I wasn’t very academic at school. I hated maths, science, PE and all the ‘practical’ subjects, but I loved to write. I have memories of sitting on the sofa at my aunt’s house in Yorkshire, clutching a brand new (deliciously blank) notepad and a pen. Something about that empty paper and all its possibilities really excited me.
As a child I used to write stories, stories about ballet shoes which came to life in the bottom of a cupboard at nighttime, stories about monsters (and how they weren’t real) and stories about girls who met their true loves and became princesses.
Writing wasn’t exactly a practical skill. Or at least that’s what my careers advisor at school told me (aged 16) when I explained what I wanted to do. Admittedly, I also told him that if writing didn’t work out, I wanted to join the Army and become a bomb disposal expert. I quite liked the idea of arriving on a scene in an open-topped jeep, being the one to decide if we’d pull the red wire or the blue wire. Let’s just say I’d watched quite a lot of the A Team.
The careers advisor cleared his throat (a little nervously). Why don’t you learn to type? He said. ‘You could become someone’s secretary. Or maybe you could become a nanny?’
With this somewhat deflating news ringing in my ears and with no clue as to what to do next, I went on to study A levels and then later, (gulp) applied for a university course.
My approach to studying was lazy (to say the least) and my A Level mock exam results were so tragically poor that I was not offered a single university place. Not a great surprise, considering I spent most of the lessons daydreaming and drawing swirly love hearts on my exercise books. But somehow, I knew the game wasn’t up (not yet, anyway).
A week before my finals, from seemingly nowhere, this insane determination flooded my soul. Something clicked in my head and I sat up cramming for several nights, slowly poisoning myself with Pro-plus and caffeine in order to keep awake. I recall lying on the floor of my bedroom at 4am, eyelids drooping, maniacally repeating revised phrases, determined that I was going to do well in these exams.
Bizarrely, it paid off so well, that on results day, I checked and double checked my results paper, to make sure they’d definitely given them to the right person.
My mock results had been grades E, E, E. My results in the finals were A, B, B.
I now had the task of convincing a university to accept me on a course. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but I also knew there were only a few places on a course with over 200 applicants. There was virtually no chance of me being chosen.
I rang the uni so many times, they eventually told me to stop. And then one afternoon at home the phone rang and it was the Professor who ran the course, advising me (half-jokingly) that due to my incredible nagging, he was offering me a place. I put down the phone and raced round the house, screaming and whooping like a loon. I could not believe it. And, a few months later, the parental car full of my very limited worldly possessions, off I trotted on the adventure of a lifetime.
Since then, like most people, I’ve faced more ‘you should do something practical’ type moments. There’s been times I’ve wondered what was next, as I was squashed, squeezed and misrepresented.
But I’ve also felt God’s blessing in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I’ve visited over 25 countries with work, produced documentaries, written features for national publications, met astonishing people and had opportunity to see and write about things which still blow my mind.
Looking back over the last few years, I’m pretty glad I didn’t listen to that well-meaning, practically-minded careers advisor.
A life as a secretary or a nanny would have been a perfectly good life, but in my guts, I wanted something different. Perhaps it was a dream God put in my heart. Perhaps it was just me being ridiculously stubborn.
Regardless, every now and then, I think back to those glassy-eyed sleepless nights of endless revision and I’m so grateful, that God jabbed me out of my horrendous life apathy and nudged me toward a fresh start.
The truth is, we might have failed exams, wasted time, lost everything, failed, given up, fallen down or screwed up, but in God’s economy, it’s never too late to start over.