Second Chances Are Real.
To be honest, I am still processing this achievement. When I got the email I genuinely thought it was a prank or some sophisticated phishing scheme. But it’s legit.
Wow. It’s really hard to put this into words. I did an announcement blog but I felt that something was missing. This award unearthed a deep pain & made me reflect on my journey thus far.
This will be one of the most personal blogs have I ever wrote – but hey, what the heck? Why not?
If you indulge me for a couple of minutes, I want to tell you a story: My story.
(I’ll try to keep it as short as possible)
From the Streets of East L.D.N
I was raised in East London in a town that you wouldn’t want to visit when the sun went down. I am not going to portray myself like I am some gangsta but I wasn’t an angel either.
My close friends at the time were hustlers (and part-time drug dealers), I knew guys that did bank scams & armed robberies. Everyone had a hustle & if you didn’t know the right people, you could have your face kicked in.
My Mum, bless her, tried to send me to fancy school outside of the town to try to stop me mixing with the wrong crowd – it didn’t work & in a weird way, it made me more determined to hang around with these bad influences.
I was a kid that naturally liked reading & finding out things but being nerdy wasn’t fashionable then. In fact, in Year 8, I remember when I was coming from school to meet up with my mates, my bag spilt open & all my books came out.
Those boys laughed at me for an hour, chucking my library books around & said that reading for ‘geeks.’ I think I consciously played down my love for learning then & sadly it had repercussions.
‘You Have a Lot of Potential’
From then on, I hated school with a passion. I wasn’t a dumb kid, I simply didn’t put in the effort that I know that I could have. I bunked school & would get into fights with the other kids. I wanted to get excluded because I felt I wasn’t getting the support that I needed.
I know I was hard to deal with but looking back, I realised that I needed more pastoral support to make sense of the things I was experiencing growing up. I got decentish GCSEs but by a stroke of luck, got into an excellent Sixth Form. But I was still playing around, being the smart alec & playing the rebel.
My Sixth Form was a ‘beacon school’ which at the time meant that it was one of the top schools in the country (not like I was interested) & we often had visits from Russell Group universities – the crème de la crème of Further Education.
My Business teacher, Mr Sexton, despite me constantly playing up in his class, pulled me to the side & said “Karl, you can be a pain in the backside but you are a lot smarter than you realise. You have so much potential & you are letting it go to waste. You can do great things.’
He showed faith in me that I didn’t see in myself.
When Oxford University came around to our Sixth Form, Mr Sexton nominated me to be one of the select candidates to meet with the recruiter and spend the afternoon with her. My Mum got a letter & everything – she was ecstatic.
That day, the recruiter told us all about Oxford: the university, the campus, the social life & the expectations.
I remember being excited but I remember feeling uneasy: would I fit into this environment? Would they accept me? Will I make new friends? These thoughts battled in my head as I listened to the woman talk. She said the fact that we were selected by the school meant that we had a good chance to get in.
I felt like a guy from my background didn’t belong there - & I believed it.
So what do you think happened when it was time to do my university options? I never applied to Oxford. I didn’t even try.
I went to a local university because I wanted to be closer to my friends – that was a huge mistake.
I had a very relaxed attitude towards education &, to be frank, coasted through my university years because I preferred to party & chill with my crew thinking that the good times would last forever.
But they didn't.
At the time, I played it off thinking that I was staying loyal to my friends, my area & at the time, my identity but as the years rolled on & the bad friends left (or were dropped) this became more & more of a deep life regret.
Questions of woulda/coulda/shoulda danced in my mind especially when I saw or heard people going to the Oxbridge schools.
It was a secret pain that very few people knew – I allowed my circumstances and my own fears to snuff out a fantastic life opportunity & I promised myself I would never do that again.
It’s Funny How Life Works
In my mid to late 20s, I truly became a student – I became obsessed with reading and developing myself. I read anything & everything that I could get my hands on if I felt that it would make me better.
I learnt how to set goals, be disciplined & build positive networks. I felt like I had to make up for lost time.
After a stint in the Private Sector doing Sales (I hated it), I became a Youth Worker because I wanted to help young people not make the mistakes that I had. After a little while, I rose up to the position of NEETs Coordinator & these experiences were what formed my first book ‘The Action Hero Teacher.’
When I wrote the book, I could never in a million years imagine it would get me here today. In a weird way, this event has finally laid my Oxford ghost to rest.
To be associated with some of the brightest and most creative minds on the planet absolutely terrifies me but I won’t turn down the challenge again.
Here are the key life lessons I have learnt in my journey so far:
1) You are not your environment – Although I am proud of my East End roots, I slowly realised that parts of my upbringing were holding me back. I had to learn to be deliberate & put myself in an environment that would support my aspirations & not hinder it. Don’t be afraid to move away from a situation or place that no longer serves you.
2) Watch the company that you keep – I once heard the phrase ‘bad company corrupts good character.’ Looking at the people I had around me at the time, I allowed them to lead me into situations that limited my potential. I have learnt to surround myself with people who would challenge and encourage me & vice-versa. Some people do not want to see you grow & develop & may sabotage your growth. Make the right connections & nurture them.
3) Don’t be frightened to take chances – What held me back from applying to Oxford was fear of what people would think of me. Most of the things that we fear are in our heads. Take calculated risks. A lot of your hunches will bomb but some of them may pay off substantially. The AHT book was a hunch & I never would have thought it would get me here. Give yourself permission to try.
4) Learn your lessons & make good of your mistakes – Like me, there might be things that you deeply regret. Things that you wish you did or didn’t do. We can’t turn back the hands of time & maybe that original opportunity is gone forever.
Grieve your mistakes but don’t let them cow you into submission. Learn from them & keep moving forward. While you are alive, there are always other opportunities.
Thank you for reading this blog. It’s deeply personal & I was really hesitant to release it. But I needed to do this for myself & hopefully, this may help someone out there who have gone through a similar thing.
I hope that you enjoyed the post. Thank you for your support.
Karl C Pupe FRSA