Last Thursday I was thrown back to my own A level results day. Despite having had a 2 E offer from Oxford, I was so disappointed to find a C instead of an A for Latin.
Rather than being happy about the two As I beat myself up about about my failure. I refused to celebrate, my parents got the paper remarked (it still came back as a C) and I started Oxford, not exactly brimming with confidence.
A levels for many are very tough. Rather than the European system that allows you to study across many subjects till you are 18, Brit students have to narrow their options at a really young age. Quickly, any vague thought of being a doctor is erased, if you choose three arts subjects. Or a passion for writing fast evaporates if you opt for a more business orientated route. At the age of 15 it's really hard to know what you want to do tomorrow let alone in 3 or 5 years' time. So of course some people make the wrong choices.
The approach is also still very 'academic' - studying and revising rather than imagining and building. Not the best way of learning for many. In fact some of the most successful people in society today didn't get their A Levels - Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Guy Ritchie. JK Rowling wanted to go to Oxford but didn't get in.
Taking three hour exams is also not a normal human experience. Having to reel off vast stats and figures is not something we have to do in adult life. It's not surprising some students have a total blank or meltdown as the pressure is too great, nor that pre exam stress triggers mental health issues.
Working with teens in a clinic I often hear that eating problems or depression start when children are forced to give up the thing they love - ballet, riding, writing, because they have to go on to do proper higher education in order to get a proper job. But who is to say that being a show jumper, a dance teacher or a novellist isn't a proper job?
The A level system doesn't cater for any of these needs and yet it's still socially 'unacceptable' to have a child who opts out. Especially for parents who didn't succeed themselves and are perhaps reliving their lives through their children.
I am proof that top grades, an ivy league school and a flourishing career in advertising aren't the be all and end all. I was a star student but I lacked confidence, so I never felt good enough. The harder I worked the better I did but the worse I felt. None of it filled the chasm of low esteem. Because deep down I wasn't doing what I loved - creative writing and I didn't have the guts to do change my life.
What would people say down the pub when I told them? What would my dad say? How would I live?
As in all things in life if you don't make the necessary change, the change is thrust upon you. I had a burn out, left my high flying job and was back to where I was aged 18.
I started blogging, freelancing to sustain myself and eventually launched myself into a new career of novel writing, and helping others through story. And I haven't looked back since.
A positive psychologist Seligman claims that findings one's true talent - creativity, communication, humanity, bravery, justice etc - is the key to confidence. Yet our current curriculum is far from helping children find theirs. Usually one stumbles in to one's vocation rather than locating it.
There are ways however of helping yourself or your children. Working with personal development coaches, doing work experience in all sorts of fields, reading biographies of others who have done things differently. But this all a bit hit and miss. There is of course alternative schooling, Steiner or Montessori, but not everyone can afford their fees and there are still largely viewed as 'artsy' places, for 'special' children.
The truth is we shouldn't have to deal with any of this. The responsibility lies on the shoulders of our education minister and heads, to update make the system more relevant, more adapted to the needs of all children. At the very least it should enable school leavers to identify what they want to do next, in their hearts as well as minds.
But that's all good and well for future generations, what do you do if you're disappointed with your results, if you've missed the points for uni, if your parents are walking around the house with long faces. Maybe just maybe it's the best thing thing that could have happened to you. Maybe it's the wake up call you aren't doing the right thing and that it's time to switch paths.
I was on a BBC Five Live interview a few nights ago about all of this with a guy who left school at 15 and is now the owner of a very successful plumbing company. Had he stayed on to do A levels he would not have had those years of apprenticeship and he may have got 'bad grades', which could have ended of any dream of running his own business. He has also never looked back.
A level results are only a drop in the ocean of life, one piece of the jigsaw puzzle of success, but your response to them is what counts. These next few weeks offer you a precious window to reevaluate where you are in life, what you really want to do. Even if you got the grades you may have doubts. And if you're still not sure go do something enlightening - work in a developing country, do an internship, meet with graduates who have done what you have done before. It's never too late to change your mind, or find your calling in life. I found it at 35, others even later. But the sooner you get there, the happier you'll be.Suggest a correction