Tempus fugit. Once again the seasonal wheel has turned and we’re back at the end-of-year exams.
Let me tell you a secret: this year I finished my own degree. 7 years of distance-learning elation, confusion, procrastination, tears, stress, hair-pulling (my own, we’re not talking bar brawls here!) and elation – yes, there was definitely more than one instance amongst the self-doubt and missed weekend plans. And now it’s done. It’s finished. I am a graduate. Well I will be, once I attend the ceremony. But I’ve completed my degree and I know I’ve passed it.
Now let me tell you a bigger secret: I didn’t do as well as I expected or wanted or perhaps could have if I’d sacrificed some of the mindless hours of Netflix binging (Project Runway became an irresistible temptation the moment my final, final exam-equivalent assignment was due).
Here’s the biggest secret: I don’t mind. Two years ago when one bad module dropped my overall expected result by 2 grades I really did. Enough that I considered throwing my whole degree out the window, well the “with honours” bit anyway, I could have taken my 300 credits, 5 years and run. I wanted to. I really, really, really wanted to.
Instead, I started my final course, The Geological Record of Environmental Change. I hadn’t done the recommended Geology course, but it sounded interesting and I only needed a pass to complete my degree, plus I had studied a bit about rocks and environmental science so I thought I’d be ok. It turns out I wasn’t. A badly timed Roundness Index broke me. For anyone who’s wondering, it’s a tool you use to visually classify the shape of the grains that make up a rock.
As I sat in front of a blank Word document just before my second extended deadline, in floods of tears, certain that I was just too stupid to understand what I was being asked, I had a revelation: this was not the module for me. I had fought to understand it, fought to brave my way to my 40%, fought with myself to start the damned thing in the first place after my ‘disastrous’ last year. I was not prepared to fight it anymore. So I made a huge decision, one which I hadn’t anticipated. I dropped out of my final module. On one hand my decision was a huge relief and absolutely the right choice. On the other it was immensely frustrating. I was so ready to be a 2016 graduate. I didn’t want to be an OU student anymore. I wanted a life back. I couldn’t remember what it was like to tell someone what I was doing at the weekend other than one word: “Assignments”. Instead I had no choice but to wait for 10 months until I could start studying my new final module the following October.
I threw myself into enjoying my time off and in October embarked on a whole new trajectory, Investigating Entrepreneurial Opportunities. For a mostly-science degree, it was a bit of a curveball. It was also another big risk; I am not an Entrepreneur so I was once again pinning completing my degree on a new area. But I loved the course. And after three long assignments and a longer exam assignment that kept me up until 4am the night before the deadline (sound familiar?) I finished. And I passed it. If you saw someone on Tuesday 25th April whose expression alternated uncontrollably between looking on the verge of tears, shell-shocked and grinning more widely than Wallace, that was probably me on the day I got my final result.
Here’s my final secret: I started this blog post intending to update something I’d based on a workshop: Worried about Results? that I wrote two years ago, before I got the result that broke my degree. Before I was ever worried about my results. And revisiting what I’d written totally side-lined me. I thought about some of the resilience that I’d built up and started to appreciate the challenges I’d faced and overcome while doing my degree. I acknowledged some of the other life-changing moments that those same 7 years represents. And some of my stagnant feelings of shame about my result started to be replaced with feelings of pride. And that was when I realised: I truly don’t mind what classification I get. My degree is finished. A simple classification doesn’t begin to cover the experiences I went through to get my degree. So whatever result ends up on my CV, I will own it with pride.
So if you’re one of our Essex family who’s feeling the stress of exams and life, worrying about the seeming ‘finality’ that a less-than-amazing result might bring, here are my key messages, from one student to another:
The people who really matter will still love you, whatever result you get. Give them a hug. Talk to them. Let go of any fears or self-judgement.
Results represent a number from a single moment in time. They never define you.
Life goes on – and usually gets better.
So push your comfort zone and go for what you want. Get your well-deserved degree and be proud of it, whatever classification you come out with. Live well, laugh often and love always. And remember: there is life after exams. Good luck to all of you!
If you’d like to read what I was meant to be re-posting, you can find it here on my LinkedIn account. Feel free to connect with me while you’re there!
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