I failed at University. Why?

I remember much of my first day at junior school like it was just yesterday. It was quite an introduction to formal education: the disappointment of discovering that my only friend was in a different class to me; the excitement of meeting up with him at break time; the bravado involved in asking the boy 2 years my senior (his name was Ben) whether we could join in with his game of football; the resultant ecstasy when he granted us permission, and the humiliating lesson in football that followed. I loved every minute of that day, and did not have a care in the world.

Now it’s time for me to be brutally honest, both with myself and with you.

Almost 16 years later, the education system has chewed me up and spat me out in the cruelest of fashions. Yesterday, on the 4th of July 2014, I was granted an unexpected and thoroughly unwanted independence. In an email received from the University of Portsmouth, I was told in no uncertain terms that my failure to make significant academic progress over the last year had left the relevant authorities with no choice but to exclude me from my course (English Literature & American Studies, for those not in-the-know) with ‘immediate effect’.

It was all rather callous, rather cold. It felt strange to not receive a message saying ‘We hope you enjoyed your four years at Portsmouth’, or even a simple ‘Thank you for your £14,000’. Not that I was expecting words of that nature, of course, but it still hurt. There was merely a short paragraph comprising of 4 sentences which spelled the end of my academic career that started all that time ago on that busy playground. I was pretty torn up.

Anyway, I’m lying in bed at 1.30am (it’ll probably be much later by the time I’ve finished this post)* and the rain is hammering against my window. I don’t think I’m going to get to sleep any time soon, so I want to get to the bottom of how this all happened. How did my time at university end with just a meaningless piece of paper as reward?

Academically, I struggle. In fact, since the age of about 13, I always have done. As a child, my parents and teachers agreed that I showed a lot of promise. I won an academic scholarship to my senior school, King’s Worcester, and immediately my every move became heavily scrutinised. Academic scholars were expected to set an example for others in their behaviour, work ethic and exam results. The truth was, I had never achieved proficiency in any of those three disciplines. I secured my scholarship through an aptitude for mental mathematics, a relatively good understanding of the English language and a decent grasp on the logic behind verbal reasoning.

My behaviourial record throughout school was poor. I recall a 5-day period in year 5 when, partners-in-crime in-tow, I appeared in the headmaster’s office every day. Even at an age when I would have been expected to be showing signs of maturity, I regularly found myself sitting in detention on a Wednesday afternoon while all my friends skipped merrily home. I actually bagged myself a Saturday morning detention for snapping a clothes peg off a changing room wall, but thankfully that particular punishment was cut short by an hour due to rugby commitments.

Maybe I’m exaggerating for effect. I wasn’t a rebel, and nor was I a notorious attention seeker. I was just a bored child who was completely disillusioned with the very concept of education.

My teachers were excellent, and must have despaired at my total lack of enthusiasm for their subject (ex-teachers, if you’re reading this – you were all great, thank you). Still, my academic performance was becoming a cause for serious concern. My distinctly average GCSE grades – 5 A’s, 3 B’s, 2 C’s – set in motion a drastic plan to rescue my university prospects.

Before long, an educational psychologist had been called in; I’d been instructed to spend all of my free periods in the library, I was assigned a personal mentor in the form of the (lovely) deputy headmaster Richard Chapman and I was required to collect weekly progress reports from all of my teachers.

No pressure then, Jonny.

Spending my school years in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral was an immense privilege.

Sixth form was a difficult time for me. Halfway through fifth form (year 11), I sustained a serious knee injury during a rugby match which ruled me out of all sport for a year. This came at a time when I was heavily involved in rugby, football, basketball and tennis.

When the physician broke the news to me, I wanted to cry for days on end. Confined to the library, it was heartbreaking to watch all my friends traipse happily off to the playing fields every Monday and Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the sports that I loved so much.

Not only did my abstinence from sport hurt me mentally, it also damaged me physically. Without regular exercise in my life, I started to put on weight pretty quickly. In my younger years, I was a decent athlete. Anyone who knows me will have heard how I came extremely close to representing my county at the 400 metres, and I regularly played A team rugby and football. On one occasion, I even snuck into the A team for cricket. It was infuriating, therefore, to lose all that hard-earned fitness in my year away from sport.

King’s was a great place to be at school, and I’ll always be inexpressibly grateful to my parents for sending me to be educated in such a pleasant environment. I still have many treasured friendships and memories from my 11 years there – it is a time that I’ll always look back upon with much fondness. Sadly, the same cannot be said regarding the decisions that I made about my future. Or, to be more specific, what influenced those decisions.

