early childhood experiences and how these influence one’s choice of a vocation in later adulthood. Before I start to talk about my personal experiences, I feel compelled to mention my parents’ story, to put, in perspective, the people who have probably influenced me most and have contributed to shape the person I have become.
Both my parents were born in 1935. During their childhood they experienced the tragedy of the Second World War. Even though they lived in a place that was not directly involved in military battles, they suffered from a lack of primary necessities such as food, water and clothing. They both lived in small and precarious houses, sharing rooms with their brothers and sisters. At the end of World War II, my parents were just 10. Italy was in rubble and occupied by foreign armies, a condition that worsened the chronic development gap between the more advanced European economies. However, by the beginning of the 50’s, the new geopolitical logic of the Cold War made possible that Italy became an important ally for the Free World (non-communist countries of the world) and therefore admitted to the generous aids provided by the Marshall Plan.
In these years, my parents had just completed their compulsory schooling. During these years, Italy saw a period of rapid modernisation and sustained economic growth, which represented not only a cornerstone in the economy, but also a social and cultural shift for the country. My parents decided to start to work. Work became directly correlated with wealth and social status. My dad became an electrician following in his uncle’s footsteps, working in the building industry. My mother, even though women had limited possibilities in education, work and free time, managed to get a job in a dress factory. At this time, Italian society was suddenly flooded with a huge variety of consumer goods, such as automobiles, televisions, telephones, washing machines, fridges and all sorts of amenities. For my parents, work became a virtue, something to be proud of and unthinkable to do without. The idea of progress emphasised the idea of hard working as a lifestyle and as a means to achieve a better status in society.
The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, preached the centrality and the importance of marriage as the only way of structuring families and thus society. In this context, as Hoffman, S. (2007) suggests, my parents’ drive to “compensate” for their disadvantages drove them to follow the proposed life achievements through hard work. The financial stability allowed them to create what they perceived to be a solid foundation for their idea of family. Even though my parents interpreted their relationship with a clear separation of roles, bread-winner role of the man and the woman as housewife, they did manage to find common ground; work. It was necessary; work would enable them provide for, what Maslow (2013) described as the “basic needs” of their family and, in the process, with protection and security.
Related to Erikson’s Stages of Development Theory is Ginzberg’s Theory of career choice and development (Patton and McMahon, 2014). This theory proposes that career decision evolves through time and is generally a holistic process. This is similar to Erikson’s Stages of Development where earlier experiences have an impact on work choices and eventually, one’s life’s work. In Ginzerg’s Theory, one’s choice of an occupation is a lifelong process that goes through different stages. This process involves conscious elimination and consideration of a career. This often results in a compromise of ideas and interests.
Ginzberg’s Theory clarifies that the act of choosing a career could occur in three general stages. In the first stage or fantasy stage, children often pretend or do role-plays on the careers that they want to pursue when they grow up. Ginzberg was quick to point out that these choices are not based on reality. In my case, I spent most of my childhood playing football and skimming through my cousin’s vinyl and books. I do not recall any particular ambition apart from the fantasy of becoming a famous football player or some sort of mysterious and scandalous iconic lead singer of a rock band.
In the second stage, which lasts from 11 to 17 years old, young people begin to think about career choices that they could possibly take once they get older. At this time, real-life experiences begin to influence one’s choice of a career. I was a teenager studying accountancy, without fully understanding the reasons why. My parents were determined for me to finish school and to get a job as an accountant. My dad’s business consultant managed a prestigious and renowned office in town. Their expectations were that, once I had completed school, I would start to work for his office. My parents’ desire for planning my life could be related to the theory of attachment (Sigelman and Rider, 2014). Due to their hardship, in childhood, my parents might have unconsciously sought to address this insecurity by sorting out my life in an attempt to avoid the replication of difficulties that they went through.
In turn, by seeing me settled and financially secure they would have been able to deal with their insecurities developed during their childhood. Views on the family suggest that unresolved conflicts can pass from parents to children, with the latter framing the world according to these earlier experiences. Hence, my understanding of the world, life and career have been, in some respect, limited and directed by my parents. To better explain this process I will try to use Maslow. He proposes that humans have five levels of needs that begin with biological and physiological needs and end in self-actualisation. The motivation to work could be related from the second to the fifth level of needs. In the second level, a person has safety needs. This means that an individual looks for order, law, protection, security, limits and stability.
