Find your niche but don’t place yourself in a box — Having a niche is great and essential when starting out as a professional; however, I wish someone told me that it is okay and positive if this shifts and evolves over time. With this pandemic my primary age category has changed a few times now depending on how things in the world are shifting. Although I specialize in working with children, I also realized I do a pretty darn good job working with adults as well which I had previously veered away from.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing BriAnna Simons.
BriAnna Simons is a clinical social worker with a private practice in the picturesque South Shore, Nova Scotia. She is the author of the upcoming book Emotionally Attuned Parenting — An Easy + Fun Guide to Helping Your Child Through the Tough Stuff of Life. As a mother of two children and wife, she knows all too well the balancing act of family life and having a career.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My childhood is full of memories, some are still so vivid and clear like watching a movie. Although there were lots of great family memories there were also some really tough experiences, and I had to grow up faster than a child should have to. As with many individuals in the helping profession, much of my character was built through those experiences, born and acquired resilience, a desire for change and help others move through adversity. Looking back, I am thankful for those early childhood experiences as they have given me perspective and lived experience which can sometimes be more valuable than formal education.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is by Eleanor Roosevelt, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” This has been relevant for me throughout my life. I have always had dreams, passions, and goals and for the most part I achieve them — I can be stubborn at times. But it is because of this mentality of being the only person responsible for the outcomes in my life, that I have not allowed a victim mentality to set in or hold me back regardless of what played out in childhood.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Strangely as it may sound, the book that has had the most significant impact on me is one I read in Grade 8 as part of our English studies. It is called The Giver by Lois Lowry and I have even read it to my young child because I wanted to read it again as an adult, and it was just as good as I remembered! This book resonated with me so much because it highlighted this idea that at times we wish for a utopian world without pain and strife, but with that comes the removal of emotional depth — the low lows and the high highs. It is within these experiences that we gain wisdom and awareness of ourselves and others. I remember reading the book and feeling like the main character Jonas, with a different level of insight and awareness to what was taking place around me on a social and emotional level. There was comfort in the messages of this book.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the pandemic began, I was working part time at my private practice BriAnna Simons Therapeutic Services. I was renting an office space in Chester, Nova Scotia and worked mainly evenings and weekends to accommodate both my home life with two pre-school children and the schedules of the families I provided services to. I primarily provided child and play-based therapeutic services as well as helped parents develop co-parenting plans.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When the pandemic turned our lives on its head, I first was in denial that it would be a long-lasting change. With the restrictions that were put in place locally due to COVID-19 I wasn’t able to practice as I had been with children and families coming to my office. Never did it cross my mind that I could be a “professional” without an office. Since graduating and accepting my first position as a social worker I’ve always worked in an office. Four walls, enclosed, and predictable. Life was no longer predictable and I needed to make some decisions to pivot my practice so that I could continue to make an income and also continue to meet the needs of the children and families needing support. I held onto what was at the core of my practice and it wasn’t the walls that surrounded me. My ethics, my social work core values, my down to earth but direct nature, my knowledge and experience working with children and families, and my passion for the therapeutic process all exist outside of those walls. I first shifted my therapeutic services to a telehealth platform by phone and online video sessions. This worked well for parents and adults, and some of the youth I had already been working with. But the most significant thing I did to pivot was letting go of my office space. it surprisingly felt freeing. I shifted my practice outdoors, by phone, and online and created an even bigger space to move, breath, and grow with the children and families I work with. I now get to sit in beautiful spaces outdoors, provide mobile services, and reach people in places of the province that can be remote and lacking of sufficient supports. For this I am thankful, and feel freedom to allow my private practice to expand in ways I hadn’t considered before.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I think my specific “Aha moment” came from the realization that the only place that was not being taken away from people during the pandemic was being outdoors. It was considered the safest space. Children were still allowed outdoors so that is where I needed to be, to meet them where they are and continue connecting. I am a promoter of outdoor play anyway so shifting my practice outdoors was a natural transition; although it wasn’t an intuitive thought, based on what I had previously believed it meant to be a professional — an office with four walls.
