Is it worth it?

So my sister is in the middle of her final year in secondary school, the dreaded Leaving Certificate that comes around every summer which, unfortunately, isn’t that far away and is going to hit her a lot sooner than she’d care to imagine, despite the fact it’s only November.

Coming home from a long day at school, tired and a little fed up, ideally she’d like to relax for a while, maybe watch some TV, have a bite to eat and maybe a drink before dinner later on. Yet, this is rarely the case. Sure, she may still have a little snack and a drink but all the while multi-tasking between the mountain of homework she received earlier in the day.

At 4pm she comes through the door knowing what’s waiting for her inside the big bag on her back and I know I probably won’t see her for at least another 2 hours or so while she works. Now, if those 2 hours were all she had to do then it wouldn’t seem so bad, would it? But there’ll be dinner, a little time to wind down and before you know it she’s off to do another few hours worth of work. Every now and then it could be dark outside by the time she can even think about putting her pen down.

For anyone who has sat the leaving cert, you will know that this particular year is the polar opposite to any other school year. It’s busier, hectic and definitely more stressful. It can also be quite difficult to deal with for some people. However, my sister seems to be handling it all very well so far. She’s up to date on everything and handing all of her work in on time, even at the top in some of her classes which obviously is a relief to hear. While some weeks are naturally better than others, she gets on with it. With Christmas quickly approaching, so are the Christmas exams and project draft deadlines so it’s no surprise to witness moments of stress here and there.

Seeing her like this, going through the motions of work, eat and sleep, brings back so many memories from my leaving cert year. Like her, I began to feel the pressure around Christmas and pre-exams time. Probably more than I even realised. Like a lot of people, I had moments of anxiety and worry. I broke down in the office of my career guidance councillor with the worry of failing because both mine and everybody else’s expectations were higher than I could achieve. It took a lot for me to ask for help but I knew I had to at the risk of exploding on the inside. It felt so good to let it all out. Despite the tears running down my cheeks, I changed my entire outlook on these exams. I found roundabout ways into the course I intended to study the following September and instantly felt my body relax and almost thank me for coming to the realisation that I will be OK if it doesn’t go my way.

Nearly four years later, I can now see the toll that the all so important exam took on my mental, physical and emotional health. During those few months, I gained weight, was constantly upset and even my periods stopped completely due to the stress. Internally my body wasn’t coping, and for what? A few exams that may or may not help me in life. I know that people have experienced far worse because of these exams and that what I went through is nothing in comparison but these exams can change and affect anybody in various ways. I must say that I applaud people who have the guts to go back and repeat their leaving cert because I know for a fine fact I couldn’t.

The leaving cert is and probably always will be seen as the be-all and end-all by a lot of people. You’ll hear it from teachers, friends and parents that you have to do well in order to succeed. This is not the case and I don’t believe that teenagers should have that amount of weight put on their shoulders. For example, I can recall my very first day of secondary school where a teacher was describing and explaining the importance of the junior and leaving cert exams to us, a group of 12 and 13 year olds with 6 more years of education ahead of them. When I think back now, it seems mad that those exams were the single most important topic of discussion rather than ensuring our survival of first year.

On one hand 6th year is of course an important year, it prepares you for certain aspects of life but on the other hand who needs fear put into them over a few exams? Nobody! It’s really not worth what so many students put themselves through, suffering and struggling in silence by putting an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to do well when there’s always a way into what you want in life. I’m living proof of it. I didn’t achieve what I set out to in order to study my first choice so I studied a PLC (post leaving cert) course.

Four years later, I haven’t looked back. The leaving cert year changed my life completely. Once I got over the fact I was unable to do the course I wanted I followed a different path which I believed would enable me to do it a year later. What I didn’t expect though was to fall in love with media (the backdoor course) and continue to study it for the next three years and see myself studying in the UK for a year, meeting the love of my life and finally graduating with a 2:1 in my degree. I couldn’t be happier with the way my life has turned out and it’s because I didn’t do as well as I planned to in my exams that I am where I am today. It’s a cliché, but sometimes it does seem like everything happens for a reason.

So if you take anything from my rant it’s this:

  • Don’t worry! it’s not the end of the world if you fail
  • Have a back-up plan
  • Try something new, you never know what might happen
  • Don’t let other people fill your mind with worries
  • Ask for help
  • Do your best
  • Ask yourself if it’s worth the stress, worry and pressure
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