jo sensory story

February 10, 2017, by Carla

How I Found My Vocation

By Joanna Grace, MA Special Needs, 2013 and Founder of the Sensory Projects

Right now, it might not be clear what you’re going to next. It wasn’t for me. When I took my options at GCSE, I picked the subjects I was best at. When I chose my A levels, I chose the ones I enjoyed the most. When I picked my degree I picked what I wanted to study: philosophy.

It was not always a popular choice with those around me. People would ask:

  • Why are you studying that? – Questions beginning with why are popular with philosophers so this was always good for an existential tangent or two
  • What job will that get you? – This one I met with quotes about the 98% employment rate of philosophy graduates at that time

Although I was able to divert the attention of my questioners, I did not actually know the answer to their questions. Appearing headstrong masked a lot of doubts. What would I do?

I was good at studying. Hopping from GCSE to A level to degree level was easy for me. I fit well in the structured environment of education. I fit less well into the busy social life of the average student. I was quiet. I was a bit odd – who isn’t at university?

The start of a long road

As the end of university approached the path I had followed – half with my head; half with my heart – was finishing. Until that point, life had been clearly laid out; beyond, it was all rather nebulous. I considered staying to do a masters, but I knew I was considering it as a way of putting off the inevitable. It would actually be over a decade before I returned to university to start one.

This would be a very neat story if I could say some wonderful opportunity materialised and I landed my dream job. But it wasn’t that simple. Life never is. I continued making decisions with my heart. I chose jobs where I thought I could have a positive impact on the lives of others, attempting to play to my strengths. In education, identifying your strengths is easy: you just look at your grades. In life it is harder. It felt like trial and error.

I wanted to make a difference in the world; it’s an easy sentiment to express but harder to do in reality. I tried being an aid worker, but I lack the social confidence required to talk to people in desperate situations. I worked supporting children with special needs in mainstream settings; I loved the work, but could not pay the bills. I trained as a teacher and worked with children with profound disabilities, enjoying the work, but suffocating under the pressure of everything that came with it. Among all this trial and error I was acquiring skills, learning more about what I love to do and what I am good at, and it’s where those two things collide that the sweet spot exists.

Finding my vocation

Now, I have what I consider to be the very best job in the world. I work for myself running the Sensory Projects. Last year I was diagnosed as autistic, which makes sense of the quiet, oddness and not fitting so well into the social world of university or later work environments. the Sensory Projects cherry pick everything I am good at – mostly studying and making things out of old cardboard boxes – and require very little of anything else.

They are about furthering the inclusion of people with profound disabilities, and also people with later stage dementia. Running them is terrific fun. Everyday I pinch myself to see if I am dreaming as it’s such a privilege to do the work I do. I never get up and think “Oh no, work today.” I get up excited to start work.

My message to you

If you choose to pour your energies into things you love, ultimately you will be qualified to do something you love. It might take you a decade to find it like me, but you will end up doing something you want to spend your life doing.  Many of the people I now work on behalf of lead lives shortened by illness. This year three children I have worked with died. I was a part of the good stuff in their short lives. They taught me, and continue to teach me, how precious life is.

This is your life. Don’t spend it doing something for money. Live it for love.

If you’re curious, you can find out all about the Sensory Projects here. I’m also busy on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and always happy to connect – in the virtual world I am a socialite.

Are you graduating this year? If you’re worried about your next steps, the Careers team is here to help. 

Posted in Alumni StoriesPostgraduate Taught Students