Anyone been on Instagram lately? If you have then you’ll have caught on to the topic in my mind just from the caption of this post. I get there’s quite a hype but I LOVE stuff like this, purely because I love imagery; pictures new and old tell me a hundred tales, even about someone I know nothing about.
Trying not to let my FOMO take over, I’ve taken a few hours out of my incredibly slow day to join the hype and browse through my ‘growth’ over the last decade. However, I’d rather not dwell on the image I held for the majority of those years because lets face it, 17 year old me with no knowledge about perfecting make-up alongside completely disappearing eyebrows with a side of ‘big ear’ anxiety would have no competition against the 17 year olds of 2019. Ultimately, the challenge graced me with the epiphany that this year is the first year in 10 that I haven’t asked myself the question ‘What am I going to do with my life?’.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – That cliche question that comes as easily out of folks faces as when are you going to get married or have a baby? My standard answer: Something arty. Ever since I was little I have possessed a creative flare (even now I still dedicate a full-to-the-brim cupboard to cuttings of coloured card and sharpie pens), not that I was ever particularly good at anything artistic but I can remember being at uni and having to write a magazine column and absolutely falling in love with the brief that I only ended up with a very mediocre grade because I went completely off track and forgot to stick to all those ‘essential structure and formatting requirements’. I soon quit that course and reflecting on those instinct reactions caused me to focus this 10 year challenge on my career, because if someone asked me where I wanted to be in 10 years from now back in 2009, I wouldn’t have chosen this (in fact, I didn’t even know it existed), but my giddy aunt I wouldn’t change it.
Here’s the low down on believing in yourself and fuelling your body with ambition and determination, whilst riding the storm crying tears of ‘I can’t do it’ alongside many girl boss moments.
2009 After completely flunking an enrolment interview at Norwich Arts School, I soon took my head out of a high place and accepted an offer at Lincoln Uni to start the following year studying graphic design alongside all the other want to have a uni experience and get drunk kids with average B-D GCSE’s (No offence Lincoln, it was me not you).
2010 I survived a year of absolute hell. As a female fresher late to the party with all accommodation taken except a flip-the-coin choice of sharing with 3 third year lads or 3 heavy smoker girls, I opted to spare my lungs and prepped for a year of washing up and muffled through the wall sex-noises. 2 Months later I caught the kissing disease and just wanted to go home. I didn’t even get to experience the kissing, just the disease and 4 months of glandular fever was enough to make me feel my life was over.
2011 The Quit. Enough was enough and soon enough in fact I became aware that my attempt at Neil Buchanan’s Art Attack wasn’t comparing to my fellow students that had part time jobs designing TESCO’s advertisements. I told my family that university wasn’t for me and announced the news to them on our family holiday in America (probably not the best holiday celebration in hindsight) two weeks before I was supposed to start my second year.
Luckily, Jason softened the blow by announcing I had a plan up my sleeve that was 10x better than the one I was about to close the door on (What he actually meant was, she’s spent the past 4 hours in this las vegas hotel room googling entry level requirements to the UEA so she can fumble her way through an awkward conversation thats about to happen in order to not make herself look like a total dropout. Thanks Jason – I think?).
2012 I decided to become a nurse… I cared (still do care!) about everyone and always cried at the TV which was enough to tell me how I should be spending the best part my working life. However, after my 4 hours of googling, turns out I had no hope with my current experience: UCAS points in design only skills, no A-levels and pretty poor science GSCE grades. oh, and no practical experience in anything other than shop floor underwear arranging 4 hours a week. Something had to change and only I could do it. I knew a hospital wouldn’t employ me without any experience in patient care so I got a job as a Home carer for a year and hat’s off to everyone I worked with along that journey! Some of the most hardworking ladies I think I have ever come across. One lady in particular I worked doubles with, who I actually think I learnt the most life skills from in the shortest space of time; how to truly look after people that relied on me, how to make the best scrambled egg with cheese and tomato and how to laugh when doing the most tiring of tasks, day in day out (all for absolute peanuts may I add). When I was done with my shifts, I’d go home and complete online assignments through the open university to try and get myself some form of qualification that would get me onto a degree course.
It was later that year that Jason’s mum found a trainee position at the hospital’s radiotherapy department and told me to go for it. I had nothing to lose and just some large competition to go against but thankfully, my 12 months caring experience, dedication to study in my own time and probably the fact I couldn’t stop grinning like a cheshire cat all the way through my interview got me the job. Top tip: If anyones thinking of a career in healthcare, ask to visit their unit for a day and admit your interested in the profession, then take in as many bloody notes as your brain will possibly remember.
