I feel very passionate about having the option to do your own thing. I have done my own thing for about 3 years now; I’m not going to lie, there’s been ups and downs, but, on the whole, it’s been pretty great. There is such a sense of freedom when you have the opportunity to make your own decisions, and forge your own path.
And that is why, 3 years ago, I decided not to go to University. I was offered a place at Brighton University to study Media and English Literature; a course that I only picked because those were the subjects I was good at in sixth form, and a University that I didn’t even particularly like, but wanted to be near the seaside. About 4 weeks before I was due to leave, I turned around, thought ‘This is shit, why am I doing this?’ and cancelled my place.
I was reminded about this choice when this picture popped up during a late night Facebook Scroll of Shame, and all I wanted to do was hysterically laugh at it. Oh 2013 Mia, if only you knew. If only you KNEW!
Had I decided to go through with it, my life would be so different, and probably not for the better. The 'I didn't think I would be this happy' loosely translates as 'I'm not really that happy about it but everyone else is so it would be weird if I didn't celebrate in equal gusto'.
I remember a few things from Results Day that, looking back, are clear-cut signs that I was not happy about the prospect of University:
1. My friends had already checked their UCAS at 6am. I strolled into the Concert Hall at school at midday, to cries of 'DID YOU GET IN?!'. To which I would reply, 'No idea, I haven't checked'. My indifference to the situation was sign number one.
Sign number 2 was when I burst out crying after finding out I'd got a place. I think everyone thought I was crying because I was happy, but no. No, no and thrice no again. I was crying for the exact opposite reason. And also partly out of relief that A levels were finally over.
3. It got to about a month before I was set to go and I hadn't even bought any pots and pans. Or bedding. Or anything, for that matter. My friends had prepared themselves months ago. I just wanted to hide in my bed and hope the situation would go away.
Looking back at those signs, it’s pretty obvious that I was fairly reluctant about going to University. Picture the scene: I was 18, had never been away from home, hated drinking or doing anything that remotely resembled student life, couldn’t cook, couldn’t use a washing machine, couldn’t string a sentence together with a stranger. My entire life up to that point had been academic. I was always the girl doing extra essays and extra work, and working while people were partying and exploring what it meant to be a teenager. Basically, I had no life skills and looking back, there was no way I would have coped by myself, straight out of school. NO WAY.
But can you imagine if I had ignored those signs and just gone anyway? If I hadn’t listened to what my brain was telling me? It scares me a little, just thinking about it. I would not be the person I am now. No social skills, no life skills, no cooking skills; I probably would have given myself food poisoning and never washed my clothes because the washing machine was an alien concept to me.
I would like to point out right now before we continue that I can now cook to an acceptable standard; I cook meals regularly for friends and family, and no one has died yet. I also know how to work most domestic appliances, and if you start a conversation with me, you can’t shut me up. So yes, I was pretty inept at life in the past, but I’m over that now.
So. Another thing that bothered me horrendously was the drinking culture that seemed to come hand-in-hand with University life. The thought of two weeks of having to go out and make friends and get drunk scared the absolute crap out of me, to the point where I would just end up crying on my Mum every night, worrying about it. I have only been drunk once, and once I turned 18 I decided that it wasn’t for me. But it’s a weird thing for people to get their heads round. Especially where I live, and especially with people my age, because it’s just a normal, accepted thing.
And I am fine with that now; I am extremely comfortable saying 'Yep, I don't drink, deal with it and get me a glass of water' now, because I'm a sassy, strong, independent woman, but back then I thought it made me weird and odd and I had no idea how I would make friends without it. I thought it singled me out and I never thought I would fit in anywhere and that scared the hell out of me.
Luckily I have a fantastic group of friends who don't even make an issue out of it because it isn't an issue because it shouldn't be an issue. It’s important to surround yourself with people who support you. Don’t let people bring you down, and make issues out of things that shouldn’t be issues. That’s not cool, and you can have that Life Fact for free, my friends.
But it would have been an issue had I gone to University straight from school. I didn't even know myself. I was an idiot, (still am, some would argue) and I was not strong.
