Different worlds

A while back I opened up the blog for welcoming stories through different media which share a purpose and imperative for people to change. I called it Learning Stories, and the first submission is from Vera Woodhead. This is a great story, and one I very much enjoyed reading. It made me question if I do these things, and what I know of myself. Thanks Vera.


Different worlds: from South America to not so sunny Yorkshire

It is 6 am, Friday 15th June 1979. A young girl pushes back the mosquito net and energetically jumps out of bed. She is excited, as today she is going to spend her savings to buy… a book.

Books are important in her life. They unleash the imagination and transport her to different worlds – where people live in fancy houses, drive cars and wear beautiful clothes; where children have adventures and do such exciting things. In this tiny village in South America there is not much to do apart from listening to the world service, pop songs and climb trees.

She heads outside to the shower. Well actually it is a tin shack shared with 2 lizards, a frog and a bucket of cold water. There is no electricity and
she finds her way around by the faint moonlight.

After breakfast, she searches for her shoes. She only wears them when she goes to school. She puts them on, grabs her bag, says goodbye and rushes off as she is late. Its quarter to 7 in the morning and the bus goes by at 7 am. She gets there just in time and manages to get a seat. 30 minutes later she gets off and heads down the road towards the ferry. The water is choppy and the 15 minute journey to cross the mighty Demerara River is now a 30 minute one. She manages to get to school just in the nick of time as the bell goes at 8.30 am

School is St. Stanislaus College. At the age of 7 she had decided that she didn’t want to go to the local village school. She wanted to go to THIS school where the diplomats, ambassadors and rich people sent their children. She persuaded her parents to let her sit the entrance exams to get a scholarship. Secretly, she believed that her parents thought that she would never make the grade and get in but she did. Her year was the first intake of girls in what was an all boys’ school. There was only 1 class in each year of this Catholic school which was run entirely by Jesuit Fathers.

She didn’t quite fit in… with the colour of her hair, her skin, her clothes and shoes….but she didn’t mind. It was a different world…and her teachers were like no other. Father Drake, the Maths teacher was feared as he was the one that did the caning. Father Rigby was a tall thin man who taught French. Her favourite was Father McClusky. As you have guessed, he was Scottish and portly: a bit like Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid in Harry Potter. He opened up the world of poetry, of Shakespeare, Keats, Blake, Steinbeck, Hardy, Dickens….and suddenly her world expanded again. She got the role of Portia in the school play, recited poetry in the school competition, wrote short stories and even won a few competitions ….

She was good at running, though she didn’t have the right shoes but that didn’t stop her doing well at sprinting. She was no good at art, her paintings never made it on the wall. The rolling pin that she made in woodwork didn’t quite roll and her embroidery work only got her 2nd placed. Imagine being beaten by a boy, Brian, her classmate…oh she loved school.

But her world was soon to be shattered as riots and shooting ensued outside the school and later Father Drake was fatally stabbed.
Her parents decided that it wasn’t safe. They gathered up all their savings and sent her and her sister to live with a spinster aunt in England. Ilford, Essex to be precise. It was a different world. She had never seen houses like these: all in a row, neatly joined up and not to mention, so cold.
School was Bancroft’s, 250 year old and was truly like something from Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers. If she didn’t fit in the first school, she certainly didn’t fit in here. Language, culture, making friends, school work, the curriculum …were all a challenge but she took it in her stride.

At the end of the 2 years there and with no money left and a handful of qualifications she decided to train as a nurse – that way she could get a job, earn some money, live in student accommodation and move out of Mrs. Trunchbull’s (her nickname for her aunt) house. And so she worked her way up, studied hard and with each qualification gained her salary increased and career and life blossomed.

As you would have guessed that is an abridged version of my early life which has shaped who I am today.

You can’t do anything to change what has happened in the past but you can take control and create a different future for yourself. My learning:

1. Be self aware

Get to know the inner you – who you are, what your core values are, what you stand for …
Find out what your talents and strengths and use them. What are you good at? What can you spend ages doing? What do other people say you are good at? What do others ask you to do?

Align the inner You with the outer You. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”. Be in harmony.

2. Be a sponge

Knowledge is powerful. The more you know the more you can use it to your advantage. Coupled with experience, knowledge and its application can help to progress your career, expand your worldview and grow your wisdom. Be open to learning and one of the best way of learning is through doing. You might not get it right first time, but making mistakes is all part of learning and building resilience.

Do something on a regular basis that stretches you and takes you out of comfort zone. It may be difficult, hard work, uncomfortable and perhaps even painful at times. But it is often from undertaking such acts and developing mental toughness that we grow progress and achieve our greatest accomplishments.

3. Be yourself

In the words of Tigger, “the most wonderful thing about tiggers is I’m the only one.” There is only one you. Strive to be you only better. You are unique with your own set of talents and gifts.

When you realise that, you will stop comparing yourself to others – we are all different, with different skills, and talents.

Be proud of who you are and where you have come from. Don’t be a clone. Be an individual. Stand out from the crowd. Find opportunities where you can have a voice and put yourself forward when leadership opportunities present.

4. Be accountable

When things go wrong, don’t blame others and your life. Accept responsibility for it, learn from it and move on. Get into the mentality of seeing hurdles and problems as a challenge. And when faced with them, ask, ‘what do I need to do to solve it, who can I go to for help, what have I done in the past that has worked, how can I use my strength to get through this? …’ You have it within you to find the solutions, Believe you can

5. Be connected

It is our relationships with other people which form a network that supports us, make our lives meaningful, and ultimately enable us to survive. This is also good for our mental health and well being. Nurture your relationships and connections.

In your travels you will find people who will buy into you and your story and when they offer to help, seize it. When you need help, do not be afraid to ask for it. Seek out your friends, connections or find a mentor.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter @verawoodhead


If you want to contribute to Learning Stories, get in touch.