Life is full of change and challenge, some expected and some not, some welcomed and some not, but what is inevitable is that choices must be made. My life has been full of forks in the road and that I believe is what has made it all the more exciting!
For me, the seed of determination and resilience was planted way back when I was at primary school, a little school that sat snug in a picturesque Irish fishing village on the east coast of Ireland, way back in the day of leg warmers and roller skates. Outside of school life was wonderful, endless weekends on a flat sandy beach searching for crabs and starfish in the rock pools, roller skating up and down quiet village roads, foam earphones on, and my yellow Walkman securely clipped on my belt. However, school life was a different story as it had the frequent tendency to trigger my survival response of which flight and freeze were my default. I had lots of friends and I was a very strong athlete who was regularly celebrated, so what could be the problem?
To explain let me give you some background of the Irish education system. In Ireland when you start school at the age of 4 years you learn how to speak, read, and write the nations beautiful native Gaelic language whilst at the same time you further develop your command of the English language. Now for most children this is a walk in the park but for me it was my Mt Everest with the worst weather systems coming in at the start and end of every week and to make matters worse I had no available tools to help me- there were no phonic tools in place to aid my understanding and if anyone knows someone with an Irish name you will appreciate that phonic tools would have been as helpful as a chocolate teapot- the sounds of Gaelic words make absolutely no sense! What about SENco support I hear you say- In the 80’s the answer to that question would have been “who are they?”
Every Monday started with ‘My News’ a brief account of your weekend written in English and then in Gaelic and every Friday there was a spelling test a jumble of English and Gaelic words, but we didn’t stop there, a Friday could not be complete without celebrating our mathematical skills with a times tables test! So, for someone who struggled with learning these languages side by side you can understand why I was not a big Monday or Friday fan! and why my flight and freeze radar was constantly on alert!
In an effort to hide the challenges I faced with reading, writing and spelling (thankfully I was a mathematical Whizz kid) and to show my strengths in creative thinking I would ask lots of questions and make lots of suggestions for ‘outside the box’ ideas. However, my teacher at the time did not value these characteristics as strengths and instead of nurturing them they were buried in criticism. One day when I questioned why the girls sat in on a Friday afternoon knitting and the boys went outside to play football I was quickly reprimanded and told I would never amount to anything- I felt vulnerable and exposed and, in my mind, I visualised a fork in the road, I could choose to withdraw, or I choose to prove them wrong!
In secondary school French was kindly added to my repertoire of languages however my hours of studying and finding different ways to memorise words through the use of various acronyms, although exhausting, it mostly paid off with only the odd public humiliation from a teacher for my spelling or reading faux pas, which was more often than not followed by a class of laughter- at times like this the vulnerability surfaced again and the fork in the road appeared, the choices cross your mind and I choose to ask for help from home and from an amazing teacher at school who valued my ‘outside of the box thinking’
Asking for help was not a weakness it was my greatest strength, it helped me manage a bump in the road and I strived forward again. It was around this time that I discovered a poem by Robert Frost “The road not taken” and another by Dylan Thomas “Do not go gentle into that good night” both resonated with me and my determination to dare to be different and to aim high.
When it came to choosing a University, I had all the courage to apply but I lacked the confidence to choose what to study. I found myself visualising the two paths diverged in the yellow wood just as Robert had described in his epic poem. I was stuck and couldn’t make a choice. I was frozen and scared of making a mistake. It was time to use the ‘Ask for help’ card once more and find a way to clear the fog from the paths before me.
When the fog cleared, I walked into a University in the UK and 3 years later I walked out with a distinction in my hand and a career in Nursing which took many turns over the years ahead and led me on an exciting journey through adult and children’s healthcare and then into the education sector.
They say that there are two important days in your life the day you were born and the day you discover what you were born to do.
My journey through the education system as a child and every fork in the road since has been preparing me to navigate the challenges I was yet to face.
I made the choice to enter the educational sector from healthcare because all through my hospital career as a nurse I wanted to make a difference and to help people. I knew what it was like to face challenges as a child and as a parent I also learned how to overcome adversity and to find healthy ways to cope when caring for my new-born baby facing emergency cardiac surgery. I had created my own set of tools and I wanted to share them with others. I discovered that my outside of the box way of thinking was telling me that I was an innovator, and I could bring change through all my experiences, knowledge and understanding. My MSc research guided me towards bringing change in children’s mental health education.
The school I choose to work in, in some ways choose me. On the day of my interview, I visualised myself there as a little girl and I knew with all it had to offer it would have found my talents and I would have been happy there. It even had the motto ‘aim high, be kind, and dare to be different’ everything I stood for was in that motto. Just like the pupils at the school I thrived there, I learned what was needed to make a difference in children’s mental health and wellbeing education and I set about bringing it to life in the form of iSpace Wellbeing a company I have now set up to bring Free mental health and wellbeing education to every school.
However, in creating this mental health and wellbeing solution for schools I presented myself with another fork in the road. I needed to decide, do I stay working at this wonderful school or do I focus solely on developing this education to support and help millions of children across the globe. They say sometimes the world sends you a sign and you are guided on your journey by your experiences and the people around you. At the school where I worked there is a tree in the middle of a path and I found myself stopping there recently and telling myself there was a choice to make, I decided to take the narrow path less travelled by and I stepped wholeheartedly into the world of a women in business doing social good for the benefit of many- as I took this step an announcement was made that my iSpace work had been awarded for innovation, it was a sign I was on the right path, I was doing what I was born to do.
Paula Talman | Founder iSpace Wellbeing