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My take on: How illness can make, not break, your career


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BBC Radio Sheffield presenter, Paulette Edwards, explains how a life-changing illness led her to change her career from teaching to radio broadcasting.

The first few years of my life were consumed with school and making sure I got the right grades. I’d always wanted to be a teacher and as my parents had come to Britain from Jamaica it was important to my five siblings and I to achieve as much as we could.

When I did become a teacher, it felt surreal. Despite my aspiration and hard work, I had never truly thought it was possible.

I had been in my dream job for 15 years when I developed Benign Intracranial Hypertension – something I’d never heard of before. I had fluid on the brain and it meant I had to have a shunt fitted to stop my vision from further deteriorating.

My life had been dedicated to teaching, and now I was forced to re-evaluate what career options were best for me and my health. Resigning my teaching job was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, and I applied for the receptionist job at BBC Radio Sheffield with the hope of eventually returning to teaching.

Being ill is like a lot of things – you don’t understand how much it changes your life until you move forward a bit, and when you look back you understand how difficult it was. Illness takes you over but is powerful in that it can turn your life around and point you in a completely different direction. It can make you brave. It can make you feel you’ve got nothing to lose and can remind you that your life is precious and yours to live because you have a limited amount of time.

After completing a few months on the reception desk, I got chatting to then presenter Ony Bright and asked her what it’s like to be on the radio. Amazingly she replied “well, why don’t you come up and experience it for yourself?”

After four years, I went from being a receptionist to having my own show.

A combination of nosiness, and being at the right place at the right time, with the right editor listening, gave me the chance of becoming a presenter, and it has been one of the great things that came out of my illness. It has been enlightening, and my presenting experience has helped me to take steps back to myself.

If I had to give some advice to anyone wanting to enter the world of broadcasting, whether as a producer or a presenter, I would ask – why? It is important to know why you want to do the job. Make decisions based on what you like doing – invest in the things that make you smile and make you want to get up in the morning, because life is too short to be in a job that you don’t fully love.

I always thought presenters had to be a certain type of person but when it came down to it the most important thing you can be is yourself. I can be raucous, mischievous, sometimes funny, sometimes pensive, and that is who I am at the core. My editors and producers have worked with me to help me to be myself which, in itself, seems paradoxical!

It’s also important to be aware of the vast number of occupations that are not as well known. We’re more aware of presenters and producers but there are other jobs that could be for you. Explore the range of occupations and try to get the opportunity to see the studios whenever you can. Don’t limit yourself; be open-minded to go down other avenues. Try not to focus too much on the end goal either – it could mean you miss out on adventures and fun things you never considered.

Work experience or work shadowing will help you to see not just if you are right for the job but also if the job – or another job – fits you! Be brave and go for it.

Take every opportunity to be in and around it, and when it happens for you appreciate it, don’t take it for granted; enjoy it!

Listen to Paulette Edwards on BBC Radio Sheffield from 10am-1pm Monday to Friday.

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