These Six Words Saved Charlie and Helped Him Change His WorkLife

Charlie’s Story: A Case Study:

Charlie had been an investment banker, but he lost his job, and then he became homeless. He had been living a life outside of his means and had incurred significant debt, partly due to his extravagant lifestyle and partly due to his addiction to gambling. He had hidden all of this both at work and at home from his wife, but when his debtors caught up with him, his home, car and everything he owned was repossessed. Because he worked in banking, his employers were notified because of the credit checks they randomly carried out on all employees, and as a result, he lost his job. His wife had wanted to stand by him, but the shame he felt led him to a downward spiral of constant drinking, which in turn caused him to push her away. Before long, Charlie was sleeping rough.

Over time, with the help of Big Issue, Charlie was slowly beginning to rebuild his life.

Then when Covid-19 struck, Charlie was forced to leave his pitch. He was accommodated in a local hotel, which had opened its doors to both frontline workers and rough sleepers. He had access to health support, daily welfare and food deliveries. Gary, who was in charge of the food deliveries and managed all of the volunteers, asked Charlie if he could help out. Gary demonstrated to Charlie what he needed to do, which was to pack each of the lunch bags, ready for the volunteers delivering to pick up. He, in effect, gave Charlie responsibility and then trusted him to do it.

Gary also asked Charlie to add anyone he knew who would benefit from a nutritious lunch to their list of deliveries. Charlie mentioned a few of the men who slept at the hotel, who he met every afternoon at a churchyard garden, and asked if he could bring them their lunch at the end of his shift. Gary said yes, but it was the six words he said next that saved Charlie and helped him change his WorkLife, “I trust you, make the call.” Having been shown such kindness and then been given the gift of trust made Charlie feel like a human being again. It had been a long time since he felt that. It had been a long time since someone had shown trust in him.

Then Gary invited Charlie to become one of the founding members of an initiative of a group of people coming together to help rebuild their community following the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives and the community businesses. Charlie felt honoured that Gary had asked him to be involved. He felt Gary saw something in him, and while he didn’t know what it was, it gave him a sense of self-belief — after all, if Gary believed in him, well, then there must be something about him to believe in himself.

At first, Charlie was very much behind the scenes, doing whatever was needed to support the various initiatives put forward by other people. He was always on hand to lend a hand. He always brought his friends who he had gotten to know when sleeping rough with him, getting them involved, showing them the ropes and then instilling trust in them to get on with it, in the same way, Gary had done with him.

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Throughout all of this, Charlie had gotten back to his love of books and learning through reading. Gary, who also loved reading, had made books a feature of the hotel. An eclectic collection could be found in each bedroom as well as all the communal areas, thanks to the guests and the hotel team, who both borrowed and lent books when they came to visit and to work.

Book Wisdom

It was on opening The Third Door by Alex Banyan that Charlie’s thinking was awoken by these:

Words of Wisdom

“If your dream of learning under the wings of world-class mentors, achieving your biggest goals, or just transforming yourself into the person you always imagined you could be. The Third Door gives you the tools you need — so you can get what you want.”

You see, Charlie had a BIG DREAM, but he didn’t know how to make it happen.

His BIG DREAM was to train homeless people to become baristas and help get them off the streets. And now, he had discovered a treasure chest of wisdom to help him understand the steps he needed to take to make that happen.

The words that Qi Li, one of Banayan’s interviewees on his quest to tap into the wisdom of his dream university of professors, spoke to Charlie, “Thank you for doing what you’re doing. What’s motivating you to go on your mission is, in some ways similar to what motivates me. Every minute of every day, it’s about empowering people to know more, do more and be more. I think what you’re doing in many ways, is a great example of that.”

These words caused Charlie to have three realisations in a matter of moments:

  1. He had been doing the same thing Banayan had been doing. He, too, had been empowering people to know more, do more and be more.

  2. That was the ‘something’ that Gary had seen in him and was the reason Gary had helped him.

  3. He needed Gary’s help again.

And so Charlie shared his dream with Gary.

Gary immediately saw the potential. Because, in truth, it was already happening. It was something that Gary had realised a long time ago, but he knew Charlie had to have that realisation for himself. Charlie needed to see the potential, both in himself and his idea, as Gary had done.

And now that he had, Gary was ready to help him. He connected Charlie to Florian, a restauranteur and advocate for people who were part of the culinary industry, and Pascal, a management consultant who was actively involved in driving greater social responsibility within the workplace and community (both members of The WorkLife Book Club). Together the four of them developed a plan and strategy to bring Charlie’s dream to life.

Because of Charlie’s strong desire and natural ability to empower people to know more, do more and be more, the foundation was already in place. With the help of Gary, Florian, and Pascal, Charlie built this into a social enterprise project, and soon a fleet of mobile coffee shops were popping up all over Shoreditch and surrounding areas, all staffed by baristas who had learnt their craft at Charlie’s Barista School.

Epilogue

The social enterprise went much further than serving up the best coffees. Learning to create that perfect cup of coffee instilled a sense of pride in every single employee. And the parting words from Charlie as each team took their mobile coffee truck on the road, “I trust you, make the call,” gave them the self-belief that they could do this.

All of this helped improve their mental health, which had been impacted by the situations in their WorkLives that had caused them to be sleeping rough. The social enterprise also helped them to find their own accommodation. And being out and about in their mobile coffee trucks, at both regular pitches and also as pop-ups in new locations, helped them discover, rediscover and connect with people in their neighbourhood, giving them a sense of community.

I first shared Charlie’s story a long, long time ago. You see, Charlie is an integral part of Shoreditch life. He’s also one of the founding members of a Community WorkLife Book Club. In New Years Tales I tell the stories of chance encounters which led to the formation of the Community WorkLife Book Club.

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Charlie’s story is one of the many behind the scenes stories that make Shoreditch the special place it is. His back story was inspired by https://review.firstround.com/the-30-best-pieces-of-advice-for-entrepreneurs-in-2021, and his continuing story was inspired by stories from real-life social enterprises in London who are helping rough sleepers improve their mental wellbeing through meaningful work, find homes, and to play an integral role within their community by being connected.

This story is part of a series of stories that share insights into the characters in my book WorkLife Book Club Volume One Shoreditch. Stories that share insights that aren’t shared in the book to the main characters, the support characters and the behind the scenes characters. While the characters in the stories are not based on real people, they are representative of the people who are an integral part of Shoreditch life, the neighbourhood I live in, which is full of people with different WorkLife experiences. Shoreditch is a special place, and I believe what makes it so, is the incredible diversity of life paths that cross here, spanning the whole globe and many walks of life.

You may also like my Learning Through Reading Series: A collection of stories inspired by real WorkLife struggles and successes presented as case studies for group discussion. The case and the recommended book are the required reading for each book club meeting and help to frame the subsequent discussion.