As I climbed the steps to the stage, I heard the back-slapping, testosterone brawl of the eighty or so young men who had been cajoled into the auditorium by their teachers.
The room was a makeshift affair, the stage was only a raised section of the ﬂoor, the seats were not ﬁxed in rows and were being rearranged into tight circles like in a cafe. The room was ﬁlled to bursting point.
The teachers made several brave attempts to bring their charges under control, and were quickly giving up. It was, after all, my show. There was no microphone to be heard above the din. So, standing center-stage, I struck an electric guitar pose, swung my right arm and twanged the strings, and uttered a loud, “Bah-daaaam”. I had no idea what to do next.
The room erupted in hoots and calls at my brief performance. Some loved it, some hated it. I grabbed an imaginary microphone and called out, “Gooooood after-noooooon”, to a mixture of applause and derision from the young men. I still had no idea what to do next.
Someone called out, “Oooooh-oooh” in a mocking tone.
“What’s that?” I invited.
”Are you gay?” he asked.
I guessed that my sexual orientation was important in this place of heightened testosterone level.
“No.” I replied. “But why are you asking?”
The uncertainty in the room refocused onto this one guy. He had no answer for why he was asking about my being gay.
Suddenly, I knew what to do next. I decided on vulnerable authenticity mixed with genuine curiosity.
“I am what you see. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I bet you know ﬁve things about me already. What’s the ﬁrst thing you know?”
Someone called out “You’re English”, and I replied, “True.” They called up other answers, and I let them know if they were true or false. After a few minutes, their questions dried up.
“What you don’t know yet is why I came here today. So I will tell you.” Secretly, I wished that somebody had told them in advance. But this was the way things were, and this was the way to go with it - a moment of silence.
I noted that I had their rapt attention. They were all facing in my direction, they were all looking at me and none of them were speaking.
I told them my life story, “I came to this country 30 years ago, started my own company and earned a good income, raised a family of three children - two of them are now older than any of you - and now I’m looking at retirement. I am here to share with you a lifetime of working experience of being self-employed.”
They reeled back in their seats from the information.
I asked, “What - if anything - would you like to know?”
The ﬁrst questions were predictable, “How much money do you make, What do you do and Why do we have to know?”
I answered the factual questions in a general way and moved onto the more interesting question, the reason for them needing to know why I am here and speaking to them.
“I’m sure most of you will leave here and get employment. That’s what I did at ﬁrst, in the UK. And then I moved here. I had no Swedish paper qualiﬁcations, I had to start again, from nothing. So I started my own business, and employed myself. You never know what’s going to happen in life, but it’s good to know that you can always start again.”
I could almost hear their thoughts probing a possible future where they had the chance to start a business.
“Self-employment was right for me. It might not be right for you now, but maybe it will be in the future. Perhaps I can inspire you to want to start your own company? Perhaps I will only convince you that it’s not for you? We shall see.”
I pulled up a chair, and sat, centre-stage and shared the pivotal moments of my life.
At the end of my talk, I stepped off the stage. On their way out of the auditorium, the majority of the young men came up to me to say thanks for an entertaining and interesting talk, even the ones who also said they would never start their own company. I got a lot of manly handshakes and shoulder claps and a couple of back thumps. I think they were well-meant.
Several teachers, with looks of relief and respect thanked me for what I had done.
What had I done?
Courtesy of Martin Richards.