Start at the beginning – it’s a very good place to start

A few people have asked when I will be posting my first PULSE blog. ‘It’s coming’ I have said, but truth be told I have been waiting for the right moment. That ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ moment when I am inspired to nestle down with my laptop and turn thoughts into words.

I realised last week however that if I wait too much longer I will have missed sharing the most important part of any journey – the beginning.

My ‘challenge and change’ journey began late last year. After an amazing four years at GSK I wanted something different that stretched me beyond my day job.

To quench my thirst for something new I enrolled in a Masters of International Development with RMIT. Stepping back into the academic world was incredibly exciting. I literally felt my brain stretching and yawning like it was awakening from a long sleep. Going back to school was the stimulation I needed. I loved it, but study was my plan B and something I was prepared to defer should my plan A – my PULSE application – be successful. It was.

So after only a few short weeks of getting my geek on, I closed my text books and started to wrap my head around the new offering – a six month secondment with AMREF Flying Doctors in Nairobi, Kenya.

I am well acquainted with starting new chapters in new cities. When I was 20 I represented Australia on a pan-Commonwealth volunteer program in Nova Scotia, Canada and Jamaica. I followed that by moving to Vancouver because put simply, I could. I have started new chapters in London not once but twice, and called Japan home after effectively flipping a coin with my brother.

But this time it feels different. I am a nudge older, oh so much wiser and most definitely more considered in my decisions. I feel like I have left the flippant whimsical 20s and moved into the more measured and conscientious 30s. Unlike before, I am having to accommodate a broader spectrum of emotions that I didn’t really think existed in me. Of course there is the usual abundance of excitement and enthusiasm, but accompanying this adventure is a fresh set of anxieties. Ones I haven’t really experienced before. Perhaps it comes with being more appreciative of the investment and magnitude this opportunity brings – for me, GSK and AMREF.

My anxieties harbour in the unexpected and if I am honest, very sobering self-doubt. All of it made ten times more intense because the only time I am afforded the chance to give it much thought, is at night.

Under the cloak of darkness the small things become colossal; the need to add to my checklist of ‘to dos before I leave’ gets stronger; my assessment of myself, my ambitions and what lies ahead of me becomes harsher and; I catch myself over-focussing on the ‘what ifs’:

What if I can’t I deliver what they need?
What if I have nothing to show at the end of six months?
What if I don’t develop or grow in the way I had hoped?
What if I don’t like the job? Or worse, they don’t like me?
What if there is another Westgate shopping mall attack and I am in it?
What if my job changes while I am away?
What if GSK realises I’m not worthy?

In the stillness of the night the ‘what ifs’ are loud. They rattle in my head like a broken musical box and disturb me from sleep. Come daybreak, they go. I find my pragmatism and confidence and manage to refocus my thoughts. When I get to the office, I check my email and usually find one or two PULSE related messages. It’s all I need to get me back on the whimsical wagon of adventure.

Unlike my previous adventures, which I tackled with a sense of independence and gusto, I seem to have made an about turn in my approach to this opportunity. Gone are the days I try to tackle things by myself just to prove I can. I now see myself being quietly frank about needing, wanting and willingly accepting support – however and from whomever it comes. Where I have in the past shaken off advice, I now seek it. Where I once politely dismissed offers of support, I now thrive on them.

Like cheering bystanders in a marathon, the small words of encouragement and acknowledgment in the corridor have suddenly come to have immense meaning for me. Receiving emails from past volunteers and calls from friends and colleagues, no matter how brief, are to my surprise incredibly motivating.

Thank you to everyone who has taken an interest, asked questions or wished me luck – they may have been fleeting comments but they have stayed with me and I will replay them in the stillness of the night when the ‘what ifs’ start singing.

So this, my friends, is my beginning – full of the change and challenge I was craving and with all the flavours of adventure and opportunity I could wish for. I may not be Carrie Bradshaw and I may not ever find the moment I am compelled to write but I will do my best to bring you with me. I hope you stick around for the ride.


  1. This sounds like a great first blog post to me. It’s clearly coming straight from your heart. Know that there are many people (both inside and outside GSK, both those of us who have experienced the program and others who have heard about it) who are cheering for you and all the other PULSE volunteers.

    1. Thanks Michelle. It took a bit of a leap of faith when I posted it. Its quite intimidating writing in this way…but I figure if I am going to blog I may as well do it wholeheartedly and with the support of so many people 🙂

  2. Great first blog Alicia. I am hooked already. Can’t wait for further instalments. I wish you the best and am sure you will make a significant contribution on your assignment. Keep the blogs flowing.

  3. Fab blog post Alicia – I am too off on PULSE and also nervous of when and where my first blog will come from! Wishing you all the best in Kenya – I’ll be reading your further posts avidly! Anna

  4. Great first blog Alicia. I know I felt the same things you are experiencing before I left for my PULSE assignment with AMREF in 2013. You will do well, and the staff at AMREF are a great group of people. Keep the blogs going. My team here at GSK always liked reading mine. The blogs will help a lot when it comes time to do your case study at the end of your assignment. As always, feel free to contact me about AMREF or Kenya while you are on your assignment.

  5. Great first blog Alicia….I’m looking forward to the rest! All the best for all the change, challenge and growth ahead.

  6. Thank you for your leap of faith in sharing so openly and honestly about what you are feeling right now. I am certain there are many other volunteers feeling just the same right now, and many more who have felt these things in the past and made it through successfully. I am very certain you will do the same! Great first blog, so thanks again. Look forward to following your journey and can’t wait for the next instalment!

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