A sample from the Autobiography, ‘Lift Up Your Head’ by Paul Crow and Steve Eggleston
Prologue and Chapter 1
I have saved writing this preface for last, which is a bit amusing. But the journey of writing this book about my life has taught me that truly knowing how I got started in life depended on knowing, not only where I am today, but how I got here. To spin the words of Socrates, I’ve learned that life unexamined is ill understood.
Today I am a highly successful Information Technology professional working in a dangerous cyberworld inside the halls of the biggest corporations in the United Kingdom. My position involves critical responsibilities—such as recovery from critical infrastructure disasters—the diligent discharge of which stabilises companies, protects jobs, preserves core assets, and even saves lives.
Companies depend on me for their survival in the darkest of times, and in that regard, I am with all humbleness and humility the reluctant leader who steps up to do the job that must be done. Leadership lies at the threshold of all properly functioning organisations. Without leadership—families, neighbourhoods, cities, companies, and nations, all stumble and go astray.
I didn’t grow up around leaders or leadership. With rare exception, the people swirling through my childhood world weren’t setting examples of how to be a good person, build a successful business, or take a city to the next level of prosperity. My childhood was a sharp stick jammed into the burning coals of poverty, crime, violence and systemic abuse.
I left secondary school without taking my O Levels, and within months I suffered my first arrest. Soon after, I succumbed entirely to a youth of crime, a victim of The Slippery Slope of Poverty, you could say. I did things I should not have done, and even when caught, repeated them, defying formal education, authority and lawfulness. Consequently, my life were fucked, if I’m honest, and honesty is what this book is about. So please excuse the occasional harshness of my chosen words—of the examined life.
I have changed from those early days. By embracing the spirit of rehabilitation and progress, and crossing the bridge out of poverty by immersing myself in reggae music, I escaped the clutches of poverty and prison and the evil ways of The Slippery Slope, allowing the good in life to give me a chance. And chance is what it’s all about, isn’t it? About answering the door when opportunity knocks. And you know what? It kept on knocking and I kept on answering.
Yes, once I opened that door and took the chance, a lucky break that in other parlance might be deemed an opportunity, I suffered painfully through the boredom and discipline and fixed work hours and learned and improved myself and got smarter and better at what I needed to do. This is what you do to get out and get away from the battlefield on which poverty thrusts you as an unknowing soldier.
It was not easy, however. Every pore of my being wanted to succumb to the clutches of The Slippery Slope,and so the battle was constantly raging, every minute of every day. But ultimately, when I did prevail and the success started to flow, well, I found myself doing what this book is about: lifting up my head. I stopped settling for being the victim of circumstance, at being third or four or fifth best at the bottom of some barrel, and I shot for the stars.
Of course, I only did what I should have been doing all along. I should have been listening to inspirational leaders, engaging in positive, uplifting community projects, preparing for a life of hope, opportunity, and success. I should have been shooting for the stars. And finally when I did, I got the moon, which might be good enough for some but not for me. Because I haven’t stopped yet. I have plenty of miles to go and plenty of time to reach the stars. Stars, here I come!
At this stage in my life and my career, I want to become a civic leader and a humanitarian. To share the words that come from leading the examined life. To be a voice of hope and change for our youth. To give back to the community where I came from, and help it transcend its long history of poverty and darkness. To be a leader where I see very few.
I want my story to reach the eyes and ears of others as I continue to reach for the stars. And through this book, I am reaching, I am being honest, and I am using my common sense to move one step closer to my dream. Because in the end, I want to be my own success story, in hopes I may enable others to do the same. Together, let’s Lift Up Our Heads.
PART I: GROWING UP POOR
Chapter 1) City of Steel
As a young boy, I didn’t take school seriously. When I was living in Burngreave, I didn’t read books or learn my maths as I should. Read a book? Who has time? Finish senior school? Who cares?Back then, it didn’t mean anything to me. But oh, how things have changed.
As a successful, accomplished IT Director who has recently turned fifty years old, with a wife and children ensconced deeply in an affluent middle-class British life, I now take school and education very seriously. Today I read books and scour the internet for all the knowledge I can scrape together, setting an example for my children. Today, learning means everything to me.
Speaking of learning, are you familiar with the name, Sir Henry Bessemer? I am. Not because I learned about him in senior school. Not because a teacher lectured about him at the college or university I did not attend. Not because the British school system warmly reached a helping hand to a poor family like mine and nurtured me with understanding, encouragement, and opportunity.
