Following in Dad’s footsteps – how did I end up here?

From the ages of 12 to 16, if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer certainly would’ve changed depending on my mood. Whether it was a barrister, a pathologist, or a translator, I pretty much wanted to be everything under the sun at one point or another. But one thing that stayed consistent was that I had absolutely no interest in following in my parents’ footsteps and becoming a civil servant or going in to marketing.

I just always had the mentality that following in your parents’ footsteps would somehow take away from your own individuality – something that was very important to me. So, how is it then that 5 years later I’m embarking on the final year of my CAM degree and currently working as a marketing assistant?

Again, it wasn’t just that I woke up one day and decided to copy my dad and go on to study marketing, it was a very unconventional and at times very difficult path that brought me to where I am today. I’ll begin with September 2014, aged 16 and just starting lower sixth studying French, Irish, Maths and History, not anywhere close to the subjects you would expect a future CAM student to study, right? Well as I said I couldn’t decide on a specific career path before picking A Levels so with the idea that a lot of degree courses don’t expect specific subjects, I decided the safest option would be to go for the ones I enjoyed most.

But, week one of lower sixth comes to an end and my whole life changed. On Friday 5th September 2014, my dad suffered a massive stroke that initially left him with a 30% chance of survival, complete right side paralysis and global aphasia*. We were told that our whole lives would have to change and that my dad would be left in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, never speak again and would need 24/7 care. Being the optimists that we are, we took this with a pinch of salt and kept focusing on him making a full recovery (side note – five years on he is walking, driving and even has limited speech). We did however, know that this was going to take a lot of time, effort and money from the whole family. With my mum and sister both working full time, I even considered  leaving school to care for him but after lots of discussions, I realised that as an educator, my dad would never have accepted this. We decided we had to keep everything as normal as possible because after all, our lives had changed enough – I was going to stay in school, my mum and sister were going to stay in work and we were all going to take on the responsibility of caring for my dad and taking turns with the everyday responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, shopping etc.

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This was of course very difficult and I could write an entire book on that story alone but alas we are talking about my path to marketing. During the mid-term break over Halloween, all lower sixth students had to embark on a week’s work experience, not having time to apply for work experience myself because my dad was still in hospital gravely ill, I reached out to two of my dad’s friends who worked in PR and Graphic Design to ask if they could take me on for a couple of days. They were of course willing to do anything possible to help and so began my journey into this industry.

I spent the first three days of the week shadowing Joanne McNeill at her PR agency, McNeill Communications – at this point I had zero idea what PR actually meant, apart from knowing that some of my friends did PR for Thompsons and Filthys. I did know that it was along the same lines as marketing and had therefore decided that although this experience wouldn’t help me in my career, it would be nice to get a few days away from school and the hospital. Within the first few hours of shadowing Joanne, my mind had been completely changed. We had been working on launch events and planning for a Red Bull event and it all seemed like the most interesting work in the world – I hadn’t enjoyed myself so much in a long time. The last two days of the week were spent with Mark Mulholland at Whitenoise Designs and although we both knew for certain that I was never going to me a graphic designer, he brought me to an event set up and showed the ins and outs of all the technical and branding elements. This was an amazing experience and set in stone my love for corporate events.

I’ll skip on a year to the start of upper sixth when we were about to attend the open days at Queen’s and Ulster and we had to do some research on the degrees they offered so that we could make the most of our time and attend specific talks. At this point, I still had some interest in keeping on my language studies and I was STILL set against studying straight marketing because I did not want to end up on the same career path as my dad, after all it was PR I’d fallen in love with at this stage. I hadn’t heard of anyone doing a degree in PR and didn’t really think such a thing existed so I was leaning towards French and International Business at Queen’s. Then, as I was browsing through the Ulster open day schedule, I noticed the CMPR and CAM talks and was instantly intrigued.

I went on to apply for both courses and sit my A Levels and months later after painstakenly waiting for remarks to meet the CAM grade boundaries, I was officially a CAM student.

Now three years on I’ve just completed a twelve month Corporate Communications internship in London at The Walt Disney Company and I’m currently working as a Marketing Assistant at Mirror Media. Needless to say, my 17 year old self was naive to the similarities between PR and marketing and when I decided to go into PR I firmly believed I was not following in my dad’s footsteps. But, alas, here I am, unintentionally following my dad’s discipline that I’d always been so against and I have to say that I couldn’t be happier. The past five years have of course taught me a lot but I’ve mainly learned that the bad things that happen to us are only going to teach us lessons that no book will and sometimes they’ll even lead you down the best path. I’ve learned that it’s important not to stress too much about your career path and as cliché as it sounds, everything will work itself out in the end.  

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*Global Aphasia – This is the most severe form of aphasia, a language impairment, and is applied to patients who can produce few recognizable words and understand little or no spoken language. Persons with Global Aphasia can neither read nor write.

Emily Spackman McKee is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on: Twitter @_spackman and LinkedIn Emily Spackman McKee