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 thought 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 I didn’t expect that much from myself.
The school called me, I jumped in the car, went to Hogwarts and had my picture take for a local newspaper - it was quite surreal.
As I was driving another thought crossed my now significantly smarter (but still lacking in common sense mind) 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 gap year of volunteering (NB I 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 and on my days off worked a PT job in a 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 (I lasted all of 3 days in that job!), did PR, another sports store and a few other places.
Then graduation was over and, as I've never been much of a planner, I didn’t know what to do. 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 - bills, responsibility and a lot of decisions. So I took some time 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 – those who didn't get the grades they wanted take note - 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 - helped publish the first national youth work book in decades and now, after a decade, I’m out of youth work - I lasted a lot longer than the national average of 2 & 1/2 years.
A few years ago, over a period of a year, without me saying or them knowing, a lot of unconnected people had words, dreams and thoughts involving me and writing. Talk to me now and you would think - ‘yeah that fits’ but back then it was a really alien concept. So I thanked them for their comments, wrote a little and put it to the back of my mind. Then the ache wouldn’t go away. I continued to write and scribble and dream and scheme and fashion words into phrases and characters and stories that make people smile and cry and laugh and relax and dream and wonder why. Asking questions is a good thing. It makes you come alive. It connects your soul with the world.
A-level results, degree holding people, questioning life people - stay with me…
For what it’s worth - I’ve 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 agitated, angry, frustrated and the list goes on. But when I live out my dreams, well, that's a whole other set of adjectives and feelings.
Don’t compromise on who you have been created to be.
Don't negate or give up on the dream.
The best advice I can give you is to start turning it into an aspiration.
I had to wait until my late 20’s to get my dream. 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 and write a novel and stories. This summer, after leaving youth work I’ve had the space and time to be on the cusp of finishing three more books. It’s incredible what you do when you focus, work your ass off and grab your dream by the scruff and make it work for you. 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 life changing power in education – treat it as a privilege because it can change the world. I have an unfulfilled dream that I can use my books to help further education in developing nations. But as you study - guard your mind and continually think of ways to apply your learning. Too much study makes you puffed up baboon.
As cheesy as a bag of Coleraine Cheddar - 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 can choose your attitude. Some days that’s all you can do. Make it the right attitude.
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 and different tomorrow. It compels you to believe that things don’t always have to be like this - when it’s easier to accept the status quo.
Recently one of my best mates, and one of the most capable guys I know, got in touch and told me he loves that in our early thirties we are still making life up. I hope I'm still doing that in my 90's.
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, do it with all of your passion. Some of you will know what that is. Go for it. Work at it. Help others along the way. It doesn’t matter if it’s studying marine biology or starting a business, teaching kids or working in a shop - go and change the world. I know you can do it. And get in touch - let me know how it’s all working out for you.
So yeah I got straight A’s … and … well ... you know the rest.
If you have enjoyed this post I would love it if you bought a copy of Half Irish - either paperback or in iTunes or Kindle - big love!