While news channels focus on the successful students, it’s easy to forget that many students don’t get the A-Level results they had hoped for.
I remember the day I received my A-Level results clearly. Everyone lined up outside our school hall as we all walked in, slightly scared and excited.
One of my subject teachers walked past and gave me a little wink and a smile. What did that mean? Had she seen my results before me? Was she sending me a pity smile because she knew I hadn’t achieved the grades I needed? Or was she just in a good mood? To this day I still don’t know, but it sent my adrenaline into overdrive anyway.
It was finally my turn and I was handed a brown envelope with my grades inside. My hands were shaking as I opened it and then my heart just sank. I actually remember the feeling of it hitting my shoes and rolling across the floor as I stood there and realised what I was dealing with.
Most of my friends had achieved exactly what they wanted and were all hugging each other while I just stood there. I’ve always been a very positive person and I didn’t want to rain on anyone else’s parade, so I just forced a smile and pretended that I was really happy too.
Some teachers came over and I showed them the crumpled up piece of paper in my hands. Everyone said well done, but I didn’t think they meant it. My head was gone, my heart was on the floor and I wanted to cry.
There was no internet for us ‘everyday folk’ back then. No texting, emails or twitter to communicate. No social media platform to drown myself in, and certainly no websites that could offer me help or guidance.
I don’t remember anything else about that day or in fact the days/weeks that followed, so I can’t tell you what I did in detail or how I handled it. I can tell you that I didn’t go to the most perfect university I could find or that had the best course I had ever seen. The one which was so cool they arranged work placements with MTV. Nope, I went to my second choice to do a course that I didn’t really want to do.
It was closer to home, I suppose. The halls are cheaper, I reasoned. I tried to think of the positives and just get on with it.
Well, as it turns out I had the best three years and realised I loved the subject of marketing more than I thought I would. I graduated with a 2:1 before securing a job at one of the biggest recruitment companies in the world, Hays Plc.
I started working in corporate recruitment the day after my final exam. This job obviously brought me into contact with hundreds of people who were looking for their first job, second job, pay raises, promotions.
In my first year I met and interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of people who were extremely successful in their careers. I learnt very quickly that many of them hadn’t gone to university at all.
Some people my age had gone straight into the workplace, started making their mark and climbing the career ladder years before I had joined in with all the corporate fun and games. Some had taken apprenticeships straight from school and were slightly ahead of me in terms of work experience – and guess what? They had no student debt! Even though I was glad I had taken the university path, the path they had chosen had also paid off.
I wish the 34-year-old woman I am now could have five minutes with the heartbroken 17-year-old girl I was that day. I’d tell her it doesn’t matter in the slightest. I’d tell her about all the amazing things she is about to achieve. I’d tell her that even though her dream career seems out of reach, her attitude and ambition will get her there and beyond, regardless of that crumpled piece of paper in her hands.
Ultimately you have to find out what will work for you, what will make you happy and don’t panic or let anyone (including yourself) make you feel that you have underachieved.
Recruitment isn’t the industry I dreamt of working in – I had never even heard of it. If I had gone to my first choice, then I may never have found the career that I live and breathe with total passion and fulfilment to this day.
Sometimes you have to walk a different path than you originally thought in order to get to your destination. You can still get there, if you’re determined enough.
P.S. That University that didn’t accept me? They now regularly ask me to talk to their students about career success. The irony. Even they had to giggle when I told them.
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Aimee Bateman is a corporate recruiter turned careers champion and founder of Careercake.com.