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Thursday 25 May 2017

Coping with Leaving Cert result stress the JK way

Fear of failure looms large for everyone waiting for exam results, but, as JK Rowling points out, it is also a part of life that can have many positive effects.

Waiting for the results of the Leaving can seem like an appointment with fear. If you, or a member of your family, sat that exam this year even reading these words may cause stomach-churning sensations. The results will arrive in the post sometime around August 14, and some teenagers are already fraught with worry. Have they got those crucial points? Sometimes it seems like their whole life hangs in the balance.

Of course, we all hope that they will get the points they need. Thankfully, many of them will, but the sad fact is that some of them won't. While their "successful" pals shriek with relief, they may be tempted to feel that failure has no silver linings. So, it's just as well that wonderful JK Rowling is on hand to offer some timely reassurance. Failure, according to her, can have "fringe benefits". In a recent Commencement Speech at Harvard University she even declared that failure had helped her to be a success.

It seems that Rowling might never have written her fabulous Harry Potter books if she had been more successful early on in life. She got enough points to go to university and in her Harvard speech she revealed: "I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers."

But it wasn't her passport to high achievement elsewhere. In fact, seven years after she graduated she was "jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.

"I was the biggest failure I knew." However, she added: "Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged."

Rowling's wise advice is worth remembering long after the Leaving. For, as she pointed out: "You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all -- in which case, you fail by default."

She added that: "Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies."

Failure also taught Rowling that: "Personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone's total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes."

Yes, you can see how she went on to create the courageous and great Harry Potter. Because JK Rowling clearly knows how to be a hero herself.

Of course, one person's "failure" might seem like a success to someone else. We've all met people who are overjoyed that they managed to just scrape through an exam.

But the high grades required for some university courses will cause some students to feel downcast if they didn't score top grades in almost every subject. Well-known UK psychologist, Oliver James, has declared that he could weep for all the teenagers who feel like failures because they got four straight As in their exams and one B.

But even students who get stellar exam results will need to put their success in perspective.

"People who become obsessed about being victors may become victims," reveals stress expert Cary Cooper. "If they feel they have to win they'll become terrified of failure, and that is a deadly poison. Being successful involves having a healthy and somewhat philosophical attitude towards success itself."

This philosophical attitude could even help the Irish economy. One of the reasons why Silicon Valley in California is so successful is that people are admired for taking entrepreneurial risks even if their companies close. It is an empowering environment that leads to many start-again ventures.

As to the Leaving, Dr Tony Bates has some words of comfort for students who don't do as well as they'd hoped.

"This is part of your life and not the whole story," he says. He is director of Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health and says that though it is a painful experience, it is a temporary one, adding: "Often the most important lessons we learn in life are learned through our failures. Don't take it personally and don't make assumptions. You have done your best. There will be plenty of other chances."

So stop worrying about those grades and enjoy the summer holidays!

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