"My 19-year journey to MRICS is what made me"

Sara Collage cropped (cropped)
31-01-2017

Life is full of ups and downs, and my 19-year journey to achieve MRICS is no exception. But I firmly believe those ups and downs along the way have made me.

Beginnings...

I graduated in 1997 and immediately started a graduate surveyor position. The first 12 months saw me gaining experience, getting signed off and starting to get more involved in giving client recommendations and advice. I had just started on my final assessment submission when I was told my contract would be terminated. I found myself jobless with a mortgage to pay and little idea of how I was ever going to complete my APC.

The wilderness years...

I job hopped - paying the mortgage came first. I stayed in the property industry, but none of the jobs I secured supported the APC. I worked in residential estate agency and facilities management, managed a private investment portfolio, and managed a team and business unit for a commercial mortgage company. 

On the up...

2008 finally saw my return to the APC. My wilderness years had taught me a lot and I now had an arsenal of transferable skills, a broad business and people management background. I was no longer the green graduate new to the profession. I had this!

I restarted my 24 months training. Things were looking rosy… then 2010 happened.

Doom...

I had a car accident. That isn’t the doom part of the story, but my car was written off and I got a bad case of whiplash. I had physiotherapy but just felt awful. I was really fatigued, my neck ached, I started to lose weight. I put it all down to the injury. I was preparing my APC final assessment submission (again), I still felt horrible and thought that the night sweats and hives I was experiencing must all be stress related.

Then I found a lump in my neck glands. What I’d thought was stress turned out to be cancer.

My diagnosis hit me just like a bereavement. I went through shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression and finally acceptance. Fortunately, for me, the treatment was a cure and I went into complete remission after 9 months of chemo. 

The long return journey...

You don’t have to just contend with losing your hair. I’d had about 18 months off work in all and now had money troubles. I didn’t have critical illness cover and my sick pay had reduced to nothing after 12 months.

I lived off my savings and the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’. I was desperate to get back on my feet but I was plagued by ‘chemo brain’ and fatigue. I couldn’t do anything for myself, but I forced myself to reach out and talk - to my doctor, my family and friends - and soon I had the beginnings of a plan to get back to being me.

The Blip...

I thought I was back to my best and preparing my final assessment submission (again!) and my boss kept piling on the work. I wasn’t very good at saying no and I got more and more stressed about my work responsibilities and getting my APC preparations done.

I should have listened to my gut, which was shouting “you’re not ready”, but with little support I went for it anyway.  I was ill prepared as I let work come first, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised to have been referred at my final assessment interview in 2012. 

I was bitterly disappointed and angry with myself for failing but, you know what, being referred was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I finally understood what was expected of me, and realised I had to seek support outside work to ensure that, despite the day job, I was able to properly prepare. 

So I discussed the need for a support network at my company with HR, and established a company-wide APC forum for candidates. Finally, on 6th May 2016, I achieved MRICS at last!

The Next Chapter...

Sometimes you really do have to be your own hero.

It is hard to keep a positive attitude with whatever life is throwing at you. My only advice is to use that skill you use as a surveyor, to stand back and look - call it mindfulness or being aware, but it really helps. 

Everyone is going through their own rollercoaster and some cope better than others. But resilience can be developed - being aware, giving yourself thinking time, reaching out and looking after your mental and physical welfare can build you back up to cope with the trials and pitfalls of modern life. 

Since becoming Chartered, I've further developed a company-wide e-learning platform for APC candidates to ensure they have access to support and information. I have also become an RICS APC Mentor and Vice Chair of Matrics Norfolk, running APC support sessions for local candidates.

It really doesn’t matter how long it takes you to achieve a goal. It took me 19 years. Your journey, the ups and the downs, make you. 

Stand back and look: maybe life gave you lemons for a reason.  

Sara Cameron MRICS is a chartered commerical property surveyor based in Norfolk.

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