Choosing a new career: Francine Lee’s leap of faith

Choosing a new career is becoming more prevalent. It’s commonplace for people to change jobs while staying within the same industry or profession. Now people can change careers a number of times in their lives.

There are many reasons why people take a leap of faith and begin again in a completely new field. But they all have one thing in common – courage.

The courage to back yourself, take a risk and wholeheartedly pursue a new career.

For Francine Lee, courage was not a new concept. The former physical education teacher turned NSW police officer had spent almost two decades in the force. But when she developed post-traumatic stress disorder, Francine was medically discharged. It was a “very normal outcome for such a difficult job” and Francine began the process of rebuilding her life.

Digging deep and reinventing yourself

Re-entering the workforce was always going to be a challenge. One Francine wasn’t always sure she’d meet.

“Getting back into work was part of a bigger picture for me. Pair my permanent physical injuries with the concern I had as to whether my brain would work post-PTSD, then factor in that I’d been out of the workforce for a number of years. I didn’t know how I’d go finding something.

“I really wanted a meaningful role. I was looking forward to doing something with purpose, direction and longevity. Work that was intellectually stimulating.”

Francine Lee

So, when it was time for Francine to re-join the workforce and find a new career, she dug deep and reinvented herself once again. Francine was mindful of remaining true to herself and her need to help others. She held a number of community roles while in the force, including school liaison, domestic violence and riot squad.

Then a discussion with her psychologist got her thinking about studying a speech pathology degree at Charles Sturt University.

Embracing the challenges of a new career

Soon after, 2017 arrived, and it turned out to be a “make-or-break year” for Francine.

“A former work colleague died, and my depression worsened. I hit rock bottom and I knew I didn’t want to go back there. I wanted something better for my life. So, I made the decision to embrace the challenges that lay ahead. To lose your profession is horrendous. You feel like you lose your sense of identity, your circle of friends. I had to find a career that was meaningful, where I would have longevity but not stress.

“I had such great exposure to a medical team during my rehabilitation. I have a very strong sense of value, purpose and worth for allied health professionals. I’d studied whole body anatomy at uni before I became a PE teacher, but I didn’t think I had the memory, attention capacity or physical capabilities anymore – so I didn’t want to do something like physio.

“But I’d never considered speech pathology, until my psychologist suggested it. It really triggered a response from me. I went home and immediately applied. Three months later, much to everyone’s shock, I was accepted.

“The diversity that speech pathology offers is extremely broad. You can deal with brain trauma, throat surgery, children’s speech, adults and their language.”

Francine Lee

Francine decides to pay it forward

Importantly for Francine, a career in speech pathology gave her the chance to pay it forward – repay to others the kindness she received during her rehabilitation. She’s now studying full-time in her second year at Charles Sturt’s Albury-Wodonga campus.

“It gave me a great opportunity to offer care, understanding and empathy. I benefitted greatly from that when I received physio, osteo, podiatric, psychological and psychiatric treatment. Those people were looking after me for such a long time – which was life changing.”

Going back to uni to move forward in life.

Returning to uni was a little disconcerting, however.

“It’s was at least 15 years since I last did any formal study. So, it was difficult going back to uni with fresh-faced, unqualified people who have only been out of school for a few years. My experience at Charles Sturt has been great but, initially, it does rattle your nerves. I had a lot to learn when I first started, especially about the tech stuff. At the beginning of my study I couldn’t even open a new tab and I still don’t have a laptop. I handwrite lectures. I’m very much old school and still need help from the people at uni.”  

But it’s true what they say – at Charles Sturt you’ll meet people just like you who are digging deep to make a difference. And they’ll have your back.

“My cohort is amazing. I feel refreshed because they’ve renewed my vitality for life. I just ask for help and they’re so generous with their time. Especially when I start to get a little stressed as assignments and exams approach. University is stressful, but it’s okay to be stressed. Just don’t panic and ‘catastrophise’. Deal with it and you’ll be fine.

“I was shocked to realise how much help you can get from Charles Sturt. There’s the Academic Skills team. And the openness and direct lines of communication with your lecturers is really encouraging.  And in my first year I had great assistance from the Accessibility and Inclusion Advisors because I was concerned my PTSD might be a barrier.”

Did you know? The Academic Skills team can help you get up to speed for learning at uni. Get help with academic literacy, learning, referencing, and numeracy through study guides, workshops, and individual appointments. You can even get feedback on your assignment drafts.

Talk the talk and walk the walk

Francine’s advice to those considering a career change?

“Don’t hesitate. Embrace it. I really believe in rehabilitation and the ever-evolving process of personal and professional growth. But the number one criteria is to believe in yourself. Positive self-talk is crucial: you have to be your own best friend. We all have challenges and concerns and worries, but just do it!

“When I graduate, I’ll be a 51-year-old new kid on the block!”

Ready to make a difference with a new career?

Charles Sturt’s wide range of courses will give you the skills and industry knowledge you need to be the change you want to see in the world. We’ll also help you to get ready for uni life and get your study skills in tip-top shape.

Find out how we can help. Contact us and get ready to travel down a new and exciting career path.

 For help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.