At around 16 years old, I was doing badly at school. I had told myself a story in my head that I was stupid, which felt like a dirty little secret demon that I had. My behaviour was bad because of this demon and I ended up leaving school with no GCSE’s.
At 23 years old I ended up teaching tennis at the very school I had been asked to leave at 16! The headmaster of the school, Lawrence Montagu asked me, ‘would you consider retaking my GCSE’s again?’
I remember staring at him, thinking ‘he knows about my dirty secret that I’m stupid.’ He must have sensed my fear, because he then said to me ‘you are older now; you will be able to do it’. I told him I would think about it.
A few days went by and I had thought about this a lot. I realised that I needed to tackle my demon. I went and told Larry that I would take my GCSE’s again. I was going to re-take science, maths and English. I ended up sat in the classrooms with the kids – they all thought I was a teaching assistant, but really, I was doing the same work they were. I was seriously back to school and it felt pretty embarrassing.
During this time, I decided to work my socks off, and I ended up getting an A in maths, an A in science and a B in English! I know, I know, time to get the trumpet out, i was pretty happy at the time. I also discovered during this time that I have dyslexia, which is why I had found school so difficult as a kid.
Once I got the results, I realised that I can do academics, and my demon didn’t have control over me! I felt pretty darn strong mentally that I could do the educational route and succeed, if that’s something that I wanted.
Of course, I didn’t, I weirdly took the role of being adventurer, running across countries in wearing superhero costumes. Soooo weird I know.
If it wasn’t for succeeding in my GCSE’s, I’d never have written a book and been the person I am today. Doing my GCSE’s unlocked a confidence inside of me that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
This year, I was asked to be a motivational keynote speaker at a prize giving day at the SGS Colleges. Sara-Jane Watkins, the principle ended up reading my book after one of the talks I gave. She read the part about me going back to school to retake my GCSEs as an adult with interest. She then approached me and told me that she had no idea before reading my book that was a part of my story. She invited me for a coffee. The world is always put to right after a good coffee.
Sitting with Sara-Jane, she said, ‘with 5000 students at our colleges, at least 1000 have to go back and retake their GCSEs and it’s a big challenge to motivate students to go back and try again.’ She continued, ‘with your story, would you consider partnering with the college? I think you’d be a huge role model for inspiring those who were having to return to take their GCSEs again.’
I didn’t need to think for long, I said yes immediately. I’ve always wanted to make a difference in education, and this felt like the perfect first step. So, for the first time ever, I built an entire keynote presentation around the achievements of my adventures, world records, but how equally one of my biggest challenges was retaking my GCSEs.
Over the last month, I spoke to over 1,000 students about exactly this and loved every minute of it. I finished all my talks with the final slide showing my GCSE grades, in the hope that they aspire to work their socks off like I did. Not for whole heartedly for the grades but to continue to unlock their full potential.
That’s what it’s all about, unlocking our demons and getting to a point where we feel like we can achieve anything we put our mind to. Life challenges gets a whole lot easier when you have that kind of strong mindset.
For anyone that’s thinking of going ‘back to school’, I’d highly recommend it.
I’m excited ahead for the partnership with SGS college, who knows where it might lead, it’s all an adventure, as long as it’s making a difference, that’s just how we like it.