December 11, 2019

Failing Exams Under a Training Contract

I’m not sure how to transition into the next part of the story to be honest… it’s one of the parts of my life that’s super hard for me to revisit. Like that phrase ‘maybe you’ll look back one day and laugh’ definitely does not apply to this bit. There’s a good reason for the Irish way of coping which is lets just never ever talk about that again and shove it under the carpet. It’s because talking about things in your past is friggin hard. It’s also hard to tell the full story of what happened and keep the people involved anonymous. At the same time though, they know who they are haha. 

The day I got my exam results I was actually shocked that I had managed to pass 4/5 exams given my exhaustion. I went on holiday that day to Italy and managed to enjoy my time away despite the exam failure. In my head I had rationalised that ok it wasn’t ideal to have failed an exam… but at least it was only one. However when I landed home in Dublin airport the dread of returning to work hit me up the face. I thought about the firm I had joined, the calibre of my colleagues and their yearly placements in the exams overall. Our firm always claimed a spot…several spots… when it came to awards time from the institute. I tried to forget about it and get some (poor) sleep before work…surely it wouldn’t be that bad..

It was that bad.

To describe it to someone who hasn’t experienced this. Going into the office, especially one obsessed with exam performance is akin to returning to work after being off with an illness…and I would know since I have experienced both scenarios, although we will get to the illness in a different post. Some people feel obliged to mention it but don’t want to mention IT exactly. Some people avoid you. Some people come to your desk to discuss it in depth. Others exchange a brief sympathetic smile as they rush on into a conference room. Basically, people don’t know what the hell to do. But to me, the recipient of these awkward exchanges I couldn’t help but think…this is exams we’re talking about…yes it has an impact but in the scheme of things NOONE has died. That is something I used to think then and still think now.

I returned to work and was updated that anyone who hadn’t passed all the exams had been called in by the boss. I was informed that this consisted of an agonisingly awkward meeting where they were given a dressing down about their exam failure and then asked if they had anything to say for themselves. There was also disgust expressed at the fact I was on HOLIDAY. How dare I have had the audacity to be on holiday after being closed in a cave studying for the past 2/3 months haha. This made me worry because despite failing and this being a shock to my system I had sort of came round to the idea in my own head. I felt crap enough about failing my exam and not getting the performance related bonus without someone making me feel worse.

Facing the Consequences

I returned to my desk after the quick update, we debated whether they would speak to me individually because well…wishful thinking. I survived that day anyway and went home. The next day I got to my desk and got a few hours into the day. I thought maybe I had escaped the reprimand… lunch came and went and I was settling back into work after being off on exam leave. Then my phone starts ringing….you know that bit in the apprentice where someone’s gonna get fired and they ring the receptionist and she tells them that Lord Sugar will see them now??? Well.. I actually didn’t realise that it was them that I would see. It was almost like when we were younger my Dad would get me to try and put my dog to bed for the night because he knew that if he went near her she would scarper. Or like when your mum used to come with you to the dentist. I marched into the office like a wee sheep for the slaughter – completely innocent with my notebook tucked under my arm and oblivious to what I was walking into. There they were…but they weren’t in their own office. I was invited to sit down and I listened. The best line in the whole thing was them saying ‘you know this isn’t like when you were younger, this is the big bad world and you are going to have to work hard’. I sat dumbfounded at the ridiculousness of this statement. I had worked since I was legally allowed to at 16 and had worked continuously throughout university alongside my degree and even during my year in America. This wasn’t my first 9-5 job. I was gobsmacked by the patronising tone in which I was addressed. Up until this point of the conversation I was petrified but this quickly turned to disgust.

When asked did I have anything to add…I didn’t apologise as expected. I just told them that I had studied really hard for the exams but it hadn’t worked out. I told them I already had the books out and I would repeat the exam and pass. I didn’t even say anything about my tiredness. When I look back now that frustrates me. Why didn’t I speak up more? Why didn’t I tell them about falling asleep on my textbooks? Why did I allow people to make me feel less than? Thankfully those that I reported to on a daily basis were lovely people and that’s what I mean when I compare it to having your mum with you at the dentist. It’s not great but at least you have a smiling face beside you as you endure the pain that comes with working in this type of environment. The big whigs of a corporation like this make you feel like you should be privileged to even breathe the same air as them and their high performing colleagues. You should realise how lucky you are to work for them and how great of an addition they are to your C.V. That mentality is why people don’t speak up. They are led to believe that the problem lies with them and not the system. . People need to start realising THEY are enough. I’m getting off topic but I just wish I had valued myself enough back then. Although this doesn’t apply to people who have only started and think they are gonna be on top clients and hosting a meeting and deciding the tax treatment of a million pound project.  You miss/mr need to wind that shit in and do whatever is put in front of you. I’m talking about people who keep their head down, have worked hard consistently and still get shit on simply because they don’t value themselves enough to say NO.

If you are reading this and you have failed exams or you feel like you will fail or have recently failed. Please don’t give up. Only you know what you are capable of and what others think doesn’t matter. If you need more time to absorb material, take the time. If you need some help, ask for help. Failure is something that can be so hard to stomach, especially in an age of can do extroverts.  There is no one like you and that is actually pretty special. So what if you aren’t the same as your classmates, everyone has strengths and skills to add. Yes the failure (s) had a massive impact on me but when I now have the benefit of hindsight I wish i hadn’t judged myself quite so much. There are countless examples of successful people that have experienced many failures before getting their big break. JK Rowling was rejected from countless publishers, Samuel L Jackson didn’t get his first big film until he was in his 40s…google it and you will read so many stories! I saw a quote recently from Bill Gates which I hadn’t seen before and it was this:

“I failed in some subjects in exam, but my friend passed in all. Now he is an engineer in Microsoft and I am the owner of Microsoft”

Anyway, I digress..

For me I viewed my illness as a weakness to be hidden from them. I didn’t pass all my exams and there was a stigma associated with that. Every exam result day was the same, whispers of who had failed and sorrowful looks exchanged. Then the poor person returned to work and I watched as again everyone tiptoed around them and treated them differently. They not only had failed an exam they had worked for but they had to put up with the label that was placed upon them as a result. No one should ever be made to feel like that.

I repeated the exam that Autumn and I passed. I had survived to see another day. If I hadn’t of passed my training contract would have been terminated right there and then and I would have been fired.  I began studying for my CAP2 exams in Autumn 2015…I was still undiagnosed with no treatment at this point so this next bit is going to be fun….

P.s. This photo was taken from the walls in Dubrovnik and that is a pirate ship you can actually get on. There was me taking scenic photos not knowing what was waiting for me haha. 

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