Looking back as a Therapist over the last 6 years or so of my life, I must confess that if someone came to my office and shared the same story with me, I probably wouldn’t believe them!!!! My skepticism wouldn’t surround the person, or even the storyline, but the fact that someone had been brave (or mad) enough to make such a vast ‘mid-life’ transition. So when reading this story please feel free, as I would, to ‘dis-believe’, that is your prerogative, but I ask you to take just one message away with you:
“People can change their lives, their direction and their purpose.
They can find ‘Who they really are’.
Here is my story:
Coming from a stable family background in the countryside of England, and entering into factory work straight from comprehensive school, I never would anticipate what was ahead of me in the years to come. I spent my late teens, twenties and thirties working within the leather industry, of which provided a reasonable challenge and satisfactory lifestyle. Yes I flourished within that environment, gained academic knowledge and travelled – it got me to Oz after all!! But something was missing… Something that I probably chose to ignore until it had grown to such a proportion that it had to be responded to.
Some 12 years ago, I was approached by the HR dept. within the factory that I was managing. They had nominated me for a volunteering role with the local Police force… working with ‘young offenders’. “Why me?” I questioned. This was the start of something big. This ‘thing’ inside me, this ‘skill’ of which even though was in me, was invisible – but not to others. Being me, I took up the challenge; went on the training, got involved with the kids and absolutely loved it!!!!! This was the start…. the start of this ‘thing’ being noticed, being nurtured and ‘fed’. I realised that I had something else to offer, rather than running factories and ‘lining people’s pockets’. A new “me” was starting to take shape.
I continued to work in my primary role whilst also investing time in the kids, I was thriving!!! To this and maybe as an outcome of this personal discovery, I met my wife, Karen. To this day I believe that Karen’s inclusion in my life had provided the necessary environment for me to decide to take such a huge leap of faith. I thank her for that…..
In October 2002, I received a call out of nowhere; “How about managing a factory in Australia?” My head whizzed…. What would Karen say and do? What about the work with the kids? How can I leave something that I had started to live for? After nearly two years of deliberation, including visiting Australia to ‘case the joint’, it was decided that we would go. So welcome Brisbane, Australia, and in July 2004 the Hawkins family arrived. On our global journey, I took one vow with me; I would not let this new person wither and die; I had to find something that would fill the void.
I commenced my new role in August of 2004; it was great, exciting, new. Settled into new job, house, car and lifestyle nicely thank you very much, but yes, that ‘thing’ just wouldn’t go away. It was now getting to the point that it was niggling away at me. I couldn’t fight it anymore… I needed to find an outlet.
Two and a half years down the track, and following a tricky period within the manufacturing sector I worked in, it happened. I woke up a different person. At 39, yes early middle age where ‘spring’ and ‘chicken’ certainly could not be linked, I no longer wanted to ‘run factories’, no longer did I want to be doing what I had done for 20 odd years; enough, finish, nada…… I went into work that day and finished up – there, then…. period.
Enough was enough, the time had come where I had to make a stand, and do something for myself before ‘self-suppressing’ these feelings deep within me. I handed back my car keys, cleared my desk and got a mate to drop me home. I was unemployed 13,000 km’s from my homeland AND, yes there’s more to my madness, my wife Karen was at home with our 5 month old baby daughter. I do officially excuse you for now starting to doubt this storyline… As for sharing the conversation that Karen and I had on my arrival home that day – well let’s not even go there!!
I hear the word ‘irresponsible’ in the ether; not going to challenge that viewpoint, other than to say that plans were soon put into place regarding securing income to the family. When the emotions had subsided, and accounts assessed, Karen and I set up our own business. Karen too had skills that couldn’t be ignored and a hair dressing business was born. Me; I was going to be ‘daddy day care’, whilst also going back to study. I had managed to find this ‘Institute’ – no not the one you think I should have been admitted into, but an Institute for learning…. learning the ‘art’ of counselling. I had found the locksmith that had the key I needed to enter through the door to the world I wanted to be in. I became a student with AIPC, undertaking the Diploma of Counselling.