[At this point, I stopped writing and went to bed. The date is now the 1st of August, and once again I am lying in bed unable to sleep. My emotions are no longer raw, and the feeling of disappointment has subsided somewhat.]

I’d always had it drilled into me that the natural path for my life to take after school was the university one. After that, everything would just slot into place. However, as my time at school began to draw to a close, it became increasingly apparent to me that I was not cut out for academia.

Everyone kept talking about my ‘potential’, and how I wasn’t living up to it. The truth was, my potential never lay in school work. Notions of me attending one of the UK’s more prestigious universities started to dissipate as it became obvious that I wasn’t going to get the necessary grades. As a compromise, we started attending open days at (no disrespect intended) ‘less selective’ establishments – Northampton, Oxford Brookes, Salford, Aston, Lincoln and finally Portsmouth.

Through (limited) natural intelligence alone – I honestly can’t have done more than 10 hours of actual revision – I scraped three C’s at A level. It was enough to get me into my first choice of university, Portsmouth, but the overwhelming emotion felt on that day was relief, not joy.

Phew. Didn’t let anyone down.

Truly, I didn’t actually want to go to university. And if I did, it was for all the wrong reasons. I remember mulling over all the fun things that I’d miss out on if I didn’t go to Portsmouth, rather than being excited about the potential long-term benefits of gaining a degree in a subject that I supposedly enjoyed. I told my house tutor that I was considering going straight into employment after leaving King’s.
‘That sounds like a very sensible idea, Jonny’ was her reply; knowing smile and all. Maybe I should have heeded that smile.

Then again, maybe not. Whilst my time at university has come to an unsatisfactory conclusion, I can’t claim to have not developed as a person during my venture into higher education.

I’ve enjoyed four truly brilliant years at Portsmouth, and have learned many life lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. I spent a thoroughly challenging but equally enjoyable year as President of the Christian Union, organising – and the ‘etc’ is fully justified here – a weekend away, a carol service, two weeks of events…etc! I’ve had my heart set on sports journalism for a fair while, so in more recent times I have relished the opportunity to get involved in reporting for the sports section of the university newspaper. Two of my greatest passions are sport and writing, so what better career to pursue than one that combines the two?’

The city of Portsmouth is awesome, as are the people who inhabit it. The number of wedding invitations that I’ve received for this summer serves as an apt reminder as to just how dynamic and warm the social scene is in Portsmouth, and having my Grandma 20 minutes’ walk away made for unpredictable entertainment on an all too irregular basis. Only those who have been fortunate enough to meet the aforementioned Grandma will fully appreciate my use of the word ‘unpredictable’.

However, despite all the thrills and spills of the last four years, there is no hiding from the fact that I have failed in what I set out to achieve. I’ve covered the highs and lows that I experienced at school, and you’ve heard about the positives that I’ve drawn from my prolonged and unfruitful time at university, but now it’s time for the post-mortem.

I think I lack the motivation required to complete a degree. To be more specific, I hate learning for the sake of learning. If new knowledge serves a practical purpose and provides an immediate outcome, then I’ll lap it up and wrap it up.

I could, for example, label every English county, every US state and every country in the world without looking at a map. Those things were fun to learn, and are always useful in a pub quiz. However, writing a 3,000 word essay on how African Americans turned their service in war into civil rights is not going to directly enhance my ability to write an article on Worcestershire’s latest cricketing triumph. I’m aware that this isn’t a problem for most people, but my brain just ain’t wired that way.

It’s fair to say that, largely inadvertently, I’ve been under a considerable amount of pressure to succeed academically. I’m not pointing the finger here. Honestly, I’m not. I am solely responsible for the course that my life has taken thus far, and I will continue to shoulder that responsibility in the future.

However, both my parents are both Oxford graduates, two of my grandparents were Cambridge graduates and my education cost over £100,000. I know these are things that would give most people an advantage in life, but I think the personality and mindset of the individual plays a large role in determining whether that supposedly advantageous position works for or against them. In my case, I think the evidence points to against.

An overwhelming expectation to succeed, married to an apprehensive fear of failure.

I think this pressure is largely self-inflicted, a direct result of poor decision-making and misplaced motivation.

The truth is, though, that through all of the failures and successes, in all of the valleys and on all the mountain-tops, there has been one constant and that is my Lord Jesus Christ. He is my rock and my shelter, and in my weaknesses and my shortcomings his perfection is magnified. The world will look at the last 4 years of my life and tell me that I’m a failure. The world will look at my future and tell me that it is uncertain.

