Being great, or too much pressure?

It is exam time again, and  that there is a lot of pressure on many young people. Not just to do well in exams, but also to make the most of those last few sports matches of the year. For some, it will mean try to catch up with work not done at the start of the year, and for others to achieve the ambitious target, which you or your university of choice has set, towards which you have worked for months.


Those pressures are good to some extent, because they help us get the most out of ourselves. It may motivate us to get up a bit earlier, or to make the most of the hour before prep. But it can also come too much, when it becomes hard to sleep at all, or hard to see any enjoyment in what you are doing.

So, there’s two pieces of advice I would like to give, or maybe three. The first one is very brief: remember that you’re not the only one. I’m sure you know, but it’s worth reminding yourself that it is absolutely normal to feel some pressure to do well, to hope that you will do great, and to worry that you may not.

The first real thing I’d like to mention is that what it means to do well, to be great, is different for each of us. And that is really important to remember. I normally accompany the Y9 girls on their tennis matches. However, last Saturday, I travelled with some of the Y11 and sixth-form girls to Calne. It was great to see the difference between the tennis games, with the older girls playing some very strong tennis. However, it is equally great to see the Shell girls play, to see them improve and hit some really good balls. Although it would be clear who would win if they would play each other, at the same time you cannot say that the game of one player is more worthwhile than the other.

This maybe rather trivial example shows the danger of comparing ourselves to others. It is good to aspire to be better, to excel and so to look at those older or more advanced than yourself. But you need to accept at the same time that it has taken them time to get there, and so it will be true for you. So, don’t compare yourself too much with others. And of course, we need to remind ourselves that we cannot be good at everything – although that may seem the case for some people. Use your time well, and make wise choices.

Related to this is the second point worth remembering, maybe particularly in a place like Marlborough College, in communities where people live and work together. That is that it is really important to celebrate each other’s success. That can be very hard, of course, especially if at the same time we ourselves may feel disappointed with our own achievements. However, celebrating each other’s success is part of our responsibility to each other, and it makes life much more fun at the same time. When the first XI win, you can be upset that you’re not playing for the team, or be proud that they have represented Marlborough very well. As soon as we start to do that, we also start to look out for each other. Particularly in your houses, you need to be considerate of others. Those sitting exams, those working hard. The people who may be a bit grumpy because of it. Think where they are, and how you would feel if you were in their position.

So those are just a couple of pieces of advice for these last weeks of the academic year. Make the most of the time, do well – whatever that means for you – and celebrate the success of yourself and of others. There are many ways to do that, and you will have to find your own, but please look out for others when you do so.

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