When I was 17 I got sick and had drop out of school for a year. This was NOT in The Plan. I missed my friends, I felt like I wasn’t learning anything, and couldn’t shake the feeling of having failed.
Deviating from or changing The Plan is not failure.
That year turned out to be one of the best of my life. Once my health was better, I was offered two jobs that led to gaining experience that I draw on today and opportunities that I still get excited about, like singing backing vocals on tour and being able to stand my ground in business.
Unexpected downturns bring unexpected benefits.
I heard of a new school offering A-levels whose first intake would be the September I was ready to go back to studying. This meant that I could easily attend University in the UK and broaden my experience of European education.
White flowers. I watered them with hot tears when I, previously on track to read English at Cambridge, found out that I had been awarded a big fat D for AS-level English. Oh, yikes. Due to some rather unfortunate circumstances, our year had been taught the wrong thing and had done badly in our exams.
Your grades or title or situation do not define you.
We couldn’t resit, so I asked for help to make sure my A-level year was more successful. I worked towards an unconditional offer for English and a conditional offer for French at Queen’s University in Belfast, where I ended up.
It’s NEVER “over”. Work hard and fight for what you want.
Ok, so once you get to University, what happens?
Honour the privilege
Approximately 30% of the population in the UK goes to University. (The statistics are much-debated at present: maybe you could shed a little light, you avid student, you?) This percentage is lower when looking at the global picture. You are in the minority. This opportunity is rare. Don’t waste it. Honour the privilege.
Don’t kiss every fish you meet
If you have not yet done so, you will most certainly realise at University that there are, indeed, many fish in the sea. You don’t need to date/”go for coffee” with every good-looking, similarly-interested, quite bright, fairly humorous fish you encounter on your swim. Befriend schools of them (some of my closest friends, male and female, I met at Uni), but wait for one whose stripes and spots match yours, and who takes your breath away (but be careful with that: fish need to breathe every once in a while, too…I have NO idea where I’m going with this analogy.) And if that fish should turn out to only swim with you for a while, cry, have some Phish Food and, in the words of Dory, “just keep swimming”. Knowing how to swim on your own is good, and hey: there are plenty of…you know.
People so different to those you know now, new places to see and spaces to be in, time on your side…make the most of it, and enjoy it all.
As well as exploring your setting, you will also explore your identity and abilities and interests and these will be shaped by your experiences at University. Take risks and always aim to sharpen yourself.
There are patterns and ‘norms’ at University that you won’t be comfortable with. You don’t need to ‘explore’ everything that is thrown at you. Know your mind and stick with it.
Don’t be a caterpillar (another storybook animal analogy!)
You have been in ‘preparation’ stage for a while, and after your first few weeks of take-off and independence and euphoria at all the newness, you will be encouraged to think of yourself as back in that stage. Your years at University WILL be very formative and will include a lot of exploration, but you are not a little caterpillar waiting to become a butterfly in 3 years’ time, leaving your graduation robe in a heap as the world looks on in wonder. You are a ‘butterfly’ now. Or, you are ready now.
There is a part of the Bible that encompasses the process you are in (and to an extent, will always be in):
“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”
Explore, yes. But don’t forget to sink yourself into things, too. The world is big and there is a lot to be done. You are big and can do a lot. Your energy, ideas, abilities, creativity, freshness, and time are valuable and needed.
Fly, butterfly; fly!
Ps: if you happen to be at Queen’s, why not start here?
What about you?
|| Are you heading to University next month? What are you looking forward to/nervous about?
|| Are you currently at University? How are you finding it? Does any of the above ring true?
|| Have you graduated? What other advice would you give University-goers?
(This post applies to people who attend/have attended University…but hopefully some parts are relatable to those who have taken other paths as well. I’m not leaving you out: this post is relevant to today’s events!)