Or 'from weirdo to professional and back again'
In school I was seen as ‘Stu the weirdo’. Long hair, earrings, flamboyant clothes, obsessed with music. Thought executing people with HIV a bit extreme and so was thought of as a Communist. I probably would have been bullied apart from the fact I was a fairly tasty prop forward and the other kids weren’t sure if I were hard or not, so I was largely left alone. (This was Dagenham in the 1980s)
My career took a change of direction in my late 20s from the arse end of the music business into Youth & Community Work. When I think back to those early days in my new career it’s astonishing to think that I’d never, in my previous career, had any line management or supervision, never been to a meeting let alone seen an agenda for one, and I seriously doubted if I could conduct a conversation without swearing.
I very much felt like an imposter and that I needed to learn to fit in with ‘straight’ society rather than the partying, somewhat alternative lifestyle I was used to. I felt I had to drop the weirdo.
In 2010 I took up my first job as a charity CEO and I still felt like an imposter. I started to dress smarter. If I were meeting ‘important’ people I wore a suit. I tried really hard to do things ‘properly’. I tried really hard to play the game. I tried really hard to fit in. Over time I realised that maintaining my integrity and authenticity were the very things enabling me and those with whom I worked to succeed. It was my innate ‘Stu-ness’ that made the difference.
Still, I was seduced by bigger and better roles. I thought that I had served my apprenticeship as a charity CEO and had proved that I could do it. I was wrong. I struggled to play the games required of me, to chase the money above all else and to massage egos rather than to help people improve their lives. It was patently obvious to me that ‘doing it properly’ wasn’t working. We were all gaming the system and none of us dared to speak out in case we upset the status quo.
Now, 30 months after I helped set up CIA, I have the chance to work for this amazing organisation and I must forget all of those attempts I have made to ‘do it properly’. Rather than force myself to follow arbitrary rules then grumble about them I must have the courage to point out that they’re silly – that the Emperor is, indeed, starkers.
This is both thrilling and terrifying. But mostly thrilling. I get to ask those tricky questions again. I get to try and make the system work better for people rather than shrug my shoulders, admit it’s crap but try and make it work anyway. I get to make a difference.
And to achieve this I need to deprogramme myself and shed the veneer of normality I have built up over the past 10 years. I need to, once again, become Stu the weirdo, and I can’t think of a better bunch of fellow weirdos to do this with than the CIA.
Picture credit: Halloweeno - find her on Twitter @VimtoTime and check out her shop Hand drawn with my hands by HelloHalloWeeno on Etsy