When Plan A Becomes Plan B,C,D,E
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Most of my friends will be graduating next year, and I feel a little bit left behind that I won’t be graduating at the same time and going out into the ‘real world’ with them. However, I know that I took the right route, and I know how easily things can change.
My friend and I were in the pub the other day (where else?) and chatting about our other friends and people from school, wondering where they’d end up after graduation, which jobs they’d be in, who’d be the first to marry, to have kids. We couldn’t give a definitive answer for one person.
Not even the people who had it all together at school, who were doing 'proper' degrees like law and medicine, who seemed to be the epitome of success. Because you never know. There is no rule out there saying that just because they spent 7 years studying medicine they will become a doctor, even though many people believe there is.
You don’t have to follow the path other people set out for you, or the path society expects. It’s ok to not know what you want to do, it’s ok if you don’t have it all figured out. Just don’t do something because of other people’s expectations, it will not make you happy.
I ended up leaving school a few months before my A-Levels, I still sat them but I did not do as well as I was expected to, as I was capable of doing. I got 5 conditional offers from all my universities, I planned to go to Edinburgh, but they required AAA and Royal Holloway told me if I firmed them they’d make my offer unconditional. It seemed that was the route to take, the safer route, if I wanted to fulfil everyone’s expectations of going to university, of getting a good degree, of getting a good job. Royal Holloway was still a good university, and this way come results day, if I didn’t live up to expectations it didn’t matter, I’d still have a place at university. I could still follow the plan that had been spoon fed (or force fed) to me: go to school, get good grades, go to uni, get good grades, graduate, get a job, get a good promotion, get married, have kids, retire and die. I'd already screwed up the whole 'go to school' section, and I was probably going to therefore screw up the 'get good grades' section too and so I definitely, absolutely COULD NOT screw up the 'go to uni' section. So off I went to Royal Holloway.
It didn't me happy. I was miserable. I’ve already spoken about my experience of university here, and how much I was suffering with my mental health. The thoughts of failure and disappointing people were overwhelming. At school, the sole route pushed at you was university, university, university, university. Sure, gap years were touched upon but with severe warnings and repeated cries of “it must be productive” and “don’t take one if you have no plan and waste your time!” but who at 18 has a plan? Why not spend a year travelling, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, learning new skills? Why not spend a year working in retail, getting experience and saving up money while you figure out what motivates and excites you in life? Is that so much worse than spending a year sat in a lecture hall being talked at about a subject you’re not even sure is what you want to spend the rest of your life doing. Is that so much worse than spending 9,000 on tuition fees (not to mention living costs) to realise a few months in that this is not what you want?
It seems the easy option at first, to do what all your friends are doing, to follow the path it seems has been set up for you, and that everyone else is following, but it isn’t. It will make everything harder for you. Constantly wondering “what if?” Constantly comparing yourself to your friends and thinking why are they so happy with this path and I’m not? Constantly feeling like a failure because you’re not succeeding or happy. Be brave, go against the flow, even if it doesn’t work out you’ll have learnt more than you would’ve by just staying safe.
If you’re not happy change. I know it’s easier said than done but what are you gaining from staying unhappy? Royal Holloway wasn’t for me, the course, the environment, the point of my life I was in, I wasn’t ready to commit £27,000+ worth of debt to something I was so unsure of and unhappy with. So, I left, and it was not easy. I felt like I had let everyone down, I felt like a failure, like I wasn’t going to succeed in life now that I’d ‘dropped out’ of University and I had no plan. I dropped out, with 0 plan of where to go next and it was terrifying. It went against all the advice you ever get at school, from parents, from career advisors. Luckily, my parents weren't like that, they supported me through it all, they taught me it was okay to not know, it was okay to be afraid and it was okay to ask for help.
I ended up living in Paris on a whim, my mum’s friend messaged me about a job post she’d seen on the Shakespeare&Co. Facebook group as an English Instructor, thinking it might be a way I could spend Summers in Paris. It became so much more than that. My mum was worried about me moving to a completely different country with no support system, and if I was ready, my Dad thought it was the best idea. It wasn’t something that I could’ve done alone, it took a lot of people telling me“you’re capable of this” and my mum coming out with me for the first two weeks so I wasn’t completely alone and thrown in at the deep end!
Even having got a job and moved to Paris I still had no idea what would happen next. I had passions, that were slowly reemerging after a dark depressive period, I was fiercely passionate about politics, social change, theatre, equality, language and self-love. I found a love for writing that I’d not experienced since I was 15, so I started a blog. I’ve always had an obsession about anything WW2 related and so I dived into any book on Paris during the Occupation, it somehow opened up an interest into Palestine during the Occupation, and the Israel conflict in general. I decided war journalism was something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life, that would be my passion. I started applying to liberal arts courses, that I could then gradually narrow over the years to concentrate on journalism.
I had my heart set on Sciences Po, and studying at their Menton Campus that specialised in the Middle East, so I could learn Arabic too, but I got turned down for having received my high school diploma too many years ago (2016) *eye roll* but it didn’t knock me as much as I’d expected. I kept applying and fell in love with Maastricht. So much so that I didn’t apply to anywhere else, I thought if they don’t want me I don’t want to settle anywhere else, I’ll just spend another year in Paris or move to Barcelona and apply again next year (see how far away that reaction is from the girl who dropped out of uni in January 2017 - she could barely go to Tesco on her own). Luckily, they did accept me and I’m off to study Liberal Arts there in September, and I couldn’t be more excited!
I think the best way to explain it is the difference between receiving my uni offers back in 2016 and receiving my offer from Maastricht. In 2016 I was very nonchalant, I expected to receive offers and I didn’t really have a HUGE preference. I was happy to go to Royal Holloway but I would’ve been happy to go anywhere. I was happy that I’d made my family proud of getting a place at university but that was pretty much it. When Maastricht e-mailed me I burst into tears, I was physically shaking, I rang everyone I could, I screamed, I danced, I cried some more (happy tears obviously). I didn't realise until that point how stressed I'd been about not getting in, whereas back in 2016 I was more "If I get in, I get in, If I don't, I don't!"
I just want you to know that it's okay if things don't go to plan, it's okay if you don't even have a plan. Just do what makes you happy. There is not point in wasting the small amount of time you'll be on this earth being miserable just to please others (or do what you think will please others). I spent so many years trying to live up to everyone else's expectations of me, or thinking if I did badly in something I would lose their respect and love and it was so draining. I was in a near constant state of anxiety of trying to be perfect, in looks, in intelligence, in personality, in my social life, in my family life, in everything. I was chatting to a friend from school yesterday about how school concentrated on creating one type of student and if you didn't fit into their mould you could feel so inadequate and directionless. Well, sorry not sorry, but fuck them. You do you, no one else matters. You set your own goals, your own expectations, your own life path. You don't have to move at the same speed as everyone else, you don't have to please anyone but yourself.
To quote my friend when I told her I was moving to Paris, "We all just knew it was going to happen someday." So even though I bought into the "you have to follow this one path that 90% of people follow in order to be happy and successful" spiel and even though I wore myself into the ground trying to live up to perceived and real expectations that others had for me, my friends never for one minute did. They never doubted me or thought I was a failure for picking a different path, to them this was my natural route and that's why I know this path that I'm taking is the right one for me.