Imagine a Merry Go Round – the flashing lights, discordant music, a chipped and peeling painted horse that you don’t quite remember getting on. Your parents give a wave and then you’re off, gripping the handlebars (that smell kind of funny) and staring at the back of the person ahead as you go round and round. And round.

The ride started most clearly for me at Secondary School with GCSEs. I did well in the initial aptitude tests and from that moment the music ramped up, the lights became blinding, and the vague sense of dizziness settled in for the long haul. The back of the person ahead never got closer but it seemed like I was competing anyway. I needed the best grades, the most extracurricular activities, and glowing reports from all my teachers. I wasn’t quite sure why. I hadn’t chosen the ride and I didn’t like the music but I made no attempt to get off. I was good at the Merry Go Round. That was enough.

Next came A-levels and by that point, I was thoroughly fed-up. Not that you’d know. I still waved placidly, a distant smile on my face that stretched my cheeks and pinched my lips. I had mastered the Merry Go Round. Somewhere along the way, I had also mastered autopilot and it meant I was aiming for the top of a mountain I didn’t know the name of. It was a summit I didn’t understand and barely felt the need to. Then I reached it, not as fast, not as easily as I had expected, but I had. A blinking green light turned off. No more autopilot.

You can’t sleepwalk through higher education. Believe me, I tried. I sat and waited for the perfect profession, the perfect career, the embodiment of my personality in the form of a degree that would be fun and interesting with good career prospects and pay and a sense of job satisfaction and…and…..

Someone tapped my shoulder. The music, jarring and annoying but familiar after so long, had turned off. There were no more pretty lights. It was time to get off the Merry Go Round. I was dazed, going in circles because that was what I knew. When my feet finally took root under me I was at Audiology. Audiology is weird. Most people I speak to seem to have fallen into it too; they took a left here, a U-turn over there, a couple more pirouettes before neatly landing into our niche little specialism. Most of the people also have other things in common: they’re kind and funny and ridiculously passionate about what they do. It freaked me out. I sat in skills lab on day 1 while our supervisors beamed at us, otoscopes in hand and extremely excited to be talking about ear wax. I blinked. I eyed the dummy (FredHead) suspiciously. Then, I gave it a go.

Turning off autopilot and finding my own way was hard and scary. It was also the best thing I did. I like people. I like helping people. It hadn’t seemed like a big deal before but it was those little things that guided my way. Now I’m going into my third and final year studying Audiology at Aston. I don’t need autopilot anymore. Covid 19 struck, gripping us and shaking us and upheaving our normal, but that flashing green light is still off. Even if what’s ahead of me is fogged and confused that’s okay.

I think audiologists are passionate people because they choose to be. It’s that simple – nothing magical endowed to one person rather than another. Take interest in what you’re doing. Try. You won’t need autopilot anymore. If you want to become a passionate person, to be more excited about your career and education, you need to start by making your own decisions and choosing your own direction. Independence means challenges but also much more fulfilment than passively following the route ahead. What I’m trying to say is don’t be afraid to make decisions, to try new things and forge your own path. Don’t stop doing that even when you’ve reached a standstill. Trust your judgement. And never ever go on a Merry Go Round. They suck.

Sidra Karim

Aston University