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Getting into the Habit of Reflection

  December 19, 2016   

By Ross Fairgrieve, Biology student at University of Edinburgh

‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ may be a question you’ve come across in an interview. Interview coach, Pamela suggests that this is to help an interviewer understand your long term career goals and how your interest in a role might fit into your personal development plan. How do you give an honest and intelligent answer?

This article will focus on helping you learn to reflect on personal experiences and understand how you can draw on these in an interview to present a narrative of learning and self-awareness. There will also be practical suggestions, i.e. online learning resources and a helpful app to help you to keep track of your goals.

The first thing to remember is, personal development is a unique lifelong process and understanding your future plans may require you to reflect on past experiences to put your present into context.

Habit 1: Document experiences and think about what you can learn from them.

You might not realise how much you have changed until an experience or happenstance makes it known. For example, I believe my role as a student ambassador for MyPlus Students Club has in fact helped broadened my perspective on disability and helped me realise a passion for inclusivity that I never knew I had.

Prior to starting in this role, I was not fully aware of the challenges faced by disabled individuals in the employment process. However, through meeting students on campus and speaking to employers, my attitude has undergone a paradigm shift. I understand that mental illness can be just as debilitating as a physical condition and that parity is needed to highlight this distinction.

Moreover, I have realised that certain sectors of the graduate employment market are wholly inaccessible to students with such conditions. Now, in the cold light of day, this frustrates me to no end! Hence my involvement with MyPlus Students Club. I have gone from acceptance and inaction to awareness and proaction.

Habit 2: Be receptive to change and remember that you are not a finished product.

The most striking change in my personality, however, is markedly more subtle. As a teenager, I was ashamed of my mental ill health. As a high-achiever, I placed a lot of pressure on myself to be the best at everything I tried and I viewed the difficulties mental ill health presented as a weakness and barrier to my success.

Time, and experiences such as my ambassadorship, have softened, and moulded my character in many ways. I am now much more empathetic, and my perception of individual strengths and value has changed. Now I realise that an individual’s strength is defined by their ability to adapt to unexpected challenges and thrive in the face of adversity. The people I’ve come to admire the most are those who quietly and valiantly battle chronic conditions every single day of their lives. To me, such individuals are the very personification of what it means to be strong.

Habit 3: Reflect on the past, and learn for the future.

If such changes occur with time, then this naturally begs the question: what would I have done differently? If I am honest, there are certain things that I would have done differently, and I will discuss an example below. However, I would caution against over-zealous scrutiny of your past. There is a clear difference between reflecting maturely on one’s previous actions and actually living in the past (metaphorically of course).

Despite this, I regress. There is one thing I wish I’d done differently at university and that was to step out of my comfort zone a little more frequently. Having an anxiety-based condition, such as OCD, makes this easier said than done. But part of me does wish I had gotten involved with an outdoor sport society, or perhaps learned a new language. Such activities could have been achieved if I’d spent less time worrying I had left my door unlocked etc.

This said, I don’t bemoan my previous experiences, I embrace them. This allows me to grow as an individual. I can reflect on the past to help set goals for the future.

Habit 4: Embrace your personal development journey.

Employers are looking for more than the basic set of skills: punctuality, use of initiative, ability to work in teams, target setting. The list of useful abilities are endless, but on top of all of these, the most important aspect of them all is individuality.

What I mean by this is if you can get an employer to see you as an individual, rather than simply your disability, then you have already won the battle! Show them what unique insights and strengths you have developed as a result of your disability. Show them what advantages dealing with your condition has afforded. But, most importantly, show them that you transcend the label applied to you.

Habit 5: Share your development with others.

Many people dismiss today’s culture as one of myopic self-obsession, selfie sticks and handbag dogs; in many ways they are correct. It is possible, however, to use these things to our advantage. Social media opens up many opportunities. Rather than scrolling through Facebook to find out who has broken up with whom, use it to connect with others – with your condition, or without. Spread the word wide and spread it far – disability does not define the individual, they do.

Helpful Tools to Aid Personal Development

As with many things in today’s uber-technological world, “there’s an app for that” definitely rings true with this subject. However, there are also a myriad of books, online seminars and videos, too. These are the two I would recommend.

Mood-Juice is a site with detailed advice for sufferers of mental ill health. More generally, it contains a copious amount of personal development worksheets which anyone can access. They are helpful.

A useful app (for most smartphones) which allows you to make goals and see if you are sticking to them. I would recommend this strongly.

I’d like to end my guest blog entry with a quote from one of my favourite books – “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. In the book, a young girl (nervous about the future, and life in general) is comforted by her maid, Aibileen Clark. Aibileen tells the girl: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important”. Poor grammar aside, the message is powerful and unequivocal. Every single one of us is valuable, and you must never forget that.

These stories are tagged with: interview interview Personal Development learning learning self-awareness self-awareness