There was no Timehop in the days of my GCSEs. Facebook wasn’t even open access to everyone.
For that I am somewhat grateful to several Gods I don’t believe in.
I cannot relive an online reminder of the tangle of teenage emotions I must have been on that day. The anxious rubbish that would have poured from my 16-year-old brain onto the internet would not have been pretty.
Even by mid-00’s standards, there was no screaming and shouting at our results day. I don’t even remember much until I walked into that room.
Our envelopes were spread out around the sides and I found mine under the window. A gaggle of my friends stood behind me, happy and celebrating, sharing what they’d achieved.
All while I stood frozen by true anxiety.
Usually I was the loudest one. The one forcing her way into a conversation, to share or encourage people to be proud of whatever that results paper said. To this day I don’t think I even remember what my friends got (enough to go onto college and degrees years before I did) because all I could do was clutch that A4 brown envelope to my chest in absolute fear.
That was the moment I couldn’t convince myself it would be okay any longer.
Any moment someone was going to turn around and ask me and I was going to have to admit my failings. For once I had no cover-up excuse pre-formed in my mind. I’d have to admit that everything I had done wrong was my own doing and this was going to be the price. This embarrassment.
You see, if my attendance in my final year of high school was 70%, that would have been a very generous estimate.
My coursework probably amounted to ‘it’s due tomorrow so you better get it finished in class today’. There could be assignments still outstanding to this very day. My extent of revision was ‘I should probably actually read the assigned text, that we’ve been discussing in class for weeks, sometime soon… or not’.
I clutched that envelope to my chest and eased several pieces of paper out of it. There was no way anybody was going to look over my shoulder. This disappointment and shame would be all mine to bear.
That first piece of paper had two English results on.
My heart literally jumped out of my body. I didn’t dare to believe it.
I remember thinking I was getting ahead of myself but I ripped through the rest of the papers.
All C. All pass. All enough to get into a college I didn’t know if I was going to or what the hell I would do there. (Spoiler alert, I took photography, media studies, film and & TV and radio & journalism. I lasted until the middle of October.)
All except drama.
I span around, heart racing.
How the hell had I pulled it off? To this day I will never know. As an adult I feel slightly guilty that I managed to pull 13 GCSEs in 7 different subjects out of my arse somehow.
I left that place, following behind my friends, keeping it all to myself but with a huge smile of my face. I’d done enough. Enough so that I was like everyone else.
From all there it went downhill.
It was six years (in which all my friends finished absolutely amazing and diverse bachelors degrees) before I returned to university.
In the end, I skipped the A-level stage out completely.
Because, really, no matter what it said on those three sheets of paper that now live in my mother’s safe keeping cupboard, the GCSE process is more than those letters (or numbers).
What happened on that day (or this results day, or the next results day) don’t define much. It’s what you do with them. How you let them into your head.
Whether a failure teaches you to try harder or how to deal with disappointment.
My future husband was in that room somewhere that day, although I didn’t know it. He got one C, enough to get him into his apprenticeship, and that was enough for him. He had what he wanted and he’d never think about the rest.
My passes set me up for a future… although it didn’t come straight away. I still had to wait for my time in education to be right over half a decade, and a baby, later. When that time came that subconscious voice could say ‘mate, you can pull anything off, so go for it.’
The same as a D or even a fail can set you up for something greater.
They don’t define you and are only the tiniest stepping stone on that road to something bigger.
Wait until you’re waiting for the results on whether you’ve flushed £30k worth of debt down the toilet. Good times.