There have been several times in my life when I have been faced with a ‘cross road’ decision that has changed the direction of my life quite dramatically. One was when I got into university via ‘clearing’. Getting that spot on my ODP course took me out of the council estate and a Butcher’s shop and led me to a career saving lives. Suppose I hadn’t gotten that place, then who knows what could have happened. I’d have had to wait another year to try again, and knowing how… impulsive I can be, there is a strong possibility that I would have changed my goal and could have ended up in a job that looks pretty obscure to me now. I like reflecting on my life and seeing these little forks in the road. I haven’t always been aware of them at the time, but even events that happened in my childhood impacted where I am today. And that’s what I’d like to talk to you about.
In the UK, it is common for teenagers (around 14/15) to be given a week away from school to undertake work experience. Because I went to 5 schools (2 Primary and 3 Secondary), I’ve been able to try this twice. The first time was at Balwearie High School, my second high school and the favourite of all schools I sampled. When I was of the work experience age, our year group was sent into the assembly hall where we were presented with several large notice boards, 1 top hat and one overly enthusiastic teacher all perked on the school stage. My best friend and I shuffled down the row of neatly lined plastic chairs, unaware of what would happen. Balwearie had an unusual way of organising work experience. Rather than asking us students to contact organisations and companies ourselves, they had arranged all this for us. All they needed were the students to undertake each organised event. The teacher explained that he would pull out an opportunity from the hat, and the first pupil to raise their hand got that work experience placement. Suddenly, my peers became my rivals.
Without hesitation, The performing teacher began pulling out jobs, and each snapped up within a heartbeat. I remember the first 10/20 being office-based jobs in which I had no interest. I have never wanted to be stuck in an office. I knew what I was hoping for; something related to animal care. I was a huge animal fanatic when I was a kid. Rather than posters of famous boy bands or musicians on my walls, I had a menagerie. Posters that I had taken out of my monthly RSPB magazines. So my hand instantly shot up when the word “stables” was mentioned…
It has been a lifelong dream of mine to learn how to ride a horse. I begged for lessons when I was a kid, but we didn’t have much money and the money that we did have, needed to go towards more important things (like my unemployed father’s football badge tattoos… I’m not even joking. That man had at least three football teams tattooed on his body… but nothing to represent my sister or I. It says a lot.). A week of work experience would have been perfect…
…And so did my best friends. She was also an animal fan but favoured other hobbies such as photography and painting. We looked at each other, and she begged me to let her have it, and like the good little people pleaser I was, I lowered my hand, giving her the spot.
For the rest of the assembly, nothing of interest caught my attention. With fewer and fewer jobs available, I made the reluctant decision to be placed in a children’s nursery. I wasn’t happy nor a fan of kids. With the weeks that led up to work experience week, everyone was getting ready to go except for me. I’m not sure why but I decided (shockingly, with the support of my father) that I didn’t want to go out of the whole year group; there were no more than 3 of us that stayed at school that week.
A few weeks later, when work experience had been completed and seemed like a distant memory, I was chilling in the playground at lunch talking to my friends when my best friend let something slip; The stables had offered her a weekend job… AND SHE HAD TURNED IT DOWN!
This then became a core memory.
Her reasoning? She’d have to get up at 6 am on a Saturday. I’d have happily got up early on a Saturday! Even to this day, I rarely sleep past half 7 in the morning on a day off. Our friendship never really recovered from this, and within six months of this happening, my home life was being dramatically turned upside down (presenting many more forks in the road).
When I moved back to England the following summer, I was enrolled into another new school, and because of my age, I’d have been placed in the middle of the two-year GCSE block. This wasn’t an option despite me already having the Scottish equivalent. So I was sent back a year to the beginning of year 10, which meant I witnessed the whole work experience again. This time, we were expected to contact organisations ourselves, and I decided to… what for it… write to my local children’s nursery. And this time, I went! I wouldn’t say I liked it, but I went nonetheless.
Obviously, there is no way of knowing what would have happened if I had gotten that stables work placement. They might not have offered me a job, or I might have discovered that stable life isn’t for me. Or they might have loved me, offered me a job and horse riding lessons, and now I could be an Olympian in Showjumping or Dressage. We’ll never know.
What I did learn from this experience is that I don’t enjoy working with children and that sometimes you have to give up something you want to make someone else happy.
A life lesson.