Image thanks to nicki
Here's a story: an ex-tutor of mine recently told me in an email (regarding a Masters programme he was providing me with a reference for) that, given my grade history, shouldn’t I “consider a more ambitious choice.”
Here's another story: a friend, who has recently achieved an unconditional place at Cambridge university, told me that, though it now doesn’t matter if he achieves a First or a 2:1 in the work he’s finishing up (and he already has a 2:1, I quote, “in the bag”) he is still doesn’t want to let himself down by achieving anything less than the highest grades he can.
These two things got my wondering: who are we trying to impress? What do we want our lives to do – look good on paper, or fulfil us?
It doesn’t feel it should matter to me that I haven’t applied for a Masters at Oxford – because that doesn’t feel right; it doesn’t feel relevant; if I’m totally honest it doesn’t feel fun. And, while I’m no hedonist, I believe that, to make a unique, positive, passionate contribution to the world – we need to be enjoying ourselves. We need to jump out of bed in the morning thinking ‘YES!’ that’s exactly what I want to do today.
One stage only ever gets us to the next. I didn’t blow any records with my GCSE’s, but I was able to do A Levels. I didn’t manage five A’s at A Level, but I got onto the university course I wanted. My friend has Cambridge, one of the top universities in the world, “in the bag”, and yet he can’t lose his desire for top marks – he truly feels he would be letting himself down if he didn’t get them.
He and I are different people, we’re all different people. But if some of us aren’t interested in traditional academic acclaim; if some of us want to do what we want to do, whether or not it is deemed academically “ambitious” – shouldn’t that be okay? Isn’t it, in fact, braver? Like dropping out of Harvard to follow an acting career; or not bothering to go to university at all; or starting your own business.
I’m not saying one choice is better or worse, I’ve learnt not to make those kinds of empty judgements. I’m just saying: start being who you are, not what you feel you should be.
Dreams are there to be followed, and only if we can free ourselves from the constraints of “shouldn’t you...” or “hadn’t you better...” by not minding how our life-résumé looks from the outside; by knowing innately that we’ve got it going on, regardless of popular opinion – only then can say we are following those dreams authentically.
Having a perfect grade track record would be great; but not at the expense of a true, dizzy love of what I do. Going to Oxford would likely do my ego the world of good, it might even make me damn proud of myself, but it wouldn’t be honest to my own, alternative, personal ambitions, and I’m not willing to ignore those for a vague and unfounded “ambitiousness” – what about you?