Whenever I tell my story of growing up in Albania and moving to the UK to continue my studies and set up a successful career and family life  – despite the obvious language barrier – people’s eyes usually widen.

While it sounds like a cliche that I didn’t have many opportunities as a child, since then, I’ve carved an illustrious career for myself – and it’s a story that I am immensely proud to tell.

I grew up in Tirana, the capital of Albania, where I lived until the age of 21. I was one of six children, and the school I attended was not the best, but I made the most of it.

While there were rarely any definitive career options for women, my mum was a nurse, and she worked hard to carve a professional identity for herself. I knew I wanted to do the same.

Ever since I was a young girl, I can always remember having the determination to want to do more. Rather than ‘just’ being a wife and a mum –  although both are very important – I had a burning desire to go out, work hard and achieve something for myself.

Like many others, I’ve always had the fear of ‘will I ever do anything with my life?’ I’ve always been a worrier, but I’ve also always been determined to prove myself.

Sometimes I look back and wonder if I was putting too much pressure on myself or if it was just a drive to succeed.

Fast forward to 2009, after meeting my husband, I moved to the UK and graduated with a first-class honours degree in business management, despite English being my second language and having to do a language test to prove my competence.

I wish I’d planned earlier for life after rugby

I was hyper focused on starting the next chapter of my career and my life, despite missing my family back in Albania.

I graduated from my degree during the financial crisis, and there weren’t as many jobs available. I remember taking my CV all around Liverpool and handing it to any business that would take it.

My first job was with an agency helping work through the backlog of visa applications from asylum seekers. It was a temporary job, but I loved it at the time.

Soon after, I landed a role within the reconciliation team at Rathbones Investment Management. But a short while after starting the position, I came across a job as a performance analyst in another department, and I wanted to apply.

Having only just started a new role, I worried what people would think, but I got the job and was allowed to transfer teams. It was here that I completed my master’s in wealth management before going on to have my son.

Looking back, I’d have told my younger self to not have worried so much. Many of my friends used to say, ‘focus on your marriage and having a baby’, and I felt there were two roads I had to pick between – the first being that I settle down into family life and put my career on hold, and the second being to not have children and instead place all my focus on my professional life. Little did I know I could (and would) have both, and that it would work out better than I could have ever imagined.

Despite some of the challenges I’ve faced –  including the lack of opportunities and English being my second language – I have learnt that, if you’re determined and prepared to work hard, the opportunities will be there for you. You’re not a product of your circumstances. It’s who you are inside and your ambition that truly counts.

When my maternity leave ended, I began my career as a paraplanner with Plus Group. Of course, the worries of wanting to do a good job while being present for my family came back, but my employer at the time couldn’t have been more supportive of me.

I was able to work flexibly around my son, so my family life didn’t have to suffer as a result. My confidence at work improved during this time too – I had a great track record, and I finally felt like I’d found the right job for me, where I could continuously learn and further my career.

Critics used to say I was cuckoo – but not anymore

When I look back at my 21-year-old self, it would be easy to say ‘I wish I’d become a paraplanner sooner’. But all the jobs and experience I had prior to this have led me to where I am today and I’m proud of the girl working in the asylum seekers application office.

In 2019, I was given the opportunity to join PFP as an in-house paraplanner. I had one of the highest number of qualifications at PFP, but I knew I needed to perform well and prove myself during the early days of joining.

I was thrown in at the deep end when I started. Perhaps it was my experience that got me through it – as well as a lot of hard work and determination.

While there was room for error – I’m human at the end of the day –  I was never careless. I put a lot of effort into my work, and I still stand by this as an effective way to be successful and get the most out of a job.

After a couple of years, I once again began to wonder what was next. After speaking with the directors at PFP Wealth about my future and how I can grow and progress within the firm, it made me realise that I love my job, I am good at what I do, and I would feel extremely fulfilled helping others in their paraplanning journey.

This was when I was promoted to the head of the department which involved me building out a team of people and empowering them with their professional development.

At the start of the year, I won the St James’s Place ‘Paraplanner of the Year’ award, which is something that younger me could never have foreseen.

If I could go back and tell my 21-year-old-self one thing, it would be to ‘have faith in yourself, and you will get to where you need to be as hard work always pays off’.