A Rainy Sunday Afternoon

It’s finally the summer holidays (woohoo!) and while ‘summer’ is a fairly loose definition for these particular holidays, the long break tends to be welcomed by students and teachers/lecturers alike.

Today is a rainy, July, Sunday. Some might say a normal British summer day! I don’t know what you’d be doing on a day like this during the holidays but I’d usually be curled up in a blanket, watching ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and photo/video editing, knitting, crocheting or something similarly creative. I might even be working on my dissertation if I was feeling noble. Either that or I’d be baking with my brother, singing and dancing around the kitchen. I might be wasting my day on the ‘Sims’, ‘Monopoly’, or ‘Just Dance’. Basically, I would probably be doing something fun, mindless and comforting, something not too taxing; generally just chilling – the exact thing that summers are made for.

Instead, I actually let myself have a bit of a lie in for once, went on a run as I do every morning, then settled down to work. To revise for the exam I have in a few weeks.

I was joined there by my brother who is stuck behind a desk doing essays and revision. We’re both behind these desks pretty much whenever we’re not at work (or out somewhere else). For me, that means working four days a week and spending my evenings and weekends revising for my upcoming exam. My brother works three days a week and does his uni work the rest of the time. Both of us have had our education affected by Mum’s illness this year. I won’t say any more about my brother, because that’s his prerogative, but I’ll tell you a bit about how it’s affected me.

I was keeping on top of all my uni work until February, when Mum almost died. Even when I had to go home from time to time, when Mum went into hospital, I would come back and work hard to catch up with anything I’d missed, even if that meant missing social occasions or staying up late sometimes.

When Mum went into hospital and became unresponsive, I missed a few days of uni. I tried really hard to stay on top of things, and even came back for lectures when I could (home isn’t too far from uni), but I did miss a few lectures.

Now, statistics has never been my strong point. It’s not my favourite subject and if I could just see where the numbers come from, it might help, but I’ve been working hard at it all year, doing the reading, attending the lectures, spending hours after each class trying to understand the material. Standard student stuff, but it just takes me much longer for stats than my other modules!

I tried so hard to catch up on everything when I got back to uni, but I was still coming home at weekends to see Mum and the rest of my family. I was still worrying about my other family members which made it hard to concentrate on my studies. I still spent time updating friends and family on Mum’s condition and talking to various people about how we were all doing. All of these things gave me less time to catch up on everything I’d missed.

A few weeks on and we were approaching exam season. Stats builds on previous week’s work, so as soon as I missed one week, the next lecture became harder to understand and I got more and more behind. In the end, I made the decision to apply for mitigating circumstances and postpone the exam until summer. I still had all of the essays and work for my other three modules in on time, but I just knew there was no way I’d be able to learn all the content I needed to for stats before the exam.

So that brings us back to this rainy Sunday afternoon. Sat, reading a heavy statistics book, attempting to understand multiple regression. Mum asleep in the lounge, Dad watching the Tour De France, one brother baking and the other working in the same room as me.

I can’t wait for the evening of the 12th August when anyone who happens to be in York is welcome to celebrate with me for my first guilt-free night off in months and months!

Letters don’t define your life.

As most people who have Twitter will know, yesterday was A-Level results day. The day when 18 years olds anxiously refresh UCAS and shake their way into school to collect brown envelopes containing their fate. Have they got the letters needed to get them to their choice of university? Or are they destined to a year of ‘gap-yah-ing’ it up and working out what to do with their lives?

Either way, those 3 (or more) letters do not define you as a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’ – something which is hard to trust or believe, especially at the age of 18 when you’re the only one of your friends to have dropped a grade.

I’m 20 now, it’s two years since I got my results, but I can still remember it clearly. I received grades which anybody would be pleased to open. They got me to the university that I wanted to attend and would not hold me back from anything I wanted to do. But I wasn’t happy. Why? They weren’t a perfect score. I went to a school where most people were aiming for an A or A* in most subjects. The stress of repeated testing and constant pressure had really taken it’s toll on me. I always thought of myself as ‘academic’ (however you define that) but on the receipt of those results I was lost.

In the last couple of years, I have taken steps to define myself by something other than my grades. Volunteering in general, but particularly Team v (a volunteering program training the next generation of social leaders) is something which has really helped me with this. It was the first time in my memory that I was learning by doing, not by textbook, and more importantly – learning because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to. If I made a mistake it was fine, that was simply part of the learning process. At interview they didn’t want to know my grades, they just wanted passion and potential. I couldn’t tell you the grades of a single one of my Team v friends but I could rattle off grades of my school friends at the drop of a hat.

I have made huge steps in learning that there is life outside grades and that the person you are, and more importantly your own personal happiness, are much more valuable then any letter defining your ability to recite reactions will ever be.

It’s a long road and it’s a hard thing to accept when we are brought up in a society where newspapers tell us that ‘exams are getting easier’ and ‘unemployment is rising’. Admittedly – last night I felt like that 18 year old “failure” again. But it’s so important to remember – your grades are not you. Do not let letters define your life.

Check out this video for more inspiration.