If you read the title of this post and were expecting a long philosophical debate on the meaning of time, you’re slightly in luck. I’m turning twenty soon and it’s prompted me to think about how we perceive certain amounts of time. For example, to me a decade is a relatively short amount of time, but when I think that ten years ago I was still in primary school determined to be a surgeon (more on that later) a decade seems infinitely longer. When considering my favourite period of history, early twentieth century Russia, even then two decades seems relatively short despite the fact that there were three revolutions in the space of twelve years, and a civil war on top of that. So what’s the purpose of this post you ask? Well it’s mostly for myself to recollect how I’ve changed over the most important ten years of my life, and give you, the reader, a fair few laughs at my various ‘career ventures’, but to prompt other historians who may be reading this to consider our different perceptions on periods of time. Who knows, I may be alone in perceiving a decade in history as shorter than a decade of my own life, but there’s no harm in pondering.
So, to the point, where was I ten years ago? I had just finished my last year of primary school, and despite the fact I was excelling in literacy (really I’ve lived most of my life with my nose in a book, to which I have to thank my mother for funding my bookworming) I was determined to become a surgeon. Whether this stemmed from the fact I’d had an amazing surgeon when I’d been in hospital or my mother was an excellent nurse I don’t know, but in my ten year old brain I failed to account for one thing in my ‘life goal’ to be a surgeon. I am incredibly squeamish. I don’t mean in the sense of seeing the inner workings of a body, I feel most of us don’t jump in excitement when we see surgery scenes, but a strong case of I can barely think about what happens to my brain if I shake my head (perhaps this is why I rarely say no?). Now this obsession of mine to be a surgeon carried on for a good few years, even to the extent I attended a STEM summer school in year eight where I received some of the strangest comments in my life. For one, that my heart sits at the perfect degree to the left in my chest (which was worked out through graphs; this still baffles me as to how), and I have a very small lung capacity (1.4L I believe, which is disappointing). Obviously at some point I saw sense, as this blog is the blogginghistorian not the bloggingsqueamishsurgeon, however I cannot remember exactly when this was. Don’t be disappointed though, this wasn’t my last foray into the sciences; really, why did no-one tell me to stop?
What fantastic career did I aspire to after my dabble with surgery then? Journalism. I can honestly say I have not completely lost my attraction to journalism, evidenced by the fact I’m writing this blog and would like to publish research in the future. However, I did not venture as far into preparing for a career as a journalist as I did for being a surgeon. I submitted a short story to the Readers Digest, for which I apologise to whatever poor soul read the most awful short story I’d ever written, but I wish I had done more, like write for the student paper. The point of mentioning my dabble with journalism is to highlight the importance of self-confidence and believing in your own skills. If I had the confidence I have in myself now, I could have very different aspirations than I do now. For example, I may be working towards writing for a history magazine rather than endeavouring towards eventually studying for a PhD. Saying that, I am going to investigate the History Student Times or other written publications at my university as I’d like to challenge myself to write more. As for you, the reader, I would encourage you to push yourself to try and achieve your goals, even if you doubt your own skills, because as my mother would say; the worst that happens is it doesn’t work out, but you can say you tried and not live with the regret.
Now, I can sense you wondering what other foray into the sciences did I undertake? Well wonder no more, as despite my fascination with history and love for the subject, I dreamed of becoming a biochemist. Looking back I have no idea where this aspiration came from, all I can guess is that I was interested in the clever intricacies of the human body (ironic yes, considering I was and still am squeamish) and biochemistry sounded mysterious and fascinating. Anyway, this prompted me to first attempted the ‘Triple Science’ GCSE, in which I learnt A-level science during my a-levels, which went about as well as can be expected. I understood very little of the physics, could not balance equations for chemistry (which I still can’t do), and whilst I loved the biology, it did not love me. So I ended up dropping the triple science and studying the standard core and additional science GCSE’s, in which I gained B’s. However, I decided to take both Biology and Chemistry as two of my AS-levels, which was both one of the best and the worst decisions of my life. To clear that up, this was not a good decision as I still could not understand the chemistry, and whilst I understood the biology I was neither adept at the experiments nor explaining the ‘why’ of processes in exams. I can sense you’re wondering why was this ever a good decision then? Well, prepare to be surprised.
The AS-levels I took that included the Chemistry and Biology? I ‘failed’ that academic year, receiving much lower grades than I’d been expecting, which as you can imagine was quite a shock to the system. However, if I had not failed that year I would not be the person I am today. It forced me to reconsider my goals, which led to multiple actions. I resat my AS-levels completely, despite my academic institution offering me the option to simply progress on to the A2 year (I had received two C’s and so they personally could not see the point in me resitting the entire year), and moved to a different educational institution. For these new AS-levels, I chose the more suitable subjects of History, English Literature, Government & Politics, and Sociology, as compared to my previous decision to study History, Economics, Biology, and Chemistry, which led me to fully explore History as a career option. Despite my new institution not having the best reputation, and I myself was wary of studying there (it was my mother who encouraged me to see if I could gain a place), the two years I spent there were more enjoyable than my entire six years at my previous institution. The tutors were far more engaging, my love of literature was renewed, and my fabulous history tutor encouraged me to pursue history as a degree and career option, who never grew tired of marking my practice essays and ‘redos’. Sadly he left after my first year, and so I’ve been unable to track him down to say thank you for his support (Hugh Clayden, you’re fab!).
Being faced with what felt like a colossal failure at the time also forced me to build up a stronger sense of my own self-confidence, and it developed my resilience when faced with unexpected situations. It’s my go to example for that all important interview question; give me a time you hit an obstacle and what you did to overcome it. Aside from the obvious benefits to myself, it’s also what I tell prospective students when they worry they may fail their exams or might not reach their potential first time around. I think it can be reassuring to hear that it’s not the end of the world, and whilst I had my supportive mother helping me through the process of re-evaluating my goals, not everyone has that voice of reason to help them through the self-doubt. My advice for anyone out there currently awaiting their exam results, or simply just doubting their current abilities, is that it’s absolutely fine to take longer to reach that ‘golden destination’. You will still reach that destination, but the scenic route will develop you as a person and who knows what you’ll see along the way?
So, now to sum up the past ten years of my life. I’ve finished primary school, completely gone through high school, completed and failed one set of AS-levels, fully completed two years of A-levels with good grades, and finished my first year of university. I’ve gone from aspiring to be a surgeon, dabbling in journalism, back to the sciences in wanting to be a biochemist, to where I am now. That is, I’m aiming to eventually study for a PhD and join the glorious ranks of Russian History researchers. I mean, what’s not to love about Russian history when one of the potential reasons the Red Army won was they had access to tea, compared to the White Army who had the beer and wine. Neither was ill, but one group were enjoying themselves a heck of a lot more; which group that was really depends on your drink of choice!
Looking to the future, I can honestly say I’m not quite sure where I’ll be when I celebrate the ending of another decade or what I’ll have experienced on the journey there. I could delve back into the sciences (only kidding, I don’t think my mother could take another round of ‘I could work with the human body, really!’). I could have received my PhD and be tutoring at my university, as they’ll have to pry me away from the university as I love every aspect. I may encounter some hardships along the way, there’s the possibility I may not be successful in gaining PhD funding and have to alter my plans, but I know I will enjoy the journey and whatever happens, I’ll be proud of myself at the end of it.
My advice for you, as the reader, is to do the same. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, enjoy what’s around you before it passes you by, and whatever happens be confident in your skills and believe in your own abilities!