From a distance you can get a better overall perspective

People often say that we should move on from yesteryear. Look forward. Leave the past behind. How fitting such advice is can often depend on the person and their circumstances. However, in general, most people would advise that when you leave a job you should never return to it again. The theory is that you should stick to your initial decision or risk unsettling yourself more.

My first job as a psychologist was with the National Development and Training Institute. It was my first application for a psychology position and I really hit the jackpot when I got it.  Now called National Learning Network, this organisation provides training and specialist support to people who, for a variety of reasons, may find it difficult to gain employment. These people are helped to overcome obstacles and setbacks and move forward with their careers and lives. Every year, over 5,000 people of all ages and from all walks of life, come to learn and study in training centres which are located in almost every county in Ireland. My job placed me in Monaghan town and I offered psychological supports to students and staff at centres throughout the north-east region. It was a fantastic job. I worked on a brilliant team. We empowered people to reach their true potential and to live independent and more fulfilling lives.

After nearly five years in that position I caught what is often referred to as ‘itchy feet syndrome’. I became unsettled. The organisation was undergoing significant change and upheaval. I felt that I needed a new challenge – a new beginning. I wanted to be a little more creative and innovative with psychology. I needed to find my own feet. It was as if the boatman had lost his oars or the traveller had no compass. NLN were an excellent employer but I decided to cut loose and start afresh. From employee to being self-employed, from team player to sole trader, it was not an easy adjustment to make. But I was keen to bring self-help psychology to communities. I was convinced (still am) that the best evidence-based psychology tends to be reserved solely to explain mental illness. It tends to concern itself solely with deficits, disadvantages and disorders. It can also sow the seeds of mental wellness. My Moodwatchers self-help psychology course was born and it brought me to venues the length and breadth of the island. Through this course I’d like to think that I helped many people realise their true potential and embrace a better quality of life. 

A couple of years ago National Learning Network contacted me through my former colleague Geraldine.  They needed a psychologist to cover for a colleague out on sick leave. Even a day a week would be a great help, she said. I started in Monaghan and eventually moved to the centre in Dundalk. I ended up visiting the Dundalk centre weekly for nearly a year – doing the work I used to do over thirteen years previously. It was almost surreal but I settled in remarkably well. A lot of my former colleagues were still working there. Other new faces had refreshed the place. I really loved working there and have a deep sense of loneliness for it now that it has ended.

Sometimes you do not realise how quickly your children are growing up. A relative or friend can be shocked by your child’s growth spurt – one which you were not even aware of. This is because you are too close to the situation to see it. Likewise, you can see someone has aged when you bump into them at a wedding or funeral after a period of years. But these changes might never be observed if you were in their company all the time.  I remember always thinking that my home looked different, when, as a student, I returned to it after a period of months. The living room seemed bigger than I thought it was. I wondered if someone had painted the walls a different colour. When we step away from things we can often see the same things differently on our return.

On returning to National Learning Network I dispelled one myth. You can return to your old job and enjoy it immensely. But what really dawned on me this time was how amazing the staff at NLN Dundalk are. I saw that more clearly on my return. When I was there previously I had almost become accustomed to the generosity of spirit and endless resourcefulness of the staff. Their dedication and professionalism actually knows no bounds. They are doing such important work within their community – transforming peoples lives, opening new doors, and restoring peoples’ faith in themselves. These incredible people are doing work that their salaries would never fully compensate them for. Their efforts continue to ripple into the lives of students long after they complete their courses there. Their life-changing interventions extend beyond what any formal measurement of outcomes can measure. People should be invited into the centre to witness what happens there.  

It was an absolute pleasure to work alongside Tracy, Bernadette, Lynda, Tanya, Martin, Perpetua and Marie in the Ramparts Road centre. It was an honour to work in the same company as Aileen, Maria, Lorraine and fellow colleagues in Wilton House. I sense a loneliness now that I have stepped away from it. But it’s from the distance that I see things much more clearly. The grass is actually greener on the far-away hills.