Sometimes I can’t sleep at night. I find that I struggle to sleep for about one or two days a month, usually just after my period. I don’t know if it’s a common thing but lying awake for hours seems to be something that happens as my hormones do the loop-the-loop back to normal settings. In those hours I think about all sorts of thing (mostly how much I wish I was asleep), and last night I found myself thinking about my life and the choices that got me to where I am now.
|Yes, I went out and found a road with an actual fork in it for the purpose of this blog post.|
I always think the phrase “got me to where I am” sounds faintly superior, as if other people should aspire to be in my position and make the same choices I did. That’s not what I mean in this case, even though my life is generally pretty great. It’s been a topsy-turvy sort of life so far, and there are a few decisions I can think back to that had a massive effect on my life despite being seemingly inconsequential at the time.
One of these was my choice of A Levels. Despite all of my the advice I chose to do A Levels in History, Philosophy and Biology, along with English Language at AS. The decision that had a huge effect on my life was choosing Biology over French. My Mum studied French at university, and we spoke French often at home, mostly to annoy my younger brother who isn’t one for languages. I was very good at it but didn’t choose it at A Level simply out of stubbornness; I wanted to be different from my Mum who everyone compared me to, so I chose Biology. As an eleven-year old I wanted to be a microbiologist, and while that dream was long-discarded, I still thought it would be fun to study. I achieved all As in my three science GCSEs and thought I would continue that trajectory of achieving easily. I did, but only for the subjects I actually enjoyed and was interested in. History and Philosophy came effortlessly, so interested was I in the topics at hand. Biology came grudgingly, and the only reason I really continued with it was the trip to Australia that came with it. I absorbed very little of the material and never revised for it, in the same way that I never really did for any of my other subjects; I had never needed to and didn’t really know how to go about it. I ended up with a C, and it ruined my dreams of going to Warwick University or St Andrews to study Classics.
Had I chosen French, things may have gone very differently. I had a friend studying French A Level who I frequently helped with homework, even teaching her a little bit on the side. I enjoyed speaking French and learning languages, so why on Earth didn’t I choose it at A Level? Well, I’ve already said why, but really it just boils down to insecurity and stubbornness. Had I chosen it I’m fairly confident I would have ended Sixth Form with three As. Instead, I had AAC. I had long written off St Andrews as it asked for AAA, but Warwick only wanted ABB. Even though AAC was equivalent in points to the requirements, Warwick still wouldn’t accept me. I was devastated and spent the rest of results day alternately sobbing and being falsely cheerful while on the phone to different universities while I told them why they ought to accept me. I technically didn’t go through clearing, but my place at the University of Birmingham was definitely a split second decision. I got through to a senior lecturer who was also on the admissions committee and essentially sweet-talked him into giving me a spot on the Ancient History course. About half an hour later I received an email saying I had been accepted, and a week later when I checked there were no places in clearing. I seriously lucked out.
That led me to a First in Ancient History and a love for Ancient Iraq, something I had never even considered before my first day in Birmingham. I thought I would be all about the Classics, studying Rome and Greece and the epic poems; turns out I’m more about the rather more rough and ready Mesopotamians, so often overlooked and under-studied. I found myself bored with the Classics, and as almost all universities don’t offer Mesopotamia or Egyptology as a subject, I dread to think how university would have gone for me elsewhere. However, my luck at getting into Birmingham did result in attending university without knowing anyone else who was going there. Only one other person from my sixth form went to Birmingham and I didn’t know him (although many years later we’re friends through my boyfriend), and it turned into a lonely few years.
It’s strange to think how different my life could have been if I’d just picked the right A Levels. I would have studied completely different things and met completely different people. I talked about this with a friend I met during my Masters and we concluded that through a series of other hypothetical choices I would have still met him had I ended up at St Andrews. It’s for this reason that I always advocate choosing the subjects you enjoy because if you’re anything like me those will be the only ones you pay attention to.
Are there any choices in your life that seemed small but ended up having a huge effect on your life?
This post is part of All-in August, where I attempt to post every single day in August, despite it being one my busiest months of the year. Keep up with it here!