Do exam results define you?

Whatever your beliefs around COVID-19, be they conspiracy, fake news, fear or enjoying the slower pace and time at home, there’s no getting away from the fact that the pandemic has had an impact.

I spend my days talking to schools and the most often shared thought is: ‘This is the generation that will miss out on so much… They are lost, rudderless, feeling hard done by and sad that they have missed out on end of year rituals, exams, proms and anything else that schools do to mark the occasion.’

It got me thinking – when did this ‘stuff’ become more important than who we are as a human when we leave school or reach key milestones?

I turned 50 this year and whilst COVID limited the celebrations, I did take time to pause and think back over my half century. I am on version 17 of my life.  I have had countless jobs, been unemployed, employed and self-employed. Been married and swiftly divorced. Lived abroad a couple of times and raised a beautiful boy in the process. Of course in 50 years I have also developed skills and mindsets that serve me and keep me sane. 

I went to a local grammar school and studied ‘o levels’ (remember them?) and honestly I wasn’t remotely interested in anything academic and couldn’t wait to leave school to go to work full time.  I actually didn’t turn up for my needlework exam because I was at work! I can still sew a button, but that’s about it.  As I recall, a friend picked up my exam results because I was also working on that day too.  On my last day of school, we signed shirts, I jumped on my bike and headed off as quickly as I could, happy to be free of it all.

My son is 19 now.  He was diagnosed with ADHD, nonverbal Tourette’s and Asperger’s aged 7, and had a turbulent relationship with a variety of schools for his whole educational career.  In year 10, he was bounced from 3 schools and missed half the school year and found himself in year 11 in yet another school, with one school year to study for his GCSE’s.  HE did well considering and passed 7 of the 8, but without the grades he needed to study a particular course at College, was furious when told by said college that he could still attend but would have to achieve a level 1 Diploma before then enrolling for a further 2 years to complete the level 3 Diploma he wanted to.  He didn’t have a prom, hated doing exams and was also keen to just get out of the system he had been tied to for so long. 

Because he has developed resilience beyond anything I have seen in most adults, has a deeply embedded inner script that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to, practices focusing his attention on thinking that propels him forward and is convinced that with his mum behind him, he can create the life he wants, he was furious for about 30 minutes before setting out to find a college where he could study what he wanted to study, regardless of grades.  The fast forwarded story is that he did, and in the following two years he diligently worked his way through studying for a level 3 Diploma in Sports Performance, passing with Distinction last year.

So why am I telling you all this? For those who have not figured it out yet, it’s important to know that exams don’t define who we are. Neither does a prom, a signed shirt, an egg and flour fight (going back to my last day at school – that’ apparently what happened as I was racing off on my bike to go to work) or anything else.  What defines who we are and how we start on the journey of creating the life we want is our character, our resilience, our thinking and our behaviour.  Ho we show up every day, how we face challenges and take ownership for making things happen.

So if you’re sitting reading this and you’re on the lowest levels of the ownership ladder, finding yourself saying or thinking things like ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, if my teacher had made me work harder I wouldn’t be stressing about my grades, I’m just waiting and hoping it all works out ok or any other kind of thought that blames others and generally absolves you of any kind of ownership for your current situation… Maybe you want to pause, catch yourself and look again.

In 5, 10, 15, 30 years’ time… will you be the person who is telling their kids or grand kids that life went to pot because you didn’t have exams, a prom, an end of year ritual? That COVID-19 ruined your future? Or will you be the person that chose to use the time to take a look in the mirror, decide upon the kind of person you want to be and make the life you want happen? Regardless?

And if you need a reminder, some of the world’s most successful people never sat an exam or had a prom or even got to complete their education. All will be well, if you choose it.

Everyone at Ivy House is as passionate as Vicky about putting leadership and life skills at the heard of education, so that students can stay on track no matter what life throws at them.

By Vicky Gerrish, Ivy House
22nd May 2020

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