Resilience – why your origin story can define your future


Resilience – why your origin story can define your future

Resilience – why your origin story can define your future

I said in my last blog that I was going to talk about resilience, resourcefulness and reflection – why they’re important, how they work and where they come from.

Where they come from is crucial, especially where resilience is concerned, because it feeds very strongly into your journey as a business owner and the support I can give you as a business coach.

But tracing it back to its origins can be tricky. Something that happened to you as a child – an event you might not even remember – could dictate your behaviour and reactions decades down the line. Some people spend years digging deep to find it.

In my case, my origin story casts an enormous amount of light on the level of resilience I’ve been able to build up…

Where does your resilience come from?

I’ve written before about the events early in my life that made me into the husband, father, business coach and man I am today.

Like many people, my upbringing and background were not perfect. I’ve had various roles and responsibilities, I’ve been doing well and then all of a sudden, the carpet has been pulled out from under me. But I moved on.

This latest iteration of me as a coach and mentor is one of many pivots in my life, all of which have demonstrated resilience and, in turn, made me even more resilient.

When I was 10 years old, I returned to London – where I had been brought up – from Nigeria – where my mum and dad had moved out to six weeks earlier – on my own.

Where did I find the resilience to survive without my parents?

Having thought long and hard about this, I’ve concluded that my mother and father prepared me for it. They had multiple jobs when I was little and there was a very clear element of me being encouraged to find my independence from a very early age.

For one thing, they never walked me to primary school or picked me up at the end of the day. One of my primary schools was at the bottom of my road, Santley Street School, which shut down in 1997 and is now a private development. I’d just run the 500 meters to school and then home again afterwards.

I was taught how to cook from the age of three or four, just watching how things were done and made. It was never taken for granted that anything would be done for you.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the only one in that boat. There were other Nigerians of my ilk and boys from other cultures who were in the same position, left alone a lot of the time.

We were latch key kids – there’s even a photo somewhere of my sister and I as kids with our door keys round our necks.

Get into good habits early

So where did I get the strength to be alone, to live, to survive? I feel there was almost an unspoken bribe in the air – if you can manage on your own as a child, if you can behave, you will do well in life.

I remember my dad’s words: “Don’t hang around with that gang. Be polite. Look smart. Be intelligent. Go to school. Enjoy school. Enjoy sports. Enjoy everything that the world outwardly can see you doing and you’ll be all right.”

He was putting the building blocks in place for me to avoid being pulled in other directions, establishing the resilience I would need to succeed in whatever I went on to do.

And I draw on that advice every day in my coaching work. Putting good habits and processes in place early is essential for a business to flourish or for an individual to maximise their potential.

Something else that was important for me was loving every day at secondary school, Salesian College in Battersea. I absolutely loved those years – getting on a bus in Brixton or Clapham Common, meeting some mates and having a laugh.

At my school, 60 per cent of the teachers were priests and Catholicism was rammed down your throat. There were three black guys in my class and only five in the whole year but I could pull out my phone right now and 20 people I met when I was 11 would have been in touch over the previous 48 hours.

Salesian College was a massive part of what my life has turned out to be, a big building block for where I am now.

There are always points in life where things can go wrong

There was a lot of turbulence for me as a teenager. There were riots – I wasn’t involved. The Special Patrol Group were out in force, I got arrested, beaten up.

But I was lucky. I knew some hard people and I felt protected to some extent. Yes, there was some excessive behaviour and I’d been visiting friends in different prisons from the age of about 14 onwards.

But – back to my dad’s building blocks – I would only ever go so far and then stop before things got too out of hand. This was years before CCTV but I used to think my parents were watching me.

I was also spending at least 10 weeks a year in Nigeria and that brought another perspective on life. There was excessive wealth there as well as excessive poverty and my mum and dad were somewhere in between.

They weren’t really part of the system over there because they’d spent time over here so they weren’t quite accepted and neither was I when I went over there.

So there’s lots of checkpoints in my youth, lots of opportunities for things to go wrong – but it was discipline that kept my life in check.

