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Blog Number One

8th June 2018 

For anyone taking exams at the moment…


If it all goes pear-shaped, don’t worry… you could end up running a puzzle company!


Life is full of stresses, but almost 49 years into my own journey, nothing has yet come close to touching the nerve-shredding awfulness of GCSE’s and A-Levels. If you, or anyone you know is going through this ‘experience’ right now, it might be worth sharing my own story with them. I am very much living proof that if the exams don’t go the way you hope or expect, there is no reason to let it derail your hopes and dreams… and here is why…

If my parents had known in advance that my A Level results would have spelt the name of a TV station, they would have been thrilled, expecting me to get BBC. They were not quite so thrilled when it turned out to be CNN.

I took the scenic route. I failed to get the five B grades needed to get into the sixth form but somehow convinced the school that I would be worth a gamble.

I went through UCAS and the Polytechnic equivalent and failed to get a single offer at university. I also came out with the third worst set of A Level results in my entire year at school. En route to that I became the first person in UK exam history to get an A in their French A-Level oral and fail the written paper so badly that it translated into an overall fail - practically impossible, but I did it.

I then had to suffer the ignominy of having to leave my gap year for eight weeks to retake my French in which I scraped an E.

Somebody at Ealing College of Higher Education believed in me and gave me a place on a degree course studying psychology....

And then I spread my wings and flew...

I combined my newly discovered love of psychology with my obsession with games and the rest, as they say, is history.

I am sure that had I been able to do A Levels in 1980's pop music and Watford Football Club I would have been off to Cambridge. Unfortunately my English literature reading list didn't feature Smash Hits magazine and back copies of Look In. That's not how life works.

GCSEs and A-levels do measure something. They measure how good you are at doing GCSEs and A-Levels. Thirty years later these have the same life relevance to me as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

If you are reading this post today and either you, or somebody close to you is worried that their exams are not going so well, remember that the world is littered with highly successful people who flunked their exams and went on to become heroes of society and highly successful people.

There is no substitute for reaching your own potential, and if that means studying at university to be a doctor, a physicist, a lawyer or accountant, or whether you enter the University of life and work through by gaining experience in other ways, being the best you can be and nothing more is just fine.

Believe in yourself and there are others out there who will believe in you, I promise. It might take time to find them, but they are absolutely there! I say that from the heart because it really has happened to me.

A couple of years ago I was privileged to have a coffee with my old English teacher, Michael Cook. He gave me the most wonderful backhanded compliment ever. He asked me if I had realised that had I been at school today, I would have needed classroom support. I asked him whether he meant that I would have been on the special-needs register. He agreed that I almost certainly had ADHD which had no label in those days. But he pointed out that in spite of that, and in spite of all of my struggles at school, I've made a success of myself.

As an employer running The Happy Puzzle Company, my own experiences have led me to look well beyond the exam results on the CV of a candidate.

I look for a person. I look to see what they do for society, how they give back to their community, and how they challenge themselves to be the best person that they can be. As a result of that I have employed some of the most outstanding individuals I have ever met. Some of them will be reading this post, and know exactly who they are.

So once again, if you've received your results today and you haven't got what you hoped for, don't let it stand in your way. Use it as a springboard to finding where your strengths lie, and go for it! And if you find yourself getting knocked down again, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and go again… And again… And again. You will get there eventually. Good luck!

Happy puzzling!


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