A few years ago I wrote a blog post about my secondary school experience, and all the reasons why I didn’t enjoy it. Looking back, I was probably a little harsh with my assessment, maybe going through an emotional spell at that time that I was scribbling down all of my thoughts. Re-reflecting over the weekend, I realised that I wouldn’t quite say I disliked my secondary school experience – at least I didn’t think I did in the moment of living it – I just disliked it in hindsight. What I mean by that is, I was starting to rank that experience up with a few other blocks of major events in which I could compartmentalise my life (primary school, sixth form/college, university and full-time work), and it just so happened that it came in at the bottom.
The thing about life is – everybody’s experiences are very unique. Whilst I often sit here and rave about how much I enjoyed university, somebody else might have totally hated that experience, or not gone to university at all. At the same time, some people probably love their jobs so much that it trumps anything else they’ve ever experience, whilst other just wish to go back to the simple days of school and detentions. It’s always nice to reflect on where you’ve been, and where you are now. And I always wonder what the next major block in my life will be…
Here are all of the major blocks of events in my life so far, ranked from least to most enjoyable.
Secondary school (ages 12-16)
I would say there have been 2 main times in my life when I have experienced the most personal growth – one is full time work, and the other was secondary school. I enjoyed secondary school for the most part – I liked my friends and felt as though I had a varied enough group of people that I could hang out with, we’d all do fun things on the weekend (when I was allowed out), I thought the people I was around in my classes were mostly funny and many days I could count on having a good laugh during school hours. There was little to stress about back then aside from doing well in my exams.
I met some of my closest friends still today back in secondary school, I nurtured a lot of hobbies such as writing stories, building websites and doing dance and drama, and secondary school was really a place for me to build the foundations that inevitably led to my present.
All the nice stuff aside, secondary school scores last for 2 reasons. The first reason sits with me: it was definitely between these ages that I was my most insecure. I was naturally very shy and constantly trying to break out of this shell, but always feeling like situations would knock me back; I also hid all of my hobbies (aside from dance/drama) out of the fear that people would think I was uncool; and finally – I was totally unsatisfied with how I looked, and I’d think anyone looking at me was doing so because I was unattractive. It was a heavy load to carry around daily. The second reason sits with some of the people I was around. I went to a school in a middle class area with only a handful of ethnic minorities (if even that), and quite frankly there were a lot of ignorant people in my school. A few people people would often tell racist jokes and decorate it with the phrase “racial banter”… but it wasn’t funny. Some of the boys would also go around creating “buff” lists and calling girls “butters” etc, and when you mix this fact with my already rock bottom self image, it really was just a recipe for disaster.
Primary school (ages 7-12)
I slot primary school in here because it was the first “major” part of my life – but there really is a “nothingness” here in that I don’t really remember it. There are a few fond memories – I remember being really fast at my timetables, and really fast at running, I remember playing all kind of games during break times, I remember tripping over a lot and getting scars all over my legs. I remember having fun at 10th birthday parties and beyond and my parents throwing a good one for me, I remember hanging out with all of my “bffs”. Primary school is not really an experience I ever think back to, but when I do, it’s mostly warm feelings that I have. I still follow some people from my primary school across social media so it’s nice to nose around sometimes and see what everyone’s up to now, but I didn’t maintain any close friends from that period.
Sixth form/college (ages 16-18)
Sixth form/college is really an extension of my secondary school experience in that I was in the exact same place and with mostly the same people. However, when we got to sixth form, we also opened the doors to loads of “externals” from other schools too.
By the time I had reached sixth form not only was I feeling a lot more confident (and no longer thinking I was this ugly duckling pls), but it also felt like everybody was starting to grow up. The “racial banter” ended, I made some more new friends (1 who I’m still close to today) and it started to feel like things were moving in a better direction.
Most importantly, in sixth form I started to grow up too, and I liked the feeling of being treated like an adult. I like that the teachers left us to it a bit more, I liked that I was going to a lot more parties that now ended after that 12am boundary that we’d never crossed before and I was excited to be applying to university and looking ahead to that next major stage in my life. It was during sixth form that I threw a “grown up” birthday party for my 18th, that I went on my first girl’s holiday, that I even had a taste of what a broken heart could feel like for the first time (I didn’t have a boyfriend by the way).
