A word to the wise

Today my nephew got his A level results. They are good but not quite what he was hoping for.

More years ago than I care to believe, I was in his position. I was supposed to get a B and two Cs (I think) in order to study English at the University of East Anglia.

I didn’t get it. Nowhere near. I took four A levels. The results were so bad I’ve blanked them out. They are expunged from my C.V. which mentions merely that I have four A levels, which in itself is a lie because I think I pretty much failed sociology. I think I got a C and two Ds or two Cs and a D. I can’t remember. One was an N or a U or something. Basically it meant I achieved an O level grade at my A level. But you know, I was young and in love and going to the pub was more fun than studying. So… consequences.

The point is it doesn’t actually matter. At the time I thought my whole world had collapsed. I felt I had failed. I took a year out. Possibly I was doing this anyway, again I can’t remember. I worked in the library at Essex University and I re-sat the English exam another two times and never did any better.

But I did still go to university, and I did still get a good degree.

The massive bash to my self confidence that feeling I had failed dealt me, took years to overcome and massively shaped the things that happened to me next. Although the outcomes were eventually fine and I have no particular regrets.

But there are things that I have learned since, that I really wish I had known then.

So here are some of them.

Exam results do not define who you are. They do not determine the success you will have or the things you will achieve. They are just letters. Collectively they’re not even useful enough to spell a word. (Unless that word is ‘dab’.)

Once you’ve had a job or two, no one cares what your A level results were. No one even cares what subjects they are. Once you’ve held a job for a few years, no one even really cares about your degree. Although just having one does mean some jobs are more of an option than they would be if you didn’t have one.

Not getting the results you wanted doesn’t make you a failure. Just because you were wishing for something that didn’t come true, it doesn’t mean you failed any more than not growing wings because you wished you could fly.

Not getting the results you wanted doesn’t mean you can no longer do the things you want to do. It just means it might be a bit harder to get there. But guess what? Nothing worth having is usually that easy to achieve.  The older you get the less likely it is that things will go the way you hope or expect. But the way you face up to that adversity is what makes you the adult you become. And it is taking the knocks but jumping back up and making the best of it – creating your own opportunities – that will get you the things you want.

Those who succeed are the ones who do not allow themselves to be crippled by self doubt. Or if they are at least they pretend not to be. Putting yourself out there and risking further knock backs or rejection is tough, but not taking the risk and never knowing if you could have achieved the things you want is far, far worse. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, take the chance, because – amazing! – self belief comes when you start making things happen in your own life.

If people or organisations appear to be stopping you from doing the things you want to do, don’t listen to them. People set rules to make life easier for themselves. But those who stand out and get noticed are often the ones who bend the rules. I don’t mean cheat or lie. But just because a university or a clearing process says you need certain grades to get on a course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone on that course will have those grades. There are other ways to stand out and prove yourself and your commitment than just achieving a certain grade.

Having a degree is not necessarily the key to the locked door you thought it would be. There are many routes to achieving the things you want. Your best way to achieve them is through sheer bloody-minded tenacity. If you have something you desperately want, you need to go out and get it because it almost certainly won’t land in your lap. Start with small steps. Don’t let yourself trust more in the word ‘can’t’. Aim high. Put yourself in front of the people who can help you. Show them you have something that they can use or are prepared to nurture. And if they do help you, throw yourself into it with all your might and tell them ‘thank you’.

Sometimes it’s ok to let life happen. Not knowing what you want is no bad thing either. Look for opportunities that will expose you to new things. Keep an open mind about where your future might lie. If you get the chance, try your hand at anything that comes your way. But learning and experience are always valuable and useful things to have more of.

And finally, don’t worry! It really is not the end of the world. It is still the beginning. It’s just the starting point is a bit different to the one you’d hoped for. So your parents might be wringing their hands but the world is still there. It hasn’t changed. Only a very small and ultimately fairly insignificant thing has shifted. Now it’s up to you to create the future you want.


About Siobh

I am a freelance journalist and copywriter. My website will tell you everything you need to know. www.siobhan-oneill.co.uk
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2 Responses to A word to the wise

  1. Hollie Smith says:

    Oh how right you are Siobhan, what a fantastically positive post. I recall (more clearly than you obviously) fucking up my A levels somewhat, getting two Cs and a D. I was lucky enough to get a place on a course I was happy with anyway and it didn’t stop me pursuing the career I longed for. (Although it does seem to me that young people have a much harder time in competitive industries these days.) I will be sharing this in the hope that any kids out there who feel they’ve failed can overcome that feeling…

    • Siobh says:

      Aw, thanks Hollie. I’m sure you’re right about it being harder for kids these days. But I just remember that awful gutting feeling of thinking I was a failure and that I’d never succeed because things hadn’t worked out the way I’d wished.
      But I went out and visited a bunch of universities and found their English departments and spoke to the head of department and explained my situation and one of them rang me back and offered me a place. And it wasn’t exactly the course I envisaged but it was probably more interesting and better suited to me than the ones I’d originally applied for, so, I just wanted kids to know that there are other options and other opportunities and they shouldn’t feel like failures but can still make things happen.

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