Stuart Frank's story
Stuart Frank, Recruitment and Acquisition Executive at Quilter Financial Planning shares his story of being a former young adult carer.
Ok, so I’m pretty sure if you’re reading this right now then we’ve been in an almost identical situation. Endless pressure that falls on your shoulders…feeling an exceptional amount of responsibility...watching your peers through eyes of envy as they get to go about their day-to-day lives with, what appears to be, very little hardship and getting to go off to Uni or land these amazing career jobs whilst you’re stuck in what feels like a never-ending one way track to nowhere in terms of career prospects…
Yep. I remember those feelings vividly and I can honestly still feel them in the pit of my stomach as if it were yesterday. My name’s Stuart and, exactly like you, I was a Young Adult Carer. I left school with barely any GCSE’s and never got the opportunity to go to sixth form/college or on to Uni, as my mum unfortunately developed a psychosis where she was adamant she was being possessed by the devil and that the devil was out to kill her. At the height of her initial pre-diagnosed illness period, she severely burnt herself so badly that I was told she required round-the-clock care and attention which she could either get from a residential psychiatric care facility under a law-imposed Section order, or she could live full time with family who would provide 24/7 care for her.
It was my mum, so there was no way I could see her being sectioned. I knew I had to step up – I had no other family who could take this on and the alternative wasn’t on the table as far as I was concerned. So I quit education completely and became her live-in carer. Life was so incredibly hard, and I felt (even still feel now writing this) selfish for even saying or thinking that, because my mum was the one who was ill – she didn’t ask for this and it wasn’t her fault. But as the long-term reality of the situation began to sink in, it hit me that this was my life now.
Was she ever going to get any better? Would the rest of my life always be this round-the-clock endless cycle of getting her out of bed in the mornings, monitoring her mood, making her breakfast, counting out her assortment of pills, taking her to her psychiatric/mental welfare appointments and group sessions, writing up her mood diary with her, waiting on tenterhooks for the mood to suddenly snap and for her to be on the floor in pieces and having to muster all my declining positivity up to convince her it would all be ok, cooking dinner and trying to encourage her to eat more than she did the night before, monitoring what she was watching on tv so that she wasn’t watching anything that might disturb or upset her state of mind, lying awake in bed at night waiting for the piercing screams from her bedroom because she had another nightmare which would drench her in sweat and mean having to change her bedsheets and her nightdress at 2am….followed by a repeat performance of all of this the following day?
Was that now my life? Forever? As social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter started to take off, I would see people I’d gone to school with getting into their dream University, going off to study the course they always said they were going to do when we were at school. I started to see people in my age group becoming entrepreneurs and starting up their own businesses etc, and I used to feel so jealous. In the pockets of hours I could get cover for my mum, I got a pot-wash job at a local pub that paid minimum wage. Again, it was more hard, physical graft but it gave me something else to focus on and do, other than just everything at home and became my only form of leaving the house and mixing with other people and getting to have any sort of external human interaction. It wasn’t what I wanted for my life long career, but it was the best I could do.
As the years passed and my mum’s situation started to decrease in severity (i.e. she wasn’t considered a risk to herself or to others anymore) I was able to start thinking about what my job prospects were, if any. I was encouraged by a family friend to give Connexions a try – they were a service that worked with young people looking to gain employability skills and help to support them getting into work or apprenticeship schemes. I had a chat with a Careers Adviser there who actually performed a psychometric assessment on me, where they asked loads of questions about me as a person and my personality/likes/dislikes/ambitions etc., and all the answers lead to a small group of possible jobs that, based on your skills and ability, would be considered a good match.
This assessment heavily pointed in the direction of Customer Service, referring to all my support work with my mum and my empathetic nature and working to deadlines in terms of her appointments and prescriptions and filling out paperwork etc. It actually turned out that all those things I just considered as irrelevant things I just had to do to support my mum every day were considered as ‘transferrable skills’ to an employer! Who would have thought, right?!
So I went to the local Job Centre (that’s what we used to have to do in those days!) and looked for any jobs as locally as possible that were ‘Customer Service’ focused, following my assessment from Connexions. I printed off a whole bunch of them and, using Connexions’ support, I put together a CV and sent it off for all these jobs – hoping but never actually genuinely thinking I’d ever hear back from any of them.
One day I got a phone call from a company called Hays who said they had received my CV in relation to one of their Customer Service Officer job adverts and wanted to ask me some questions. We had a chat on the phone and they asked me to come in to their office in the city and meet with them in person. So I went to my local charity shop and bought what can only be described as an incredibly ill-fitting suit to wear for the meeting.
