When I was young I felt like no one and nothing.
I’d dreamed of going to university, flying the nest, travelling the world, and having a great career as an interpreter in foreign climes. Instead my parents took me out of school aged 16 because I had one bad year where school was boring and I was well ready to go to college, and as a result I didn’t even get an O’level.
They put me into a job I had never wanted, thinking they were doing the right thing, and that was when my life fell apart. No meaningful education, no prospects, decades of okay jobs that didn’t match up to my dreams.
I still had dreams though, but I lacked confidence as I’d never finished my education and had no idea what I was capable of. In those days it was a bad thing not to have an O’level and you were turned down many times pre-interview. I knew it was bad when you needed a minimum of 6 O’levels to sell jewellery on a market stall. Oddly I learned years later that if you had a degree and went for an interview where there was an Oxbridge graduate, just give up and walk out because they’d get the job. But that was also years ago.
Oddly, for a person born in 3″ stiletto heels, I developed a fancy to do a martial art. This was so un-me it was ridiculous. Everyone laughed. Then I met Tony. We were in Bristol Christmas shopping one dark, cold, December evening, when a young man who was clearly out of his mind with drugs reeled up behind us.
Tony told me to get back to the car park now, and was concerned that I froze. Truth was I hadn’t been with him when he parked the car and didn’t know Bristol. However, the outcome of that misunderstanding was wonderful.
Two degrees and a black belt later
Long story short, I’d decided I wanted to be a history lecturer as not only did I love the subject I’d learned about its importance in the here and now. If politicians had recognised the importance of history the Twin World Towers may still be standing. I know that sounds very dramatic, but one of our lecturers, an expert on the middle east warned us, obviously he didn’t know exactly what the targets would be, but he told how terrorism would arise and it did. I wanted to understand the past to help the future.
At the time I started Taekwon do I was also doing a history degree at Bath Spa. We’d realised that we could live on Tony’s income, and I made a bit doing readings in between fretting over essays and seminars, I was finally where I wanted to be, and filled with hope.
Unfortunately you need a first class honours degree in order to be accepted to do a doctorate, you could do an MA to PhD, which meant if the MA was going spectacularly well you could skip a step. But, and this is one of the biggest buts of my life, my father died during my second year and I dropped 5% in my marks across the board, I did pull back in the third year though.
I missed the mark I needed by 0.5%. The university had told me that I wouldn’t need to put in a special circumstances form, my work was sent out to external examiners (I was nearly always in the group that got lumbered with that one) and he dropped everyone’s marks that year. The students whose work wasn’t sent out were safe, so the consistently more enthusiastic students lost out. Had I completed that form my marks would have been upheld. I use the word enthusiastic, because when you love what you do it becomes easy. We can all be the best at the right thing.
As you may imagine, dad’s dead, I’ve lost my dream, I was too depressed to even think about fighting this, and when I went to the university their best advice was to go into teaching. If I’d wanted to teach children, of which I have exactly none, I would have done a teaching degree. What I didn’t know at the time, and a heads up would have been useful, was that history is the perfect degree for journalism as we know how to research and present an argument. I actually learned that after my second degree. Don’t get too impressed by all this academic fluff, I was just thoroughly ‘annoyed’ and came out fighting.
I decided to get myself a qualification that would help me to get a real job! So I applied to a different university in Bath, was turned down, demanded a meeting (I was feeling stronger by then), and talked my way in. They had the audacity to tell me that they didn’t take people from ‘third rate university colleges’, I pointed out they were only university colleges because you had to have over 3000 students to drop the word college. Can you believe that? Nothing to do with having world-class tutors, just the head count. They did a tie up a couple of years later with some colleges, and the wonderful Bath Spa University is now the place it deserves to be. I’m so happy for them.
Oh Dear Lord! I didn’t realise but I’d chosen a conversion degree. I had no idea what that was. It meant that effectively my BA was wiped out and I became an MSc. It also meant that your degree was completed in 12 months, and you did 3 years work in 1. There were aspects I got on very well with, but the normal route into computing was via programming, and I couldn’t do that. I’m sorry but I’m a writer and programming is just punctuation. I could write out pseudo code (a computer programme in English) but I couldn’t put those words into dots, spaces, brackets, and question marks!
I got the degree, didn’t even call up to get the actual mark, avoided the graduation ceremony, and couldn’t get work because programming is the general way into a computing role, or was then.
So there I was, not just with the single degree I’d dreamed of, but with two. Yes my history degree still counts to me and it’s the only one I care about.
I went to work with my husband for a while, just temporarily until the job market opened up after Christmas and New Year, the company floundered, went down, we both lost our jobs on the same day, and the only work I could get was in my old career – Personal Assistant or glorified secretary.
Never give up hope
The PA job was the best I ever had. I supported the Bath Neurorehabilitation Unit and there was no more worthwhile work to my mind. The staff were the warmest I’d ever worked with, the boss was the best. I had one more job after that but we won’t talk about that. Polar opposites comes to mind.
During that difficult time, one thing held me up, that black belt. Not that I was ever any good, attitude gave me the one mark I needed to pass. It was the fact that I’d challenged myself in something I was not made for, no balance for a start never had been able to stand on one foot, and I won. To give you perspective, when you achieve a black belt you’re considered to finally be a beginner in Martial Arts, and the first rule of a fight? Don’t be there. Second rule? Run. I liked the first rule best.
I started to realise that I’d never needed a degree in order to be my best self or to be successful, and this part is something to teach your kids, or maybe explore yourself:
If you do what you love you will always put in the work and enthusiasm that is needed for anyone to be a success. Sir Alan Sugar left school with no qualifications…look at him. We rarely dedicate ourselves to things we don’t enjoy, logical things, without either failing or suffering from stress related illness.
I’ve had as many disappointments in my writing as anything else, magazines closing, editors changing and having a different vision, but I’ve never, ever, given up. There were times when the muse deserted me and I wrote mainly rubbish, but in any week I’d write something, even if it was only a social media post. Thanks to this blog and the absolutely generosity of the supporters, I have my mojo back. I am so grateful to you all.
Anything external to you is only useful if it’s perfect for you. I would have loved to be a journalist, but I didn’t know about that until some time later, and couldn’t get into the local papers as they were cutting back at the time. However, it wasn’t meant to be.
People can be qualified up to the eyeballs, but they may not be happy. Nothing is more important than feeling good. Nowadays I’m at peace with myself, I’m not a go-getter because I’m a writer. I’d love to be an equally adept promoter and I’m working on that, but the feeling and meaning has to come before everything else. That’s who I am.
Be yourself, don’t try to shoehorn yourself into a relationship, career, family, home, city, town, village, where you don’t fit. The things I didn’t need taught me what I did need, to love myself, but also to love my life, and to do that I needed to fit into that life seamlessly.
Hope those ideas help
To your happiness and many thanks to all who read and support this blog