Grieving the paths we never took
Reflections on a head vs. heart decision I made at 18
I’ve just got back from a weekend in Sheffield, visiting a friend.
And I realised the last and only other time I was in Sheffield was 20 years ago, when I went to visit the university.
I LOVED visiting Sheffield uni. I remember feeling immediately at home there and a full body YES that I wanted to study there. I loved the course, I loved the current students, I loved that they had a Spanish choir.
Unexpectedly this weekend brought up a lot of grief for me. For the Sarah who may have ended up at Sheffield uni and the life she may have lived.
Because I didn’t go to Sheffield.
I got a place at an all-girls college at Cambridge, and after a huge internal battle of head vs heart, of sensible vs. truth, and against every bone in my body, I took the place at Cambridge.
And I realise over the years I’ve felt reluctant to tell this story because I’m aware of the privilege within it. I’ve had people sarcastically say ‘oh, that’s sounds really hard - poor you getting a place at Cambridge.’ But that fear of how it comes across has stopped me from processing it. And this weekend I felt it all. Because this isn’t really about Sheffield vs Cambridge, it’s about how hard it is to make a decision, which asks you to go against your gut in favour of something more ‘externally’ accepted.
This weekend I allowed myself to feel the pain of 18 year old Sarah, who suddenly had to make a choice between a full body yes and a full body no, but who chose the latter, because it didn’t feel possible to reject it. I’d always have been wondering. I’d always feel a twinge of guilt for turning down that place.
Of course, there are amazing things that came out of studying at a top university. I had tuition with the best linguists in the world, I met friends for life and I was exposed to a level of go-getting and ambition that I never got a glimpse of in my state school Devon upbringing. But I never really felt like I arrived there. It sounds strange, but I wasn’t in my body. I spent 4 years watching myself walk around the city, going through the motions.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever had that experience before, where you’ve said yes to something, but you don’t really feel you’ve said yes to it fully. So you’re there, but you’re also not there.
It’s hard to know what would have been if I’d overridden the pressures of an Oxbridge education, and what that means in society, and had trusted where my body and heart wanted to go.
Of course, I’ll never know.
But I notice there is a grief for that other version.
I speak to friends about grieving the ‘other path’. Even though now happily married with a child, a friend recently told me she grieved the children she never had with an ex-partner. Another friend grieves the stable, but admittedly unfulfilling life she’d have had if she’d stayed with her first husband.
I wonder if there was a gift in this uni dilemma though. Because I do feel now I have such a strong sense of autonomy in the decisions I make.
In 2011 I left full time teaching to go and volunteer in Argentina. It didn’t ‘‘make sense’’ financially or for my career, but it was exactly what I needed. (And it’s where I learned the ukulele, which then became quite a significant part of my career).
In 2012 I had the decision between a promotion at my office job or an unstable, open-ended job in Vienna. Again, the sensible decision was to take the promotion, the right decision was to take the adventure. I had one of the most professionally fulfilling years of my life, the 4 months turned into a year, and I unexpectedly set up Power of Uke.
In 2022 I was given the chance to go back and do supply teaching at a school. Despite having drawn a line under classroom teaching, and despite the school being a 90 minute commute away, something was telling me to go for it. They ended up hiring someone full time for the role, so no longer needed me, but by that time I’d met the head and had a conversation about coaching. This is the school that I now do my teacher coaching at. It would never have happened if I hadn’t followed that instinct.
I wonder what this brings up in you to read this Carousel?
Where in your life have you said yes to the ‘right’ thing, the ‘expected’ thing, even when you didn’t feel fully on board with it. Jobs? Relationships? Moving cities?
And where in your life have you gone against the societal expectation, following a curiosity, a hunch and had a really wonderful outcome?
Which parts of you do you need to grieve?
On my Carousel:
🎙Tune into Boogaloo Radio from 8-10am tomorrow morning (Tue 14th Feb) to listen to me and Sam Moyo’s Valentine’s Day love-in. We’ll be talking all things self-love, including how Sam recently married herself. Top tunes and feel good vibes guaranteed.
🧑🏻🏫 Feeling super proud to launch my Coaching for Teachers website! Please share with any schools, who could do with some extra support for their staff right now.
I’ll leave you with a photo of me and my friend Saz jumping into a freezing plunge pool this weekend!
Big hug to you all
This so resonates with me but it was loyalty so heart that made the decision even though my head was saying the opposite and I have still never voiced the dilemma out loud. Only to myself.