Back in the 1990s I discovered a way to become invisible, to speak and not be heard, to blend completely into the background and be totally ignored by people. No magic cloak was required, no invisibility potion, it was much easier than that.
After three years working in NatWest’s Skills Development Unit, running courses on subjects such as Presentation Skills, Train the Trainer, Training Skills Analysis etc. I was seconded to The Princes Youth Business Trust as Area Manager for South London. My job was to promote enterprise to the young people of all the London Boroughs south of the Thames and inside the M25. It was a great two years which really changed my outlook on life.
Our offices were above Evans fashion shop by Clapham Common tube station, reached through a short passage and rather uninspiring doorway. We shared the space with a youth enterprise training company who ran business start up courses, so there was an excellent synergy there. The courses meant that there was always a flow of young people in and out of the building.
Now, the front entrance was regularly used as a toilet at night time and the door itself had suffered several graffiti attacks which meant that the whole area was very unpleasant and not a good advertisement for the activities within. So, when the manager of the training agency told me that they were all going away to a conference for two days, I resolved to do something about it. Instead of the ‘smart casual’ wear that was my norm, I changed into an old pair of denims and trainers and an old sweatshirt. With bucket, mop and scrubbing brush I took myself down the entrance and set to work.
As well as training, the agency helped people to develop their business plans and so students were encouraged to drop in to see the business advisers. This day was no different and people were turning up and ringing the bell for the agency. I would explain that they were all away at a conference and that there was no one to help them that day. I was astonished to realise that at least 60% looked at me, looked at what I was doing, looked at what I was wearing and rang the bell again as if I did not exist. Very humbling.
I have absolutely no doubt that if I had been dressed as I normally would, they would have listened to me, believed me and thanked me. It taught me that the world is full of people as invisible as I was that day. People we dismiss because of our preconceptions about them and what they do.
Ever since that day I have made a point of acknowledging and thanking those people who work to make our world work and I hope it makes their day a little brighter.