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What I learnt from stepping outside my comfort zone

  May 1, 2017   

By Alex Pizzoni, Accounting and Finance graduate from Durham University

When I think about disability-confidence, two things come to mind. One, being open to new opportunities and experiences; and two, accepting yourself (no, embracing yourself!) in every event and situation.

I’m going to tell you the story of how I came to develop the confidence and strengths to overcome the challenges that Asperger’s presented, by stepping outside my comfort zone.

1. The world is a lot broader than you think, getting work experience abroad can help you develop new skills and expand your network

I took the opportunity to do an internship in Shanghai in the summer of 2012. As I was travelling alone and staying with a local family in Shanghai, I got to learn the local language and experience a different culture. My host family showed me around and took me to some interesting restaurants to try the cuisine there. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and continue to remain in contact with the young couple to this day. I found out about the internship through a contact I made through family. Working in China was an extremely valuable opportunity and it enabled me to interact with people in an international setting and gain transferable skills for future employment.

As the saying goes “The World is Your Oyster” – whilst adapting to change wasn’t easy, I took the plunge and learned a lot about a new culture. Consequently, this increased my network and provides good contacts for the future, whom I can connect with for work opportunities. Recently, a colleague from China came to visit London and I had the pleasure of showing her around!

2. Societies are a bridge between social and academic life at university, so don’t hesitate to get involved

At university, I was very actively involved in academic societies such as the Student Staff Liaison Committee (SSLC) and Postgraduate Economics Department Committee for my master’s degree at Loughborough. I also participated in clubs and classes such as Durham University Brass Band, Languages for All (LFA) classes and Yoga Society. I decided to take up extra-curricular activities such as these and felt it would make my year worthwhile. Through volunteering in academic societies and extra-curricular involvement, this gave me a sense of achievement and a good balance between social and academic life. Additionally, it gave me the chance to integrate more with people and fellow colleagues better, and get to know the international student body at university. Participating in societies challenged me to step outside my comfortable social zone and enabled me to establish friendships around the world.

3. Finding local communities who share your interests can help you settle into a new city

Since moving to London, I have become accustomed to the city life. However, in a big and unfamiliar place, it can be hard initially to adjust and adapt to the lifestyle. Nevertheless, I have taken the opportunity to join a local group and I’ve made friends through there. I have since attended gatherings, BBQ’s and youth events for Catholics, thus being open to people and new events has been a plus in helping me make a smooth transition from campus life and find my sense of belonging in a new city.

(Taking the Ferris Wheel on a day out at Hyde Park overseeing the London horizon)

4. Taking the initiative to explore different activities independently outside of your studies will help you find what you love to do

I am a very independent person and feel I have received the necessary support to be able to cope. This has consisted of advice and kind words through family, friends and tutors which has carried me through the most difficult times. Having gone to boarding school and university, got involved in activities of my own accord (especially rock climbing and language/IT courses) and carried on with my own interests, I have risen to the challenge. What’s more, I have improved socially with peers outside the classroom and made friendships which I cherish. It is always important to do things you enjoy and remain positive. This is so important as you can discover what you really love to do through the pleasure of hobbies/pastimes.

5. Do your best in everything

I am very proud of my achievements in academics and have shown consistency throughout school/university life. I got a scholarship prior to joining Stonyhurst, did very well at GCSE and A-Level, and gained a bachelors and master’s degree in subjects of similar topics at Durham and Loughborough (2:1 and Distinction respectively). I also achieved awards in Academic & Attainment at Stonyhurst, and Academic Excellence at Loughborough. Recently, I did a course in Mail-Merge for Microsoft Word and was awarded a distinction. Academic work has indeed been challenging, for example in the areas of time management and sticking at work that is not so interesting. I feel that adopting my own strategies and setting deadlines has helped to persist and overcome these challenges. I believe the philosophy of doing your best in everything has reflected here (“Quant Je Puis” – Stonyhurst motto). This motto means to do the best you can in everything, literally “as much as I can”. I have been motivated to do my best even when reluctant, through asking others for advice, never losing focus on tasks and working very hard. I strongly believe my disability has helped me achieve my full potential by trying out unseen methods, spotting errors in documents/work and having the confidence that I have done my best.

It has been a great privilege to experience life’s opportunities as they come. Stepping outside my comfort zone on many occasions has allowed me to develop greater perseverance and a positive approach to doing things and I am very grateful for this. I have titled this year “The Year of Perseverance” and I will strive to do more to develop my abilities and make a difference.

What has caught my attention in the news about disability is that people with disabilities have wonderful talents and a lot to offer – such as athletes with a wide range of disabilities competing in the Paralympic Games! In many industries, companies have invested heavily in recruiting IT consultants to improve operations for the future. I believe people with autism have the right aptitude and skills for strategic and operational roles like these, as we can spot patterns, superior attention to detail and total honesty in communicating feedback.

I just wanted to finish with a closing note to inspire others out there. I have listed this in bullet points.

  • Don’t take things for granted
  • Appreciate what you have got
  • You should never let your Asperger’s hold you back
  • Believe in yourself and give everything your all
  • Get involved and grasp opportunities
  • You can be great no matter what others say
  • Do things that make you happy
  • Utilise your strengths to the full

Alex studied a master’s degree in Money, Banking and Finance at Loughborough University. He is currently undertaking a voluntary administrative role at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

These stories are tagged with: autism autism internship internship Societies Societies university life university life Working Abroad Working Abroad Developing Strengths Developing Strengths