Sometimes success is not where you are now

Author: | 11 Mar 2021

Every so often we receive an email which makes us stop and really think about what we do and how to measure success. Recently Hallam, an ex-scholar from 2012, got in touch out of the blue. As far as we were concerned, he’d dropped out of university and then dropped out of view. As far as the statistics go, not a success.

But maybe we should re-think how and when to measure success. Hallam explains in his own words for Longford Blog:

I was about 13-years-old when I started offending.

At 15 I was arrested as part of a police gangs operation and by 17 I was sat in a young offenders’ institute facing significant time.

I celebrated my 18th birthday in jail; I began my ‘adult life’ on 23-hour bang up on D wing of HMYOI Brinsford in Wolverhampton, eating Jamaican ginger cake as my birthday cake.

After I was released, my family moved abroad and, because of my convictions, I wasn’t allowed to move with them.

I was 19-years-old, no family, no job and no prospects for the future other than crime.

I felt like a failure.

About a year later, I decided I wanted to do something with my life and felt joining the Royal Marines was my way out. I will never forget the moment the armed forces career officer looked at my criminal record, and laughed in my face. ‘You will never, ever join the Royal Marines, it’s not for people like you, get out of my office.’

I felt ashamed, embarrassed and angry. I felt a failure.

A path to education….

However, I stuck with my determination to do ‘something’ with my life; I would return to education.

Looking back at education, my school life was a mess. Although I actually managed to leave with 5 GCSEs (don’t ask me how, because I didn’t do any work!), I was constantly in trouble inside and outside of school, always truanting and was suspended a number of times. I didn’t value education at that time.

Despite my past experience, I enrolled at college and on a night course as well. It was a tough year. I passed both courses and was offered a place at the University of Westminster in London. It was an expensive place to live and I didn’t know if I could afford to go. That’s how I came across the Longford Trust.

Feeling safe in a different world…..

I’ll never forget that first meeting. Discussing my scholarship application in a fancy coffee shop with the scholarship manager, I remember thinking, for the first time in a very long time, that I felt safe, I didn’t have to worry about seeing someone I had issues with and it ending in violence.

It was so far removed from my daily life, but I enjoyed it. It was a seed being planted.

University life in London was a different world to me.

I remember the looks on the faces of the students I lived with when I told them about my life, like the time I was shot at and felt a bullet fly past my head. They looked horrified, I had always laughed about it before.

University was the first place I had a social circle who thought it crazy to be shot at or stabbed, and not a normal part of life.

Whilst at university I applied, and was accepted into, the Royal Marines Reserves (in spite of my past interaction at the armed forces office). I trained hard and studied, my life was on a positive path. Unfortunately, during a training exercise I suffered a significant knee injury which ended my military career before it had properly started.

My dreams were crushed, I felt deflated. I finished my first year of University but never returned.

I dropped out. Again, I felt a failure.

On paper I would have been a failed statistic for the Longford Trust. I hadn’t completed the degree I started.

But how do we measure success?

There are the obvious ways; did I pass, did I drop out, did I achieve 100%? But what about the other, less obvious successes? Like gaining experience of life outside of my area, associating with people doing legal jobs with legit ambitions, broadening my view of what was possible.

Maybe a better way to measure success is to ask if a scholar was afforded the opportunity to avoid the criminal or gang life for long enough to walk away from it? The answer for me was yes.

Fast forward to today, 10 years later: At 31-years-old, I now run a successful organisation working with young people to prevent criminal exploitation. I also work in schools using my own experiences to help safeguard children. I have travelled around the world, have a house, a stable relationship and a son. I am a better person.

On top of all of that, I am back studying at university, going into my third year of a Psychology degree through the Open University.

So why the email out of the blue to the Longford Trust? For me, starting that degree in 2012 as a scholar was the catalyst for change in my life.

The experience of attending university outside of my home city, meeting people with different life experiences and seeing a future without crime were what I needed to spark a change.

I would not be where I am today without that first chance as a student.

The degree did not change my life. The opportunity to access a new life and a new area did.

If success is only measured within small timescales, what happens to those that require a longer time to grow but eventually reach great heights?

No matter where you are today, don’t measure your success against where you are now. Learn to look at life as a series of opportunities in which seeds are planted. Some will take longer to flower than others, but no seed planted is ever wasted. You never know which one will grow to be giant.

Take the opportunity, it is so much more than a degree.

Thank you to the Longford Trust for supporting me and believing in me. Even though I failed first time round, it led me to much greater heights of success.