The People Who Shaped My Life
I’ve just started to read the classic Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and it opens with a description of the people who shaped his life. It struck me that I’m gradually forgetting the names of those that shaped mine, so I had better get them written down quickly, they are important to me. Writing this post also provided an excuse for a surprisingly enjoyable ramble down memory lane.
- Mum and Dad come first, they enabled so much in my life through their unconditional love and support. I was very lucky to grow up without pressure on me to conform or to perform at school, I was happy to find my own way and Mum and Dad left me free to do that. They taught me responsibility though and the value of hard work through extensive chores. They taught me that a house should be a peaceful place, that shouting is for emergencies, swearing unnecessary. Dad taught me that there’s always a way to make or fix things and the value of recycling. Mum showed me the value of commitment to a sport, in my case swimming, even when I really didn’t want to go.
- Mrs Clark was the first teacher who believed in me, I struggled in primary school, found nothing to excel at, until Mrs Clark taught me poetry and was happy with the results, despite my poor grammar and spelling. I went on to win several city level poetry competitions although spelling and grammar have never been conquered.
- Trevor, who lived next door was in a serious car accident, he taught me that despite considerable disability you can push though it and have a good life. This was especially important because my granddad had a similar disability and lost his zest for life, it was Trev’s example I followed many years later when I had my own collision with illness
- An un-named careers teacher who took me to hospital after I had a door slammed on my finger at school. He gave me a one to one career counselling session that’s burned into my mind, it’s because of him that I trained as a mechanical engineer, met Debbie, and ended up in IT.
- The school librarian, he employed me as his assistant during breaks, giving me a safe, friendly, warm place at school full of endless wonder and hard work
- Most of my useless GCSE teachers, I was in low sets at school until I was 16, so the quality of education I got was very poor As a result I learned how to teach myself, which made me very self reliant and started me on my maverick path in life. I ended up doing pretty well in my GCSE’s and from then on was considered something of a high-flyer which was quite a change after the previous 10 years of being largely ignored
- Mr Yardley who was head of the physics department, he employed me as a sixth form lab boy, fuelled my lifelong interest in science, introduced me to the works of my hero Richard Feynman and taught me the need to be prepared and organised
- Mr Hopcroft was deputy head and the head of engineering at school, he employed me as the school handyman, after hours, he gave me the keys to the school and tremendous responsibility. He taught me critical thinking, attention to detail, determination and how to automate tasks (like repairing 10 chairs, or changing 20 locks in an evening)
- Aunty Dawn and Uncle Pete who taught me what married bliss looks like
- My wife Debbie who’s provided the love, support and encouragement to pursue my ambitions, and showed me what hard work and determination looked like to someone, like me, who’s naturally lazy
- Professor Button, who was head of department at my university, and my thesis supervisor. We spent many hours talking and he was the first person to make me burn with ambition
- Steve Hall, the first person in the work environment to inspire me with his unique approach to work and life, he showed me that you didn’t need a lot of money to be happy and firmly set me on my maverick path. I told him my ambition was to be like him, he said I could do better, but I ended up just as I aspired to all those years ago
- John Caulfield who showed me that a useless a manager could look good by employing a good team, getting out of their way and letting them get to work
- My children who gave real purpose to my life
- Lou Shaw, my ultimate boss and masters thesis supervisor who taught me how to ask and answer difficult questions, and how to be prepared to defend your views
- Mike Brooks, a notoriously fiery boss who was always mild mannered with me, he taught me the importance of identifying critical points of control and influence whenever you have a big budget or governance scope
- Steve Morgan, the best boss I’ve ever had, who taught me to always have time for people who want to talk, the importance of appraisals and the power of humility (still working on that one!)
- Steve Townend, a good friend (sadly diminished now by distance) and the best software developer I’ve ever known, who taught me so much, but in particular the difference between architecture and design, a lesson I think back on a dozen times a week
- Ken Hollingshead, the most demanding boss I ever had, he was never satisfied and always added his own finishing touches to my work, sapping my motivation to do my best work. But he taught me the importance of attention to detail, hard work and being prepared
- Gary Beckett and Rob Blythe who gave me the freedom and support that I needed to keep working and making a difference for the last 10 years despite chronic illness and became great friends. Together we re-shaped many an organisation and they gave me the opportunity to have a lot of influence despite my constraints.
- Stu Downes who made the last decade of my working life fun, through his friendship and his openness to allowing me to help him achieving something great. I liked nothing better than sitting down in front of a blank sheet of A3 paper and brainstorming with Stu
- Graham Chastney who was my trusted advisor and friend for longer than I care to remember, whenever I was unsure about anything in work, life or technology I turned to Graham
Deciding on the short-list of people to make this list has been a real struggle, for example I decided to include only the people who shaped me through real world interactions, rather than people I watched on TV, read about etc. There are so many other people I could mention and as I write this names keep popping into my mind, it’s a good job I capped this list at 22!
Unfortunately several of the people on this list have now died and I frequently regret that I never took the time to thank them.
The photo is of Cleveleys beach, I was raised ‘on’ the beach and will probably always live near water. A lover of wide open spaces, wonderful views and crashing waves more than anything else this defines who I am deep down.