When I was 17 years old my life was defined by two things - school and (surprise surprise) swimming. In fact swimming came before my schooling and this showed in my final year results. I didn't come last, but I was far from coming first, and this meant that even though I had put my name down for University (as all my friends did), my marks meant that I didn't get any places at uni - I failed. To be honest, at this point of my life, I was so consumed with swimming and my Paralympic dreams, that I only had a hint of disappointment. Swimming ruled and school could wait - I had no thoughts about what would come after my swimming.
So I swam and swam and swam. I swam at the 2000 Paralympic Games, walked away with more than I had ever dreamed possible, and then upon retiring at the age of 20, I was plonked into no-mans land. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Have you ever felt that way? Like your life has been geared towards one thing in particular, and then at it's completion your left with feeling a little lost and confused? All of my friends were at uni and moving on with their lives and I was like a delayed 20-something, stuck in a place I didn't want to be stuck and absolutely directionless.
So you didn't get the marks you wanted to get into uni? Either you worked hard and it didn't happen, or you tried to skate through on sheer talent ... and it didn't happen. You are sat at home wondering what the hell your meant to do with your life now ... but did you really know what you wanted to do with your life, even when you thought you would be going to uni? You have to think of this "failure" as an opportunity that a lot of other young people won't get - you have an opportunity to live a little, to get out there and experience life in all it's glory, and to really get to know yourself and who you want to be.
In this day and age there seems to be an ever growing push for teenagers to ace their A levels and get that uni spot - whether they need a degree for what they want to do or not. Is this a warranted pressure? Or is it about league tables and satisfying statistics? Or family and school pride? And how does this type of pressure impact on the mental health of young people? What has happened to work experience, apprenticeships, and the like? Why are they so looked down upon - when in essence these particular avenues to work cultivate great work ethic and a desire to knuckle down and get on with what has to be done.
Now don't get me wrong here, I have nothing against people going to University at all, in fact three years after I retired from swimming I went to University ... for 8 years!!! I completed my Bachelors degree and a Masters degree and did start on my Phd (but I have stopped that for reasons I won't get into here). I knuckled down at uni, took what I learnt about hard work and focus whilst swimming and applied it studiously. I went from not getting the marks I needed for uni in high school, to gaining first class honours and top of my class at 27. Here is the catch though ... I went to uni in my mid 20's because I wanted to .... not because I was pushed or manipulated by my family or teachers, but because I genuinely wanted to study another passion of mine (Art) and I wanted to be in an environment where I could learn to think critically.
To be honest, the ability to think critically was the best thing that I got out of my uni experience!
So, you didn't get into uni ... don't panic, don't worry, don't feel ashamed or humiliated or embarrassed, you have done nothing wrong. Change your thinking, look at the sudden space you have around you, space in thinking, space in experience, space in direction. You are freer beyond imagining and the possibilities are endless. Pick yourself up out of the disappointment dust, shake yourself off and start to explore all of your options - options which are endless.
Travel, stay at home, take a meditation class, become a meditation teacher, work at your local supermarket, work at a supermarket in Glasgow, investigate apprenticeships, investigate the armed services, bake a cake, start a cupcake stand at your local markets, draw a picture, have a sculpture exhibition at your local gallery, look at the stars, start a business ....
(and in the end, if you really want to go to University, leave it a few years and apply as a "mature age" student, getting into uni immediately after school isn't the be all and end all, uni is open to anyone at any age, never forget this).
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright