Winning the modelling competition, "Model in a Million" in 1994 gave me a media platform I had never expected and since then I have tried to use that to challenge outdated stereotypes and attitudes towards disability. The ‘How to Look Good Naked’ programmes and the Debenhams campaign in 2010 marked a high that took nearly 16 years to achieve. However, I have most enjoyed interacting with people wanting to learn more about disability, lecturing in corporate organisations or chatting with children in primary schools; that's when I feel like I'm making a positive difference to perceptions of people with disabilities.
When things haven't gone the way I had hoped. This has happened in both careers, in media when I may not have got roles I auditioned for or when I couldn't meet with casting directors for roles I really wanted to play.
Learning to juggle. I have juggled two very different careers for 16 years. I'm probably known for modelling and acting but I have also always worked or studied full-time while doing this. Whilst at law school at weekends, I was working full-time for a production company as well as finding time to model, present and write. I find that I thrive on being busy and chasing opportunities, you never know where they might lead. I still believe I've a long way to go before I'll be satisfied with either career.
Choosing what I ultimately want to do. I really enjoy both ‘careers’ but juggling so much can be quite a challenge. The week we did the shoot for Debenhams I had three major law exams!
Best lesson learned
To never give up on your dreams, but to be flexible when aiming for them. If you want to pursue a career in acting or modelling I would advise you to have a second career to accompany it. It's not a reliable source of income and you need something to supplement the quiet spells. Also, be prepared for very long hours in all kinds of conditions, if you tire easily it might not be the right path for you.
Try to be confident and don't be overly modest about any achievements or success. Especially women, men are never backward in coming forward about their own achievements at work.
I have mentored young people coming to terms with disability and I hope I've helped reignite some enthusiasm for them. I've never had official mentors but there are a few very successful people I admire and turn to for advice. Never be shy to ask someone for career guidance, in most circumstances they'll be flattered and happy to help.
How my disability/health condition helps
The challenges posed by my disability mean I'm rather adaptable and resourceful, this type of thinking is always beneficial in an office environment (or even on a shoot!). I think my colleagues have learnt a lot from working with me, and definitely have very positive attitudes to disability as a result.
Shannon Murray - October 2011
This week sees the launch of Radar’s new publication ‘Doing Careers Differently’. A new guide for disabled job hunters, or those seeking to develop their careers, showing it is possible for people with disabilities or long term health conditions to find satisfying work, as well as bring added value to employers. ‘Doing Careers Differently’ shows how a disability can actually be an advantage in the work place – not just because disabled people have frequently had to deal with enormous challenges which makes them resilient and excellent problem solvers, qualities valued by employers – but also in some possibly surprising ways. Personal stories from disabled people including models, actors, media professionals, senior managers and entrepreneurs in the guide show that it is possible to make work meaningful and at the same time, earn a decent wage.
You can download the guide for free from the Radar website from Wednesday 5th October 2011.