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.

IMG_1039.JPG

Homeless Not Hopeless!

So, Team V Leeds campaign 1 comes to a close. It’s been an absolute whirlwind with obstacles along the way, high points, low points and occasionally don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry points!

In numbers, we have gathered 190 signatures for the centrepoint petition to stop the government from cutting housing benefits for under 25s, we’ve had 65 sofa surfers, and raised £28.70 for Nightstop, Leeds. We organised our back up stunt in 3.5 days. We have gathered 108 followers on our Twitter and 85 on our Facebook.

So all in all, I’d say it’s been a success. But what have I learnt? What have I got out of it?

I fell into this campaign head first. When I say fell, I mean fell. I did not jump, I did not dive, it was not graceful, I tumbled and bumbled my way through, often feeling completely out of my depth, far too young, incredibly disorganised, and like I had no idea what I was doing! I found this an incredibly difficult position to be in. I am notorious for planning everything in my life to the second, yet here I was heading into 8 weeks of not knowing quite what was going to happen!

One of the first things I learnt, was that however much I glare at it, if I have a message on my phone it will not stop flashing until I deal with it! Getting used to being ‘on call’ was weird. I’ve lived in the stone age for the last 18 years of my life and all of a sudden, people were reporting to me, relying on me, looking to me for answers and expecting me to give them a sensible response! Emails stopped being the odd thing you fire off every now and again and are now a new form of oxygen. Phonecalls stopped being a once-in-a-blue-moon ocurance and started being an every day part of my life.

The second thing I learnt, is that although I may reply to emails at the speed of light, others don’t. Sometimes, you have to ring, text, email and facebook someone before your message will get through. Sometimes, even then it won’t get through (that’s when you tweet them!).

I faced so many challenges which I never dreamed I would encounter in the run-up to the stunt and event. Firstly, finding a cheap, sheltered meeting place on a weeknight in Leeds is apparently virtually impossible! Moving on, I always thought that charities would love support from a younger generation and would be grateful for any promotion that we could give them. Turns out this wasn’t true, although some were incredibly helpful, others were incredibly unhelpful and some didn’t even get back to us at all. I had to learn how to delegate. This was a huge learning curve for me, adapting my thinking accept an incredibly good result… that wasn’t quite what I’d pictured in my head!

When our first stunt had to be cut short due to weather conditions, I was absolutely gutted. We’d spent so much time and energy on everything and worked so hard. I don’t mind admitting that I got home, went to bed and cried with disappointment and frustration. We’d worked so hard, the weather had happened… and what did we have to show for it? I felt my confidence and optimism sinking. I didn’t want to reply to any emails or see what was going on online because I felt such a failure and like I’d let everyone down.

However… one of my wonderful volunteers sent round some emails and managed to book us a new pitch in a shopping centre for 4 days later! The four days were absolutely manic. We had to plan the new stunt, print new leaflets and spread the word again. We faced more obstacles that we weren’t expecting. A particularly memorable moment is when we were frantically texting, we’d finally found a sofa and could get next day delivery, but it needed signing for and we were all at work so wouldn’t be at home to sign for it! If we’d not had that sofa, our entire idea would have crashed and we’d be stuck. But Team V has taught me to think quickly and act fast. We managed to get the sofa delivered to my work place and all was well again!

The second stunt was amazing. We came into contact with a huge variety of people. I spoke to someone who’d been sofa surfing for 30 years. That just hit me so hard. 30 years with no home. What sort of a life is that?! We should not have that sort of situation in a civilised society. I heard stories of promising young talents who’d died from TB due to living on the streets. I heard from others who said that without housing benefits, they’d probably be in prison. I also heard some incredibly negative responses from people who were very set in their ways and were not listening to anyone else’s opinions. People who said that these people should ‘just get a job’ or that ‘under 25s aren’t important’. However, the thing which I think shocked me the most, was how many people told me they ‘didn’t have time’ to sign the petition or looked at us in disgust. I’m sorry, but how long does it take to write your name on a piece of paper?! Our society is so selfish and so rushed. If people don’t think that something concerns them, they often just walk on by.

The event tonight was brilliant, though not without it’s hiccups! (Don’t you just love technology!) We heard from a variety of people and saw some hopes and dreams of those who’ve experienced homelessness in the past. It was amazing for me to see that people from ‘real’ organisations had come to listen to us! It was a bit of a turning point for me, looking at what we’d managed to pull together as a team. At one point, I was looking around for someone to tell me what to do next when I realised that I was running the event! Very surreal. I hope that everyone was able to take something from sharing others stories and experiences. The feedback we got was very positive and hopefully we’ve managed to make a bit of a difference in the Leeds area!

During this campaign, I’ve learnt so many things. The practical things, such as how to add up a column on an excel document, manage a budget, write a cheque, use a phone and run a meeting, the personal things such as how to empathise with others, how to overcome disappointment and pick myself up again, and how to believe in myself enough to lead a team… and the downright bizarre things… for example, a hawaiin hula skirt quite suits me!