From law to housing

My parents wanted me to be a doctor, accountant or lawyer and when the time came to leave school I didn’t really know much about what university meant so followed a couple of mates to Middlesex Polytechnic to do a law degree (it became a university in 1992).

I studied law and got a Masters degree in it and I did my first Legal Practice Course at the Guildhall School of Business and Law. I failed the first time and that tested my resilience, I was burnt out and had run out of money.

I applied for roles at law centres and met Beverly Brown, who became my first real mentor and who wrote me a reference just a couple of weeks ago.

She got me a role as a volunteer, then a locum and then I became a law centre trustee – but then I moved into local authority housing, purely because I needed the money. Another pivot.

I became PA to the director of housing at a local authority and I loved it. I told him I would have his job one day and he wanted to fast-track me through the management ranks. But I told him I wanted every job on the ladder before I got to his.

I started as an assistant, then a housing officer, a team leader, housing manager and area manager. But the higher I went, I started meeting people who didn’t like me and I was made redundant.

I took interim positions for a few years, six months here, a year there and I was always gutted when my contract ran out because I thought I did a really good job and wanted to stay there.

Three confidentiality agreements in 33 years

I then took a number of confidentiality agreement-backed redundancies. The first one was at a housing association where the director’s role came up.

People said I should go for it. I didn’t think I’d been there long enough to go for it, which was my own imposter syndrome taking over. Another person came in, he got it and tried to manage me out. The management saw what was going on and I took the money.

The second time it happened was at another housing association. Once again, I was promised the world but the chief executive didn’t like me, we had an argument, and again they paid me off.

The third time round – and this is still bound by a confidentiality agreement – I got blamed for a couple of things that happened, my director told me I was next in line but he couldn’t take the heat and again I was off with a payout in my pocket.

Three times in 33 years. I had a Masters and became a Fellow. Anyone would ask what’s going on and it seemed clear they didn’t want me in that space and I was never going to become the executive director or chief executive I dreamt of becoming.

You can talk about glass ceilings or different types of isms but I was drained, I’d had enough and I wanted to move on and set up my own business.

Learning how to move on is crucial

At one point, I was put in front of a disciplinary tribunal after a multi-million pound external decorations programme went over budget. I’d warned them it would happen and yet somehow I was still blamed. But I’m a bit of a nerd and I’d kept everything, all my notes. What started out as a gross misconduct charge came down to a learning and training requirement.

That’s my dad’s advice – ‘Be intelligent’ – and so much of what I’ve been through professionally I’ve been able to move on from because I hold dear what my mum and dad held dear.

So I have moved on – and so can you. One of my redundancy packages included the use of a coach to help me get a new job and I was watching her and thinking, ‘I could do this.’

I used some of my redundancy money to get qualified and I got out there and started networking. I didn’t understand what it would take to start a business. I didn’t have a business plan. I didn’t have my vision or a plan.

I wasted time and money for the first couple of years but I’m in the lane, I’m sticking with it and I will make it work. There’s no choice. That’s my resilience at play.

Because, don’t get me wrong, there’s been some dark moments. I’ve looked at job boards, I’ve spoken to recruitment consultant friends but they could tell I wasn’t into it.

You have to take all the good things and all the bad things that have happened to you and mould them around what you’re doing now. If your mind is elsewhere, you’ll get knocked off track.

So it boils down to consistency, perseverance and resilience. You have to be consistent in your approach to whatever it is you are doing. You have to persevere because it is hard out there. And then you become resilient.

When it’s tough, look at the life you’ve got. Running my own business means I can spend time with my family and do the things I want to do. I couldn’t do that in a nine to five in housing.

Next time, I’ll talk about resourcefulness and why it’s such a crucial trait for anyone in business.

Whether you’re looking to take your business to the next level, start again with a fresh approach or if you just need someone to keep you accountable, I can help. Book a free discovery call with me by clicking here and let’s explore how coaching could accelerate your growth.


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