Mervi's story: What will I become when I grow up?

Career story

As a child, we often answer the question naming familiar occupations that we encounter in our daily lives. For me, it was a hairdresser. Later, I wanted to become a pharmacist, but fortunately that dream did not come true, because I wouldn’t have been precise and patient enough for that job. I’ve always enjoyed customer service, which later transformed into a will to collaborate with others.

In upper secondary school, my mathematics and physics teachers got me interested in these subjects, and my logical way of thinking helped me do well in them. Following my physics teacher’s recommendation and encouragement, after the second year of upper secondary school I participated on a course that urged girls to pursue a career in technical fields. Inspired by that course, I decided to apply to Helsinki University of Technology (today, Aalto University). I was admitted to the degree programme in energy technology, and after the first years, I chose HVAC technology as my major subject. The field was marketed to students because there was a serious shortage of skilled professionals. The situation became concrete very soon, as we were all pretty much employed already during our studies. Even later, there has been plenty of work for everyone who has studied the field. Some of my fellow students have moved on to working on energy issues of buildings.

I fully enjoyed my time as a student. Having just moved away from home, it was easy to dive into student life, as there were parties all the time, and I was free to do what I wanted. Even my studies progressed nicely. But I felt that I still missed something in my life and, therefore, spent one semester as an exchange student in England. There, I had a chance to get to know a wide variety of people and a very different university world.

Ever since I started my studies, in my mind, I had begun a process of turning the master's thesis that completes the studies into a larger-than-life personal monster. When I started preparing it with insufficient support, I ran into a brick wall. It was a major crisis for me when I had to admit that I was not going to make it, especially as my earlier studies had gone very smoothly. Fortunately, I soon got into a new place where I received enough guidance, and I did graduate. I also got a confirmation of a workplace just before graduation.

In my own work, it has been particularly rewarding to see interaction between people

I transferred to indoor air business, where HVAC technology is only one small part of the whole. I applied for work at the Finnish Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate after having spent three years at home with two children. Here, I have had a chance to get acquainted with the different sectors related to indoor air and to reflect on the whole that contributes to good indoor air. I’ve been fascinated by the fact that it all largely depends on how people personally experience indoor air. Not everything is just technology or measurable quantities. In addition, it has given me an opportunity to work with different stakeholders, which has been very rewarding.

From being an indoor air expert, I advanced to the position of the executive manager, when my predecessor transferred to a full-time job elsewhere. This transition meant again new things to learn and a wide range of challenges to which I was not prepared. Help is available, and to get forward, you only need to ask! Life will bring you all kinds of challenges, but they, if anything, help you learn and grow. You gain more confidence in yourself when you emerge from a crisis stronger than before. But in the same way as in your personal life, in working life, you do not need to manage all alone.

In my current job, I get to fulfil myself in diverse ways. Our task is to organise events for disseminating information. As in almost all sectors, the coronavirus pandemic brought its own challenges to us as well since we could no longer organise events in the usual manner. However, the need for information did not decrease and we had to come up with new ways of disseminating it. Fortunately, physical events are possible again since people still need genuine encounters and interaction.

In my own work, it has been particularly rewarding to see interaction and cooperation between people, when we are promoting things together. At the same time, it allows me to learn and get new insights, and advance things for better indoor air.

I've never been a particularly goal-oriented person. In working life, I have gone where life has taken me. It’s wonderful that people have goals and dreams, but in your work, you can be satisfied and do meaningful things without planning your future too precisely or too far ahead. However, sometimes it’s good to stop and think about what inspires and motivates you.

Appreciating and respecting others is important

Working life needs different personalities. It would be important to understand that success is created through cooperation and by recognising everyone's strengths and weaknesses. Appreciating and respecting others is important. You must also learn to be merciful to yourself and learn from your past mistakes, as everyone can develop as long as they have enough humility.

Last summer, we were organising an international conference, which was quite an effort as we had to do many things for the first time, and there were a lot of moving parts. The shadow of the coronavirus continued to pose additional challenges for organising things. When you have people who are committed and enthusiastic in your team, it will also carry you through stressful work periods. It was particularly rewarding when everything finally went as expected, and the participants were satisfied.

Sufficient recovery is important if the work is particularly straining at times. You should not leave recovery as something to be accomplished during the summer, but you should also add enough restorative activity to your everyday life. Sufficient sleep is particularly important for coping. I've noticed that I don’t sleep that well in the early hours of the morning, so I've decided to invest in early night's sleep. You put your children to bed in time, but you must also order yourself to go to bed.

In different life situations, you need different things to enhance your own well-being. In the everyday life with small children, you have very little time of your own, but after the children start becoming more independent, you need to learn to listen to your own needs again. At this time in life, listening to audio books and music, and exercising make me feel good. In my leisure time, family, friends and the dog bring happy moments to my daily life. It’s very important to learn to listen to yourself. This helps you live in harmony with the person you spend all the hours of the day with.

Nothing in life is certain except change. You must not get stuck in the past, but you can and must learn from it. If someone were to ask me, where I see myself in five years’ time, I'd say I really don't know. I trust life to take me where I'm supposed to go. I still don't know what I'm going to be when I grow up, but fortunately, there's still time.

If something calls to you, go for it!

Mervi Ahola 
Executive manager
Finnish Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate