When I first started my journey in business, the odds were stacked against me. I was young, black and disabled – talk about a triple threat! I had just left my first “proper job” because I was suffering terribly from Post-Polio Syndrome. I was so exhausted, I was struggling to get through the days – but if life had taught me anything so far, it’s that I was a fighter!
You see, the odds have been stacked against me since I was born. I became disabled overnight due to somehow contracting the Poliovirus – at a time when it was meant to have been eradicated in the UK. I suffered years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of the person who was supposed to love and care for me unconditionally – my father. Combined with school bullies, societal racism and disability prejudice, at what stage in my journey would you have given up, had you been in my shoes?
If you didn’t believe in me back then, I wouldn’t have blamed you. On some days, I barely even believed in myself. But the great irony of my journey is that now, many people might wish to be in my shoes. I’m the owner of several successful businesses. I have a wonderful wife and children who love me. Just recently at a business event, a man asked me if the reason I managed to get such a beautiful wife was because of my money!
My wife Diana and I have been together since I was a penniless student – through everything, she has been my greatest support and confidant. She was by my side when I was unemployed and we were living off credit cards to survive. She supported me when my first business failed. At those times, I never could have imagined my life right now to be my reality. People around me wonder when I’m going to slow down – little do they know that in many ways, I’m only just getting started!
If I have learned anything through my 22 years in business, it’s this – the real measure of success is not cars, houses, or material things. For me, it’s how many peoples’ lives I have changed for the better. And the exciting part about this is you never know when you’re going to meet someone who can alter the trajectory of your life forever – sometimes, you just need someone to take a chance on you.
Who was the first person who took a chance on you?
I bet that their decision has had a momentous impact on your life. There have been moments of impact in my life where I have met people who have had a huge impact on my journey. Meeting these people at different stages of my life completely altered my trajectory.
That’s what’s exciting about life – as terrifying as it can be not knowing what’s next, that’s part of the beauty of it. You never know when you’re going to meet someone who could change your life!
You don’t need to be rich or famous to have a huge impact
What if I were to tell you that you have the power to be that person to somebody else?
You don’t need to be rich, famous, or in a position of privilege to help others. The people who make the biggest difference in others’ lives are often not celebrities or business moguls who have masses of resources available to help them – they’re normal, everyday people.
They’re the man who lives three streets down who will fix the neighbourhood children’s bikes for free. They’re the foster parent who takes on another child’s case. They’re the teacher who agrees to extra tutoring in their own time for a student they believe in.
Often people think that in order to help others they need to have “made it” themselves. That they need to have certain credentials to make them a more legitimate source of support. That they need to be in a position of power, a successful businessman or financially sound. But that simply isn’t the case.
There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are doing their small bit to make a difference – and that has a powerful, snowball effect. Your actions and your words can have a huge positive impact on others. A kind word of encouragement to a struggling child has the ability to change their day – maybe even their life. Never underestimate the power of showing someone you believe in them!
The power of paying it forward
I have made it my mission in life to pay the kindness I have received forward. In doing that, incredible things have happened.
In 2019 I met a man called Richard Copson at a charity event. When Rich was 16 he was diagnosed with a form of Muscular Dystrophy (MD), a condition that gradually causes the muscles to weaken, which in time leads to an increasing level of disability.
For years, Rich struggled to come to terms with his disability. Wouldn’t you, if you were in his position? To be told at such a young age that your life won’t be the way you imagined it is heartbreaking. As a result, Rich struggled with his mental health and eventually sought help to try and overcome his feelings of hopelessness and depression.
At the time I met him, Rich had worked in retail banking for 12 years. As a disabled person, he knew all too well the struggles we face when it comes to the accessibility (or lack thereof) of venues. Rich had an idea – to start an app that rated venues out of 5 stars based on their accessibility for disabled people. There were just two problems – he’d never set up a business before and he needed help to secure the full amount of funding needed for the venture.
If Rich had gone to the bank for a loan, he’d have been viewed as high risk. Even from my point of view as an investor, he was high risk! But I saw a drive and determination in Rich, not unlike my own. Just like me, he wanted to defy the odds and create something that would help people for years to come. I invested in Access Rating and became a co-founder of the venture, supporting Rich to make his dream a reality.
In just two years, the personal and professional changes I have seen in him have been unbelievable. Gone is the slightly dejected man I knew and in his stead is someone with a zest for life and a successful business. I feel honoured to have been a part of his journey.
Seeing Rich’s transformation was so inspiring to me that I wanted to go even further – so in February this year, I set up The Circle Foundation – a charity to empower disabled entrepreneurs with a ‘circle’ of support, building their skills and confidence to make their business dreams a reality.
Understanding what truly matters in life is the key to success
Success is completely relative to each individual. If I were to ask you what your idea of success is, it would probably be completely different to mine. I worry that in this social media age we live in, the importance of helping others will get lost in the pursuit of material things, fame, glory and “celebrity” or influencer status. But we must not let it!
When I was younger, I used to believe that success meant lots of money and nice things. As I get older, I see clearly that true success is how many peoples’ lives I’ve touched in ways both big and small. And the beautiful thing is, we all have this power within us, and we can get started at any time.
When you reach the end of your life, the material things you have gathered will cease to matter – but those who you have loved and cared for will carry on your legacy of kindness. Tomorrow is never guaranteed – so if I can leave you with one important message today, it’s this – don’t wait to be the person the world needs you to be.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, you can read more about my experiences of surviving disability, abuse and racism in my best-selling book, I Can, I Will.
I love the opportunity to spread my message of the power of a positive mindset. Therefore if you would like me to speak at your event you can also contact me here.
And lastly, you can keep in touch with me on Instagram and LinkedIn.
Thanks for reading!