One of the best things that my new job(s) has brought me is more people contact. That was a big motivator for me in leaving a desk based job and despite the number of new challenges this has brought (people can be awfully hard work!) I have met loads of really inspiring people, especially as I work with a lot of volunteers now at the church, at the bookshop and through my own volunteering with Tearfund. What has surprised me is the kind of people I have found inspiring, it hasn't been quite as I expected.
Oxford is one of those places that is wall to wall with people that you might automatically think of when you think about inspiring people. People who have got into one of the best Universities in the country and those at the top of their profession, experts in their field. This is where we teach the people who end up running the country. But actually these aren't the people I've found inspiring at all.
Oxford is also a city of contrasts, as I've mentioned before, people at the top and people at the bottom. What I have realised is quite how much the people at the top (and I) have started off with. Is it any great surprise that we have succeeded? Raised in good homes by people that love us, with the social skills that allow us to get on with others and the intellect to learn whatever we put our minds to? What I've been really blown away by is what people achieve who don't start off on such a good platform and the positive outlook they maintain.
I've always assumed that if you want to get a job in this country then you can. Mostly because when I have wanted a job I've always got one, perhaps not always the one I wanted but I have always worked. What I hadn't factored in is my ability to relate to other people which makes me employable in the first place. What if you don't have that basic ability, what if you can't interpret other people's feelings? If when you say something people react strangely and you don't know why? When you're competing with dozens of others for a job, who will pick you if they can't connect with you on this basic level?
And what if you've stuffed up in a major way and ended up in prison. How do you begin to rebuild your life, apply for jobs and get them to pick you above all those others CVs? Does it matter how good you are? How hard you work? Or are you the sum of your mistakes and nothing more? And what if you're recovering from major illness? Wouldn't it be easier to stay at home on on the sofa? What motivation do you have to have to build your strength up, to struggle at a volunteer job when it might cause you pain or embarrassment at what you can no longer do.
Yet I've met people in all this circumstances working hard, applying for job after job and giving their time for free in the meantime as they wait for their break. There is no applause for doing that. These are the people that have inspired me, and shamed me for all my moaning and worrying about my own employment situation in the past and for the assumptions I have made about the unemployed. It's made me think again about what I should be thankful for and what not to take for granted. And most of all it has taught me the beauty of saying 'You were Regents Professor? That's cool. But I tell you who I look up to – the guy that cleans the toilet till the bowl shines.'