Not only that, but I didn't even want to do Media and English Literature. I'd convinced myself that I did, because those were the subjects I loved at school but... really? Did I really want to do that for the next three years? No. But I would have enjoyed it anyway, at least for the first year or so because at the time I hadn't realised that this was not the course for me. There were greater things ahead, but I just didn't know that yet. Rather than have this epiphany at home, where I could pursue it, I would have had it down in Brighton, stuck on a course that would have ended up being a waste of time. I would have eventually figured out that theatre is where I want to be, and then what would I have done? Cried, probably.
I would have had to wait three years to do what I actually wanted to do, rather than just spend the three years throwing myself into every theatre related experience I can think of like I have done.
I'm not saying I wouldn't have had good experiences at University. I would probably have had great ones. I miss being around people my own age, I get lonely and frustrated and I have not yet had the opportunity to just be a normal 20-year-old. However, those are things that I am willing to sacrifice for the experiences I have already had.
I have done Front of House work, I have been an Usher and worked behind a bar, I have been an invigilator, I have been to see lots of plays, I have worked with a theatre company called Oddsocks multiple times (something that had been a dream of mine from about eight years old), I have done a 12 week course in Directing, I have been to London by myself several times, I have become more independent, I have learned how to become an excellent chef, I have a job in a shop (which I hate, but the lessons I have learned from it have been invaluable), I have actual social skills, I have actual confidence, I have started dance classes, I have learned how to play the drums, I have shadowed the Assistant Director on a professional production at the Nottingham Playhouse for an entire month, I have watched a play from the side of the stage, I have watched a play from the lighting box, I am going to The Prague Film School this Summer to do a filmmaking workshop, I have met loads of new people, actors, theatre makers, and made lots of new friends; I have found my passion.
And I wouldn't swap those experiences for the world.
Three years ago, I got a lot of people telling me their individual experiences of University, telling me how much I would love it, and how ‘everyone feels the same, don’t worry!’
And that made things worse. My advice there is: don’t listen. Listen to yourself, because you’re the only person who knows how a certain situation is going to affect you.
The hardest and bravest thing is to go against the grain. Going against everything you know and everything everyone else is doing is hard. Sometimes you think 'Well, it's probably just easier to go with the flow and see what happens', which is fair enough, but if you're not happy about it then you've got to stop yourself and think about what it is you actually want.
Just the act of saying no and making a decision for myself and my future was empowering for me. I felt in control for the first time in years. I didn't want to do what everyone else was doing, so I spoke up, said no and took myself off down a different path. And it was just as scary, like jumping into the abyss. No one at school prepares you for any other life than University, so I had no idea what to do, but, at least, I knew it was what I wanted, and the right decision for me. So I have always felt comfortable with that decision. Sometimes I get frustrated and sad when my friends come home and tell me all their amazing stories, but then I have to stop myself before I get mopey and remind myself that my stories are equally amazing, just a bit different.
In my case, my school made it very difficult to consider any other option other than University. The pressure they put on you is immense. IMMENSE. It’s no wonder that so many young people struggle. But you’ve got to remember it’s okay to speak up and say ‘Hey… I’m not sure this is going to work for me… good for you but… yeah, I’m not going to do that. I’ll find a different way’. That is so important. And I feel so passionate about that. I don’t like to think that other people might be struggling in the same way I did, so I yabber on all the time in the hope that it might help someone one day.
Because being yourself and doing your own thing is just the most important thing you can do. Sometimes it’s scary, but it’s always worth it in the end.
Thank you very much to Mia , for writing such a helpful post! I am sure it is going to help so many people out and provide reassurance for all those confused right now. The #SpeakUp chat will be happening on Thursday between 8-9pm and will be discussing all things education, uni and jobs! Do pop along! It's going to be a good one!
If you would like to contribute to the #SpeakUp series by writing your own guest post on a topic you think affects young people's health and wellbeing, that you have been through. You can find out more details HERE or drop me an email at email@example.com and I will get back to you as soon as possible!
Thank you for reading, as always x