Today is A Level results day, which makes it five years since I got mine.
I was eighteen years old and I’d just started to tick off teenage milestones like going out out for the first time, passing my driving test, and kissing an actual boy (I was a late bloomer in that respect). I also had no clue what to do next.
My original plan of undertaking further dance training of some kind came screeching to a halt when I realised my heart wasn’t in it anymore. But at that point I only had two A Levels and didn’t even know if I wanted to go to university, so I was clueless in that respect, too. And I had no idea what kind of job I would apply for if I was to go straight into the world of work.
I spent that night in our local snooker lounge, affectionately known as Pool Club, burbling about my lack of life plan and getting emotional about everyone leaving for university. (I also got chatted up by a cute blond guy who was staying put, so the night wasn’t a total waste, but that’s beside the point.)
In short, I was stuck, or at least I felt like I was stuck. For the last five years I’ve muddled through and while I’m not where I thought I would be, I’m not there because what I want has changed. Copywriting and marketing hadn’t even crossed my mind at that point.
I’m not going to tell anyone what they should do with their life — two of the main messages from this post, I hope, are that everyone goes about things differently and it’s okay if your route isn’t the norm — but I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learnt since that day in 2012.
|Me at eighteen. Yes, I know I look about twelve.|
Lesson One: The world won’t end if you don’t get the grades you want/need/expect.
I was a good student, so the possibility of failing anything hadn’t even entered my head. When it happened (I failed Art) I was gutted and had no idea what my next steps were.
At my mum’s suggestion I headed back to the school to ask them for advice, which is how I ended up doing a two-year course in half the time to get the extra grade I would need for uni if I ever decided to go. There were options and that Art A Level (or lack of one) hasn’t defined my future.
I wasn’t as artistic as I’d first thought, but I was happy to fling myself head-first into studying Psychology and you can safely bet your life that I bought a new pencil case and highlighters for the occasion. I was lucky the school were so supportive — what would I have done without Mrs Morse, Mrs Lawson, and Miss Large? Babes <3
Lesson Two: You don’t have to go down the traditional path.
There’s nothing wrong with doing the whole sixth form → university → grad scheme thing. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with not doing that.
Although I did eventually go to university to study Creative Writing, my way of getting there wasn’t particularly conventional, what with doing three years of sixth form and a Psychology crash course.
Once I was there, I noticed that the happiest, most motivated people I met were the ones who studied a subject they genuinely enjoyed, not the ones who were there because ‘that’s what you do’ or because their parents wanted them to go.
Lesson Three: Some friendships last. Some don’t.
Friendships change so much once you leave school. You don’t see each other every day like you used to — you may not even be living in the same country — and sometimes people grow apart.
But sometimes people end up becoming even closer and it’s pretty damn wonderful. You see each other less and less but when you do get together it just feels normal and right. In my experience, the friendships that last are the ones where people keep in touch and make time for each other, with effort from both sides. I’m finding the same thing for uni friendships, too.
Lesson Four: Sometimes it’s better to let go.
Undoubtedly the most difficult lesson I’ve had to learn. Toxic frenemies? They aren’t worth your time. The ex who makes your self-esteem plummet? Not good for you.
The people I want in my life are those who listen without judgement, lovingly take the piss, and make me feel like I can (and should) do anything I put my mind to, be it applying for the cool job that scares me or demolishing a whole pizza in one sitting.
Lesson Five: Things won’t always work out the way you expect them to.
And that’s okay! We’re all winging it. Do what’s right for you and remember that it’s normal to not be sure what that is. The best experiences I’ve had have happened when I’ve kept an open mind, tried new things, and listened to my gut instincts. My life now is completely different to how I imagined it would be, but I’m happy.
If you’re getting your results today then I wish you the very best of luck! And if you’ve long moved on from sixth form and are starting to wonder why everyone in the pub suddenly looks so young (*raises hand*), what have you learnt since your schooldays? Let me know in the comments!
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Beth, 26, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travelling, and gin.
I write about ethical & eco-friendly living, minimalism, and mental health, as I muddle through one step at a time. Enjoy!