Dear 16-year-old me…

Ever wondered what it would be like to receive a letter from a future-version of yourself? Even if it’s just to reassure, or encourage that whatever one may be experiencing at that present moment, there is an end? Part of me thinks it could be like Hermione’s Time-Turner, just on a larger scale.

 

There are things that I’ve been learning over the past few months that I believe would have been valuable to know 3-or so years ago…while in the lead up to my GCSE exams. While it’ll probably do me good to work out what I’ve learnt, I also hope that it’ll help others in a similar situation. So here goes…


Hey Han,

How’s it going? Actually, let me have a stab at guessing how it’s really going. You’ve just received your mock results from the exams a few weeks ago, and while you’re pleased with them, part of you thinks you should have done better. Everyone else around you is frustrated because they can’t understand two things. Firstly, how you managed to pull off straight-As at mocks, and secondly, why you’re unhappy with them. Secretly, you’re now analysing your study schedule and plan of action for the next six-months, and wondering whether it’ll be enough.

Sound about right?

 

I thought so.

 

Also, I imagine the pressure is increasing at school following the release of mock results. Teachers are starting to emphasise the amount of work that needs to be done, and how much you all should give and should be revising. You’re probably sitting in lessons hearing all of this, taking it on, and then deciding you need to ramp up your work even more. A little part of your brain may whisper, “You don’t need to pay attention to this Hannah, you’re already working more than anyone could expect of you.” That doesn’t help any – the work must be done, and so Hannah-the-hermit begins to evolve, and it’s not even February half-term yet.

Let me take a moment to reassure you now – your hard work pays off. Your GCSE grades are superb, but you’ll suffer for them. Please listen to this. Working that hard, and that frequently, is NOT healthy. You may think at the moment that your grades are everything, but they’re really not.

 

Although I’m not in formal education this year, I can’t say that I haven’t been learning lessons. One of the most important ones, is how to actually look after myself. One other, and trust me, they’re all inter-linked, is how I’m worth so much more than any letter on a piece of paper.

Han, you are worth more than the grades you get at GCSE. You’re worth more than the letters on your mock results throughout your A-level years, and no one is going to quibble or think less of you because, shock-horror, you got Bs and Cs. These lessons take a long time to learn, and I didn’t get round to it till after my A-levels, and maybe then it was too late. You’ll continue to solidly work your socks off every summer, and come out with the exam grades to prove it.

You are worth MORE.

But they come at a price. Dreams may get put on hold, and there’s a steep learning curve to climb. I guess what I’m trying to say, is please put your health first. Don’t stop eating properly, and try and get some decent sleep. It’s not going to be easy – I’ve lived through three exam-years to tell you that much. You will too, but I want to ensure you may survive them in a slightly better fashion than I did. Learn from my mistakes, please?

 

About two months ago I got up and spoke to a group of Y11 students in an assembly. As an outsider, I wasn’t expecting any of them to listen to what I had to say, and was completely shocked when I was greeted with utter silence. You could have heard a pin-drop. Not many people will tell you this sort of thing, particularly those inside a school. Teachers want you to work: they have standards to meet, and targets to hit. So I’m going to do it for them.

I’ve always been a straight-A student, and I would work for it, you know that. My identity equated to the grades I received, and I couldn’t bear to get something wrong, or let my grades slip. I worked hard, but at the expense of my health. While I may have come out with good grades at the end of it, it wasn’t what was the most important. I found my value and self-worth in my grades, and it cost me.

I’m learning now that this isn’t the way – and slowly changing my perfectionist tendencies. But let me tell you one thing I have learnt. You are more important than the letters that are on the piece of paper that you receive in the summer. Whatever those letters may be, you matter, and are priceless. Each and every one of you are so special, and loved. Work hard, and do your best, but don’t let those grades define who you are.

 

Let me emphasise one last thing. Take time to rest. Working all day, every day, is not a healthy way to live. Start trying to identify a work-life balance, and it’ll stand you in good stead for the future.

And ultimately, no one is going to love you any less if you receive a B instead of an A. Or even an A instead of an A*.

 

I’m still learning these things myself – so that I can rely on these foundations firmly, but regardless of how long it may take, it’s a step in the right direction.

Look after yourself, and make yourself proud.

 

Love, Han.


 

These sorts of letters may never make a difference to my life, what I’ve lived through is done, and I’m looking to the future now. But the lessons I’m learning have an application beyond GCSE exams, or even A-level ones. I’m determined that when I’m next faced by exams, probably this time next year in my first year of university, that I’ve learnt something from my year out of education.

 These things are so hard to learn, and even harder to get past my stubborn brain and put into practice. But I’m determined to do it.

And you can too.

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