Sunday 11 December 2016

Dr Ciara Kelly: Get your working life right - even if it means giving up your career

Our top writers continue to face their fears and chase their dreams of change. Results are mixed - Sophie survives her first stand-up gig, Brendan learns that when you least want to smile is when you most need to, and John stays afloat for half a length - and our GP champions career change

Ciara Kelly

Published 16/11/2015 | 02:30

Choices: The night Ciara Kelly came home from Italy with a new life plan, her father died unexpectedly. The plan faded, but the idea of change remained. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Choices: The night Ciara Kelly came home from Italy with a new life plan, her father died unexpectedly. The plan faded, but the idea of change remained. Photo: Gerry Mooney

This week we're talking about making changes in your working life. Many of us get on a career-path and stay on it, a bit like a rat in a wheel - heading from one predictable milestone to the next without ever really assessing whether or not this is right for us. Making changes at work, jumping off that pre-ordained road can be very daunting but ultimately very rewarding. Doing what you enjoy or what's right for you is the best way to spend your all- too-short life. Even if that means giving up your career altogether!

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I remember the first time I realised I could actually choose my own path. I was doing psychiatry in Tallaght Hospital, and the consultant I worked for gave me a book. "I think you'll like this," she said (it's always very unsettling when you hear that from a psychiatrist.) The book was old, second-hand and written in the 1930s. The story of San Michele is a memoir of a Swedish doctor, Axel Munthe, who had a busy medical practice in Paris but who moved to Capri and started to look after the locals. They paid him with chickens or a loaf of bread and his whole life changed and he realised he was much happier there, living simply. She was right - I did like it. I loved it. And the following year I went to Italy for six weeks and pottered about eating zucchini flowers and pasta with sage and looked at the prospect of setting up a small practice there that would cater for English-speaking patients.

The night I came home from Italy - filled with those big dreams - my father died unexpectedly and all thoughts of leaving Ireland left my head. What stayed with me, though, was the germ of the idea that I could move my life and my career in a direction I actually wanted. Grief and family commitments shelved things for a long time in that regard, but the seed was planted - that I could choose what I did with my work life. Because choice is inherent to change. If you never think about what you'd like to do, what you'd choose in an ideal world - then how can you ever attempt it? We spend the vast majority of our time working. Isn't it important that we work at something satisfying, stimulating, or, at the very least, worth the effort? So ask yourself right now if your work-life is what you want? And if it isn't? Think about what is, and then plan how to get from A - where you are - to B - where you want to be. Of course that's not simple. Often, you might know you don't like A, but aren't sure where or what B is. But moving away from what you don't like towards stuff you do like is enough. You don't have to have an exact plan, you just need a vague trajectory!

My first career change was many years earlier. After I left school, I did a Commerce degree. We were in yet another recession then and I thought I might get a job out of it. I was studying economics and finance, and very quickly I realised I'd made a giant mistake. I was bored. I didn't like the subject matter, but more importantly I had discovered it was important to me that I did something I felt good about and that wasn't going to be chasing profit margins. (Apologies, economists and financiers - one of the important things to remember in choosing a career path is, each to their own!).

I didn't know what I wanted but decided it needed to be more challenging and altruistic. (I know, I know - but you have to remember I was 19!) I decided that what was missing for me was medicine. I took the uncharacteristically sensible decision of finishing my commerce degree, but went into medicine straight after that, and never looked back.

I didn't know back then if medicine was really for me but it was a move in the right direction. And turns out it suited me very well. Were there speed bumps along the road? Of course there were! And there were tweakings of direction. I was torn between obstetrics and general practice. I'd an itch to teach that needed scratching. I wanted to work very close to home because if you work full time with four kids that makes it easier. But little by little, I wriggled myself into the niche I wanted to be in.

Media work came much later along the way and saved me from floundering in the wilderness of middle age, small children and low self-confidence. What I learnt from that was, take your opportunities and run with them! Yes, you'll feel stressed. You won't feel you're able for it. And you'll feel you're going to make a bags of it. But that doesn't matter. That's just your head putting obstacles in your way because you fear change, fear failure and have general inertia. I can sum up my work philosophy with the following tips: TIPS: Try to do what you enjoy and avoid what you don't. Embrace new challenges; they're good for you. Run with any opportunities that come your way - what's the worst that can happen? And don't let fear of failure or success hold you back.

Next week we'll be focusing on relationship change and how to make yourself happy. Good luck. @ciarakellydoc #changeispossible

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