I’ll start of by saying that I wasn’t a ‘typical’ teenager. I found school, by and large, completely uninspiring, un-engaging and emotionally inaccessible. My school reports read ‘academically gifted’, ‘bright’, ‘sociable’, and yet not one single fibre of my being wanted to sit in those classrooms. Come GCSE years and I’d largely self-selected not to go to school, only appearing for the examinations whose long term significance was prioritised over so many students’ health. I was incredibly lucky to have seen a bigger picture. I am so lucky to view those ABCs strewn across certificates shoved in my bottom drawer as a tiny part in my life and that unlike so many I know, they didn’t send me into an emotional downward spiral.
Moving on to my A Levels, I took subjects I enjoyed; pressured by no one but myself to make money orientated prospective career decisions. I did great. I loved it. My time at college allowed me the space to realise my academic potential, and for the first time I saw worth in that. When it came to UCAS I applied for a mixture of journalism and media based courses, all five of those institutions London based. I took up a place at my first choice and at 18 years old I made the move that I thought would define much of my career – I started a BA Media and Communications degree at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Enough. I spent much of my first academic year at university convincing myself that I was enjoying it enough. And I was, I learnt ferociously, wrote and researched, throwing myself into the practical learning and integrating with my peers. It wasn’t until I started a Media Arts module that I realised ‘just enough’ would not be good enough for me. Dipping my toe back into that pool of concept and creativity really changed the course of my academic career, and direction of my life.
I finished my year at Goldsmiths thinking I’d be ‘interrupting’ my studies, with a view of taking a year out to figure out what I want, going back later. I’d struggled a lot with my mental health at that point in my life, and realistically thought I just needed some thinking time and space. Within three months of returning home, self-indulgently mulling over my options, I’d decided I wasn’t going back. Then in some fabled stroke of fate I woke up one morning and knew exactly what I wanted to do. I just needed a little help getting there. Stood in my pyjamas ‘I want to do a fine art degree’ I proclaimed to my mum, who works in creative education. Safe to say she was pleased with my realisation, and suggested that I go and do an art foundation at our local college. I sorted out funding, got my place, and ended up with a ‘Merit’ for making and creating within the framework of a course I loved, a Certificate of Outstanding Achievement, and having one of the best years of my life.
Let’s fast forward to now. I am about to go into my second year at Wimbledon College of Art, studying Fine Art: Sculpture and I am having a ball. I can hardly recognise myself in my memories of Goldsmiths, and I spent a large part of that year very unwell in terms of my mental health. I cannot fault my experience of the university; my heart just wasn’t in it. But, like so many who tread an unconventional path, all around me were the voices of those I love the most. I’m incredibly fortunate to have such a wide and strong support network but leaving my former dream (and incredibly prestigious) university came as a shock to many, and they weren’t afraid to vocalise it.
I’m not here to tell you to ignore those people, or make snap decisions but I truly believe that it is okay to change your mind, whatever your reasons. Trust your judgement, trust you knowledge of what you love, perhaps even over what you excel at. From GCSEs to A Levels, onto university, we all (eventually) find ourselves in a job that consumes the majority of our time and therefore life. Life is about happiness and health and people, and I think my advice really is to be truthful with yourself. Make changes, take risks and have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?
We are all cogs that keep our world turning. Builder, teacher, doctor, cleaner, academic, hairdresser – we are all equally important. Value yourself and own your choices. No one else will truly understand why you make them, and that is part of the magic that motivates everyone with a roaring passion.