It caught me by surprise
Friday 4 March 2016

SmileI was recently talking to someone about my career in social care. It wasn’t a planned conversation by any means, we just happened to be in the same place at the same time and got chatting.

I explained to her that I never planned to work in this sector, that catering and photography had been my deliberate work pursuits when I was younger. In fact, I was a baker and confectioner for a number of years. How things change!

As the conversation moved along, we were sharing stories of our work experiences that had inspired us, stayed with us, and touched us. While I work in social care with people with learning disabilities, she works in aid relief, helping countries devastated by war, famine, and poverty. She had lots of fascinating stories to share.

She asked me what was the highlight of my career so far - what a big question? Many things whizzed through my mind but the one thing that jumped out was an experience that, on the face of it was pretty small, but in reality it was a huge breakthrough moment.

I used to lead an intensive support team, working with people who have multiple disabilities and very complex needs. We were a small team of about eight staff and worked with only the same few people each week.

It was hard work. Communication was limited and all required either 2:1 or 3:1 staffing ratios. Having something thrown at us, being pushed around and getting thumped were daily occurrences. However, there was never any malice there, these behaviours were simply the output of someone living a very different life, with very different needs to me and my team-mates.

So the highlight, well, it was a smile, a simple smile one cold morning in Bristol that caught me by surprise. A colleague and I were taking J out, as we regularly did. J on this occasion didn’t push, didn’t try to hit us and didn’t try to run away. He did something he’d never done before. He looked at us as we were about to get into the van and he smiled. Nothing more, just a smile.

That smile said a thousand words. There was a sense of calm, a sense of inner peace, gratitude maybe, a connection certainly. I will never know exactly what J was thinking that morning and why he chose to smile, but it was the most powerful moment I have experienced in my career.

You just don’t know what might happen next, when the breakthroughs will come, and how they’ll reveal themselves to you. But when they do, they’ll stay with you for a long time: humbling, inspiring, energising, real.

I dare say you’ll have your own experiences and they're probably very different to mine, but for today and the week ahead, look back and answer that same question yourself - what is your career highlight and did it too, catch you by surprise?

Matt Boyle
Communications Events Manager