What studying for (and deciding against) an alternative career taught me

In my living room a framed print of a painting by William Hodges, called A Waterfall in Tahiti, hangs above the television. Hodges painted the scene when he travelled with Captain Cook on his second voyage and I fell in love with it when I worked at the National Maritime Museum. The print was part of my leaving present. I resolved to visit the waterfall depicted, which is in the Tuauru Valley, one day.

In 2012 I decided to re-train as a sport psychologist. The dream was to qualify, get a job with the English Institute of Sport and become good enough to go to travel to the Olympics as part of the Team GB ‘Team behind the team’.  Only…it wasn’t quite as simple as that.

I had absolutely no background in psychology, so in 2013 I did an introductory course recommended by the British Psychological Society as a way of accessing the Sport and Exercise Psychology MSc and was duly given a place on the latter in 2014. There are two paths to accessing the MSc: the traditional route for those that had already studied psychology at degree level, and the ‘applied’ route, for those that had transferable qualifications and skills. I fell into the latter category.

There are several steps to becoming a fully-qualified sport psychologist: Introductory course/undergraduate degree – Sport Psych MSc – Conversion course – BPS registration. I was funding all of this myself and each stage cost more money. BPS registration alone would have been several thousand pounds. [If you’re weeping over the cost of CILIP Professional Registration, it’s an absolute steal compared with BPS registration.] There was a more straightforward (and cheaper) route, which was to do the MSc and join BASES (The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences) although it was made very clear that this was regarded as a less professional path and that those who chose it wouldn’t be regarded as ‘proper’ sport psychologists.

Several of my course mates were already practising psychologists. The introductory psychology course had given me some idea of the basic concepts, but many of my peers were already working in clinical fields. It would have been very easy to feel intimidated and I certainly experienced ‘Imposter Syndrome’.

To survive, I fell back on my well-honed information professional skills. If I didn’t know something I knew where to look to find the answer. I relied on being able to write myself out of trouble. I’d done enough presentations over the years to be able to put together a half-decent talk on a subject that I barely understood. My grades were decent (I got a Merit for all but one of the assignments.) I faked it until I (nearly) made it.

I made the right decision to finish the course before I embarked on the dissertation though. I’d decided on a topic (the impact of fitness trackers on mental health) but there isn’t a magic money tree, I don’t own a time-turner and I’d fallen completely out of love with the subject. Also, I realised that I still really liked (and was actually good at) being a Librarian.

I got the most out of the assignments that allowed me to use transferable skills:

  1. Designing a workplace activity intervention that focused on Prochaska and DiClemente’s stages of change model (I’d still like my organisation to implement my intervention)
  2. Writing and presenting a voicethread presentation on team cohesion in cycling (team building; getting the right personalities in the right roles at the right time)
  3. A case study of skill breakdown in diving (why things go wrong, why they get into your head and exploring ways to put them right)

I’m in the process of planning a family holiday for August 2018. I’m dreaming of cruises to Tahiti but I’m a. A Librarian b. I’m funding 4 people c. We can’t disappear off to travel the world d. I spent quite a bit of money on trying to become a sport psychologist.

Still, I think it’s absolutely fine for me to spend my downtime researching cruises, like this one, or this, or this. Some dreams aren’t meant to work out but teach you to appreciate what you already had. I suspect this one might have to wait until I retire. Or win Euromillions. Whichever comes first.


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