February 7th, 2020: Be You

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February 2020

I know this is post is titled ‘February’, but I need to take you back to November 2019. Of course, this blog slacked most of last year, and I’m only just picking up the pieces. So, please bear with me whilst I complete the picture…

In November 2019, my business was going well, I’d been a student for a couple of months, and I believed I was on the BA (Hons) Counselling, Coaching and Mentoring course for the purpose of gaining more skills to enhance my business, allowing me to gain and work with individual clients, and not just group settings.

Our Programme Director (at the time), arranged some “Work Related Experience and Employability Forums”, where we would get the opportunity to hear from and speak to Alumnis about work-related experiences, and find out more about the different avenues the programme could lead us to. I hadn’t even considered any other avenues because I believed I had found my passion, my dream career path… (Of course, now I realise my naivety to the situation!) Although there hadn’t really been much study in the first couple of months, more of a case of finding our feet, etc, the first forum was held in October, and the second in November.  It was worth going to because listening to others about their university journey and career paths helped settle the anxiety that nothing is impossible, and that the course is most definitely possible and leads to endless possibilities! In the November’s forum, we were introduced to a very small team working on a new project being launched in Kent, called GradForce.

The aim of GradForce was to offer a free service for students to fill their skills gaps with free coaching, mentoring and workshops, and help them into a graduate job in small-to-medium sized businesses in the county. Now, being on a course which has “coaching” and “mentoring” in the programme title, it seemed only right to be filled with curiosity and wonder.

Initially, I was curious about it from an “employers” perspective, and thinking that perhaps I could consider looking at getting some assistance with my business, and hiring some graduates. (Though, eventually I’d come to realise that would be a whole new ball-game, and I didn’t really consider the logistics of it all!) So I decided to be open to the project as a potential employer, but also see what it would mean for me as a CCCU student – after all, I am one!

GradForce held a Christmas conference for businesses, as they pitched their plans to local businesses. I was lucky to receive an invite to the event (something I will be forever grateful for), along with students on the same course, but in their final year – Those who would be graduating and benefiting from the project first!

For me, it was extremely nerve-wracking, but I embraced the anxiety and put on my “work-hat”, because after all, in my mind, I was still thinking of the possibility of getting involved albeit as a (very) small business! It was an enjoyable networking event, and although at the end my mind went into overload and I found myself succumbed to anxiety, I really did appreciate every single moment of me being there.

I continued to follow the growth of the project, knowing how hard it can be to get set up and started, it was inspiring to see such a project develop and come to light.

Come January, I’ve had to make the heart-breaking, but responsible decision to close my business for the welfare of my rabbit, Robbie (That’s the reality when working with animals… Animal welfare always comes first, as it should – and he’s definitely much happier now!)

So since then, I’m throwing myself into everything I can to keep focused on the positives, which have included taking part in the training to be a Peer Mentor and Peer Assisted Learning Leader, which was held during a ridiculously long break between semesters, but seemingly fell in a designated week called “Personal Development Week”, yet I’m also aware of my incessant cycle of expecting too much of myself, that I cause myself more harm than good – crash and burnout – before starting up that cycle again… A pattern I am all too familiar with, but for some reason in January it was something I needed to do, in order to keep going, learn to accept the loss of my business, and come to realise that I’ve also gained so much from the experience of having a business, but that it’s also allowed me to think outside the box to a world I may not have even explored – And trust me; I am so happy now… I’m happy that Robbie’s happy, and I’m happy that I’m happy, because I feel excited at the thought of my next chapter. Though, please don’t get me wrong, I do still very much have my “episodes”, and that’s okay. It’s okay, I just need to remember the intensity continuum, and bring it down a notch safely.

Anyway, I go off on a tangent, and I could keep going, but today I want to write about today, and the lead up to today

I heard from a member of the GradForce team, mid-January, inviting me to take part in a GradForce Student Conference Focus Group at the end of the month, where some of the students would reflect on experiences and expectations of careers, for the team to create an engaging conference for the CCCU students, I was really excited to have been invited, yet again! It also happened to fall on the day the ‘Partners in Learning 2020’ (PiL2020) conference was happening at the university , which I was really excited to attend because it sounded so interesting (and it was…. It was amazing!). It was being held after the PiL2020 conference, which was a relief, and meant I could do both! The focus group was a really good experience, and I was so grateful to have been offered the opportunity to take part.

