It's been a month since results day and I still feel like a failure
Well, everyone else on Twitter got their confirmed place, and my insurance didn't even let me in.
It literally seems like everyone else got a first but me.
I'm actually the *only one* in my friendship group without a graduate job.
Sound familiar? Good, you're in the right place.
If you've been in academia for any length of time (as we all should have been as it's sort of illegal to be doing anything else from the ages of 5-16), then you definitely know what it feels like to be on the receiving of results day. After bracing my first results day all the way back in 2015 during my early English Literature and Mathematics GCSEs, then my consequent A-level results day in 2018. and now at university, it feels like every summer I'm reliving my first results day but without the anxious excitement, laughter, and relief with friends and to be honest,
I hate it.
This year, there was a not-so-surprising results day fiasco with my uni as the remote grading systems complicated the speed at which the results could be published, leaving hundreds of students incredibly anxious and annoyed after waiting the entire Friday for results that were in actual fact to be published after the weekend. Aside from that results-day drama, the new anxiety and frustration that comes with results day is something that I'm continually working through especially with the incessant LinkedIn posts and Twitter threads that often make me question myself. If you're anything like me, at least academically, i.e. a somewhat self-doubting, (formerly?) 'high-achieving', results-motivated type, then you've probably taken a series of social-media-free days within the past couple of months-- I'm currently eleven days in my twenty-one-day socials detox. I'll be the first to comment a congratulatory message under a tweet of an undergrad who bagged a 2.1 or 1st, or share the post of the state school student who secured their place at a Russel Group uni. I believe that the ability to genuinely celebrate others is a crucial part of being content with your own accomplishments. Yet, sometimes in a world where it seems like everyone is excelling, it becomes disheartening when you don't feel up to par, just existing in a perpetual state of mediocrity. But today, I’m going to share with you a couple of methods that I've adopted when it comes to defining my own metrics of success, especially during results season.
One grade or even a set of grades do not define you.
I grew up in a family that highly values education. That's typically expected of immigrant parents, and it was no different in my household. Although my parents never pushed me in any traditionally 'Nigerian' career direction (that is to say lawyer, doctor, engineer, or architect at a *push*), being high achieving in the academic world has always been a part of what I understood as necessary for 'success'. However, as I’ve gone through various education systems and had my highs and my lows, I’ve come to recognise that one grade or even a set of grades do not define me.
In year 10, a D grade in any subject discipline would have brought me to tears. But then I remembered, it didn’t count until it was the real thing. And even though I did well in my GCSEs, a couple of lower grades wouldn’t have killed me. By A-levels, I was much better acquainted with those ‘lower’ marks when starting out and let the initial disappointment wear off quite easily. Now at university, I still do feel a pang of disappointment and sometimes even a plummet in self-esteem when the essay barely scrapes a 2.1 or my Spanish translation is not so bueno, to say the last. But again, these grades don’t define me. I may never get a first in Spanish translation, and it won’t be the end of the world. Just as if I don’t end up with a 1st class distinction when I graduate, I’ll be fine. University results or any other results experience are ultimately a means to an end, not the be all and end all. They’re grades, and I’m more than them. So are you.
2. There's more to life than LinkedIn.
Say it with me now, “THERE’S MORE TO LIFE THAN LINKEDIN.” Didn’t that feel good?
(The right answer is yes.)
I could tell you all about the negative impact that sites like LinkedIn can have on one’s perception of self and success, but you probably already know all of that. I’m just here to remind you like I’m trying to remind myself, that success doesn’t have to be a 1st-class degree, perfect A*s across the board, or a prestigious grad scheme lined up. These achievements are great, inspiring even! But they’re not the only way to do success, neither are your 20s nor even 30s the ‘optimum’ time to be ‘successful’ despite what LinkedIn says.
I hold my hands up and say that I have lots of friends with amazing grad prospects who meet a lot of the requirements I’ve just mentioned, and I admire them for it. But I also have friends pursuing creative careers that inevitably come with more instability than security, friends who are budding entrepreneurs, friends who have graduated and still haven’t completely found their place in the working world. Although it may look like I’ve just barraged the platform, I too have a LinkedIn profile that I update somewhat regularly (depending on how deep in my late-night anxiety I’m in). Admittedly, I spent a lot of my time in 2nd year filling out applications for shiny city firms and their even shinier paychecks, so I don’t have anything against these career paths. What I’m saying, however, is that when all of this is said and done, there’s more to life than accruing a set of share-ready and comment-worthy accolades. Pursue what matters to you. Define your own success. If you spend your life waiting to tick the LinkedIn box of what a successful millennial looks like, you may be waiting an eternity. And honestly truly, nobody has time for that.
3. Success doesn't have an expiration date and sometimes it just means getting through the day.
So, we’ve crossed the first hurdle of dealing with grades that may or not be what we typically consider ‘successful’ and we’ve come to terms with the fact that LinkedIn culture isn’t all that the professional world has to offer. Now, how do we start to carve our own paths of success?
First, we have to realise that success has no expiration date. You don’t need to be 25 and have it all together. Neither do you have to be 30, 35, or 40. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’ve got it entirely altogether, that’s sort of the nature of life. There will always be a new target to work towards or a new project to start, and that’s okay. If you find yourself doing what you absolutely love straight out of education, then that’s amazing and I hope you excel in it. But if you’re in your late teens or early 20s, and things are already looking cloudy in terms of what your future may hold, relax. You’re in good company. What you have to remember is that success isn’t an overnight thing and what you have right now is all that you need to be who you were made to be.
Hopefully, you’ve been able to get a new outlook on what success looks like for you. It’s always a work in process, and I admit that I still get really anxious about my future at least once a week. But again, in the least cliché way that I can muster, life is a journey and so is success. Being honest with yourself about how definitions of success may be negatively impacting your mental health is the first step in the right direction. Define your own success, and pursue your true passions. What everyone else is doing is boring anyway.
“The real you is more interesting than the fake somebody else.” Interlude 4– Ms Lauryn Hill