I see pupils and students struggling on a regular basis to get through their school years. The pressure to achieve is unbearable to watch, let alone be part of. Many are without the best chance of survival as they don’t understand the tools that are available to them. And when I say tools, I mean their inner strengths.
I have no problem admitting that I was a mediocre (at best) student at school. I worked hard to be in the middle ranks, often in the lowest when it came to maths and science.
My school years were not the best and looking back they weren’t the worst. I did spend time studying, I would have all the books out in front of me and read the text and try and re-write what I had learned. This became a challenge of my memory more than my understanding of the content.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with my memory since I can recall the words to songs from previous decades but studying was an issue. I didn’t have a long attention span and I would day dream while reading and then have to re-read and re-forget everything.
University was always the end goal. I still don’t understand fully why. None of my family before me had gone and I didn’t have anything to prove. At this point I had no idea what I was planning on studying, I had no driving ambition to be a doctor or accountant. Actually, I wanted to be a make-up artist on film sets and create zombie faces and bleeding lips, but I was advised early that I couldn’t draw so I wouldn’t be able to do that. I accepted this without question and carried on giving my family black eyes in my own time (using make-up!).
I did manage to scrape my way into a few Higher subjects then failed them miserably. A “D” back then was a fail.
I spent the following summer in an access programme in the attempt to get into University. It was the best 10 weeks of my life. I found independence staying in the Halls of Residence, I got a taste for warm beer in plastic cups and made good friends. My study technique remained the same, read, re-write, forget. But with a lot of perseverance, I managed to pass, just.
I was in.
At this point I had no idea what I was planning to study.
I decided to study Countryside and Environmental Management, I had a friend who had signed up for this and I cared about the environment so blindly I enrolled too. I didn’t investigate the topics, I didn’t find out what jobs were available at the end. I was clueless. I failed the first year as I had no real interest or clue what was going on. I dropped the Countryside and Environmental bit and went back to the start and studied Management Studies. Aside from the Economics and Finance subjects, I didn’t do too badly. I figured out that I was comfortable presenting and could speak in public quite easily. This gave me scope to earn more marks. I enjoyed the topics on entrepreneurship and understanding the inner workings of a business. My essays were all borderline passes but passes none-the-less. I failed economics and finance and had to repeat a term. With the help of a tutor I finally made it to the end. I graduated with the most basic degree and was proud as punch to wear the gown at graduation.
So, with a mountain of debt I ventured out into the world of work. I have enjoyed a 20-year career in Finance spanning across Operations and Talent Management and am now a Coach and Talent Consultant and a business owner. My business focuses on making coaching mainstream for young people. I now spend a great deal of time at the same university, colleges, schools and businesses helping people overcome their own obstacles and build on their own strengths so they can see a brighter future.
We all need to experience failure; these experiences help us grow and flourish. How we handle and recover from the hard times is what is important.
There are, however, ways that I could have had an easier journey:
An understanding of how I learn best – it wasn’t until I started working in Learning and Development that I understood that I learn best through visual aid and experimentation. Using pictures and colour to memorise facts has been proven to be very effective. Drawing mind maps, graphs and imagery can help aid memory and learning. This link demonstrates some examples. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAJ-e4s-cNc
Had a trusted advisor – I didn’t seek out someone for advice on my options or was offered any useful advice. Today, our children ask the web or their friends for information. I should have been asked what my plan B was. I should have been asked why I was failing so badly. Get your facts in order, research what you want to do, what are the opportunities and what do you need to achieve success. Seek out the people that can give you the right information, ask for help and always have a plan B!
An early indication of my strengths – It wasn’t until late in my school years that I discovered an ability to rally a group, to speak in public and get up on a stage. At University, a tutor said, “if only you could talk through your exams”, I volunteered for presentations and was able to contribute in class. These small steps gave me confidence and a realisation of a strength I had. I have carved a career out of speaking and building relationships. I work to my strengths and strive to be better.
Self-Belief – I didn’t look at whether I needed a qualification in art to be a make-up artist. If I was told I wasn’t good at something, I believed it. We look to fill in the gaps, but what about focusing on the strengths so that instead of being “good” at something, that we become “great” instead. Confidence and self-esteem come from getting out of your comfort zone, do something you don’t fancy doing. Understand what you enjoy doing and why and do more of it.
Our greatest struggles can build our greatest strengths. If you have been able to stick with this story to the end, I thank you and ask you to think about your own strengths and how you use them? Are you bringing them out in others? How do you learn best? In others, seek to identify and help them amplify their strengths.
We are lifetime learners, it is never to late to make these discoveries.