Our family soon got into a routine; Karen off to work dropping off the older kids, me with bottle in one hand, book of readings in the other. I actually felt ‘real’, alive. On top of the sheer joy of providing daily love and care to my Daughter……every day I was reading, writing or practicing stuff I loved!! As each unit went in for assessment and as constructive, positive feedback was being received in return, my confidence was flowing. The counsellor within me was developing. As time continued and new knowledge and skills gained, I needed to find an outlet so that these new attributes could be utilised. I started to research services and agencies that had vacancies for both volunteers and paid staff.
Being in a large, growing city as Brisbane; with its positives there is a flip side. With that flip slide come agencies and organisations that assist those caught on that flip side. I scoured the internet looking for support agencies; I found several potential opportunities, and had several meetings and interviews… I was flying by the seat of my pants, and was relying on my limitless enthusiasm, raw talent and drive to ‘fill the gaps’ in my academic knowledge within this sector. It paid off and in 2008 I was offered employment with a local community housing provider and started to volunteer with a local support group that assisted families following the loss (homicide) of a loved one. I had my foot in the door, and gee what a feeling that was. This new purpose provided me with even more energy. This energy allowed me to work full time, volunteer and continue to work through the Diploma, whilst also being involved with family life. Life was certainly busy, but now was providing ‘reward and reason’.
Before I knew it 2011 arrived and as weird as it sounds, I was ‘sad’. Sad that I had successfully completed by Diploma. “Why sad?” I hear you ask; well it was finished, over; a relationship with some very special people (students, support staff and tutors alike) had come to an end. I still remember clearly, the feeling that washed across me at the end of my last practical. Zahava (thoughts for her and her family at this time), looked up to us all and stated “that’s it, all done, well done everyone”. All my unit work had been completed, therefore this was it. I remember ‘reluctantly’ walking out of the training centre thinking; “What do I do now?” I had been on this incredible journey for two years or so, and had really discovered ‘me’. I wanted to keep this ‘me’ forever.
I had finished my Diploma in the March of 2011, and by July 2011, having gained membership with both AIPC and ACA, I had my own small practice in place. I had also secured an awesome role with the Australian Red Cross; I was thrilled with my work! However I had the learning bug. Through AIPC, I had been exposed to the truly interesting field of counselling and psychology. With my confidence ‘flowing over’, as an outcome of great nurturing provided from AIPC tutors, I felt confident enough to enrol in a Behavioural Studies program with OUA & Swinburne University, with majors in psychology and sociology. I started almost immediately, and again went into the full time work/student/family man routine. I hit into an array of units with gusto. “I like this”, I thought to myself one evening whilst writing a research paper on ‘How the family structure has changed during the 20th century’.
Through the Christmas of 2011, and into 2012 we ventured. Studying was continuing to provide a continual flow of energy as my work was gaining good feedback. It was almost cyclical, thus the feeling never went away; loving study, loving feedback. In April I got a letter in the post. It was from Swinburne, I couldn’t believe what I was reading; I had been invited to join the ‘International Golden Key Honour Society’, for outstanding academic achievement. I cried like a baby!!!! I couldn’t believe that, even though I had received very favourable feedback and results, that people, no sorry, Academics loved my work!! I was in psychology heaven… I was even invited to attend a ceremony at Swinburne University, Melbourne so to acknowledge this achievement. “Wow” I thought; “Maybe I do have something!”
So here I am, and there you are. This unbelievable story of my life over the last 6 years. I have gone from one side of the world to the other and changed vocations on a similar scale. Please feel free to continue to disbelieve… you are more than welcome!! Even writing this I think to myself – “really?”
So summarising this incredible journey, my journey, the message is clear; ‘If I can do this, then you can too’. I now look at things differently, but one aspect is crystal: We all have skills and ability, and whilst we may question ourselves we must at least try and give those skills ago. Whether by learning, volunteering or working in the field that utilises those skills, we should not be scared to venture out of our ‘default’ comfort zone and to strive to do something we really want to do. We must back ourselves, listen to that inner voice and at least attempt to try to explore and understand the real person inside and what that person has to offer. I listened to myself, against some ‘logical’ odds, but backed myself, and then exposed myself to a supportive and confidence boosting learning environment within AIPC.
If the worst thing that can happen is that you get to spend 2-3 years of your life with a great Institute, what have you really got to lose!! Being a counsellor as well as a Graduate member of AIPC, I am more than happy to be contacted. My contact details are:
I hope that I have at least provided ‘evidence’ that change can really be for the good, and truly wish everyone well in their unique pathways forward.
Stephen J Hawkins