Brian O’Flynn who gained seven A1S in last year’s Leaving Cert has left his third-level course but he says fulfilment is entirely subjective.
My first article appeared back in June when Leaving Cert students were just sitting down to their exams, warning that the system they were part of was utterly flawed. I was the student with 11 As in the junior cert, seven A1s in the Leaving Cert, gaining a prestigious scholarship.
Based on the hype around academic achievement, I should have been set for life. Instead I was trapped in a course I hated, having suppressed my true calling and fearful I had wasted my chances.
The intervening months have passed for me just as I imagine they have passed for students awaiting their results; filled with angst, self-doubt and a burdensome sense of responsibility.
I return to write again because I wanted to share the wisdom I have gleaned from my recent struggle.
I have spent the entire summer listening to well-meaning people give me every piece of conflicting advice imaginable, but this week I finally made the decision to leave my course at the University of Edinburgh.
I am standing on the other side of a line that I thought I would never dare to cross; failure. But for the first time in my life, I feel free.
Now I can observe my life from an impartial vantage point that I was never able to attain when I was striving to maintain a false image of happiness. I realise exactly why I made the decisions I made, and exactly why so many students choose the wrong courses.
When leaving school, all I knew how to be was a student. My self-worth was defined by my academic status.
All my achievements had been within the framework of academia. The opinions I cared about were those of my peers and my academic superiors. What I realise now is that this was never a normal way to be. It was like looking at the world through a blue-tinted piece of glass, thinking that the only colours that existed were shades upon shades of blue.
Of course I could evaluate the blues in terms of one another, but I could never see them for what they truly were; just a small section of a much larger spectrum.
While I thought I was making decisions to please myself, what I was actually doing was making the decisions that I thought looked good to my peers and superiors. I did not know how to make good decisions on my own behalf because I had never existed on my own terms, outside of an educational institution.
I was engaged in a process of subconscious denial; telling myself that I was being true to my desires while actually pandering to the expectations of those around me.
Countless students around the country are trapped in this cycle right now.
As members of a formal institution, we are all conditioned to view the world in terms of objective success and failure. I am here to remind you all that objective success is a fanciful myth.
Success is an inherently subjective thing, defined entirely by you within your own life.
Leaving school, many of you will find yourselves believing in this binary. You will try to make decisions that you think are objectively responsible.
Many of you scoring high points will opt for medicine. Many of you falling in the middle ground will opt for science, in order to convey a sense of direction you might not really feel.
I implore you to realise that the success of your life will be measured in your own fulfilment, and not by anything else. Imagine yourself in 10 or 20 years’ time: Will you be happy working in a lab/writing for a newspaper/fighting legal battles in court? You need to appreciate your life for what it is; a life. It is not a series of opportunities to look good on a CV. It is your entire existence. It’s worth more than words on paper. If your passion is painting, then pursue it. Don’t repress it because someone once told you that art wasn’t a real career.
I attempted to repress my true identity in favour of something that looked impressive to other people. In the end, your identity will always find a way to express itself.
I am now on the right road, but I could have been there a long time ago if I had just been a little more honest with myself.
My advice for students is this: obviously, try to be true to yourself. If you realise that you haven’t been, then immediately rectify your mistake, and don’t worry about how it looks to others.
Also, if you have failed to get the CAO points you wanted, do not panic, you will eventually find yourself on the right road.
Despite what everyone says, there are always alternative paths that arise to meet you. Just because some people choose the right course and get the right points the first time around, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only way to do things. For example, just this week I started writing for a London magazine which was founded by a 19-year-old from Birmingham. Without any degree or formal recognition, he believed in himself and created his own platform. If you want to do something or be someone, it is entirely up to you. There is always a way.
As for me, I intend to keep up my writing with various newspapers and magazines.
I will be reapplying to university next year and am very excited about what wonderful courses I might find to hone my true passion: writing. I am following a much more roundabout path than I originally intended, and yet I find myself optimistic and unafraid.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved