Hi, I’m Calum. If you don’t know me or haven’t read part 1 of my story, then I’ll indulge you in a quick recap: I came to Starting Point as a mentee in the spring of 2017 due to a plethora of mental illnesses including social anxiety, lack of confidence and motivation, and possibly depression. They matched me with a mentor and gave me opportunities I could only have imagined at the time. If you’d like to find out more, follow the link here to the first half of my journey.
I’ve chosen to write this second blog about my journey for a number of reasons, some personal and private, others to inspire people young and old – you may choose which of those two categories you call home. So please sit comfortably for the second half of my tale. Ready? Let’s go…
Picture it: Reading town centre, January 2019. I met with Sam (Starting Point’s project manager) and my then mentor, Hannah, for a meeting at Starbucks to discuss my journey so far. We all agreed it was time to change gears – we had worked on my confidence, now it was time to land me a job. This meant a change of mentors was needed. Sam described to me a new mentor who’d recently joined Starting Point, Emma. He believed us to be a perfect fit and set up a meeting for the following week. Whilst it was sad to say goodbye to Hannah, we both knew it was time to move on.
I met Emma the next month. I was anxious about meeting her, but it turned out I had nothing to fear – we really were a perfect match. Whilst she was much more extroverted, our humour was on point and we clicked almost immediately. She was what I needed at that moment – someone who wasn’t afraid to push me, but would also listen and be patient. She was also great at the job searching side, finding me applications and helping improve my CV to include my journalistic and social media skills I gained through doing Starting Point’s feed. This all led to my first interview in almost three years – an apprenticeship for the Maidenhead Advertiser. Whilst I ultimately didn’t get the job, from the feedback they provided, it sounded like I was close.
Two months pass and I’m starting to lose confidence again. Though Emma reminded me how young I was (24 at the time), I was still ashamed of never having paid work though my CV was chock full of voluntary experience. I felt pathetic, a disappointment to myself and my family. Then came a miracle…
I filled out an application for John Lewis in and was lucky enough to land an interview in July 2019. It was half group assessment, half formal interview. I don’t know how I did it – perhaps luck or natural ability and sincerity? – but I got the job. My third interview ever and I’d succeeded. I got the offer the next day and my family were ecstatic. It was like a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. After two years of mentoring, after six years of not feeling good enough, after six years of thinking I would never be employed, someone gave me a chance.
I was due to start my new job on August 5th. I was sad to leave my friends and the comfort of my volunteering job in the Royal Berkshire Hospital, but I was glad to have finally left. I was anxious on my first day at John Lewis, not knowing what to expect. I arrived on that first day and was taken upstairs with a small group of other new employees where Induction would be carried out, introducing me to the John Lewis Partnership and its values. On that same day I struck up a friendship with one of the group, a girl a few years younger than myself.
Throughout my probation period, I was scared I’d fail and be kicked out, back to square one. But that didn’t happen. Instead I became extremely likeable to my colleagues. My floor’s Selling Coach took me aside and informed me it was a pleasure to work with me. I wasn’t doing anything special, just working hard like always and keeping my head down. I also became aware of something my colleague said about me: I don’t run away from challenges. I might get stressed, but I always follow the task through to the end and keep my promises.
When my annual performance review arrived in the following January, my manager told me about the potential he and my colleagues saw in me, calling me assertive and imperative, and that he’d like to get me involved in projects. This was a massive boost to my confidence. At one point I applied for a BBC apprenticeship scheme, my chosen location Cardiff. Though I was unsuccessful, I was never scared of the thought of moving away; I was excited.
My mentoring came to an end by the end of the year, having moved into Amber and then progressing to Green. However, I was adamant not to suddenly disappear from Starting Point. I wanted to continue supporting the project and help it grow. Sam contacted me about forming a group of mentees who could help improve the project, wanting me to eventually lead it, and I accepted. I felt honoured that Sam wanted me to act as a leader, being more of a follower at the time. I don’t know what makes a good leader, as there are so many qualities, but Sam obviously thought I had what it took.
With my new found confidence, and inspired by my friend at John Lewis who was following her dreams of becoming an illustrator, I took the decision to sign up for singing lessons in March. I’ve always held a passion for performing and wanted to try and pursue it. Unfortunately the dreaded subject of 2020 arrived soon after my first lesson. During this uncertain and expanding time period, I received an email from Sam inviting me to become a mentor on the new Advance Mentoring project, helping mentees aged 11-19. Ever since my mentoring ended, I’d always considered becoming a mentor one day, though not for another year or two. I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good teacher or role model. But Sam came to me himself and that gave me the confidence to sign on. It’s one thing to volunteer yourself – it’s another for someone to suggest you. I now hold the honour of being the first mentee to become a mentor at Starting Point, something I am extremely proud of.
This past year has thrown me new challenges, (as it has all of you) but it has also given me the confidence I needed to succeed. 18 months ago, I was terrified of applying for jobs, lost in hopelessness, and fearful of the future. I won’t lie and say these fears are completely gone. There are some days and nights I feel low and ashamed of my past, a spider’s web of negative thoughts and memories.
But there are positives I focus on: I now have friends to socialise with, knowledge about household products that will come in useful, money to spend on my interests (mostly books), and the independence I’ve craved for years. I’m slowly but surely leaving my comfort zone. My plan now is to save up enough to move out, perhaps even leave Reading, before I’m 30. I have 4 years before that happens. If so much can change in one, I’m sure I can accomplish this.
I plan on restarting my singing lessons and in September will join a local professional acting group to gain the skills needed before applying for LAMDA. If that fails I’ll go into journalism. A few months ago, a stranger I met during my rounds for the hospital radio believed I’d one day be a star. Call it delusional, but I like to believe she could be right. No one can predict the future though – if we could, we might do more harm than good.
Starting Point was a great experience for me and was exactly what I needed: friendly and patient with opportunities to help me find my way. They truly cared and wanted me to succeed. They made me feel valued.
Whilst I wish it hadn’t taken two years, maybe I needed that time to get to where I am today and wherever I’ll be in the future. And to anyone reading this, let my story and journey be the light that guides your path. I managed to pull myself from the abyss with the help of Hannah, Emma, Sam, and dozens of other people. They reached out their hands and I grabbed hold.
I don’t really know how to end this, so I’ll simply end it with a quote I found on the internet:
“Sometimes reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey.
At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.”