17th August. Much like birthdays, anniversaries and other memorable dates, it's one I don't think I'll ever forget. And tomorrow the same date comes around and it will be lodged in the minds of young people for eternity as they receive their A'level results. For some, it will open the door straight into university and the degree (and possibly the career) they have always wanted to do. For others, disappointment and bewilderment at an awful lot of 'what now' questions.
I was the latter. An offer to study Sport at Loughborough University, a bit of a dream for a performance athlete, depended on that piece of paper telling me ABB. I knew my exams hadn't gone particularly well. I had been struggling with an injury that meant I couldn't compete and train as I had wanted to, and my head was all over the place. So when I found out my results it wasn't a huge surprise. They were shocking. The worst any pupil at my reputable independent school school had ever achieved (if you could call it an achievement!).
As I quietly slumped away down the stairs with the shrieks of my best friend at the time (who had achieved straight As) in the background, I was at a loss.
That's it then.
I've failed at life.
As I reached the gates of the school, I was stopped by a call from one of my teachers. He was stood with my other subject teachers and they came towards me with sympathetic looks and encouraging smiles. I was embarrassed as I thought I had let them down. But the encouragement they gave me to help me understand that I did have options was something I will never forget.
Plan A was no longer a viable option but there were a lot of ways I could go on to work in sports development, something I had wanted to do from a young age. So I gave it a couple of days to get myself together and then went back to meet up with the careers officer at school. He couldn't have been more positive about the routes I could look towards getting to University. Why had nobody told me about this beforehand?! There was a bit of extra work involved, yes. And it would take a bit longer to get where I wanted to but he hammered home just how much I had going for me. Among other things, I was performance athlete, a musician, a volunteer and a house captain...all things that would help me to sell myself to the people I needed to give me a chance.
'You are not your A'level results'
Something he said over and over again in the following weeks as I took time to find the right path. And while it was hard to believe at the time, it wasn't the path I had planned, it is a path that has given me opportunities and experiences I would never have had if I had achieved the grades I needed for that university place all those years ago. Vocational experiences that have even led to me recently completing a Post Graduate Diploma (and even considering a PhD!)
That is why the #Nowrongpath thread on twitter has been so refreshing to see. Because it is so rare that life goes the way we want it to. Results day is one that has taught me how to easily overcome other disappointments in life, be it personally or in my career. It took me on a path that meant I met people who gave me new perspective on life and helped me see just how lucky I was to have so much going for me.
I have now worked in sport for coming up to 20 years. I feel blessed to have a career I love, especially in comparison to some of my fellow A'level pupils who achieved their grades, took what they thought was their path and have ended up in jobs they have no passion for.
So let us make sure that the young people tomorrow recognise their strengths beyond just the letters on a piece of paper. Life doesn't always go the way we want it to, but if you know the general direction you want to go, the path you take is insignificant.