Today is A-level results day and my heart goes out to each and every one of you. I thought now would be the opportune time to address the academic pressure we put on ourselves every single day.
A huge huge pat on the back to those of you who have endured today. We know it’s never plain sailing.
We all know far too well the pressure that comes with the day that shall not be named (r*****s day), be it self-induced, parental or societal. Those two words themselves have the power to knock me sick and my brain takes me straight to the land of ‘I’ll never be good enough’. It’s true to say that we all know the mixed feelings evoked by said day. Joy perhaps. Elation? (I hope) Devastation. Disappointment. Regret. Jealousy. Disheartenment. I imagine you’re no stranger to all of the aforementioned.
You may be asking yourself what the point of this article is, given that the vast majority reading have been there already. But what I’m about to say is hopefully something applicable to you no matter what stage in life you find yourself.
We as living, feeling human beings put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves. An extortionate amount in fact. We sell our souls in the name of the mark on a piece of paper. We endure countless restless nights helplessly staring at our ceilings in search of some kind of solace; over a piece of paper. We cry buckets of tears; over a piece of paper. We endlessly sacrifice time doing the things and spending time with the ones we love; over a piece of paper. And that is ultimately all it is. Not the end of the world. Not a reflection of everything you are or everything you will be. That piece of crappy qual paper is not all you are and is by no means a definition of all you can be. But it sure as hell feels like it.
Year after year, I’ve personally dealt with disappointment on results day. Now I’m not raising this point to be pitied, nor to say I had anything to be disappointed about, but to illustrate that it really is just not worth it. Here I am, entering my final year at the university of my absolute dreams, looking back upon the hatred I inflicted upon myself for every little bump in the road, for every mark that wasn’t perfect and for not being good enough. No matter how ‘well’ I did, it was never enough for me, because there was always somebody doing better, and there was always fault I could pick or someone else I could compare myself to – just for the fun of crushing myself that little harder. I led a life creating opportunity after opportunity for myself to convince myself I just was not worthy and I spoke ill of myself before any other soul could. But I was. And I am. And honey; so are you.
I remember Freshers’ like it was yesterday, trying to make friends knowing fine well that one of the time-killing questions just waiting to fly of the tongues of the sea of Freshers’, was the infamous; ‘what results did you get?’. I felt like everyone saw me as the fraud I truly believed I was. Knowing perfectly well that I missed the grades for Durham I knew that this would be a great task for me. I feared being rejected in the name of not being good enough and mocked for not having a squeaky clean straight A* average. That just wasn’t me. But I was there and I was as deserving of my spot like any other. If only I had realised it at the time. Or in second year. Or in third year. Or even at times now. I’m only just coming to that realisation now and looking back on the time I spent fretting, worrying, crying and bawling about these pieces of paper that could’ve been time much better spent – time invested in relationships or in doing something I love. It’s mad to think that only last year I was still fretting about telling my housemate and cherished amigo of two years my A-level results (thank you for your undying patience, understanding and backing Symms – I would not be writing this without you) out of fear of disownment and criticism and pure suffocating shame. So I’m here to hopefully make those of you out there feel a little better (hopefully) and know that just because you missed the grades, does not mean for one second that you are undeserving of your spot. Now to expose myself a little further… AAB my friends (might get it tatted now out of pride). The three silly little letters that led me to believe that I couldn’t keep up here, that I wouldn’t fit in and that I was just so so undeserving of my seat in that seminar I kept my mouth sealed and my profile low. This is by no means me saying that these are ‘bad’ results. What I found difficult to come to terms with, was the fact, that I had underachieved and I felt as though I had let every body, including myself, down no matter how much my angelic family and friends tried to tell me otherwise. Had you offered me them at the start of year 12, however, I would have honestly been over the moon. I vividly remember having a conversation about my A-levels with my dad and coming to the conclusion that my only aim was to try and pass them. So being where I am today is a dream come true.
A quick shout out to those of you disappointed and disheartened out there, being told ‘but you should be happy, you did so well’ – I hear you and what you are feeling is valid. For those of you being told ‘it’s not good enough’; get a better entourage.
I’m telling you all this and exposing myself in the hope that one of you takes something from this I should’ve learnt a long time ago. This to you may not seem like much to share, but I was always that student mortified by others finding out what I had got, reducing myself to tears and feeling exposed if anyone were to catch wind of even a mock mark; once again in the name of fear of rejection and social exclusion. But boy was I naive.