What I came to realise once I went and met with them was that Hays was a recruitment agency, and they were recruiting for one of their clients – Royal Bank Of Scotland – who were the ones looking to recruit a Customer Service Officer in their Southampton office. I nearly choked when the recruiter told me who it was for and what the salary would be, considering the extent of my work experience was washing dirty dishes for £3.80 an hour! She sent me over on an interview to the company and I could not believe what I was seeing when I got there – marble flooring, swanky leather seating in the main reception area, some huge internal garden that the whole glass office building was centered around. This was the sort of thing you saw in films – not a place that little old me with hardly any GCSE’s or a degree and hardly any work experience would be working in!!
I met with the bloke who ran my interview and I was so surprised to find just how down-to-earth he was. I was keen and I’d done my research into the company, which he could see and was impressed by, and I was honest about my situation but really expressed just how much I wanted an opportunity to really make a career for myself. He told me at the end that they had a lot of candidates to see but that, if I didn’t end up getting the job, I shouldn’t stop trying. I came away so overwhelmed by the experience I’d just had, and remember feeling honoured that they had even taken the time to meet with me. But I knew I didn’t really have the level of experience they were looking for, so I settled for at least always having the memory of spending an hour and a half in such a swanky office!
Little did I actually expect a phone call the following day from the agency to let me know that the manager thought I did great and wanted to OFFER ME THE JOB!!!!!!!!!!! I could not believe it. I remember asking the recruiter to double and triple check that she was definitely calling the right candidate, as I just couldn’t believe my luck! I’d done it – I managed to get myself a truly decent job working in a BANK even though I had little to no work experience other than pot washing and being a full time Young Adult Carer!
Only a year or so after being in my Customer Service Officer role, it became obvious that I had a knack for working towards targets and building rapport with people as I used to smash my lead generation target, and I was then promoted into being a Sales Adviser where I would have more in-depth conversations with customers around their financial circumstances and sell them the relevant products to match their needs. Finding that I had a strong competitive side and liked to earn as much money as possible, I became consistently top performer within the branch, then the region and then the country. I even got an invite to meet with the head of retail banking for lunch at The Ivy restaurant in London in order to discuss my success and how we could try and emulate it across the rest of the retail banking network, which was just incredible.
I later progressed down the bank’s internal Future Leaders progression plan for aspiring managers which I eventually passed before becoming a Team Manager, running a team of 13 x Sales Advisers. Unfortunately the banking industry later took a huge hit and a mass cull was made across a lot of the major high street banks including ours, and I was made redundant. But I used this opportunity to my advantage, taking on some feedback that some mates of mine had given me about recruitment and how I should get into that industry based on my skills and experience I now had.
So I moved to an internal recruitment job for Cisco, working on their recruitment across 13 countries within the EMEAR region before then going into the agency world where I became a Financial Services based recruiter due to my background in banking. During this time, I reconnected with my girlfriend I’d had in school – we dated for a while before getting serious and getting engaged/moving in together, and then later married before she fell pregnant. At that point I decided to set up my own agency business and just got everything in place before we then found out we were having twins!
I still continued to try and proceed with the business, but definitely found that trying to go self-employed and run a start-up business when becoming a first-time dad to two babies was a LOT harder than I had ever realised! So eventually I had to pack the business up, but a mate of mine who worked in a recruitment agency got me an interview for a Financial Advice firm, Quilter, who were recruiting for a Talent Acquisition Manager which I then moved into.
I’ve now been at Quilter for almost three years, and have recently just been promoted to a Regional Director position within the company which I absolutely love. My mum is doing so well, whilst she still has her down days and she will never fully go back to the person she was pre-illness, she’s carved a relatively busy life for herself that she’s happy with and she is the most amazing nana to my two boys.
Writing this, especially the earlier part, it’s funny – I hadn’t thought about some of those feelings and situations for a long time. But writing about them puts you right back in that mindset and it suddenly feels just like yesterday that I was in that position. I’m not naïve enough to believe or think that every Young Adult Carer will have an identical journey to mine – after all, every YAC’s story is different. But we all share a lot of the same anxiety and feelings, and what I want more than anything for those of you who are reading this who are in that place RIGHT NOW, is for you to know that there is more to your life than this. There WILL be more to your life than this. This point in your life does not define you, but what it does do is give you strength and resilience and skills that will actually make you highly employable.
Don’t EVER think that because you are a carer that’s all that people will see you for. If you want things, and you want a career and prospects that might right now feel totally out of your reach – you CAN make them happen. I promise you – I’m living proof!
Don’t ever give up – it’s still YOUR life and YOUR opportunities for the taking, no one else’s.
All my love and full, unfathomable respect to each and every one of you,