Maslow (2013) emphasised that work provides stability as it allows individuals to provide for basic needs of their families and, in the process, provides them with protection and ensures their safety. Becoming an accountant would guarantee me the financial resources to apply for a mortgage, for example, and to buy a house, which would have been the premises for a family set-up. As McGuire, 2011, suggests, it would have also provided me with a sense of belonging, working in a renowned office in town, which would have probably met my fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which are esteem needs (Maslow, 2013). However, if we consider Erikson’s Identity vs Role Confusion stage, as an adolescent, I was still exploring and discovering myself.
My parents’ view, at that particular point in time, did not mean much to me. While negotiating a fit with my parents’ and a wider society’s set of rules and expectations, I found myself indulging in endless week-end parties as a way of dealing with my everyday dissatisfaction. Anna Freud (1937), in her book ‘The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defines, introduces the concept of defensive mechanism as a way of protecting ourselves from feelings of anxiety or guilt. In retrospect, the sublimation as a defensive mechanism allowed me to project my emotions of dissatisfaction, fear, uncertainty into something I felt was worthwhile and rewarding – weekend parties. While unable to acknowledge any personal responsibility in this process, I became the mysterious and scandalous character that I had dreamed of being in my early years. This served to justify the rejection and denial of my situation.
I like to think that my parents, at that point in life, might have realised that the functionality of work, as the only means of fulfilling their purpose in life, was not enough. Being aware of the fact that they might not have been able to progress any further in their careers, or any other activity or hobby, in a bid to acquire a different status, reputation, achievement and responsibility might have resulted in projecting their expectation on me. (McGuire, 2011).
The idea that I would have become a respected accountant in town paradoxically would have served their need for self-actualisation, as defined in Maslow’s fifth level of needs (McGuire, 2011). On one hand, I would have represented something to be proud of, on the other hand, the hope that, at some point in the near future, they would become grandparents, would ultimately revitalise their purpose in life.
Ginzberg’s third stage occurs from the ages of 17 to 24 years. This is when young people begin to choose a career or express an interest in a specific career. The third stage is further broken down to exploration, crystallization and specification. In the exploration stage, an individual eliminates career choices that are not consistent with his or her interests, values and capacities. I finished college. All seemed to go as planned. Then something unexpected came into play; I received a call from the National Service – at that time, it was still compulsory. However, I was given the opportunity to choose between community and military service. I decided to work for the Italian Red Cross. I became a paramedic assistant. I was driving patients to their therapies. The majority of them were affected by cancer. I approached aspects of life that were beyond my imagination and capacity.
All of sudden, the idea that my life would have consisted of working in an office, buying a house and settling down with a wife, felt premature and not very appealing. The realisation of how regretful one can turn when up close with death, and how wishfully a person can hold onto the hope of a brighter future when rocked by unexpected circumstances, made me question my life. Bandura, with his social learning theory (Sigelman and Rider, 2014), states that learning can also occur during observations of others. Although this theory also espouses that learning occurs as a result of associations, it also emphasises that one learns through modelling or observational learning (Sigelman and Rider, 2014). Working alongside paramedics, volunteers, nurses and doctors gave me the opportunity to experience an environment which adopted values and beliefs and an attitude completely alien to me at that particular point. Concepts like solidarity, responsibility, professionalism and a sense of community fascinated me until the point that my service, at the Red Cross, was no longer a work but a way of living. In other words, I attached to a new set of rules and values which seemed to align with my inner interpretation of the world.
Why do people choose jobs which involve helping?
Before I start to explore the reason why I work at the Mulberry Bush School, I feel it is important to mention the process that led me to become a care worker. I will use Piaget’s theory on cognitive development to make sense of what might have driven me towards this profession.
Piaget,J. (1957) states that young people take in new information and assimilate this into their existing schema. The new information might alter schema as the person learns to accommodate the new learning. In my case, as I mentioned before, the experience at the Red Cross, even though it was not new in temporal terms, it was new in emotional and intellectual terms. Initially, it did not result in anything concerning a profession. It was only a few years later, when I completed an English course at a college in Edinburgh, that this experience came back to the surface. I was skimming through a college brochure to have a look at the courses on offer. The diploma in Health and Social Care came to my attention. It felt as if this course meant something to me but I could not figure out what it was. I therefore booked an appointment with a student adviser to discuss what this course entailed.