The world will stop at nothing to make me adhere to the standards that it sets. But when I come to Jesus, I know that he has already done everything that I need to be accepted, and I know that my future is in eternal glory with him!

Jesus took my sins and failures, and made them his own when he died on the cross. He loved me so much that not only did he want an eternal relationship with me, but he was willing to die in order to make that happen.

“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” – Psalm 139:5

So whilst I’d have quite liked my time at university to have finished in a more positive manner, I am not afraid of what the future holds. I know that Jesus loves me more than I can possibly imagine, and I know he walks with me down every path – rocky or otherwise.

Sure, I’m going to have to learn how to manage my expectations and discover what stimulates my mind, but the one person whom I can never let down is Jesus because he already knows all of my weaknesses and stumbling blocks. In fact, he knows exactly what lies in store for me – how exciting is that?!

My plan now? I’m going to give my brain a rest. I’m taking a week’s holiday to Normandy with some friends, and when I return I’ll weigh up my options. I think the Lord is presenting me with several doors of opportunity, and I would appreciate your prayers as I seek his will in discerning which one to open.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading this testimony. I never intended for it to be this long, but once I started writing I just found I couldn’t stop.




*4 weeks later, in fact!


A Vodafone Post!

Okay friends, here’s the deal. My creative juices are running pretty dry at the moment, so I’m opening my blog up for YOU to decide what I should next write about. I know that the majority of you live considerably more interesting lives than I do, so in extending you this invitation I’m inadvertently putting on the line the reputation for drabness and repetitiveness that I’ve worked so hard to secure for my blog. I think I have in the region of 160 followers, so between you all I’m sure you can throw some interesting topics my way. I’m keen to write about pretty much anything that isn’t 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight, so please be as ingenious as possible with your suggestions; the wackier the better!

So, as that well-known phone contractor regularly tells us…

Salvation’s Song

The Christian music scene of today is a mixed bag. There are some extremely gifted songwriters who write very heartfelt, Gospel-focused songs and there are those who write rather more fluffy love songs which could probably be sung to a boy/girl friend [delete as appropriate].

In my opinion, a good hymn should sing of God’s loving grace, promises, sacrifice and might. I do go through phases of listening to different hymns, but this song has been at the top of my playlist for a good couple of years and is beautifully written.

London 2012: How I think it will all pan out

What a great opening ceremony we were treated to last night! We’re told that over 1 billion people worldwide tuned in to feast at a banquet of British culture that featured Sir Paul McCartney, Mr Bean and a spectacular lighting of the Olympic Cauldron.

So the ceremonial niceties are over, and now it’s time for what we all paid for – the sports! I’ve spent the last seven days letting everyone around me know exactly which Brits I think will win Gold, so I think it’s about time I put my blog’s reputation on the line and offer up some predictions for the next three weeks.

1. Britain will win at least 15 golds.  17, to be exact. We’ll also win about 25 silvers and 20 bronzes. These figures are not randomly plucked from the air, I have actually weighed up our chances in every discipline.

2. Cavendish will win our first gold. Mark is odds-on favourite to sprint for gold in today’s road race after a fantastic victory at the Champs Elysées in the TDF. Can’t wait.

3. Adam Gemili will run 9.95 in the 100m final, and in doing so will become the first Brit since Dwain Chambers to break the 10 second barrier. Gemili ran a record time of 10.05 at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona recently, and whilst a medal is extremely unlikely in London, he is undoubtedly an exciting prospect for future Games. Bolt will win the 100m in a time of 9.74.

4. GB will win more rowing and cycling medals than any other nation. This might be a fairly obvious one, but I need to ensure I get something right.

5. USA will top the medals tableI know China were comfortable winners in Beijing, but home advantage had a large say in that. I’m fully expecting the USA to reclaim their place at the top of the medals table.

6. Ennis and Farah will deliver, Idowu will flop. Jess Ennis in the heptathlon and Mo Farah in the 5000m will be my two favourite victories for GB, and Ennis will break the Olympic and World record in winning Gold. Phillips Idowu, GB’s best triple jumper since Jonathan Edwards and silver medallist in Beijing, will sadly fail to make the top five.

7. Robbie Grabarz, Holly Bleasdale and Perry Shakes-Drayton will be surprise medallists. Grabarz is the best British high jumper in my memory, Bleasdale is an exciting young pole-vaulter and Shakes-Drayton has been finding great form in the 400m hurdles this year.


