Persistence is Key: How I Learned to Never Give Up
There are things in life worth chasing after. That promotion, that dream holiday, that recognition for a job well done, that certificate on the wall that is unequivocal evidence of excellence.
But such as life is, there are innumerable hurdles put in the way, that can effectively hinder or halt someone in their tracks.
When I was younger, about a decade or so ago (a lady never reveals her age, after all), ambition was my middle name. You name it, I wanted to achieve it and there was nothing that could stand in the way.
Whether it was to pass my Speech and Drama exams with honours, earn a first place rosette in showjumping, to master a classical piano piece with intricate fingering or become a black belt in Shotokan karate, it was the longstanding ethos in my family to not give up a hobby once it was taken up, to perform well and to enjoy it as well as take stock of the successes and to enjoy it.
In retrospect, it is always amazing to see what one is capable of with the benefit of hindsight. In my later years, I never would have imagined the hours spent per week devoted to my hobbies, in succeeding at whatever goals I had set in a particular week, to memorise a passage from a novel, to solve my sums or research an English essay, to practice my scales over and over on top of reading the many books on my shelves
The credit is ultimately due to my mother and father who were tasked almost daily
with driving me to and from these places (though the karate classes were helped in part when my father and brother attended with me), the consummate taxi drivers and steadfast supporters through and through.
Whether it was my love of horses and growing up watching 'Black Beauty', or my interest in Eastern culture that led me on the path to karate lessons, as well as being able to defend myself if ever I wandered into danger, my interests were varied and indulged by kind, supportive parents who did not ever tell me 'You can't do this'. Instead, they would tell me to pursue something if it made me happy, and I am glad to report that has continued to this day.
Though having so many hobbies was not without its challenges: aching muscles, lack of free time, a constant need to impress, a pressure placed on weary shoulders. But when you are young and full of that sparking energy, those things are rarely dwelt upon compared to the rush of excitement before a new class, a brand new poem or new piano piece, and all the discipline of practice.
As I look back now, I realise that the ambition of competing in the Olympics or some other lofty world championship never appealed to me, nor did the prospect of becoming a professional martial arts or a showjumping competitor. Not even to play at Carnegie Hall someday or hold up a trophy.
I stuck with those pastimes purely for the rush of excitement, the sheer enjoyment, the sense of achievement. Teachers may have prodded the idea of moving onto more serious competition such as the famed Griffin Shield in piano competition or even the national shotokan karate championships , but I always remained satisfied with all that I had done and focused on my exams to get to the next grade.
Perhaps that is where I learned not to give up if something is found worth pursuing. Especially when it comes to the legal profession with its academic standards and professional reputation. It was another ambition that would be the cornerstone of the rest of my working life. All I had to do was pass the exams, and I would be qualified.
However as I came to find in startling, harsh reality, it was not that simple.
It did not happen for me right away.
Following my undergraduate degree came another set of professional exams, and at least twice, I was left out in the cold, falling short of the mark required to pass. It was an unfamiliar feeling, to have done my best and have it not count as being enough.
Knock-backs are to be expected. Hurdles come and are to be overcome. Obstacles are there to be navigated. But when you are left stuck in a state of perpetually waiting for those results, to only be disappointed yet again, any mortal would have given in.
I almost did. The prospect of becoming a librarian, a psychologist, a writer, a government assistant, all of these possibilities occurred to me at some time or another during low ebbs where my confidence levels plummeted. To abandon the ambition of becoming a qualified solicitor, of a career I had been pursuing for years, not to mention the money and time spent on courses, library membership, journeys up and down to exam centres.
There seemed to be no end in sight: it would be a blessing for all of it to simply be over, so I could save my family the trouble and stress of worrying about whether I could pass, whether I was wasting my time in a difficult academic environment that was becoming the proverbial person pushing a large boulder up a large hill, without any hope of progress.
But then a breakthrough happened. That first hurdle of four exams was overcome in a manner of days with the guidance of a gifted tutor, and the next hurdle came into sight immediately. Discipline and perseverance won out over the nerves and niggling self doubt that would have convinced me to take another road, to actually make my parents proud rather than worried for ince.
It finally came down to one more exam, one last try for keeps, and I ultimately passed and made it through to attend the Professional Practice Course Part 1 and now through the harsh reality of this global pandemic, I have attended the Professional Practice Course Part 2 after a diverse and challenging training contract that gave me a few hard knocks and lessons under my belt.
It's been a learning experience, a wealth of positivity, negativity and all in between. Supposing I had breezed through my exams, my character would not have gone through the evolution it had gone through working in solicitor's offices as part of the admin team, meeting clients in consultations, dealing with files, learning procedures and practical application, to develop my own manner, my own methodology.
In fact, I may have been worse off delving into a training contract completely cold, still so wide-eyed and lacking experience, without having been through the mill of unpleasantness, the sting of failure, the harshness of the world not found in books and notes.
Not succeeding may very well might have made more success happen in that regard.
Take this oxymoron however you wish, but I know that I can speak my mind with a confidence learned from mentors both in the legal profession and my local business community, through working with active citizens and like-minded people as a volunteer. I have seen what it takes to run a solicitor's practice, something that may not have occurred to me had I been in a well-placed cubicle, diligently note-taking for my training mentor. I may have developed into a different person with a different world view, that may not have been for the better.
I also say to any readers who may be facing the prospect of exam results, written or online exams or any other hurdle to your career to do with health or family circumstances, that it is never the end and there is always a prospect of success on the cards, but perhaps in a different form that to what you thought at first.
The sting of rejection is real and cannot be avoided, but it is not your defining moment.
So I am thankful for the experience life dealt me so far. It would be easy for me to bemoan the examination system or put forward ideas for reform, but I have opted to not allow negative emotions to cloud my achievements going into this brand new decade.
I can only bring this lesson forward into the next chapter of my life, and I can only hope that trying, trying and even trying again will always lead me on the path that is right for me, that may very be the one less travelled by that will make all the difference.
That metaphor has accompanied me on many detours and pauses in my career path and beyond, so thank you to the poet, Robert Frost, and thank you for reading.