You Live and Learn

It’s crunch day for many people out there. Today is the day their futures are decided, all on a slip of paper that tells them how their last years of government education have gone. Today, many young people will be excitedly looking forward to a new life; perhaps going away to university, or taking up an apprenticeship. Good luck to each and every one of you.

I didn’t go to university and it probably is one of my greatest regrets. I finished school at sixteen, went to college for a term (where I discovered that my inherent shyness and lack of confidence was a major hindrance to full-time education away from home and left) – and went straight into a job. Bar two weeks when I first moved to the north east twenty years ago, I’ve been in constant employment ever since. Make no bones about it, I know just how lucky I am. Even when I’ve not been happy in my work, I’ve been grateful to simply be in employment. People seem confused when I say I neither did A levels nor went to university. For the record, I went to night school to do A level English Literature when I was in my late 20’s. I did this to prove a point to myself. I walked away with an ‘A’ grade and a fervent, heartfelt plea from my tutor that I would look into doing an English degree.

I didn’t. I gave up my university aspirations the year I fell pregnant with the Son. I’d been accepted onto a full-time course at a local university with a view to doing special effects for film and TV. I got the offer the same day I found out I was expecting him. I chose him. And I’ve never regretted it.

The Ex and I have been saving for the Son to go to Uni – if that is his choice – since he was born. I see how bright he is, particularly in maths and science, and I hope that one day he will stand in front of me, dressed in a black gown and mortar board collecting his BSc. If he doesn’t choose to go to university, he will no doubt have very good reasons for it. I’ll certainly be encouraging him to consider it and at the moment, he is definitely thinking down that path. The realisation that to study what he’s interested in doing means he’ll likely have to move ‘down-country’ is also sinking in.

I didn’t enjoy school. I enjoyed the learning element – I’m one of those people who loves to learn new things and that’s true now. One of my favourite things ever is finding tutorials for computer packages and teaching myself something new and shiny. I didn’t enjoy school because I was basically miserable from the age of eleven to the age of sixteen, when I left. This was because of the ‘cool’ kids in my class. The ones with whom I failed to connect because I was more interested in books than clothes. They treated me with the kind of disdain that only teenage girls and clothes shop sales assistants can master.

Sometimes I yearned to be a part of the Cool Kid Set, but it never happened. I was never a Cool Kid. I was too awkward, too shy, too easily upset. I found a group of like-minded misfits and we used to hide in the drama studio at lunchtime. We were safe there. Safe from the sneering disapproval and destructive comments. We’d usually just slouch about and chat, but sometimes we got creative and acted out scenes from whatever plays we were studying in English Lit or Drama. (The year I did my exams, we did ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in both English AND Drama – I got to analyse that damned play far too much to be healthy).

I loved drama. I wanted to go into acting as a career, but the years of being miserable because of snark took their toll. I sloped off to Chichester to do a foundation theatre arts course. I loved it, but I didn’t last. I missed home, I felt permanently self-conscious – even though the people on the course were unanimously lovely – and spent the entire time putting myself down.

I gave up my aspirations of going into theatre then and instead got my first job. So here I am, years down the line. I’ve belonged to a couple of drama groups since I came to the north east, including one that featured situations so ludicrous they could be turned into a comedy show in their own right. I may tell the tale of St. Cuthbert’s Drama Group sometime, but I’m fairly sure you’ll all think I’m making stuff up.

I mean, you just won’t believe where the prompt used to sit…

I found, as an adult, that I was much less self-conscious on stage. I’d got over the whole ‘STOP LOOKING AT ME’ teenager thing and was able to lose myself in the character I was playing. I think that’s why I enjoy MMO RP so much as well. I get to be someone else entirely for a few hours. And of course, the writing thing. When you’re writing for a character, you can forget the mundane just for a little while. For a couple of hours, you are no longer Sarah the NHS Employee, but you are Sergeant Gileas Ur’ten, Silver Skulls Tenth Company, charging around the galaxy with your jump pack and chainsword and Smiting Where Appropriate. Or you are Valkia the Bloody, er… also Smiting Where Appropriate. Or… er…

Oh dear. There’s a lot of smiting going on.

I may have problems.


6 thoughts on “You Live and Learn

  1. Tony Lane says:

    There is no reason you can’t go back and give higher education a go now or any time in the future. There are plenty of part-time and distance learning options out there. Hang on what am I saying. Don’t study. Keep writing so I can buy more of your books.

    My eldest hopefully starts his A-Levels in September. I know we’re much more nervous than he is about his GCSE results so we’ll be a wreck in two years time. It is great to see our kids becoming better than we were.

  2. LMF says:

    As I have gotten older and become more “experienced” and “worldly wise”, I have come to see that asking a teenager to decide their future is not a good thing. I am not doing anything close to what I thought I would be doing when I was 18. Other people my age are not even close to using their majors which in some cases cost over $100,000 to get.

    I did the going to college thing here and had a wonderful time drinking, doing drugs and playing soccer – there was even some going to classes involved too – but all in all it was a waste of time and money. Using this experience Iwas able to guide my daughters into following their own paths – not someone elses’.

    Both daughters ended up working shitty low end jobs for a year and are much better people for it as they gained perspective and empathy and an appreciation for hard work, money and the understanding that life, and the work place, is not always fair.

    One daughter is now a pharmacist while the other is starting a modelling career and has already gained a reputation as being a great person to work with (no strops, always willing to try, treats the siupport staff to the respect and admiration they deserve, pitches in to move sets and stuff around etc.) while building a portfolio and client list.

    It is almost an unfair burden for someone to be told to make a life altering decision when they know nothing of what life is about.

    • Absolutely. My son was having to make decisions about his first batch of exams at the age of fourteen. It’s just crazy stuff.

      It’ll all come out in the wash, I’m sure.

  3. Vicky Ayech says:

    Don’t regret not going to university. Your life experience made you who you are and that makes you the writer you are. I did go to uni and probably didn’t deserve to. I wasn’t a good student at school, they were surprised I got into Sheffield. It was a time only around 5% went to university I think and we got free tuition and a grant to live on or I would never have been able to. I messed up the first year, had to re-do exams in September, changed direction, failed the second year and had to re-do the whole year. I did pass in the end and then didn’t use that degree(Jurisprudence) and after doing a post-grad secretarial course and working for six months went to sea with Capt Ex. The degree opened doors but you worked anyway and got experience. I did train in EFL and ESL and dyslexia support later and did do a useful job which was because of the degree but I’d love to be able to write. I did try when at sea and never was good enough.

  4. Brother Richard says:

    I hope this thought leaves you with a laugh.. when we moved to a more rural area a few years ago. I asked my daughter how school was treating her. She was absolutely delighted with the classes and her fellow students. I asked if she was ‘in with the cool kids’ and she looked at me with a very serious face saying,’ Dad, there aren’t enough kids to have a cool group.’

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