Friday, 7 August 2009

Changing Direction

This week guest blogger, 'A Simpler Life' co-author Annabel Shaw, talks about a change of career...

I am often asked about why and how I came to change from working as a psychologist to working as a radiotherapist and what I've found is that each time I am asked this question, I come up with a slightly different story. Sometimes I explain my decision to re-train at the relatively late age of 42 according to who it is who's asked. Sometimes it all depends on how I'm feeling. I have three stories; a short uncomplicated story, a more complicated version, or the very long and difficult to follow because it's not yet worked itself out yet story - which is the story I hardly ever tell.

Of course there is some truth in all the versions.The short story goes something like this: "Oh, I get bored very easily and I was bored with psychology(!) and wanted to learn something new. I liked the idea of physics because I'd never studied it before and radiotherapy involves a great deal of physics. I also liked the idea of learning about cancer. Oh, and I wanted to help people."

The medium length more complicated version is less facetious. In this version I talk about wanting to change from dealing with purely psychological problems to problems that are more concrete. I talk about being fed up with 'psychologising', where one never knows if what you're doing is any help at all, and wanting to do something where the outcome is verifiably beneficial. Treating someone with a potentially life threatening cancer offered me the kind of instant, positive feedback that research psychologists hardly ever experience. In other words, I wanted pay-back. Selfish, I know.

The much longer and more difficult story includes all of the above, but also talks about the cancer scare that brought home to me that there were greater things to worry about than my own naval gazing had ever suggested. Experiencing the shock of a possible cancer diagnosis, undergoing all the tests, and re-tests, becoming aware for the first time of what is involved in cancer treatment and, for me especially, recognising the efforts of the staff who helped me through the process - these were all important factors in my decision to move from one form of 'helping others' to another.

So where did the wanting to help others come from? Selfishness again, I'm afraid - "It could be me - therefore I must help!" Of course my background in psychology was very useful - but not for the reasons most people think of first. I needed my psychology to help me deal with what I thought would be my biggest problem - my advanced age. Yes, I know 42 isn't very old, but it definitely feels old when my fellow students and later my work colleagues were often not much older than my children. I needed all the help I could get from them. And I got their help. Not once did they ever make me feel uncomfortable because of my age - or as one colleague said, " If you catch me asking for advice about zimmer frames, just hit me!".

I never hit her - but that's only because I don't agree with hitting children... - Annabel Shaw
We'd like to know: Have you ever changed career? Why?

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