Today teenagers all over Ireland get their Leaving Certificate results. For those who don't know, the Leaving Certificate is the final exam students take before leaving school and going on to full-time employment, college, or another form of further education.
It's a damn hard exam. Arguably the hardest you'll ever sit in Ireland. There's a lot of pressure on students to do well and it's not easy to score high. Anyone who scores in the upper percentiles has reason to be proud of themselves.
But it's not the be-all and end-all of your professional or academic career.
It's been 13 years since I first sat the Leaving Certificate. I did badly enough that I had to do an extra year in school and sit the exam a second time, finally getting the marks I needed to get into college. That was the first lesson I learned. Doing badly in the Leaving Certificate is not the end of the world.
Over a decade on, very few people I know are in careers that related to how well they did in the Leaving Cert, or what they studied in college. In fact, looking at the people in my life, I can honestly say I see no correlation between Leaving Cert grades and how well they are currently doing in life. Certainly, those grades opened certain doors and allowed certain paths to be chosen, but many of the same goals can still be attained regardless of performance in the exam. The only thing that changes are the ways to reach those goals.
I don't regret having to re-sit the Leaving Certificate. Nor do I regret my academic choices following it. I think I've done quite well for myself. I'm happily married. I have a house, a stable job that pays well. I have one book coming out next year and another two already in the works to follow it. I have friends who love me. All in all, I have a very good life.
And I did so badly in the Leaving Cert the first time around that the only college course I qualified for was a course that amounted to learning how to use a word processor and send e-mails.
If anyone reading this is facing exam results, or knows someone who is, please remember that the little slip of paper you get does not dictate how your life will go. Only you can decide that. There are always options available, always other ways to chase your dreams. And if you find out that what you've chosen to do with those results isn't right, that the course you chose isn't for you, don't feel pressured into carrying on just because it's what is expected. Those results are just numbers on paper. They don't rule you.
Just get back up and keep chasing.