Here are some fun facts I worked out about the number 2010

2010 is 133122 in base 4.
2010 is the maximal length of a rook’s tour on a 14 x 15 chessboard.
2010 is a number having exactly four distinct prime factors, for which the largest is greater than the square root of the number.
2010 = 1+2-(3-4-5)*6*7*8-9
Enough numbers! My head’s hurting…
Let me talk to you about the year 2010, and what I feel it held for me.
Those who have followed my blog throughout the
latter half of the year will perceive my emotional state as being one that rarely fluctuates outside of moderate aggravation or mirth. This does not go to say that I am without emotion – merely that I strive to maintain an air of unperturbed light-heartedness. That is the person I feel I have become throughout the course of 2010, starting during my service at Gaines Christian Youth Centre and culminating in the build-up to and period of Christmas.
Reflecting on one’s year is not an easy thing to do. Condensing the things we have learned and the ways in which we have grown over the past 365 days into one short blog post is like being asked to paint Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” in ten minutes. We can portray the gist of what we intend to communicate, but most of the detail is missing and the end result is a pale imitation of the actual subject. So rather than deliver a blow-by-blow account of how my year went, I’d like to just summarise it in three points.
1. How I grew in my relationship with God
If a relationship with God had a learning curve, the line in 2010 would be going pretty steep. I feel I have drawn closer to my father more than ever before during this year, and felt his love and blessing in my life more than I could have thought possible. Admittedly he has had to give me the odd slap in the face when I start chasing selfish ambitions, but that’s all part of his loving nature! A good father lovingly disciplines his children when they fall short of his expectations. I do that all the time, yet am humbled by God’s grace. Although I will never come close to fully doing so, I am understanding more of his character and will through reading his word and learning of his promises to his people.
2. How my friendships grew

In 2010 I have learned a lot from my friends, but have also felt more and more able to repay some wisdom and example. I am truly blessed to have such a strong group of friends – at Church, University and, perhaps most preciously, still from school. Having met up with a bunch of them yesterday, I am reminded of how invaluable the time I get to spend with them is. My prayer is that I would continue to have opportunities to meet up with them and enjoy their company in 2011. They are truly delightful folk, and if they are reading this then I hope they already know how much I appreciate them!
Heading off to Portsmouth on my own was a daunting prospect, but since arriving there on September 18th as a baby-faced Fresh man, I have been making friends left, right and centre. Within a month I had my future housemates sorted. Within two, I had been back to my Christian flatmate’s home town for a weekend of fireworks, theatre and football. The term culminated in the whole of Floor 8 coming together for a Christmas meal – one great joint effort!
Some people who have especially been real blessings, influences and confidants over 2010:
My family! And then, in no particular order: Kirst, Larry, Mike, Becca, Debbie, Luke, Joel, Cornel, Josh, Josh, Dan, Ryan, Annie, Roy, Harv, Tim, Ben, Martha, Meriel, Nathan, Miriam, Meg, Nat, Jim, Frazer, Pat, Matt, Ceri, Tom, Catherine (who apparently gets a special mention?), Harriet, Lilly, Nathan, Tom, Hannah and Nick.
I’m almost certain to have left about 10 people out! So if your name isn’t here, a) you probably don’t care, b) I value you just as much as any of these people anyway and c) punch me in the face!
3. How I got involved
2010 has been a brilliantly busy year for me. I’ve been forced to step out of my teenage comfort zone on a number of occasions, both through challenging messages and challenging situations! Here are some things I did in 2010 which I would never have thought myself capable of doing:
1. I learned how to DIY, and applied those skills to the ongoing renovation of Gaines Christian Youth Centre. This included putting up ceilings, painting countless walls, laying tiles, removing heating systems and fitting hundreds of fire door closers!
2. I led a Church service. I was truly grateful for this remarkable opportunity – and although I was more nervous than a blind man crossing a motorway, I enjoyed and appreciated leading God’s people in worship. It’s not something every 18 year-old gets to do!
3. I spent Saturday and, more recently, Wednesday evenings handing out refreshments to clubbers. I have never considered myself a great conversationalist, but hanging out with bottles of water and lollipops in Worcester town centre presented me with the opportunity to have long, deep and meaningful conversations with complete strangers who showed an interest in what we (the GLOW team) were about. I felt totally at ease in that situation every time I went out.
4. I have developed a healthy 18 point lead in the Super Circuit. Sorry Kirst, Cornel and Luke. You’ve been good competition though, and always humble in defeat (haha).
5. I completed The Midlands Ministry Training Course. This involved a day in Birmingham every week of studying God’s word and learning some basic (and some not so basic) theology. It was also undertaken with the aim of being equipped for ministry in future years! A great deal of it what was said in that room went in one ear and out the other, but hearing the views of some of the wisest men (and women) in the county was fantastic.
6. I authored a blog. Well, to some extent anyway! I am aware of the hideous lack of blog activity in recent weeks, and the dangers of becoming apathetic, but when people ask me what I enjoy doing in my spare time I can now provide them with an answer other than “watch NFL” or “play guitar”.
2010 has been a year of thrills, frills and grills.
I’ve enjoyed the ride, and I certainly hope 2011 continues to present me with the unexpected, the exciting and the ridiculous. I wish you all the happiest of years!

