Monday, August 25, 2014

From Woe To Win

Maybe you can relate to this story...

Back in 1989 I was a Clerical officer working in the Pensions Department of The Benefits Agency.  Seems like a lifetime ago, though its actually 25 years ago.  I had a car, a flat, a day job and my weekends to myself, and I was living on £850 per month. Plus the occasional food parcel that my dad would show up with.   A laughable income now, that wouldn't last me a week!

While it felt right at first, after a few years I knew the job inside out, it had become pretty dull, and I began to harbour thoughts about doing something else.  Was this it?  As the most experienced member of the pensions team, I was seeing men and women at retirement age coming in and getting a massive £54 a week.  And that was assuming you'd paid all your contributions all your working life.  Was that the best you could hope for?

Around that same time my first love decided to have a fling behind my back, so I was hurt, angry and full of trust issues.

Now I'd grown up reading marvel and DC superhero comics, loved role playing games and movies, and so at age 19 I'd started a wee fanzine business on the side called "Superhero UK".  Every month I'd be up till midnight stapling the pages of the photocopied zine together, I had customers all over the world who sent me postal orders [remember them?] and I had to keep a ledger of subscription payments, who owed me money, who's subscription was up for renewal, etc.  19 years old and I thought I was an entrepreneur :-)

As a result I met and got friendly with a bunch of like-minded guys from Birmingham who had aspirations to produce a full colour superhero magazine that would unite the worlds of comics, movies, toys and games all in one place.  They knew a guy called Bob who worked for IPC magazines and knew the industry.  The result was Fantazia magazine, which we managed to get stocked on the shelves of high street newsagents like John Menzies.  I remember going to a concert at the SECC and seeing it on the shelf in the kiosk.

My outside work project didn't go down well in the office, and the crunch came when a member of the Benefit Fraud Team warned me at an office party to stop rocking the boat.  He didn't like my positive attitude, and I certainly didn't want to catch his! That convinced me that I'd outgrown the civil service and it was time to dig my escape tunnel from an institution that valued targets rather than caring or integrity.

Plans were made and I handed in my letter of resignation, and got ready to move down to Birmingham to work full time as Editor of the new magazine.  We had an office upstairs at 69 Hurst Street, not far from the Bull Ring, and the computers and gear we needed went on our credit cards.  Four young bucks living the dream and having a ball.  I knew it would pay me an income, and stretch me at the same time.  We even managed to get distribution in the States, and Bob and I flew to the Las Vegas Comic Convention to interview Stan Lee [the guy who invented the Hulk and Spiderman], meet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [or the 4 guys in suits] and do a lot of industry schmoozing.  At least I did - Bob was too busy at the Chicken Ranch and The Grand Canyon.

Two things then happened which both shattered my certainty and security.  The first was my Dad dying.  I was the last person he'd seen alive.

The second was when Bob decided he wanted the whole magazine business for himself, and we found out that a "Gentleman's agreement" isn't worth the paper its not written on!  He took the lot, and there was nothing we could do about it.  Christ!  More trust issues.

So with money rapidly running out, credit card debt, and my dream career over, I came back to East Kilbride with my tail between my legs and cried my heart out.  Panic.  Betrayal.  Grief.  Hopes crushed.  No idea of what was next.

I walked back into the benefits office to sign on.  "Aye whit happened tae yer wee self employed business now, eh?" came the gloating jibe.  I was seething, and embarrassed.   Humbling.  Having to fill in application forms for Income Support and hand them to one of my colleagues that I'd sat beside just days earlier.

Money was the big issue.  I was terrified of getting into more debt, or not having enough to live on, and the stress and ill health that it can bring.  I was told I was good with people, I knew the Benefits system inside out, and I'd had my first taste of the private sector.  Plus my Dad had been a Bank Manager.  So I chose the one career that I thought would be right for me... and became a Financial Adviser.

That one decision would shape me - it taught me about money, investment and saving.  I got used to having targets, making sales and customer service.  It also taught me a lot about how NOT to treat people. And best of all - it started me listening to Zig Ziglar, then Jack Black, then Tony Robbins.  Little did I realise that I'd stumbled into a new passion that would shape my career for the next 20 years...

The moral of this story?  Sometimes you feel like you're drowning in despair and overwhelm, with no way out.  Yet there's always a tiny voice from your conscious mind telling you "It's going to work out, this will pass".  You have no idea where you'll be in 10 years time, but as long as you have the intention to make things better, then you will attract, manifest and chance upon opportunities.

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