The last dreary weekend in January, I found myself facilitating a scientific and organising committee meeting for our upcoming 33rd International Epilepsy Congress which will take place in Bangkok in 2019. Sitting around a dinner table in Kensington, London, I was feeling rather smug after having been able to spell ‘epileptic encephalopathies’ without assistance in our meeting earlier that day. My ears burned a little however, as I overheard the president of one of our associations remark in conversation that I had cows and horses at home, ‘a real ranch girl’. I let this observation slide with a smile, as a Canadian he isn’t expected to know that hailing from the west and rural coast of Ireland it’s not so much ‘ranch’ but rather more ‘bog’. In that moment however, I thought I was really rather a long way from home and wondered how I had got there…
An arts degree under my belt at age 20, I took the questionably logical decision to pursue a Masters in Marketing to ensure I was ‘employable’. From there, I found myself in the Association and Events industry quite by chance. Working part time in a role that found me via LinkedIn while I finished my Masters, I am still here, almost four years later.
Now 25 years old, I have worked my way up from chief tea and coffee maker to the International Project Manager for Epilepsy Congress. In our main capacity we serve as the Congress Secretariat for two international organisations, the International League against Epilepsy and the International Bureau for Epilepsy, organising six biennial events internationally. With no events and medical background or knowledge about epilepsy, it was a struggle to start. The lingo, the structure, the politics! To be honest, there are days where I still struggle with the ever evolving agendas.
I have often wondered but doubt that I speak only for myself when I say that the Association and Events industry had never been presented to me as a career option in school or university. In fact the aptitude tests we were subjected to by guidance counsellors declared I was destined to be a publicist. Recalling how I described my current job role to my mother, she announced it sounded like it was made for me. ‘Use your transferable skills and don’t forget to smile’ she exclaimed at the time. As a result of this, I have come up with my own formula for working in this industry, at its core it is comprised of really good organisational and even better people skills.
As a millennial in this industry, one can often find themselves somewhat disregarded and subject to disinterest due to their ‘lack of experience’. Often I have to remind myself that age does not necessarily equate to common sense or life experience in context. When meeting a stranger on a trade show floor or at a networking event, not one of us knows what the other has experienced irrespective of age. This links inherently for me to the idea of leadership and how can youth lead? I remember a conversation I had with one of our past presidents in relation to the fact that he was pleasantly surprised at how capable I was after my first international programme meeting. To let you in on a secret, so was I, but I didn’t tell him that! Why did he underestimate me? Why did I underestimate myself? Was it my lack of perceived ‘experience’? Was it my age? Why should any of these be relevant to whether or not I would be capable to complete the task I had been assigned. I am privileged that I am now in a position where my committee know me. They appreciate that I now have a proven track record in this field and hence, I can lead them in discussion and guide them to complete tasks, my capability, in this respect is no longer questioned as a matter of my age.
The topics of personal development and leadership are being increasingly emphasised at workshops and meetings within this industry. We need to apply ourselves to cementing our foundations in both of these in order to consolidate our futures. Signing off I’d like to impart some of my millennial wisdom with you, if not for your benefit than rather as a reminder to myself…
Have faith in you and in your work. Don’t ever underestimate the attributes that you have to offer. Maximise your transferable skills and garner new ones through listening and engaging with content and people who do sometimes know better than you. Shrugging off this entitled reputation we seem to have acquired, I think millennials are marching to the fore of this industry and I for one am ecstatic to be a part of it!