2013 The role I was successful in was full-time with a days study leave to attend university for a total of 2 years in order to gain enough knowledge and skills that eventually would allow me to work as an Assistant alongside Radiographers in the delivery of radiotherapy treatment for cancer. Unfortunately, a few months after I started, the university had stopped the assistant’s course due to too few students to make it worth the cost of running. My managers had to then find another course at a university ANYWHERE in the UK that would except me, otherwise my job would be released. Luckily, a place was found at Sheffield Hallam, who after much deliberation had agreed to accept me, despite being Norfolk being located way outside of their ‘budget zone’. I started my employment with the NHS in October 2012 and didn’t commence this course until Sept 2013. So in the meantime I had to work in the department, pretty much as as a ‘helper’, learning as much as I could in 12 months ahead of my academic start the following year.
2015 Summer of 2015 rolled around and I had finally qualified as an Assistant Practitioner. Despite the course being for an assistant’s only role, it was the first two years of a radiotherapy and oncology degree and to me, as hard as finding a needle in a haystack, or quite frankly a marble in a large ball bit. I was emptying balls for days in the search for that moment a shiny glass ball of knowledge would suddenly find me and all make sense. Well, eventually it did and above all else I fell in love with the hard work, practically and academically that I didn’t want to stay as an assistant.
2016 Here came the challenges. I had worked as an Assistant now for just over a year and throughout this year there had been tears and tantrums, hopes built up and let down. It was the year I like to nickname ‘the Yo-Yo’. I even got married this year, the best thing to happen in my life to date, but I was waiting on the news that funding had been approved and a place had been accepted for me to finish the full degree – something assistants aren’t supposed to do. Here’s the part where I thank my managers, with them putting up with my persistence in wanting to progress further and not just telling me to get on with my job, we made it happen. The reason it was so difficult is that I wasn’t allowed to fund the final year myself, because I was bound to a contract with the hospital, meaning I couldn’t leave work for 2 years after becoming an Assistant and also because the first two years of my degree had been funded for by the hospital, so the third needed to follow suit. Basically, I had to convince a large board of money-managing folk high up in the hospital that I was worth investing another £9,000 in to make me a radiographer. Shit. That also meant that I couldn’t fail the course – if i did, I’d have let a lot of people down, not to mention wasted a lot of money. The pressure was huge but I’d asked for it so I had nobody to blame but myself if it all went wrong.
2017 It began. I enrolled at SHU one more time and joined onto the third year of their degree programme. Talk about daunting, staring back at a full class of students that knew each other like the back of their hand, except me. Hiya. I’m over here just defying all odds and hoping I don’t drown in the process!
As I was still employed full time, I used 28 days annual leave to attend lectures and studied in the evenings and at weekends. It was the most demanding physical and mental working year of my life, no doubt about it. My body was exhausted by the end of it and I remember picking up the phone to my sister, just howling and wondering what the hec I had taken on. Jason was a complete rock during this time, theres no doubt about it that our relationship came to a period of him waiting on me hand and foot getting very little thanks, bringing me cups of tea in the middle of the night between shifts because I had to get a dissertation written and had no annual leave to take to do it. I am aware it all sounds dramatic, but it was.
2018 Completed it. I didn’t attend my graduation (after all that) but it was my choice. I was so proud of what I had achieved but the relief of it all being over was enough and I just wanted to get on with my life after feeling that it had completely stopped for 12 months. Interview day came around, potentially the turning point between my time as an Assistant and the prospect of being a fully qualified Therapy Radiographer. I was as fidgety as a bag of worms and I’m pretty sure sweat was dripping up, down and in-between every organ in my body. I got a phone call two days later asking how they think I had performed. I think I slid across the hallway laminate all the way through that telephone conversation in anticipation before they asked if I’d take a band 6 promotion. Shocked is not the word that comes close to my feelings at this point. How did they want an assistant to progress straight to a senior role without the in-between bread and butter stage?? By this point, I’d worked for the department almost 6 years and now, just over 6 months into my new role I feel the most settled I have in 10 years. The best part of the whole process is that not only have I found myself in a career that I love, but I have made the best lifelong friends a girl could wish for. Liann, Tess, Jodie & Jess, you are the best feel-good kick-ass girls that anyone would be blessed to meet, let alone drink with.
Being proud of our achievements is not to rub it in peoples faces over social media, but to celebrate pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone to better ourselves. A good start in creating fire in someones belly is knowing that someone else has tried and achieved it.
P.S. this post is sponsored by a loving husband, family and amazing team of colleagues. I will forever be in your debt.