THE REASON I’M ALIVE TODAY IS BECAUSE OF ORDINARY HEROES LIKE YOU.
But if you’re thinking, I’m not a hero, that’s understandable. Look at the way we describe ourselves: I’m JUST a Mum, JUST a teacher. You know, like we don’t have the capacity to be a change the world.
I get that, you face huge challenges in your life and some days you can barely sort yourself out let alone save anyone else.
So it kinda makes sense to keep your head down.
But if I’m right, and you are a hero, then keeping your head down has huge consequences and comes at a huge cost.
On the flip side, if you were just 10% braver, you could transform a life.
WHAT DOES BRAVERY LOOK LIKE?
A few years ago, I was watching The Apprentice on TV. What I should have been doing was writing some next steps for a school who’d asked me help transform their children’s writing.
I got distracted seeing the candidates stumble their way through what seemed like straightforward tasks and I start thinking: ‘If I went on The Apprentice, I would win! Then I could set up a business which make sure that no child ever left school without the ability to read, spell and write!’
Great idea eh?
So, I applied, got accepted and was a huge success on the show. That’s if a huge success is being fired at the end of the first week.
However, it was an opportunity to learn quite a lot about coming back from failure which is what I get asked to speak about at conferences — how to rebrand failure and embed ambitious resilience.
But being a Z list reality TV star is the least interesting thing about my story. The real story is the story behind the Apprentice and it’s a story of what happens when people just like you STAND when a hero is needed.
Growing up, I was one little girl who needed a hero.
It took one woman and a handful of men to create this family. I’m the best looking one on the end.
This is the only photo I have of all of my brothers and sisters together because when I was 8 we were separated and put into care.
By 8 years old I had been punched in the face.
By 8 years old I had been forced to steal in order to eat.
By 8 years old I had been raped countless times.
If reading this feels uncomfortable, please rest assured — I’m fine! This isn’t therapy. The reason I’m sharing this is so you can see what’s possible.
And I mean what’s possible from the point of view of a broken little girl who believed she was totally worthless.
Except for on the days I was allowed to go to school. School meant everything to me.
MR WILLIAM’S MOUSTACHE
I laughed at school, specifically at a teacher called Mr Williams.
Mr Williams operated under the mistaken belief that he was in charge which made it very difficult for us to get along.
He seemed to live in a permanently heightened state of stress. He was short, Welsh and had the most ridiculously over sized moustache that danced all over his face when he shouted.
Which was most of the time.
Like other adult, he asked me about the bruises on my arms.
I did what I always did and lied.
But Mr Williams knew his WHY and it went way beyond trying to teach me the bus stop method of long division.
He leaned in towards me and said, “I think you’re protecting someone and what you need to know is that I’m here to look out for you.”
I’ll never forget the look on his face when I told him just part of the truth. Pained. Like my words were causing him actual pain.
He took me to the school library. As I peeked out through window I could see him standing in front of the door holding a cricket bat in one hand, and slapping it repeatedly into the other!
Now, I have no idea what he thought he was going to do with that bat, but he stood there, with a determined look on his face, until a social worker came.
The truth is that it wasn’t the rescue that made the impact. It wasn’t the fact that inside that library was the first time my life I’d ever felt safe.
It was that he showed he cared.
That he stood.
EVERYDAY HEROES — JUST LIKE YOU
Growing up and living alternately in foster care and on the street is no picnic.
I was lucky, four more ordinary heroes came into my life and each one of them — they all happened to be teachers — showed they cared by holding onto a vision of success for me until I could hold it for myself.
Mr Williams stood outside a library.
Mrs Cook held my hand when she knew there was going to be a fire drill.
Mr Simpson asked me how I was every day and then waited for an answer.
Miss Archer valued all of my ideas even though most of them were borderline bonkers.
And, then there was Mr Readman.
Mr Readman encouraged me to try, then stood back and smiled the biggest, proudest smile.
They showed they cared in ways that seemed so small but … they made it possible for a broken little girl to become the woman I am today.
And, they didn’t do it because it was their job, but because they were human first and teacher second.
On my own all I could see in my future was darkness. I had this voice of doom saying I’d end up dead by 40. But because of five adults believing in me, against all the odds, I actually finished school. My grades weren’t great but because they’d refused to give upon on me in me I couldn’t let them down by giving up on myself.
I managed to beat even more odds and talked my way into university so that I could train to be a teacher myself, just like my heroes.
What’s more is that because they were prepared to stand in the fire of my life and build a relationship with me I started to consider the possibility that I could have something I never dared dream about.
A family of my own.
SURVIVING OR THRIVING?
So that’s success. Right?
I broke the cycle, I’m in a loving relationship, my kids are amazing people. I’m thriving.
But I wasn’t the only child in the photo at the beginning of this story.
I’m telling you all of this because of my eldest brother, Paul.
See the real story behind the glitz of The Apprentice, is that the week the show aired and in the middle of all the craziness of a glitzy, fake news life of suddenly find yourself a Z list reality TV star, I had to go and identify my baby brothers body.
He took heroin overdose and died one month before his 40th birthday.
You’ve lost someone. You know that journey.
After the initial grief I’m at the sink one day, washing up and this welling comes up inside me. I turn to my husband and blurt, “I have to stop. I can’t pretend anymore. This life, it’s not enough. I can’t, I can’t stand by. What’s the point of me winning if others are struggling? There are kids today, right now, that need a hero. I have to do something. I have make it right because… I couldn’t save Paul.
And because stories without heroes don’t have happy endings.
YOUR NEXT STEP
Look, I’m not going to pretend it’s easy to be a hero.
I punched and kicked Mr Williams. I lashed out at him because he cared and I couldn’t accept that I was worthy of that.
But he didn’t wait for me to get it. He didn’t need me to understand. He just stood. Because that’s what heroes do.
Because change won’t happen until your desire to make a difference is bigger, stronger and more powerful than your fear of trying.
So, please stop doubting that you can make a difference.
Stop wondering if you’ve got what it takes.
Your ticket is bought and paid for. Get on the ride.
Every day I work with teachers who are so worn down by our education system they can’t see how amazing they are.
They think they’re just ordinary.
What I realised is that very few people know that Clark Kent is Superman. He’s just a regular guy until a situation requires a hero. Then he doesn’t hesitate or consider the pros and cons of getting involved.
Like he’s volunteering to lead a team on The Apprentice, his hand goes up, he finds the nearest phone box and he’s in there ripping his shirt off!
Who stood for you?
I’m betting there was someone. Because this isn’t just my story. The details may be different but the struggle is the same. It’s the story of children in your school, young people in your community, adults in your workplace, your friends, your partner…
Its the story of anyone who is living a life limited by the fear that they might just be unloveable.
And in their story the hero is you.
GO BE A HERO
I’m alive because of heroes like you. So go be a hero.
It’s OK if you don’t feel ready and it’s OK to be scared.
But do it anyway.
Because when you do, you can literally transform a life.
Thank you for reading this. It’s really a write up of my TEDx Talk by CLICKING HERE.
You can help me as I’m on a mission to see it screened in every staffroom in the UK.
If you can share it over your social media and with friends, I’d be deeply grateful.
If you’re showing it in school, I have a free downloadable pack on my website with thoughts and questions to consider.