Failure is an option. Embrace it.

Failing one of my A-Level units and being held back a year before going to University felt, at the time, like the end of the world. That’s the simple way to describe a really shitty moment in my life. You can guess what happened at the time – I got my results, they weren’t good enough, my friends were celebrating and I felt like crap. Lots of tears and a sense of self pity. Pretty standard no?

Out of three A Levels taken I received just two grades on results day. A pretty understandable ‘E’ in Biology and a crushing ‘D’ in History. My English grade would not arrive until a few days later. Pretty shit yeah?

The ‘E’ made sense. Our Biology teacher was never there, we did one practical in two years and the subject was a bit beyond me. But History was my subject. I loved it. I’d received good grades for all my coursework so was certain I would get at least a ‘C’. That ‘D’ though. That D made me a dunce. Stupid. Useless. I would never have guessed that my grades would have been smashed regardless in the exam fiasco of 2002. You know, the one where the guy who fucked things up for a load of us got a £95,000 payout.

But it would all be fine! A few days later I got a ‘B’ in English. Instead of studying History I would be a writer. Or a journalist. Or whatever. The big difference now was I wasn’t going to Exeter to study History but to Portsmouth, a year later, to study English. The University’s were certainly on a completely different prestige level but Portsmouth seduced me with the sea, city and a huge student Union.

I won’t go through the next, oh, 13 years of history listing all the reasons why this was an excellent decision. Instead I’ll simply say that things have worked out almost perfectly for me. I grumble on this blog about a lot of things but other than a lack of career I really don’t have any major personal worries.

Because failure taught me that as long as you don’t die in the process you can always give things another go. Or you can always try something new. Your options are mostly limited by your own imagination and your own personal history. As long as you’re still alive you can have hope – even if it’s the tiniest glimmer.

And I learnt that actually most of the worries in life don’t matter. I have a friend who barely got any GSCE’s and now runs his own graphic design company. Lucy really struggled with GSCE Maths but got into a Russell Group University and will graduate soon as an Occupational Therapist. Another friend was locked out her house by her own mother when she was 16 and told to find somewhere else to live; she’s now a Doctor of Literature.

They’ve all made it. Yes they’ve struggled at times but they’ve still managed to push on with their lives and succeed despite setbacks. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger‘, ‘If at first…‘, ‘Why do we fall down‘ etc; these clichés exist for a reason – they’re based on truths.

So don’t fret. Just do the best you can and accept that shit will happen. There’s little you can do about circumstance such as what happened with my A-Levels so don’t worry about that. Just have faith in yourself and accept that failure isn’t the worst thing in the world.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom perrin says:

    Well said Smithy, life isn’t always about grades! I dropped out of my a levels as you know, had no clear direction and eventually via a convoluted method have wound up working as a doctor. You can achieve almost anything if you put your mind to it, well apart from being a pilot, that isn’t going to happen for me 😉 , not that I have any regrets.

    1. syndathim says:

      You’re another role model for me mate. Stupidly proud to know you as a friend.

  2. Neat post. Reminds me of this poem by Emily Dickinson: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/52197
    Thank you for reminding me that it is ok to fail on a day I feel like a failure.

  3. Vix Pym says:

    Well said! I had a challenging year then too, I got my grades and my course was over subscribed, seemed the end of the world. It wasn’t, worked out really well in the end, and you and I became better friends:-) x

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