Editing as a Helping Profession

In elementary school, I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up. This was out of character for several reasons:

  1. I don’t read the plaques describing the history of each display in museum exhibits.

  2. I hate getting my hands dirty.

I’m not sure why I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist. Maybe I liked the idea of discovering things, or maybe I thought it’d be fun to dig things up out of the ground. As I grew older, I knew this wasn’t a viable career choice for me.

Throughout middle school and high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I was always told I was a good listener. My friends would come to me when they needed advice or a shoulder to cry on. Over time, I realized I wanted to go into a helping profession. I thought about becoming a teacher, but I don’t like being the center of attention, and the thought of standing in front of a classroom terrified me. Then, my senior year of high school, I took a psychology class and loved it.

Fast forward to junior year of undergrad. It was spring semester, and something hit me: there isn’t much a person can do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, yet that was what I was majoring in. A guest lecturer came to one of my classes and talked about helping women who were in abusive interpersonal relationships. She was a JD/MSW, meaning she had a law degree and a social work degree. I had heard of social work before, but I didn’t know much about it, other than what a person typically thinks of (taking children out of homes). I met with an academic adviser at my school, and after that conversation, I knew I wanted to go into social work.

Nine years later, I continue to practice as a licensed clinical social worker. I specialize in health and gerontology, and my specific focus is supporting those with memory impairment (usually dementia) and their caregivers. Social work is all about helping vulnerable or underserved populations with a social justice component. (As a side note, one of the most powerful things I read during my MSW program was Peggy McIntosh’s piece about privilege, which you can read here. It can be hard to read about our own privileged identities, and it’s natural to become defensive at first. I encourage you to read it with an open mind.)

Now, as editing has come to the forefront of my life and career, I’m reflecting on what it means to be an editor and how I see it as a helping profession.

  • Fiction editors help by sharing creative stories with readers.

  • Academic editors help by sharing research with journals.

  • Textbook editors help by sharing information with learners.

  • Website editors help by sharing content with consumers.

The list goes on. Editing may not get the accolades that writing does, but it’s important nonetheless. We’re the ones who are behind the scenes, polishing the writing to make it the best it can be while maintaining the writer’s voice.

And even though there isn’t a focus on helping vulnerable or underserved populations, I know that I can still be who I am as a person and as a social worker. This doesn’t change based on the line of work I’m in.