By Jade Needham, Bachelor of Clinical Science
Independence is something we typically gain slowly throughout childhood, in the hope that by the time we have grown into adults, we will be self-sufficient and confident in taking charge of our destiny. Some struggle to find their voice or know their mind, while others lie at the opposite end of the spectrum, unwavering in their beliefs and decisions. I happen to fall into the latter category, and while it sounds glamorous knowing oneself so young, another way to put it would be that I am stubborn and often unwilling to accept advice. How could other people possibly know what is best for me better than I do?
I have always been independent, refusing to be carried by my parents on bushwalks at age 3, going on multi-kilometre solo creek walks at age 10, handpicking my future school at age 16. Perhaps you’re thinking my parents dropped the ball a little bit, but really they instilled me with the confidence to simply believe I could do whatever I wanted in life. I grew into an ambitious idealist who spent hours poring over future plans, only to change them weeks later into different but similarly grandiose agendas. While my direction in life was ever-changing, one thing remained the same: my resistance to considering the opinions of others about my life.
When it came to choosing a university course, this occurred entirely independently, without a parent or teacher or career counsellor consulted. I researched my little heart out to find the perfect course, entirely convinced I would find all the answers on my own. When I decided upon clinical science with the (very new) aspiration of becoming a doctor, I begrudgingly agreed to my dad’s advice to talk to my cousin, who is a surgeon and has walked the path I was about to commence. We chatted for about an hour, me listening to her experience as if it were a story rather than actionable advice for me to use. I had already made up my mind - I was going to be a doctor, no matter what she told me.
So, off I went on the rollercoaster that is clinical science. I will briefly summarise my experience in this course as follows: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should (and also, maybe you can’t). I haltingly realized I was not cut out to study the way a doctor needs to, nor did I enjoy it enough, nor did I want the work-life balance that came along with it. These realisations only came about two-thirds of the way through my degree, and by then I was committed to finishing what I had started (you can see the stubbornness permeates into many aspects of my life). Oh, if only I had listened to my cousin’s advice.
It was about then that I had my epiphany, which loosely occurred as “Maybe other people do have valid advice on how I should be living my life”. Shocking: people who have been alive for longer than me might know a little bit more than me about how best to get through life! I knew I needed to find a way to escape the independence I had buried myself in for so long. So, ever the planner, I decided to figure out how to change my tune and find as many people as possible to tell me what the heck I was supposed to do with a degree I only kind of liked and would not end up using for its intended purpose. My initial idea was actually to find a singular, proper mentor, but I quickly abandoned that due to insecurity about finding someone wanting to mentor little old me, as well as it seeming like an excessively arduous task. So, I took the easier way out and decided to reach out to a myriad of people.
This also required me to put on my big girl boots as I still battled with feelings of self-doubt, wondering why people would bother pausing their busy lives to talk to me about how to improve my own. To ease myself into it, I started by asking people who were least likely to refuse me. I sought out three of my uni professors who were the kind to tell you to reach out anytime and were generally nice people. I went into those first conversations with just a few questions in my head, but the most important thing I asked was for them to simply tell me their story. People are more comfortable and confident telling their own stories than just giving others advice, and the deeper connection that is generally fostered this way allows for a more sincere conversation. This remained true as I met with four more people from my PACE units; most tended to stray away from their professional lives and discuss things like their hobbies, health, families, and more. I learned that if someone is nice enough to agree to meet with you in the first place, they will more than likely be willing to share all sorts of good life advice with you.
I continued to branch out and ask different people to have a chat, and looking back now I can see that talking to so many distinct people turned out to be much more valuable than a single mentor could have ever been. Sometimes you need a reality check from someone who can see the forest for the trees, or someone who has walked your path before you. Talking to people who do things much different from what you are doing or what you want to do can be equally beneficial. Even if they do something you would never dream of, inspiring stories inspire regardless of how different they are from yours. They can provide a different perspective toward life and open your eyes to new horizons. Seeing someone else live a unique, full life might stir you to try something completely new and discover an unexplored passion.
The benefits of finding mentors – this being a loose term I use to describe someone you might meet for one hour on one occasion, as long as there’s some wisdom being shared - are almost endless. They can be a source of motivation and support and provide you with advice on what your next steps should be. They can offer you access to opportunities you might not have otherwise come across, and they of course can help you develop your professional network. In addition to those more work-related perks, you can grow in other ways. As I commented earlier, it requires bravery to reach out to people in the first place, and as you continue to step outside of your comfort zone you will eventually gain confidence. You will become more confident in your social skills, as well as who you are and what you want.
If you’re wondering where to find mentors, I advise following in my footsteps and asking around at university first. You can ask tutors or lecturers, PACE supervisors, or even executives of uni groups. There are also peer mentors, faculty mentors, and the buddy program available at Macquarie. You might also consider asking someone from your workplace, or another club or team you are a part of outside of uni. Do not neglect family members or friends as well, as they might have valuable advice they haven’t previously shared. Mentors will often offer you a blend of professional and personal guidance, so you can be creative about who you choose to talk to. You can also be creative about what you want to discuss with them, and you can scroll to the bottom of the page for some of my go-tos.
Escaping independence doesn’t mean you have to relinquish control of your life, instead, it provides you with more insight into how to discover and achieve your dreams. Maybe you’re like me, young and independent and sure of yourself, not used to looking to others for advice. Maybe you’re wondering what your next step is after uni, or maybe you’re just wondering what it means to be alive on this wild, great earth. No matter where you are, there is wisdom in taking a few steps back and taking to heart the stories of those who came before you. Independence is admirable and useful, but remember that it doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. Accept the gift of wisdom from others, and just remember to return the favour one day.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, my new plan, after receiving the advice of many, many intelligent and generous people, is to continue to work my part-time job once I’ve graduated and to step back from everything else and take a breath. I have learned there is no need to rush into the next chapter of my life and constantly plan for a grand future. Life is chaos and it is endlessly fulfilling to enjoy the little things.