A level results day. The girl, who is still en France, did bloody well and can go off on her art foundation course safe in the knowledge that she rocked it. So sighs of relief all round here. I’ve been making curry paste since eight this morning to take my mind off things. Now we can all have a bath in it, I’ve got so much. Grating onions has never been so soothing.
For those who didn’t do as well as you wanted and or are still waiting for next week’s GCSE results I want you to read and inwardly digest what I’m going to say now (I am fully aware that my readership is not hip teenager, but you might know some who might find this comforting).
It doesn’t fucking matter in the end.
It matters to schools for their league tables. It matters to the people who taught you, because it’s their job. It might matter to your parents, but that’s only because they worry about you never moving out and allowing them to turn the spare room into a pottery studio. It might matter to your parents simply because they worry about you full stop, and just want you to be happy. Usually that’s what it is, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
It matters a bit if you need different grades to go somewhere, but this is not the end of the road. There is clearing. There are resits. There is begging (this has been known to work). There are also, amazingly, about a million billion other things you can do without A Levels, which is how large swathes of the population get on, and don’t just explode into Buffy like dust on opening the fated envelope.
Some people, surprisingly, got by without taking the bloody things in the first place. Some people more than get by.
Academic results measure only one thing, and that is how good you are at taking a particular test on a particular day. There will be other days. Trust me. There will be loads of them, and you get to choose what to do with them all.
I was a swot at school. Passed GCSE’s with flying colours. Got into Sixth form college to sit four A levels, an AS level and a random thing in Latin. Less than three months into my first year I had a nervous breakdown. I dropped Latin and French A Level because it turns out being able to order an air mattress on a camp site is not the same as reading Marcel Pagnol in the original, and I was worse at Latin. I barely went to school for over a year. One of my A levels was the dreaded General Studies (the most pointless A Level alive and one hardly anyone accepted at Uni). I was too ill to think about sitting the Oxbridge entrance exams I was asked to do. I could barely get out of bed.
I passed my A Levels despite myself. A university took my General Studies mark as a real A Level. Every disaster that befell me turned out ok in the end.
I went to university with the vague idea of doing history and archaeology. I ended up doing English Literature because I just loved it. I had no idea what I would do next. I had a great time. I got a good degree, but frankly, it was pretty useless for anything other than getting another degree.
I was going on to go to Manchester to study poetry because by then I wanted to be a poet. I ended up going to Oxford Brookes to study feminist literature, ironically because of a boy. I decided I would be an academic. Turns out I was terrible at being an academic.
Even with a great degree I had to work through my masters. Nobody would give me a job. I spent months signing on but not being eligible for dole money. My parents bailed me out time, and time again. Eventually I went to college and learned to type and use computers. After that I got temping job after temping job to keep myself afloat. Shortly after that I I failed my masters degree with all shame. I fucked up my relationship with the boy I went to Oxford for. My mental health was still fragile. Everything I had ever thought I wanted, dreamed of, planned for, had failed.
I learned. I learned loads with every failure. I learned to pick myself up again. I learned how to ask for help. I learned how to live in real life, not school life. I learned how to get skills I needed. I learned to blag my way when I didn’t know what I was doing. I learned to keep a house, and budget, and put food on the table, and I learned what you needed to live was very different to what you wanted. I grew up because of my failures, not in spite of them.
I also played. I had some amazing times and experiences. I had such fun in between the scary bits and the despairing bits and the picking myself up bits. I made great friends. I went to great parties. I had terrific sex. I got small kittens (and let me tell you, most things are improved by the addition of small kittens). I travelled. I learned just how vast the world is outside of the walls of a school and university. I learned that life is messy and unpredictable and yet it offers you the most marvellous, wonderful opportunities, even when you don’t think it does. All you have to do is be open to the idea that you are not the expert on what your life is going to be like, and be willing to seize the day, even if it seems like the wrong day and the wrong time. It might be perfect. It will almost certainly be better than you think, if you let it.
Life is bigger than school. Life as you really live it is more important than any grade on any piece of paper. Nothing I have ever done in my life has worked out the way I thought it would, and yet my life is better and better and richer and happier than I would ever have dreamed. You will be fine. You are fine. Everything is good. Trust me. I know. And if you need me to write it for you on a piece of paper to believe it. Here it is. x