By the time sixth form and in a way “school” in general was ending for all of us after 7/8 years, I really did feel it and was sad to go, despite how excited I was for what was next. It’s crazy to think that a lot of us in that school now have all really gone down our own very separate paths, in many ways this whole time period is just a distant memory despite once being at the centre of my life. I really wish only the best for all of those that I spent these truly formative years with – those that I still speak to (of course), but also those that I don’t, maybe those that I only like their Instagram or Facebook pictures once in a while (and I really mean those likes); I wish the best for those that I really liked, and also those that I didn’t like at the time.
Full time work (ages 21+)
Work is a weird one… for our whole lives ahead of work, ever year in education has a clearly defined purpose. Be it a year for GCSEs, A Levels, applying for university, getting the grades to get to the universities you applied for, etc. There was always something to aim for that had been dictated by the educational system. Then one day, you graduate, and life says – “go! You’re on your own now.”
Suddenly it’s time for you to figure everything out: where you want to work and how long for, if you want to work for yourself or a corporation, what you value over money/happiness/family/free time, where to live, how to manage your income, what partner to choose. This is all the while knocking at one door is the 10 year old you that said that by this age you’d be a millionaire with 5 businesses, and knocking at the other is social media who tells you to side hustle yourself into an early grave. This current period of my life is probably the most stressful period of my life all in (aside from exam period during university which was a lot).
Weighing up all of these stresses, I still rank the current period of my life as one of the best periods so far. Just because, well, life is good for me right now. I guess this is what we spend all of those “defined” school years working for. Even just getting paid gives you more freedom to do more be it travel, invest in your own projects, or treat yourself and your loved ones. Or even just that fact that, as time goes on, you naturally become more confident too, which always plagued me. I’m definitely more self assured now than I’ve ever been before. I am really grateful for the life I am able to live right now, and whilst we all (including myself) always shrive for more, I just try to be appreciative because I know that life can be really tough (I think 2020 alone has shown us that). That is why this stage of my life has to come in second, because as stressful as it gets, I really know that I am blessed.
University (ages 18-21)
In university you get all of the fun and freedom of “adult” life, but without all of the stress of having to work 5 days+ a week. Plus, its potentially the first time you have ever tasted freedom and “adulthood” of this kind, and that first sip is a lot sweeter than the sips many years down the line when it has all become a norm!
I really enjoyed my university experience. When I think of university I think of how it felt to be on my own for the first time, in Central London and out of the bubble of my home town in the London suburbs where most families lived the same sort of life and where I would see the same people everyday that I’d been seeing for the last 8 years. It was a very social experience – in halls you’re with hundreds of people, in the library you’re bound to see people you know, and if its your thing (it was definitely mine), there are always events/nights out you can enjoy. Again, I met some great friends at university.
Whilst I did have some major responsibilities on my shoulder such as getting a job/internships and the lot, my day-to-day “responsibilities” felt pretty relaxed. I didn’t even have to go to a lecture if I didn’t want to, as I could catch up in online, I would award myself with a Friday off at the end of every term or take the morning off after a night out and just catch up in my own time. Can you believe the holidays periods were months long! I also had some fun taking weekend trips down to stay with my “friends from home” at their universities, in their halls meeting all of their own new university buddies.
I was so acutely aware whilst I was experiencing university that it was going to be a short and unique experience, so I really tried to soak it up whilst I was there and not worry too much about what was to come afterwards. Honestly, I had a ton of fun, grew a lot and tasted adulting with only a fraction of the responsibilities and all the naivety that being a university students awards. In my experience university was a lot more than just the learning and getting a degree – it really was a whole experience on its own.
I can’t sit here and say that I’m necessarily looking forward to what’s next and to getting older, as I do feel quite happy where I am; that said, I’m ready to welcome what will eventually hopefully be a great next stage of life to add to my list.
How would you rank your major life experiences?
Cover photo: Unsplash