My Graduate Life: Orla McMahon

All throughout school I never had an idea of what I really wanted to do. I felt like I was far behind many of my peers. They had goals that they were working towards compared to me, I just wanted to do well in my leaving cert so that if, or when, I decide on what I wanted to do in the future, I could do it. There was also the fact that my parents and I couldn’t afford to put myself through college. We always seemed to be just over the limit to get any sort of grant or scheme that could help us out. I filled out my CAO form regardless, but I didn’t get any college offer that really grabbed my interest. Nothing worth me pursuing. I always liked the idea of travelling. I wanted freedom more than any job!

When everyone started to go to college and I wasn’t, I felt so left out and I really felt like I was working towards nothing. This is very hard for me to share but it was probably the hardest time in my life. I had started to work in retail after the leaving cert. I was in a few different jobs and discovered the fact that I was really not happy in many of them. The days were monotonous. It all sounds very depressing but in between it all, I did meet the best people who became very close friends. Once I saved up enough money to get my driving licence and myself on the road, I gained independence and a new motivation after so long. I still desperately wanted to go on and progress in my education. I had my car, I had money saved up… all I needed was to know where to go or what to do next.

When everyone started to go to college and I wasn’t, I felt so left out and I really felt like I was working towards nothing. This is very hard for me to share but it was probably the hardest time in my life. I had started to work in retail after the leaving cert. I was in a few different jobs and discovered the fact that I was really not happy in many of them. The days were monotonous. It all sounds very depressing but in between it all, I did meet the best people who became very close friends. Once I saved up enough money to get my driving licence and myself on the road, I gained independence and a new motivation after so long. I still desperately wanted to go on and progress in my education. I had my car, I had money saved up… all I needed was to know where to go or what to do next.

Graduate life Beauty therapist
Orla completed a PLC in Beauty Therapy.

After many thoughts, conversations with peers and loved ones of what I could do, I could not settle on one idea. While I was in work one day I saw a set of nails that were flawless. I thought, “Imagine being able to do a set of nails like that”. They looked amazing. I started to think of all the freedom someone could have being a nail technician or even a beautician could have, you could do nails anywhere in the world if I ever did travel. I could even set up my own business one day. It was my lightbulb moment. If you know me or my family, we are all quite artsy and creative (especially my sisters) and I loved the idea of creating different sets of nails each day.

 So, the first step was finding a nail technician course. When I tell you there are tonnes of courses available, there are! I honestly, at that time, could not tell if these nail courses were legitimate or not. So, while researching, there was a beauty therapy PLC course, close to me in Portlaoise (Loetb). I could drive there each day and the course seemed reasonably priced. Before I knew it I was at the opening day of Loetb. The course coordinators seemed so lovely and the course covered so much more than nails – spray tan, lash extensions, massage and waxing and so on. I could progress from a beautician and be a beauty therapist by going into second year. I was told beauty therapy was going to be difficult. There is a lot of studying with challenging practical and theory exams. Even though I had not done a science course in my leaving cert, the course was going to start biology from the very beginning, so it was perfect for me.

I loved the idea of studying again and finally a challenge! By this time, I think I was 4 years out of secondary school. I loved every minute of beauty therapy. There were hard times but in the end it was so worth it. I even got to go to Budapest to work in a beauty salon for two weeks with Erasmus. I felt like I was finally good at something. My motivation was so high, and I was so proud of my work and results I was getting each week. I feel as though if I went straight from school into college I wouldn’t have that drive or even maturity I had.

After passing first year, I was a newly qualified beautician. I was qualified in waxing/ massage/ facials/ spray tan/ facial machines/ lash extensions and (most importantly to me) my nail technician course! I spent my summer searching for a part-time job in a salon or spa. I needed 600 hours of work experience to achieve a beauty therapy certificate. I thought because I had previous work experience that it would be simply finding a job, however, it wasn’t the case. I went for a few interviews and nowhere seemed to be hiring someone with no salon experience. Luckily, I found Anna in a salon near me. She believed in me and saw the potential I had. Anna is famous for her nails, in fact, Anna was the same nail technician whose work inspired me to become a nail technician in the first place.

Second year in beauty therapy was just crazy! It was mostly due to the fact COVID struck in March and we had final exams in May… for most of the academic year I had college Monday to Wednesday, and I had work from Thursday to Saturday. I somehow got through my exams all online and became a beauty therapist!

Working in a salon is so much fun. To me it hardly feels like work. I had started off doing nail treatments, but Anna ended up expanding her nail bar into a beauty salon, offering many different treatments. I now do brow treatments, lash treatments and waxing alongside nails. It’s nice to break up the workday from doing nails constantly. I also adore all my clients, and some have even become friends. I found it is important in this career to take photos of your work to see your progress AND DO NOT GIVE UP.

I am not too sure where this career is going to take me, but I have a passion for what I do. I do know that if I do decide to travel (please go away COVID) that I could work pretty much anywhere in the world and around my schedule.

Orla McMahon

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