If I Share My Story, Will You Share Yours?

Fraud! That’s how I felt on graduation day. Am I a cheat? No, but smiling through photos and congratulations I told myself over and over this piece of paper means something. It means success! I should be proud that someone like me, a nobody, worked so hard and aced every test they had.

Fraud! It’s not that my future wasn’t sorted. I’d figured this out; my CV was red-hot with great grades, extra-curricular, work experience and one top industry internship. A second internship was already lined up for the summer plus a company was ready to sponsor my Master’s Degree. The career manual works.

Fraud! Give me any syllabus and any time-frame and I’ll pass your test, but don’t ask me who I am… that’s one thing I just don’t know.

During the final throws of this education I was constantly at the edge of panic. Fear of failure had me frozen. I’d become boring. Ashamed, I kept to myself. Anything that wasn’t for my future, or eating or sleeping was a waste of time.

At its peak, every obstacle on my path to a successful graduation saw me shatter, certain the world was out to prove my incompetence. Despite a spotless academic record, I felt stupid. Why was I a passenger in my own life? How had I made it this far? In the face of one more obstacle I took myself to the student therapy clinic.

The advice was simple; get home and re-center, how soon can you get home? There were a few days between the dissertation deadline and the exams. Two days travel seemed like a waste of good learning time, but the lady was right. I booked a train. In a second more in-depth session I was advised to see a doctor for anxiety pills. What had I done to myself with this pressure?

On hearing my results – a first class honors degree and the head of school prize – in a rare moment of vulnerability, I admitted that I didn’t want to prove myself anymore.

I didn’t want to do the Master’s Degree. I didn’t want to do the internship. This was met with the gentle cooing of “Just go and see… it’s a good opportunity”. So, after years of doing what others expect, the habit was was just too strong. I went in order to stay on the right path.

It was a shock to everyone but me that, following a complete burnout, I packed my suitcase and got the train home one Monday morning, instead of going to the office. Penniless, broken and having made a terrible impression by fleeing a fantastic career opportunity after just a few days, I cancelled my Masters place and thought… now what?

Working Towards Being Myself

peter cook

This Beyond the Box Education Guide describes my first steps to taking ownership of my own learning and place in society. I’ve chosen to keep it publicly available as a reminder of where this started and for others who feel they’ve lost themselves during the process of education.