I got straight A’s … and I still don’t have (much of a) clue what I’m doing!
The letter dropped into the hallway.
I didn’t open it straight away - I told everyone I wasn't worried so I had to play it cool and leave it for a while. For someone who didn't care, I was pretty nervous opening that letter.
No seriously. I looked for the misprint.
So I read the piece of paper again
Yup – I was now in that horrible straight A geek club (we couldn't get A* in my day!) I always swore I would never join. My first thought was ‘Why the heck didn’t I apply to Oxford’ (something I sometimes still think!) Then I remembered that my teachers didn’t expect that much from me or I didn't expect that much from myself.
The school called me, I jumped in the car, went to Hogwarts and had my picture taken with the other geeks*. (*joke)
As I was driving another thought crossed my now significantly more confident (but still lacking in common sense mind) was how are the school & my parents going to react to a straight A student giving up his place in a law degree to take a missional gap year and ‘work’ for the Good Lord. (*NB I also took a gap year before it was the done thing to take a gap year. I thought that a full moon party was something that happened in the yet to be written Twilight.)
So I volunteered FT in Carrickfergus for a year and worked a PT job in a crummy sports store - I thought about reapplying for University across the water, but I didn’t bother. I went to Queens, regretted going at times, thought about dropping out – wrote a letter, shredded it, actually came to enjoy it and then completed my degree. During uni I worked on a production line in a bakery, as a postman, in an office (for 3 days - shoot me now!), doing PR, another sports store and a few other places.
Then graduation was over and, as I've never been much of a planner, I went on the dole for a few weeks.
It was only then – when I had my certificate (for free – we didn’t pay fees for my course!) that I realised I was in a story. My story. I had spent those previous years kinda just waiting for life to begin. But when graduation was over I realised I was being ushered into a new way of life – it was a life of love and grace. I began to listen to other people and I realised some of the most interesting people I knew, and now know, didn’t get the grades they wanted, some didn’t even have formal qualifications – and some of them were millionaires – some weren’t – but they were all, on the whole happy. Why? It's a question I still ponder.
I asked myself a lot of questions about what I wanted to do and how I could help other people. I went into youth work by some cosmic accident. Some days I love it. Some days, like most of us, I struggle.
Then, a few years ago, a lot of unconnected people told me I was really good at writing. So I continued to write and scribble and dream and scheme and fashion words into phrases that make people smile and cry and wonder why. Asking questions is a good thing. It makes you come alive. It connects your soul with the world and the maker and shaker of this planet.
I've also realised over the last few years that if I deny the thing that I’m born to do my life becomes very boring. I get angry, grumpy and begin to complain. But when I live out my dreams, well, that's a whole other set of adjectives.
Don’t compromise on who you have been created to be.
Don't negate or give up on the dream.
Start turning it into an aspiration.
I’m working it out day by day.
Some days are really clear and others are blurry and freaking frustrating.
Now 12 years after I received my A A A grades I still don’t have (much of a) clue what I’m doing!
BUT there are a few things that I know for sure:
Live your story.
Don’t live through others.
Make your story beautiful.
No one asks you what A-Levels you got when your 30 or 45.
Well only weird people do.
I’m really thankful that I made the most of my academic education. It’s such a privilege to study, to be able to read and write and use that for the benefit of others. I went on and did an MA that gave me the skills to create a book project that is being used up and down the country. You never know where things will take you. I have been fortunate to travel to a decent amount of places around the world and there is great power in education – treat it as a privilege because it can change the world. As you study - guard your mind and continually think of ways to apply your learning. Too much study makes you puffed up baboon.
Some of the best education happens in the classroom of life. Listen to others, love others, put them before you – everyday is a chance to learn and grow and blossom – even on the days when the shit hits the fan and your standing right in front of it.
You are more than your grades. Listen to your heart, and if you dare, listen to hope. Hope is a dangerous thing – it urges you to think about a better tomorrow. It compels you to believe that things can be different when it’s easier to accept the status quo.
I'm rooting for you - the underdog - I'm celebrating for you - the high flyer but know that whatever you do once your exam hangover* eases (*literal or not), do it with all of your passion. If it’s marine biology, working in a petrol station, doing a trade or starting a business walking someone else’s pets.
So yeah I got straight A’s … and … well ... you know the rest.