The Big 1000!

This is a slightly impromptu blog post. Business will be resumed as usual soon enough!

So I was just checking out some of the stats for my blog, and could barely believe my eyes when I looked at the viewing figures. Since publishing my first article – “Christian Music” – on August 5th of this year, my blog has recorded exactly 1000 hits, at an average of 10 every day. There have been 275 visits in November alone!

Whilst 1000 views is insignificant in the grand scale of things, it is incredibly humbling to realise that people deem my opinions worthy of their time. I don’t write to garner popularity or praise, but I do write with the intention/hope that my various reflections will be read and acknowledged. Numbers mean nothing without the provocation of thought!

For the statistics fans amongst you, here are some numbers:

  • Busiest day: 117 views on Tuesday 7 September. This coincided with the publishing of my article entitled “University”.
  • Blog has been viewed every day for the past 29 days.
  • Most popular post (ie specifically clicked on) is “Re:Freshers” with a total of 62 views since publication.
  • August had 66 views, September 375, October 284.
All feedback – positive or otherwise – is very much appreciated.

A General Update…

Seeing as it’s been a couple of weeks now since my last post – I’m getting lazy in my old age – I thought I’d quickly jot some thoughts and updates down tonight. I’ll try to be as concise as possible, as much for my sake as yours. I’m currently panic-reading a 450-page novel for tomorrow’s Popular Fiction seminar. For those curious as to what they set English degree students these days to read, it’s a novel simply entitled “Rebecca,” written by author Daphne du Maurier. Enlightened?

I’ve been at Portsmouth for nearly three weeks now, which begs the slightly cliché question: “has time flown by?”

Truth be told, I’m not sure that it has. My mind wanders back to my arrival, equipped with a car full of luggage and the excited nervousness that wrestles with the vast majority of all newcomers to University. Meeting and greeting fellow flat/floor mates, having farewell lunch with my parents, and even the first fire alarm. All these events now seem mere splashes in the tempestuous ocean of memories that has already flooded my brain. Unfortunately these memories don’t include people’s names…a problem that is aggravated by the interpretation of this cerebral shortcoming as sheer rudeness. The vast majority of people empathise.

I think I’ll revert to the age-old policy of listing out significant/amusing events in an effort to save us all time and energy. We’ve all got better things to be getting on with!

– I attended Eastney Evangelical Church again last Sunday. It was a family service, combined with a Harvest meal – I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship, but would have liked for there to have been a lengthier period of preaching. I plan to attend Solent Community Church this Sunday under recommendation from some trustworthy sources.

– I bought my first “Ken’s Fried Chicken.” Talk about submitting to the cultural norm! Although I do the place an undeserved favour with my use of punctuation…apparently there’s some bad blood between Ken and apostrophes!

– I spent 25 seconds in a lift with a poo. It was not mine, but it was unmistakably human (and unmistakably pongy).

– Some hooligans burnt down the Southsea Dinosaur. Devastating.

– I spent Sunday evening watching NFL online! I’d like to express my utmost gratitude to the Kineman family for allowing me access to their Sky account. Unfortunately Philly lost, but you didn’t need to know that…

– I attended my first “Christians in Sport” breakfast at 8am on Wednesday. This is a weekly thing which involves meeting together around God’s word and encouraging one another to take God’s love with us into the competitive environment of sport. Being part of a sports team throws up many opportunities for a Christian to share their faith and be a strong witness for Christ, but inevitably it also brings about many tests and temptations which, if not handled biblically, can easily offer Satan a foothold.

– An unfortunate incident in the next-door flat led to Police involvement. It was drama of the unwanted kind – there was no malevolence in the act under investigation, but unfortunately the law-enforcers always have the upper-hand in these situations. Ridiculously, I was unaware of the occurrences until the aftermath. Some journalist I’ll be!

– I’ve made some strong friendships – some through the CU, some through my course and some through the sharing of kitchen and dining facilities. God truly has blessed me.

I’ve probably missed out a whole bunch of important stuff, and if that’s the case then I guess I’ll just have to include it in my next post. Right now, though, I need to get back to my novel. Fun and games.