You are worthy of your place. You are deserving of the praise you receive. You are wiser and smarter (in so many more ways than just academically) than you could possibly imagine. You don’t give yourself enough credit. The pressure society and the media and estranged family members put on us is not justified, it’s not healthy and it’s not worth your precious time and energy. Do what is best for you. Work as much or as little as you like and put yourself first. Do not. I repeat. Do not put your life on hold for your exams or your health. Allow yourself time to relax. To eat. To get a good night’s sleep. You deserve it and your body is screaming out for it. Don’t let your degree or your A-levels get in the way of your education (the important one).
Please don’t label yourself unintelligent or worthless, because of a number or a letter (that’s literally all they are) because you will begin to convince yourself that that is exactly what you are. Know that you are so much more than that. Don’t you dare let anyone else tell you otherwise. It’s sad to think it, but there are people who want to bring you down and make you feel the size of a teeny tiny premature baby ant. They want to rub their oh so wonderful ‘look at me look at me’ grades in that pretty face of yours as the tears are streaming and your heart is breaking. Let me tell you now. They are not worth your energy. The way they are treating you is a mere reflection of the way they see themselves. All I can say is, as hard as it may be, those are the ones who need your validation and appraisal the most, they are practically screaming to be heard and acknowledged, and to know they have made somebody proud. Oh, and most certainly, do not let anyone tell you what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. People may have different goals or standards set for themselves, but that does not give them the right to tell you that the grade or classification you are perfectly happy with is not a good one. Seriously nobody asked you sunshine.
We eat, breathe and sleep meritocracy nowadays. To get that oh so important university spot and the words ‘First Class Honours’ etched on our degrees and plastered across our social media. But is it worth the blood, sweat, tears and self-sacrifice. I’d argue not. Work hard, yes (if you want). Aim high, yes (if you want). But just please do it for you. You weren’t born to please everybody, nor are you going to. Put your sanity and mental health first because they need nourished and protected and mean miles miles more than a grade or a degree classification. Likelihood is, taking good care of yourself is only going to contribute to your success and quality of life, so keep on doing it please.
All it takes is a look at the likes of some of the world’s most ‘successful’ (this may not be your definition of success and that in itself is more than okay). Let’s take Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. Both viewed as hugely successful beings, yet, they dropped out of school at a very young age. Just look at them now. There is not one way and one way only to success (whatever that may mean for you). We are unique and individual and the path we choose may not be the conventional one, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong one. Let’s stop this comparison nonsense and living for meritocracy and league tables. Many of the most wonderful beings I know have faced failure, have heard the heart-wrenching ‘you aren’t good enough’ and yet here they are chugging on, inspiring me day in and day out, and not just academically either. Personally. Let’s value people for their hearts, for how they love, for their kindness, their passion, their empathy. That’s what success is to me. Impacting others. Favouring kindness. Doing something in the name of others. That’s where raw beauty can be found.
Please don’t let your grades change the way you look at yourself. Nobody sees you that way (pinky promise). I know it may feel like the most important thing in the world (especially right now) and boy do I believe it at times. But it’s just really not.
You are wonderful. You are worthy. You are valued. You are intelligent. You are unique. The world truly is your oyster. Cast your mind back to when all you ever dreamt of is being where you are right now and let’s be grateful. Whatever pressure you or the world is putting on yourself right now, try and let it go, try and see the bigger picture and have faith in yourself and the universe. Things aren’t always going to go to plan. You’ve got to look after your mind and body so when things don’t go right, you are in the best possible position to rise above, start afresh and learn from those ‘failures’ and baby bumps in the road.
Discontentment seems to dictate our lives nowadays and nothing ever seems to be enough. We are so so busy thinking about our next conquest, we forget to celebrate our successes, the small ones, the enormous ones, they all just merge together and we spend our time pondering what more we could do. For starters, how about telling ourselves what we’ve done is enough for once. Taking a night off and reflecting on the progress you’ve made. The celebration and acknowledgement of each taste of whatever success may look like to you is what keeps us going and reminds us why we do what we do. So allow yourself that humans of Cuth’s.
Whether you’re receiving results, fretting over the fast approaching uni term or still getting over the E you got in Textiles GCSE. Be kind to yourself. Put yourself first. Know that we are here for you and for the 836531917237 time remember that you are more than a letter, or a number, you are beautiful, unique, wonderful YOU and you’re so full of magic.
I hope more than anything that you are happy and you feel proud. Know that I am of you and I am beginning to be for me too.
I’m almost finished I promise you.. to those of you joining Cuth’s this coming year (eeeeeek). A huge huge congratulatory hug to you all, I know you’ll have worked your absolute socks off and boy are you in for a treat. You are so so lucky to be joining the most amazing, supportive and fruitful community and I can’t wait to welcome you all with us. A huge congratulations to the rest of you too – if things haven’t gone to plan know that it just wasn’t meant to be and there’s a world of opportunities out there waiting for you.
Thank you for reading. Huge love to you all.