When the course contents were explained, the subjects and the working opportunities that might follow, I decided to apply for it. In my case, the alteration of schema, suggested by Piaget, consisted in utilising previous memories and acquired experience to take a course of action. While becoming an accountant was predominantly my parents’ decision, applying for the Diploma in Health and Social was the result of me applying new skills and knowledge and following what I felt to be relevant and exciting. My course was structured so that there were two parts, the theory and the practical work experience. While I was intrigued by all the theories on human development, when it came to choose the placement, things became blurry. Piaget suggests that people practice equilibration or balancing assimilation and accommodation (Keenan and Evans, 2009). In my case, the struggle was to choose my placement.
The available choices were a residential home for the elderly; a secure unit for adolescents and a respite unite for autistic children. Herzberg’s two-factor theory (Thompson, 2013) offers another framework on why people are motivated to work. In this theory, hygiene actors and motivators or satisfiers impact an individual’s motivation in the workplace. Hygiene factors relate to job security, organisational policies, salary and technical quality of supervision (Thompson, 2013). The respite service for autistic children was run by Edinburgh Council. I felt that the placement would offer me with an opportunity to get an important working experience and to step into an organisation that I believed to be secure, financially stable with plenty of chance for professional development. The satisfiers or motivators in this case, referred to personal and professional growth. Edinburgh Council would offer relevant training, and it would offer a prospect for a better salary and working conditions.
Those reasons facilitated my decision in favour of the respite centre. Besides, while working alongside the elderly did not seem appealing in any way, the adolescent secure unit would represent something beyond my skills and knowledge. During this period, my mother passed away. My mother’s death affected my life profoundly. Back in those confused and emotionally draining days, remaining in Italy to support and stay close to my family or going back to Edinburgh to complete my Diploma seemed my only two possible choices. Paradoxically, I perceived my life as not interconnected with my family. I like to think that creating this dichotomy, in some ways, helped me to deal with my mother’s death. Bowlby, J. (1980) with his attachment theory talks about, numbing as a process characterised by feelings of disbelief that the death has occurred, providing the grieving person with temporary relief from the pain associated with loss. In other ways, it made it easier and more manageable for me to take the decision to go back to Edinburgh. Italy was not just associated with the accountant’s life I rejected; it was a painful and distressing place to be.
I completed my Diploma in Health and Social Care. Then I joined Edinburgh Council as I had hoped. I was offered agency work as and when required. In the first two years of my working career, I experienced different working settings, from children and family centres to secure units and respite services for disabled children. I liked the flexibility and the fact that the more I was working, the more I was refining my career path. One day I happened to work for The Royal Blind School which was a boarding school that supported MDVI (multiple disability visual impairment children) to improve their everyday lives. It felt like a natural evolution in my working career. They were looking for someone, I applied and I got the job. As Ginzberg suggests, in the crystallisation stage, vocational choices become clearer and choices are finally made. There I worked for six years with satisfaction and professional reward. I was sharing my life with my partner and a cat, in a spacious, stylish flat in Edinburgh. At that point everything seemed to be fine.
However, as Bowlby (1980) suggests, the numbing process usually lasts for a short period and is typically followed by emotional outbursts. For a few years, I kept myself busy working, studying and traveling until I reached a plateau, followed by a deep sense of dissatisfaction. I became frustrated. I started to blame Edinburgh because it was cold and rainy, my work because it was no longer rewarding, my partner because she could not understand me. My attitude inevitably affected my relationship with my partner, which led to a separation. I could not see any way forward. I set off traveling in South America in the hope that the change of routine would provide me with the time and the space to see things with more clarity. After about 15 months, I went back to Italy. According to Bowlby, the disorganisation phase involves accepting the reality of the loss along with all the turmoil it brings.
During my traveling, I realised and accepted that my relationship was no longer reparable and it was time to go back home to have some clarification with my dad and my brother. The reorganisation phase is characterized by gradual changes as the bereaved attempts to move on with life (Freeman, 2005). This time, around the decision to come back to the UK, was the result of a family discussion. We considered the pros and cons and we came to the decision that the UK would be the best working option. Besides, we agreed that the distance that kept us apart was more emotional than spacial. I therefore started looking for jobs.
