Below she speaks with Alex about how to achieve APC success; even when the nerves start to get the better of you! She also explains about the support she received from charity Lionheart which was established to help surveyors and their families who are facing hard times, with a special focus on mental health.
Do you think more needs to be done to address anxiety in the workplace?
The landscape for talking openly about anxiety has massively changed in the last few years. When I was a graduate I was told in a previous job to never say I had anxiety because I would never progress. Now, I see so many brave people taking those first steps to try and end the stigma. Surveyors who have volunteered to be Lionheart Ambassadors are a great example of this. We come from all parts of the industry at different levels and tell people what we’ve been through. I think we still have a long way to go where old attitudes die hard, but together we will get there. I think a huge part of getting mental health issues addressed is for surveyors, particularly in higher ranking roles, to speak openly about how they’ve suffered with themselves. People need to know they’ll be safe and it won’t affect their career progression.
What were your motivations in deciding to take on the APC assessment?
For a long time I’d been avoiding the APC assessment from sheer terror; partly driven from the sensationalised horror stories some qualified surveyors loved to tell, like war stories that justified their shiny badges of honour. Which I have honestly caught myself doing, I mean who doesn’t love telling the story of the guy who turned up to the assessment in a kilt or that one man who got stretchered out because he trapped a nerve in his back? It’s a RICS version of folklore, and not likely to be true.
A strong motivation in the end was to prove that I could pass my APC, as I knew there were those who thought otherwise. It took me four years to make my first attempt. I threw myself into it, committing hours and hours to preparing, although on reflection a lot of that time involved staring at my wall wondering why I was putting myself through it all. I got great remarks and advice from my supportive colleagues and did well in my mocks. I was ready. The big day came and my anxiety got the better of me: looking back it felt like I had an out of body experience watching a car crash in slow motion. I was convinced I was on the verge of a panic attack and that they knew it!
After this setback, what happened next?
So my referral came without much surprise, and even though I knew it was coming it was still devastating. Oddly enough when my referral papers came through a month later, they stated I had not shown my declared anxiety on the day. I spent the summer wallowing… I realised around September time I needed to start building up my CPD again if I was going to retake next year, although in a rather half-hearted fashion. That was when I stumbled upon LionHeart’s Supercharge Your Wellbeing CPD hour.
Tell us about LionHeart; what is its purpose and what should we know about it?
I didn’t know what to expect when I turned up at the session at RICS London, but told myself it was easy CPD so what would be the harm? The seminar started and Natasha (LionHeart’s trainer) introduced herself and explained the motivation behind the seminar. It turned out she had also stumbled at the first hurdle of trying to become chartered. The session was fun and informative and afterwards I summoned up the nerve to go and talk to Natasha and tell her the story of my referral. I felt she would genuinely understand me and I was surprised at how emotional I felt doing so. She and the other organisers were kind and supportive, she recommended a book that had helped her and gave me a card to make contact if I wanted. After the workshop I felt relieved and ready to take on the APC again. What I didn’t realise was that ultimately meant taking control of my life as well.
When did you pass your APC and how did you feel?
The six months leading up to my second assessment weren’t smooth sailing by any means but I finally realised my anxiety had been trapping me in victim mode and I started taking responsibility for my involvement in my setbacks. I developed a much better understanding of my anxiety which helped me to minimise the effects. I learnt to step away from work when I needed to, which meant less time staring at the ceiling when I should have been studying. Other coping strategies included: more exercise, guided meditation, and being open about how I was feeling. I also got much better at saying no to work that I knew would overload me leading up to the assessment. Finally, in June, I passed my APC. I received the email in my car outside my office and cried for a solid 20 minutes whilst attempting to give the good news to anyone who’d answer the phone.
Since then I’ve had time to reflect on my experience which led me to the conclusion that although there is a better understanding of mental health there’s still a way to go, especially in the property industry. I hope that by sharing my experiences others who are struggling will know there’s help out there and most importantly they are not alone in how they feel.
What has passing your APC done for your career so far?
One of the first things I did after passing the APC was to sign up as a Lionheart Ambassador because I wanted to be able to support others who might also be struggling. I recently moved to TFT, joining its Guildford practice, where Alex at Oyster placed me into my new role. I felt it was a good move for me to further my experience. I feel my wider experience and ability is appreciated in my role here; while chartership is important, it’s part of a broader view of talent and appraisal. I have seen this reflected in the way all the technical staff in the office are appraised and rewarded based on their own skills relating to their role. The property industry can sometimes limit people’s potential by holding them back while they work toward chartership, and not recognising those with years of experience pre-qualification.
Any thoughts on how the workplace can address anxiety and create more awareness around it moving forward?
I think a lot of companies are taking the right steps in introducing policies in relation to mental health. Signing up to the Lionheart pledge is another great way to start. I think training at a team leader level is needed to ensure awareness and sensitivity is maintained at all managerial levels. I also think companies should look at having different levels of graduate to show them that they are appreciated for their experience. I was a ‘graduate’ or ‘trainee’ for 5 years, it gets disheartening. You watch people you studied with, who did pass, getting the new title and the pay rise that usually comes with it. Being referred should never be viewed as a failure if you put in the time and genuinely try. But when you’re stuck in graduate limbo it’s hard not to feel just that, a failure.
One final thought?
The one thing I’d like for anyone reading this to take from my experience is to know that you are not alone and sometimes all it takes is a few seconds of bravery to change your trajectory. My few seconds of bravery were at the end of the Lionheart seminar where I finally asked for help. It completely changed how I see myself and helped me to get where I am now.
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