At the age of 11 (pictured above) I won a scholarship to an Independent School and was soon immersed into school life. Many of the girls that I now mixed with were from very affluent families who were able to go on foreign holidays (unlike my family), lived in substantial properties and some had tennis courts in the garden. I think that my feeling of not being enough began at that time. I was reasonably happy but I think I absorbed an unspoken message that I did not fit because my family were not affluent enough. Friend’s birthday parties were a source of anxiety because I could not buy expensive gifts.
There were embarrassing moments such as when my mum had bought a second-hand summer uniform dress which was far too big for me but I had to wear nonetheless because it was cheaper than buying a new one from the posh outfitters.
I had come to this school from a state school where I had been taught as part of a class of 45 but had thrived and was at or around the top of the class. I didn’t realise that this had become part of my identity – that I was clever. When I then went to the other school I was a little fish in a large pond where it seemed that everyone was more clever than me, played musical instruments to a high level and had already learned French at their Junior School. Now I didn’t feel clever enough.
I muddled on through school, did well at my O Levels and embarked on my A Level courses. I can’t even remember now how it started but I began to fear that I would not get good enough grades to get into Cambridge University which is where the School were encouraging me to apply. By the end of the Lower VIth (Year 11) I decided that I did not want to carry on with my education and I left school without taking A Levels.
That decision was made solely because I was afraid of failure although at the time I told everyone that I just did not want to carry on at school. That decision was so costly; it affected my life over many years. I stayed behind when my friends went away to Uni. Even years later I still felt the regret that I had not gone to University and it was mixed up with feelings of incredulity about making that decision. How could I have been so stupid?
If I could, I would tell that 17-year-old that her social status meant nothing to God. I would tell her that she was good enough whether she passed her exams, got lower grades than she needed or whether indeed she did get the grades. I would tell her that God loved her just as she was, that He would be with her every step of the way whether she “failed” or “succeeded”. I would tell her that God wanted her to fulfill her potential whether that was at University or not, that He had plans for her life which would give her a future and a hope. I would tell her that she had been uniquely created by a loving Father to be the unique person that she was. I would tell her that she was a daughter of the King, that she could lift her head high.
How sad that our fears and poor self-image keep us in a prison (often of our own making) because we have made decisions from a place of fear rather than faith. I had cut off all possibility of a University education which was the very thing I really wanted because of my fear of failure (which was completely unfounded).
This story does have a happy ending because I did go to Cambridge University as a mature student many years later. It was the most challenging experience of my life but I did it and I loved it. (That’s another story). It was as though that foolish decision all those years ago had been redeemed.
I am conscious that as I write this in the UK there is a debate going on about the pressure on our young children to perform well at their SATs. As parents we need to keep communicating both our and God’s unconditional love to our children. They are precious. They are vulnerable to all kinds of wrong thinking about themselves if they only see themselves in terms of academic performance whether it is good or not so good. We need to be the ones who paint a picture of adventure over their lives.
This adventure is a journey with God; we don’t know where it will take us but we know He will be with us. We may fail but we can pick ourselves up and carry on because our failures don’t define us, they give us opportunities to try again and are steps along our journey.
Not going to University is my story – your story will be different but I know that many of us are plagued with fear, self-doubt and feelings of not being good enough. We are believing lies about ourselves. Jesus came to set us free – He died for us not because we were good enough, clever enough, good-looking enough or anything else but because He loved us. I am rejecting the lies about myself and choosing to see myself as God sees me.
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom.5:8)
What would you say to 17-year-old you?
She believed she could so she did and School photo – these photographs belong to me and cannot be used without permission. Thank you!