While doing some research, on Google, I came across the Mulberry Bush School. I started to have a look at the website. It looked immediately interesting. The fact that it was an independent residential school resonated with me as I had previously worked in a residential setting. What intrigued me most was the school’s experience and expertise. It was established, on its current site, in 1948, by founder Barbara Dockar-Drysdale. After further reading, I realised that the school provided residential, therapeutic care and education for severely emotionally troubled and traumatised children aged from five to twelve years of age. I remembered clearly that the word therapeutic sounded very appealing and relevant to me. As Piaget suggests, as a person accommodates new knowledge, they might realise that their beliefs and understanding are no longer relevant.(Keenan and Evans, 2009).
This time, the decision to choose again a profession which involved help and compassion became deeply related to the search for new meaning in my life. I felt liberated by the idea of the work as a means to meet not just my financial, economic needs. I wanted to explore other aspects of it. My emotional and personal growth. Hawkins and Shobet (2006) provide a critical examination on why people choose to be a helper. They argue that one of the reasons for helping is to face our shadows. In doing so, we might be motivated to help in order to meet our own needs. In retrospect, the Mulberry Bush School has provided me with a safe space where I could face my shadows. In return, I like to think that, in dealing with them, I have become a more effective worker.
During my supervisions, for example, I have been discussed situations at the school and how they have affected me. This has not just supported me to improve my practice with the children, but has also contributed to clarify personal and private issues. Being aware of transference and counter transference has meant being in touch with emotions and feelings. The transference is described as a process of unconsciously projecting to others, feelings and desires that one has retained from childhood. The counter transference is the redirection of a psychotherapist’s feelings towards a client, or, more generally, as a therapist’s emotional entanglement with a client (American Psychological Association, 2009). Klein M.(1984) suggests that, in a close relationship, as between mother and child, lovers, or therapist and patient or, in my case, career-children, parts of the self may, in unconscious fantasy, be thought of as being forced into the other person. She defines this psycho-dynamic process as projective identification. Children at the Mulberry Bush School may unconsciously project their fears and anxieties into us.
However, as Wellings N. and McCormick E. (2000) argue, there is no projection without a hook to catch it. If the projection is one part of the story, then the hook is another. Exploring this process is therefore vital to understand the nature of our work and to deal with the difficulties that it presents day to day. At this point I feel tempted to establish whether I was motivated by altruism or egotism to join the Mulberry Bush School. However, while speculating on this subject would have made for an interesting and controversial discussion, I must confess, it would be of no interest and relevance for me.
I personally think no help can be provided unless you are in the position to give it. No help can be taken unless you are in the position to accept it. It is the act of giving that constitutes the motivation and the reward; it is not the aftermath of that action. Besides, the decision to help is dependent on whether a person who is helping perceives the receiver as needy and deserving of help (Latham, 2011).This is based on my values, standards and beliefs. Working with children at the school, thinking about their lives and the difficulties they have experienced is more than a sufficient reason for me to be there. Patoon and McMahon (2014) argue that the act of helping in society could take on a more altruistic form if interconnectedness in society is promoted and empathy and group identification are practiced. In societies, that places high value on interconnectedness and affinity, the act of helping is altruistic since people help in order to promote the common good of society (Hoffman, 2007).
Opportunity for personal growth
Something that became clear to me while writing this essay was the creation of reflective space run without the facilitator’s presence to promote worker personal and intellectual growth. As we know achieving independence is an essential part of a child’s journey to adulthood. Parents should support their children to become independent by allowing them to make their own mistakes. “Independence is not a static condition; it is a continuous conquest, and in order to reach not only freedom, but also strength, and the perfecting on one’s powers”. (Montessori, 1949, p. 90). Likewise the development of the community should coincide with the progressive disengagement of the “facilitators”. This would allow Therapeutic Care Workers to learn how to self-regulate and self-discipline as a part of their personal and professional growth.
While I’m not suggesting that The Mulberry Bush school refrains from offering their employees opportunity for career development, I feel however, that the key focus for enhancing engagement at work should be to help employees find purpose, identify opportunities that are challenging and help them stretch, learn and grow. I therefore wonder why the most common professional progression for a Therapeutic Care Worker is to acquire a managerial role, failing to acknowledge the therapeutic nature of our job. If the school provided constant training, beyond the FdA, it would not just, increase expertise and knowledge of its own members, but it would also improve and diversify the service provided to better support and equip our children to face difficulties in life.