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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

The life lessons I learned at Cambridge University medical school.

Few things are more challenging for someone with impostor syndrome than being at the top of your cohort for most of your education, then finding yourself surrounded by thousands of similar people…

That’s exactly what happened to me when I started medicine at Cambridge University…

The place itself was quite a culture shock for an Algerian kid from a Franco-Soviet-Islamic schooling system.

I quickly realised it was a waste of time trying to be the best…So I naturally started digging deeper to find out who I was beyond the top grades…

After, a couple of close brushes with religious extremism, bra-burning feminism and eco-activism (the twists and turns of the search for identity), I found something to put my heart into...

I became fascinated by the social, political and economic factors that shape our health. I wanted to understanding the relationship between the individual and the wider context of our lives; and how the one can transform the other. In medical terms that meant a career in Public Health shaping policy and politics…

Most importantly, I learned that:

- who we think we are changes over time…

- a deeper part of us stays constant over time it takes courage and patience to find and follow what lights your heart up

- not everyone will support you

- the right people will support you and will create incredible opportunities

- striving to be the generic best will give you a sense of short lived achievement;

- growing into your unique self will create long term fulfilment.

:: If you’re still focused on being the best, you’re missing the point… ::

Of course, you can still become the best at the thing(s) you’re passionate about (I was commended in my public health exam; got first prize for my elective report which was on the my explorations of the Cuban public health system; and got one of the top House Jobs in my year arguing that it was perfect for developing a career in public health...).

But being the best in this case becomes a by-product of your commitment and focus; it’s driven by your desire to learn and share your knowledge and talent with the world.

If you’re still focused on “being the best” above and beyond everything else, you’re probably trying to fulfil one or more of your basic needs: safety, challenge, significance, connection. Becoming the best in this case is just a strategy to fulfil a need. And it can be addictive and chaotic…

Being more of who you are is a totally different experience. It’s where pure creation and innovation can come from. Think Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa, Einstein.

Don’t get lost in pursuing a career if it doesn’t align with your values and check in regularly with yourself [see video].

“Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman. Author, Philosopher, Theologian, Educator, Civil Rights Leader. Have a great week.

Have a great week,


p.s. I’m excited to share a few speaking events I’ll be doing that may be relevant to you to transform your career, find balance and make a difference. It would be great to see you there!

AUTUMN 2017 SPEAKING EVENTS: Join in if any of these are relevant to you!

Thursday 21st September 11.45-12.45: Public Health Alternative Careers [panel for PH specialists], Senate House, London.

Wednesday 27th of September 8 - 9pm: “Break Through Career Confusion and Transform Your Life” [webinar for doctors]. Sign up here.

Monday 16th October at 8pm - 9:30pm: “Overcome career confusion and step into leadership: insights from medicine, public health and international policy.” Goodenough College Port Talk [for GC members and alumni]. Register on The Square.

Monday 27th of November 1.30 to 4.30pm: “Boosting Your Research Through a Creativity Strategy” [for UCL research staff]. Look out for announcements from Organisational Development.

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