We are now in the aftermath of A-Level results day. Those affected have had a couple of days to celebrate or commiserate (maybe even a bit of both), and now is the annual scurry across the country as teenagers prepare for university; try to get a place through clearing, reapply for re-sits or decide to leave education to find work. It can be a stressful time. Some people will struggle emotionally during these coming weeks, some may even decide to access counselling, because their exam results have derailed their plans… and it is this that I want to talk about today.
There is an inordinate amount of stress now being placed upon the importance of A level results day; I heard it referred to in the news this week as being “pivotal”. Teenagers (could this be you?) have been working towards this point since they were about 4 years old – attending school 5 days a week for 36 or 38 weeks of the year over 13 years. In addition to all that time spent, some of the students I have worked with have taken extra lessons to push up their grades – or may even have taken additional exams. And, with each year that passes, it seems that the pressure to “succeed” becomes greater and greater.
I personally believe that this mass of pressure, and the expectation that most will attend University (and a good one at that) is unhealthy. It doesn’t prepare people for the ups and downs of life – instead, it teaches that either you succeed, or you don’t. It tells you that your success in life is based only upon this one “pivotal” moment. It suggests that if you fail at exams your life will somehow be over. But I can assure you, it won’t be. Things in life are not this black and white.
A healthy life is about balance. It’s about work and career but it is also about friends, and family, hobbies, leisure time, happiness, and attempting simply (or maybe not so simply) to enjoy your life.
By the age of 18, most people in the UK will have had a very similar education, with a comparable selection of hobbies and experiences. Their life will, for the most part, have travelled a predetermined path. However, post 18, suddenly, “the world is your oyster”; whatever it is that you are interested in, you can pursue. And when you feel passionate about something, it is very likely that you will succeed in it – and it doesn’t have to be a career path (though it might be); your hopes for life might be to be a parent, to start your own business, to travel, to learn as many languages as possible, to save an endangered species or any of a million other things. When you follow your heart, instead of following in someone else’s footsteps (just because that is expected), amazing things become possible. Happiness becomes possible.
I’m fond of asking the question “What do you want your epitaph to say?” – it might sound a little morbid, but to think about the message or feelings that you want to leave behind may very well help you choose what is most important to you in life. I’d be pretty shocked if anyone’s response to the question was “I want my epitaph to say that I got 3 A* A Levels”.
So essentially, what I’m saying is, sure, exams hold some importance but they aren’t so important as to think your future has been completely derailed. If something is important to you, then you will find a way to make it work.
In a few years, and with a bit of perspective, you’ll find your path – irrespective of if you obtained those grades you were after, or not!
If you’re reading this post and you are 22 or 30 or 45 and think this sounds like a good ideal please remember it is never too late to reassess where you are in your life and make some positive changes, be they great or small. Choose happiness.