Julie Helen: I had to find a different way to get on in the world and learning has been that ticket

Julie Helen writes a weekly column for Women on Wednesday
Julie Helen: I had to find a different way to get on in the world and learning has been that ticket

It is a great privilege to work with others in my job, says Julie.

THIS week, I am taking part in a weeklong bootcamp in leadership and management. It is compressed from 10 weeks to enable people who are working full time to do the training.

I love learning, and it is only when I engage in a course that I remember just how much I adore it. Learning is the one thing that has enabled me to overcome the obstacles that having a disability presents me with.

In fact, when I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at 18 months of age, a consultant told my mother I probably would never walk or learn and that they were lucky because there was somewhere I could be placed and they should have more children and not put too much energy into me. Luckily, my determination was already showing itself and Mum and Dad always say they already knew I was a bright spark!

When I went to school, all the kids were running around playing and it was the first time I really felt left out of anything.

I very quickly decided that I had to find a different way to get on in the world, and learning has been that ticket. I have always been good at absorbing information and making it my own, with everything except maths, that is my Achilles heel!

As my career has progressed and I lead a team of four people, I relish the opportunity to support others. It is a great privilege to work with others in my job.

I often said I would never be a manager and be responsible for the work of others or for the buck to stop with me. Supporting others has turned into my favourite part of my role, which is something I never expected. My aspiration in my professional life is to lead others and to support people to play to their strengths and develop at their own pace.

As I delve into the area of leadership in particular, I realise it was necessary for me to be a leader and influence others at a young age. Often, when I meet someone, the first thing I have to do is convince them my disability does not overpower the other elements which make up my whole personality. I have to do that to make people take me seriously and certainly, growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, it was unusual and ground-breaking to do so.

Then, as a teenager and young adult, I realised I could make an impact for others beyond myself and that is such a fulfilling thing. As I get older, I understand more and more that I will always have something else I can learn, I can keep developing and keep evolving.

The aspect of leadership in the bosses I have had that I am most drawn to is that that each of them took a chance on me. When I have said so in rooms of colleagues I have been scolded for viewing those chances in that way, but the truth is some of those chances, particularly when I was green out of college, changed my life and gave me the opportunities that I wouldn’t have had without them.

The cold, hard fact is that hiring people with disabilities, like me, is still a bit unusual, so it takes leaders to see beyond the barriers and take the risk that others might shy away from.

Do you know what really excites me? I might get the chance to do the same for others some day, and I will absolutely aim for it!

* Julie writes a weekly column in WoW! every Wednesday.

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