Big Mistake #1

Posted on August 10, 2011


In 5th year at school, I made one of my biggest mistakes…trying to do too much at once.

If you’re serious about a career in the media, chances are you’re already doing something to build up some experience.

At the age of 16, I had a weekly show on hospital radio, was out half a dozen times a month doing mobile discos and worked every Saturday at my local radio station.

Throw in preparation time for the show, travel time to and from the discos, setting up and humphing all my gear around, and that’s a lot of commitment and time spent NOT studying for Highers.

With hindsight, I was doing too much. But despite all this, I assumed I could also manage 5 highers in 5th year AND attempted to make serious decisions about what I’d do once I’d finished school.

I started reading university prospectuses, tried to force myself to find the course I wanted to do, and tortured myself for several nights trying to fill out the UCAS form.

By October of my 5th year things had gone badly wrong.

I was falling behind and struggling with some of my subjects. I’d got totally confused trying to figure out what universities and colleges had to offer and my extra stuff, like the work at the radio station, the mobile discos, and my hospital radio show, had gone from activities I looked forward to and enjoyed, to yet more stress and pressure.

Worst of all, I was arguing non stop with my parents and my brother. I was miserable and no fun to be around. I hadn’t anticipated how much harder 5th year would be compared with 3rd and 4th year. I didn’t realise choosing a university or college course took weeks of proper thought and research and couldn’t be decided in a couple of nights flicking through a pamphlet. And I hadn’t made allowances for the time all my out of school work experience was taking up.

There’s not much I regret in my life but the way I set about 5th year is certainly one.

I was too proud and pig headed at the time but I could have reduced a lot of the pressure by deciding at the start of 5th year that I was going to stay on for 6th year. Straight away that would have bought me more time! I would have left all the decisions about university and college until the end of 5th year, scaled back some of my extra curricular work and done a module in maths (today you’d call it INT 2) instead of the full Higher.

And when I’d started to fall behind and feel the pressure, I’d have listened to my parents instead of fighting with them.

If you want to work in media I think it’s perfectly reasonable that you’ll take on commitments outside school. It can give you an advantage when it comes to getting on courses and getting that first foot in the door. But don’t underestimate the increased workload if you’re doing Highers. And remember you’ll probably be having a social life too.

Spreading things over 2 years means you can concentrate on the exams in 5th year and if you get the results you need, the pressure will be off in 6th year and you can take on more media related work. You’ll have choices and options and most importantly, time to enjoy it. With a successful 5th year behind you, I reckon the school will actually encourage you and help you do what you’re REALLY interested in, instead of worrying about you “not doing as well as you usually do”.

I ended up doing 6th year anyway (I had to, I didn’t get good enough grades in 5th year) and believe me it’s doesn’t feel good repeating subjects you’ve failed first time around, in a class where everyone else is the year below you.

In the end, I got myself back together again, eventually got the grades I needed and went to study journalism at university. But I could have made it a whole lot easier on myself, and everyone around me.