No, I learned about Sir Henry by being self-taught, and in particular, by writing this book and doing research about him on the internet. Then I ordered the tomb titled Sir Henry Bessemer, an autobiography of Sir Henry with a concluding chapter by his son, Henry Bessemer, Jr. After then after that, I tapped into C. Bodsworth’s book about Henry, titled Sir Henry Bessemer: Father of the Steel Industry.
And with this, let’s begin our story.
Sir Henry Bessemer was born in 1813 in Charlton, Hertfordshire, England, and died eighty-five years later. He became an inventor and engineer and highly successful businessman without any formal education. In 1856, in his forties, he invented a steelmaking process that would revolutionise the mass-production of steel. His Bessemer Converter became the most important invention in the world for the affordable processing of iron to steel.
Just over a mile from my house on Burngreave Road in Pitsmoor, there was once a public house called The Fountain. Many a night I spent there as a young, misdirected lad, where my brother Juddy and I rubbished about the car park and mixed with local kids, rarely up to any good. Well, in 2009, to commemorate and pay deserved homage to Sir Henry Bessemer, that same public house was renamed The Bessemer.
Why did they do that? Because of Sir Henry Bessemer’s important legacy: He planted his stakes deep into the fertile Sheffield soil and declared it the worldwide City of Steel. This is the man who in 2003 was recognised as one of the top ten innovators since the birth of Christ, despite being generally overlooked in his lifetime, to the consternation of many British and American engineers who profoundly admired him.
Because America embraced the prosperity of steel like no one’s business, eight cities and towns across the vast land adopted the Bessemer name; yet there are none in England or anywhere in the entire United Kingdom or British Empire over which the sun never sets. Henry’s success was never guaranteed to him in the nitty-gritty, live-and-let-die world of the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution, but he followed his tenacious devotion to taking on new challenges, regardless of risk. He was a natural leader who overcame adversity.
As the story goes, Henry’s first efforts failed miserably. In today’s highly regulated world, he might even have been prosecuted for financial fraud, notwithstanding his dogged brilliance. That’s because in 1856 and years following, he sold his patented Bessemer process, described in the newspapers as ‘the Manufacture of Malleable Iron and Steel without Fuel,’ to many unhappy Sheffield ironmakers who at that time were the bedrock of the iron economy.
The problem was that every one of them reported the same disappointment: the newly-patented Bessemer process failed to produce any usable steel. Astonished, shamed and discredited, Bessemer set out to rectify the errors of his ways, ascertaining two causes of the failure and fixing them. Then with his associates he struck out on his own to establish his own Sheffield steelworks. And despite all the setbacks, and they were aplenty, it wasn’t long before Henry became a millionaire in times when millionaires were few.
The original Bessemer Converter was a rough-and-tumble capsule of molten steel with the look of an ancient time capsule. Today it resides in the Kelham Island Museum located on Alma Street next to the River Don in Sheffield Centre. And for his work as a pioneer of inexpensive steelmaking, as well as the inventor of over one-hundred inventions in iron, steel, glass, and even solar energy, in 1879 at the young spry age of sixty-six, Henry Bessemer was knighted by the Queen.
Last year I turned fifty. When I was born fifty years ago, the likelihood of my prosperity was more or less as dismal as that of Henry Bessemer when he first strapped on his mud boots to slog into the moors for steel mud. And though I am no inventor, today I ask myself, if Henry Bessemer can be knighted, why can’t I?
Why not a poor kid who grew up in the ghetto of Burngreave?
Why not a kid with a juvenile criminal record who overcame the hard knocks of poverty and prison?
Why not a kid who didn’t finish senior school or take his O Levels but did become IT Director for major companies, working to protect their digital assets from catastrophic collapse?
Why not a mate who wants to put a domino in motion that will tilt other dominoes that will help to end poverty, educate the poor, and inspire our youth to turn Sheffield into the Silicon Valley of England?
Why not a Northerner who wants to look beyond his own city and take his message to all the other cities in the United Kingdom…and beyond?
Why not me?
After all, I still have thirty-four years to go before I reach eighty-five, and maybe I’ll live even longer with the latest advances in nutrition, technology, science, and medicine.
This book is the story of my life to date, with answers to three simple but very hard questions that have driven me, and could be a bellwether to others—including you, your colleagues, the people you influence, and your children:
What do I want to be called in life?
How do I cross the bridge out of poverty (or any hardship) to success and affluence?
What legacy do I want to leave behind–for my neighbourhood (Burngreave), my community (Sheffield), my country (the United Kingdom), and all of mankind (the world and beyond)?