Do you ever wonder if your life might have turned out differently?
I was on a train the other day passing by Birmingham University and it got me to thinking about how my life could have turned out so differently.
When I was 18, I was deep in the stress of A Levels and I had accepted a place at Birmingham. I had been to a few different universities and I fell in love with Birmingham. It had a great feel about it. It was far enough from home without being too close. I knew my way around Birmingham a little and didn’t seem that overwhelming. Then I met a boy. Looking back I was really silly but this boy changed everything. He had quite a dominant personality and he didn’t believe that going to university was necessary, he was leaving school to get a job. At the time, I was young, inexperienced and easy influenced and I started to think that maybe, just maybe he had a point.
To be fair to my mum, she didn’t pressure me and when I made the decision not to go to university, she was supportive. I decided that a job was the way for me, I could always go to uni in a year anyway and it would be nice to earn a bit of money. I landed a job as a clerical assistant in an insurance office. The majority of the staff were young and for the first year I had a ball. The social life was great, it was amazing to have some money and bit of independence. I quickly got promoted and decided that I wasn’t going to go to university at all. Who needed university when you could have this much fun?
The boy that changed it all? Well it turned out that he really was not ‘the one’, in fact he was the absolute opposite and by the time the summer had ended, so had we.
I was more than happy with my new life and independence and made up my mind that this was the life for me as the summer approached, I had a promotion and I had no intention of going to university. Most of my school friends had gone away and the summer saw them all returning with endless stories of student life and it did sound like fun. It was hard being the ‘one who didn’t go away’ and I felt a pang of jealousy and quite left out. Although I would never have admitted it at the time, the doubts were starting to creep in. September saw a new batch of university graduates joining the office where I worked and I hadn’t noticed the previous year in my ‘everything is new and exciting’ haze but these people had much more interesting jobs and were being paid at least four times more than me.
I was starting to tire of my daily tasks and I started to look again at my university prospectus with renewed enthusiasm. I reapplied. I missed learning. I missed the languages that I had loved so much at school. I was ready for the challenge of university. I looked around at different universities and funnily enough, Birmingham wasn’t on the list this time. I wanted to go further away from home and really live independently and the following summer I said goodbye to my job and packed my bags to head off to Manchester University.
Student life was everything everyone had said it was and more. I loved it. I made new friends, took up rowing which was a big part of my life for years and it changed my life. I never regretted not going two years before, maybe I wasn’t ready to go at 18? Maybe I needed those two years out to really appreciate my time as a student and maybe it helped me to grow up a little?
But I did for a moment on the train reflect back and wonder how things might have turned out differently if I had gone two years before. Would I have gone into teaching? Would I have fallen pregnant unexpectedly with the teen? Would I have met my husband?
On the return journey, I met a remarkable woman in her late seventies. We started chatting and she asked if I had any children. When I replied that I had four, she closed her eyes and smiled. She told me that she wished she had been able to have children as she had wanted four, but she was never able to. I must have given her a sympathetic look as she quickly told me that although she would have loved to have had a family, she never looked back and wondered ‘what it..?’, she preferred to look back at the wonderful things that had filled her life; her husband, her friends and the amazing experiences that she had had in her life.
Good advice I think.