Gradforce didn’t have long to put the student conference together – Just under two weeks in fact, and having seen them pull out the workplace conference like magic, I knew that this would be a success too. The posters and flyers were soon found dotted around the university grounds,  and with the date looming, I didn’t think I’d be able to attend because it overlapped with a seminar, and I’d arranged a meeting with another member of staff at the sports centre (after a poor attempt at StudyFit – Though, I may not have attended the gym, I have continued to do the recommended exercises to help me with building strength, and hopefully – eventually, better balance!) so, as you can guess, I was feeling disappointed, but I knew I’d find out about it on LinkedIn, and I had explained I wanted to hear all about it!

So, today, (“Finally!” I hear you scream!)… The date of the event.
I was aware of it being today, and I had been internally preparing my messages to the team, so when our lecturer said we were going to finish today because of the event, you could imagine my delight that I’d be able to make it. Though, that was one barrier sorted, the other was the meeting which was arranged. I sneakily managed to rearrange to an earlier time, whilst I was in the seminar via a swift email, asking about rescheduling to an earlier time. Now usually I’d panic about arriving late to the conference, but having some idea of what to expect, I knew I’d be able to manage the anxieties… I attended my meeting, and then went straight to the conference. I was surprised to see I was the only student from my class there, but being aware it’s a conference aimed at graduates, I could semi-understand.

I spent some time with the Level 6’s, and during the conference, I realised something; I realised that my confidence is growing. I have no shame in admitting that the first semester for me was extremely difficult, and I saw myself in some very dark places.

I posted this on my LinkedIn about the Gradforce Student Conference, and I thought it would be important to share here:

I missed the beginning due to another meeting, but was so pleased to be able to make it to the 1 o’clock start!

My confidence is growing, and I’m starting to believe in myself. It’ll always be an uphill battle, but I’m going to keep climbing. I know where I want to be now – I’ve never been so sure in my life!

The most important part of my university course is that it is teaching me about resilience. I’m always going to have set-backs because of my mental illnesses and physical disabilities, but I’m learning to bounce back quicker than before.

Over the next couple of years, I hope to be able to take it all in my stride, and accept that I am good enough.

Being able to see this project grow has shown me that they have the belief in the students achieving, and that includes me. I need to start believing that I can do this.

I’ve had so much support from the Level 5 and 6 students and many academic and wellbeing staff, and I am so grateful for the amazing opportunities I’ve already had the pleasure of being a part of!

The future is ours…

#fairerfutures #GradForce #wellbeing #opportunities #cccu #resilience #peersupport

(And tagged some of the team I’m “LinkedIn” with!)

Erica Trinity Terry-Rose LinkedIn, 07/02/2020

The response to the post has been incredible. Still unbelievably thankful, I continued my gratitude:

Thank you!

I had a really difficult transition to university, and I didn’t see me making it to Christmas.

Things like attending the launch of GradForce in December were little steps in helping spur me on, and making me realise that there is a future.

I’m so thankful to every single one of you, and of course our PD at the time, [name removed], for organising the Employability Forums, so you could attend and share your vision!

Now that I know what I want to work towards, I can begin to tailor my journey and be guided down the right, glorious path!

I continued to write about a challenge accepted and completed – I discussed something with the Level 6’s about how I am learning to identify my skills, and they said that I should share with the room. So, speaking out loud in a room full of strangers – The majority all close to graduating – I explained what I’m doing to identify my strengths and room to grow from my feedback, via a ridiculously organised spreadsheet – and everyone in the room clapped. It was just what I needed. It was something I’d shared the day before in class, that I feel may have incurred some unfortunate judgement, and hey presto, anxiety shows its face again.

One thing I have noticed lately is that I am finding my voice again.

I didn’t have a voice for a long time, and it took years of therapy for me to find it. I didn’t realise until recently, that I feel I had lost it again.

I may have been able to run a business and get to where I am today, but I didn’t realise I’d lost a little bit of myself along the way. Something is changing, and I can’t pinpoint what it is, except for the fact that I’m hopeful. Yes, I am hopeful for the future. I have found a sense of direction, and I’m still working on that sense of self, and I feel this time, I’m going to get there. I’m going to keep being me. No matter what the journey, it’ll always be an adventure!

Fearne Cotton – Happy Place – Be You. Unique, Brilliant and Incomparable

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Thank you.

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