How are things going with this new initiative?
This professional pivot has been well received by all. Every parent has said what a good idea it is, it’s so great to be outdoors and have freedom to move. I have chosen locations that suit the needs of those I work with providing some shelter from the weather, beautiful locations, places to play, walk, and move, and locations that provide some privacy for the work we do. I also have consistent bookings for my phone and online video sessions which also provide a secondary option if the weather is not cooperative. So far people are loving it; a breath of fresh air so to speak.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Speaking broadly and where I am today there are so many people I am grateful for, each one of them have had a role in the path I’m on as a professional and human being. If I had to choose though I would definitely choose my kids. Reflecting on my own childhood and then raising them with a desire for better, they have been the inspiration to the work I do. I draw from my experiences as a parent, how I bend and mold my roles and responsibilities as a working mom, and just the validation they give even when there are rough days managing it all.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I think the most interesting story would be the time I was unprepared for the weather. I hadn’t thought ahead well enough and for my last session of the day I was meeting an individual for a walk. That day, I forgot my phone at home (which I never do) and that made things even more unpredictable. It started raining more than the light rain it had called for and I wasn’t sure if the person I was meeting was trying to reach me to see if we were still on for our session. I showed up and they did as well, as they hadn’t heard otherwise. They were more prepared than I was with their long rain coat and umbrella. By the end of the walk I was drenched but we still had a good session and that experience taught me that I need to be prepared for all weather no matter what the forecast is calling for.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You don’t need a formal office space to be a professional — It’s okay to think outside of the box and do things differently than others. Often times it’s the innovations of how we practice that allows us to get noticed; separates us from the crowd if you will.
- Find your niche but don’t place yourself in a box — Having a niche is great and essential when starting out as a professional; however, I wish someone told me that it is okay and positive if this shifts and evolves over time. With this pandemic my primary age category has changed a few times now depending on how things in the world are shifting. Although I specialize in working with children, I also realized I do a pretty darn good job working with adults as well which I had previously veered away from.
- A work life balance doesn’t exist — You’ll never have an equal balance, it’s impossible to predict the demands of life. Although sometimes it will feel a little more equal striving for this unattainable balance can create additional pressure and the feeling of failure when it doesn’t come together. Instead I wish more focus was put flexibility to ebb and flow with the changing demands and building in ways to rejuvenate and energize amidst the demands of home life and work.
- Don’t let yourself get too comfortable — Getting too comfortable no matter what career breeds stagnation. Growth and excellence don’t come from doing the same thing all the time to the point you don’t even need to think about the process anymore. There are times when doing my job became easy and that is when I learned I needed to make a shift, learn something new, or start pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
- You don’t have to be perfect and you will make mistakes — I think there is a really high standard for professionals which is great and necessary for the most part but we are still human. I have always been a perfectionist which comes from a childhood of unpredictability. I am slowly learning that perfection doesn’t have to be the goal and in fact it creates rigidity, and for many reasons that’s just not functional when running a business.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I know it sounds simplistic but a message shared by a friend that has helped over the last few months is telling myself, “I’m doing the best that I can with what I have in front of me at the moment”. Giving myself a little grace.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
For me this one is easy as I just finished writing a book all about this. If I could inspire the world to honour and value childhood our world would be in a much better place. We would have healthier and more functional adults who experienced better education and health outcomes. We would have more meaningful and connected relationships with one another. As a whole I feel our society would be more functional if we put greater importance on children. You can read more about this in my book Emotionally Attuned Parenting — An Easy + Fun Guide to Helping Your Child Through the Tough Stuff of Life which will be released in the new year.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to have lunch with Brené Brown, I’m sure we would have lots to chat about! I value her ability to influence so many people with her intuitive and down to earth knowledge. I hope that I can have a fraction of that in the time I have left on this earth as I strive to improve the lives of children. Afterall, we depend on it.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can follow me on social media. On Facebook I can be found at BriAnna Simons Therapeutic Services and on Instagram @briannasimonstherapeutic. They can also learn more about me at www.briannasimonstherapeutic.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!