career development / Self awareness

Breaking ‘out of the box’. How I challenged negative stereotypes and other people’s assumptions to achieve success in my career

Have you ever felt that other people make negative assumptions about you because of your social class, disability or race? That these stereotypes have limited your opportunities and that you have questioned yourself as a result? Antoinette Pimblett describes how she broke out of these boxes.

“As long as I can remember I have been put into a box. I often think of these boxes slotting inside one another like a set of Russian Dolls. The first two boxes I was put in and the third I put myself into. The first box I was placed in was by my teachers and I will call it ‘lazy’. Truth be told, I struggled at school. Academically, I wasn’t strong and my out-going chatty nature often led teachers to conclude I was not trying. Even when I did try, my grades were found wanting. My teachers went as far to tell my parents not to expect much from me and for a period of time I withdrew from school believing I was lazy and incapable.

The second box, I call ‘stereotyped’, came during my masters. My regional Liverpool accent meant I did not fit the typical student mould of the university. I noticed how students and even some lecturers recoiled when I spoke. A student even told me, as a fellow ‘Scouser’ that maybe I should consider toning down my accent. Whilst others remarked maybe ‘they should hide the silverwear.’ I felt embarrassed of myself and small.

The final box is called ‘stupid.’ I have always felt stupid in some way. Despite having a breezy time during undergraduate study, I again began during struggle during my MSc. This did not go unnoticed by some classmates as I worked harder and progressed nowhere, leading one of them to call me stupid. One day I was called into my programme coordinators office to be told I had failed my statistics module. To make matters worse, I would not be allowed to attend lectures relating to the failed module in order to pass the resit. I felt stupid. I looked back at my education with great distaste, I was stupid.

So how did I break out of these boxes?

Box 1: Reflection

Psychiatric Patient

I reflected on what was important to me and why. This helped focus my mind. When I focussed I stopped worrying about what I wasn’t good at but rather what I excelled at. This stopped the repetitive negative cycle of emotions.

Box 2: Acceptance

I did not change my accent, being from Liverpool is a major part of who I am. Rather I used my accent as my secret weapon. Now I work in a hospital, my accent puts my patients as ease. Watching my patients relax around me helps me feel more confident. I ask my medical students to do the same, do away with fancy language and go back to basics. There are many ways in which a person can be stereotyped. But if we conform, we become part of the problem and not the solution. Learn to embrace your diversity. We need to see more people from different backgrounds being successful. My message is wear that accent like a badge of honour.

Box 3: Honesty

Past and Future

After failing my Masters I had to be honest with myself about what went wrong. When I did that, I remembered how school had never been easy. I went to my MSc programme coordinator and he referred me for testing. Subsequently, I was found to have both dyslexia and dyspraxia. Ultimately this diagnosis changed my world. It helped me to reorganise my methods of learning. Whilst it has taken some time to look past the label I am very proud to be considered neuro-cognitively divergent. When I apply for jobs, I do not place my ‘diagnoses’ as disabilities. I do not regard them as disabilities but do communicate with my new manager directly to inform them of my weird and wonderful brain.

Breaking out of these boxes has enabled me to become a Dr today. I refuse to let others place their own expectations or misconceptions on me and I urge you all to break down your own boxes and do the same.”

Dr. Antoinette Pimblett is a Clinical Trial Coordinator at The Royal Marsden Hospital and recently completed her PhD.

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