On Being Important

An account of how I learned to be a helping professional – not an instruction manual, but a prompt for you to explore your own story .

If examining personal histories was a key starting point for my professional life, other themes and issues also became significant at the outset of my career.
The individual that was being observed was of course by no means only the case that might come before me as a probation officer. I was also observing a different self that was trying on this professional skin. It was a curious time because of course in a way you know next to nothing at the outset, but you find yourself being treated as an authority. Magistrates and judges, let alone those you supervise, look to you to have some kind of expert opinion or advice.
It took many years to stop being surprised by this. Some six years into my career, as a member of a small team, I supervised a mature student who was around my own age. Our team manager was, to me at least, a dominant force in the team and I felt myself to be a rather junior apprentice. Talking to the student some years later, I realised that it had never occurred to me that I would have influenced her learning – the team manager had seemed the source of authority for the whole office. It was a shock to discover how my understanding of the student’s experience had been distorted by this assumption.
What I find now in looking back over my work experience, is a paradox. I have a clearer sense of being an authority figure, but I have had times when I feel ‘not there’ at all. I want to write about the second half of this paradox later, but the first stage was to learn about ‘being important’.

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