When aspiration becomes reality

This blog is courtesy of Jimmy Paul, a totally awesome young man who was a recipient of a Life Changes Trust Aspirational Award.  

It was September 2016 and I was sifting through my emails at work.  At the time, I was a manager at NHS National Services Scotland.  I saw an email from my former ‘executive coach’ from when I began my career in the health service, as part of the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme, and I smiled.  She was reaching out to let me know that a Diploma in Executive Coaching was taking place in Scotland through the Academy of Executive Coaches (AoEC).  She felt that I had the passion and skills to thrive on the course, so she wanted me to consider undertaking this Diploma.

I felt absolutely honoured- probably because receiving executive coaching was life changing for me.  It helped me to be more confident, to own my care identity and to realise that my drive and passion lay in the care sector.   It was instrumental in me reaching a place of congruence in my life, and in focusing on my ongoing development as a person.  And she felt that I could learn coaching skills to help others to achieve transformative changes in their lives. What a huge compliment!

I was very interested in this course for all of the above reasons but sadly, I knew that taking part in this Diploma just wasn’t going to happen.

I replied to her saying that I wouldn’t be able to undertake the Diploma because I wasn’t sure that I’d be supported by my employers to complete it.  Within this response was a more significant reason; the diploma would cost several thousands of pounds.  Even though I worked in a decent paying job at the time, there was no way that I’d be able to afford that.

You see, I’m care experienced.  From the age 11, I spent over seven years in foster care where I was born, in east London.  My experience was extremely tumultuous; I had abusive foster carers and a difficult stay in residential care, before making the big move to Scotland, to study at university.

Despite all of those years under the care of the state, I graduated from University with no good relationships with any of my Corporate Parents, and with no savings.  Not only that, but I hadn’t been supported to learn basic skills which I would need for the rest of my life.  Housework, budgeting, navigating scary systems like University enrolment or student finance; the list goes on.  I had to learn these things myself and my flatmates at University will attest to my struggles with budgeting, cooking and messiness (which, to be fair to me, improved a lot over the years!).

Almost everyone I know has had significant support with these life skills from their families.  Same with their rent, mortgage deposits, jobs, their time at university, weddings, etc.

And I want to be clear that I am really, genuinely glad for them.  That’s how it should be.

But I also want to highlight that I didn’t, and won’t ever, get that same support.  I don’t think care experienced young people consistently do. The last thing I want from anyone reading this is pity, but I do think it’s important for people to know that the emotional and financial supports available to most, weren’t (and aren’t) available to me.  And that it can take a long time to build that secure foundation.  I’m still doing it at 27!

That is a pretty long winded way of saying that I didn’t have the money to complete the Diploma in Executive Coaching because everything I do is geared towards building the foundation which I’ve never really had.

Fast forward a few months and I had continued to angle my career towards the care sector.  I had written a bunch of articles in the Guardian, had the pleasure of speaking and volunteering at events for Who Cares? Scotland and I had just accepted a job offer at CELCIS, to start my career in the care sector as a Consultant for Permanence.  The benefits of me receiving executive coaching were being realised in these really key parts of my life!

Being quite active on social media, I started to follow a bunch of twitter accounts who were big in the care sector.  Laura Beveridge, tick.  Lemn Sissay, tick.  Life Changes Trust (LCT), tick.

In following the latter, I stumbled across the Aspirational Awards being promoted on twitter:

“The Aspirational Awards scheme is a young people-led individual grants fund aiming to empower care experienced young people aged 21-26 to think big about their future and transform their lives with a significant grant to help them reach their best potential.” 

How exciting.  I had an opportunity that I could really make count here!  I could learn some skills which would be so relevant to myself and my new employers.

And then it dawned on me.  Perhaps the Aspirational Awards could enable me to complete the Diploma in Executive Coaching?

I emailed the LCT Advisory Group and asked if that idea sounded suitable against their criteria.  Thankfully, I had a very encouraging response which welcomed my application.  So I went for it.

I found the application process to be robust, but not invasive.  Professional, but not hostile.  It felt like it was focussed on building on my strengths throughout, and like it wasn’t trying to trick me.  This enabled me to put a lot of thought and effort into my application and to ensure I was clearly articulating the things that the assessors wanted to hear.  I hit submit…

A month or so later I received a call from one of the LCT Advisory Group members, Rosie.  She was calling with good news – I was successful!  I could tell that she was overjoyed for me which was so, so nice.  She also wanted to talk about the logistics around payment of the bursary, to give me feedback on my application and to welcome my views on the application process.

A couple of weeks later I realised that I had made a really silly mistake in my application – I forgot to add on VAT to the cost of the Diploma, which meant that it would actually cost a fair bit more than I had applied for.  Before beating myself up about this oversight too much, I thought I would email the Funding Manager for the Aspirational Awards to see if the amount I requested could be adjusted to include VAT.

Much to my joy, the whole issue was sorted that same day, with no panic whatsoever.  Apparently, VAT catches a few people out and they had anticipated this happening.  How very professional. And relieving! I received my Aspirational Award by bank transfer all in good time, so I felt truly ready to start the Diploma safe in the knowledge that the finances were all fine.

About a week before the Diploma was due to start, I received a surprise parcel through the post.  It was a pack of goodies from the LCT Advisory Group!  I had a clipboard, some pens and pencils, a notepad and other bits and pieces.  It also included a message of encouragement for the course ahead.  What a lovely, warm surprise and what a great idea.  With wind in my sails, I started the Diploma, knowing that the LCT Advisory Group were there for anything that I could possibly need along the way.

It was a phenomenal course which was so well run.  I learned lots about myself, and about how I can work best with others.  I made nice connections on the course – people who I would say are now friends.  I learned the skills required to be an executive coach, whilst acknowledging that reflection and self-improvement are really important aspects of coaching.

And I’m delighted to share that after a challenging assessment process in July, I found out that I passed!

This Diploma will open many doors for me.  I currently coach two clients, which is great experience.  In the future, I will be able to be an executive coach; perhaps continuing to do this alongside my career or perhaps as a full time thing.  People who know me will know how passionately I feel about the potential for coaching children and young people; there’s a lot of talk about love in the care system just now and to me, love is all about talking about what young people want, and building on their strengths to help them to realise their potential.  Coaching, by definition, should achieve both of these.  And I will champion that.

Completing the Diploma has had a positive impact on my life and my career.  But these impacts aren’t just sitting with me; they’re reverberating across the care sector through me, and will continue to do so as my career takes shape.

I am so unbelievably grateful that I was chosen for an Aspirational Award.  Part of me didn’t feel worthy of applying.  Why? Because I know that I have a fair amount of stability in my life, maybe more than some care experienced adults my age.

But I am so glad I was one of the people chosen because there is no way that I would have had this opportunity otherwise.  And I can say with real confidence that the impact of this Diploma will stretch across the rest of my career and life.

Thank you, LCT.

(Note from Editor: We are all so proud of Jimmy Paul and his achievements, and it has absolutely been our honour to meet and work with him. #happyfunder)

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