As I was finishing my third and final lap biking around the Stanley Park Seawall, my legs felt like Jell-O. I never biked this much before (a whopping 53 km that day, by the way), which made me wonder why I agreed to go on a “short” bike ride with my new co-workers at Vancouver Coastal Health. Looking back, however, I am glad that I agreed to join the bike ride. I got to know my co-workers outside of work – something that I didn’t know I needed.
From my experience working for a total of 12 months with two organizations, I think the most daunting thing about being a Co-op student is that I am portrayed as “the Co-op student”. Early on in my first Co-op job, I attached negative connotations to the label. I created imaginary nametags for myself in light of my job, such as “inexperienced”, “young”, or “temporary”, and mistakenly allowed these nametags to reflect my position within the company. Because I conformed to these nametags, I did not have a voice. I hardly spoke up in meetings thinking that my ideas were nonsensical due to my inexperience within the company, and I rarely questioned the work assigned to me. From this lack of confidence, I complacently slipped into the cyclical routine of being handed a task, completing it, and then being assigned another plate of tasks with no questions asked. While it may seem that there is nothing wrong with this rhythm, I felt like there was more to be obtained from my Co-op experience at VCH.
The catalyst that broke this dull routine was building relationships with my co-workers by getting to know them outside of work. A few weeks into my job at VCH, our team planned a group bike ride around Stanley Park. Of course, being the introvert I am, I was hesitant to go because I was unfamiliar with the others joining the activity. Moreover, I thought I completely forgot how to socialize due to more than a year of lacking social activities due to the pandemic. However, I eventually convinced myself to go as I concluded that I had nothing to lose.
Although the bike ride was a physical feat, it was rewarding in more ways than one. The conversations and laughs that took place during these events with my co-workers made a tremendous difference in how much more comfortable I was to present myself in meetings. With newfound confidence in voicing my ideas, I came to realize that when someone criticizes or disagrees with me, there is no reason to take the criticism personally or as an insult. I learned to understand why some ideas may be unfitting, which ultimately contributed to the process of achieving goals as a team. As I became more comfortable with the team during meetings, there came an opportunity for me to share what skills I would have liked to develop during my tenure at VCH. I was shocked that they asked me this question, because I had this limited view of a Co-op job as a one-way relationship, where I naturally did whatever someone asked of me.
Since I developed a strong connection with my co-workers by getting to know them outside of work, I gained the confidence to propose other tasks that I wished to do. Initially, I thought that most of my work would be revolving around organizing monthly Medical Staff Forums, and other tasks that my supervisor had for me. However, I expressed my interest in taking on projects related to graphic design and writing articles. From this, the team offered me various opportunities in these fields, including designing a poster booklet featuring over 30 healthcare projects from physicians all over the Lower Mainland, and writing articles about physicians that were featured on the medical staff website and newsletters. Had I not expressed the certain skills that I wanted to develop during my time at VCH, I probably would not have been able to take on these projects!
Attaching the labels “inexperienced”, “young”, and “temporary” to my position was not the core problem that caused my lack of confidence when I started off my Co-op journey. The root issue was on allowing these connotations to reflect who I am as an employee, and as a person. My biggest piece of advice to future and current co-op students is to not let yourself be easily intimidated by working with people who have much more professional experience than you. See your co-workers as friends and they might love to get to know you and your interests in your job because Co-op is a two-way dialogue. If it takes three full laps around Stanley Park to get to know my co-workers, then so be it. Yes, my leg muscles got thicker after the ride, but more importantly, my relationships with my co-workers strengthened, which greatly contributed to providing me with such a rich experience at Vancouver Coastal Health.
A few weeks after the grueling bike ride, the VCH team went paddle boarding at Deep Cove! Good thing we didn’t paddle board around Deep Cove three times.
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