The CAO system is not the be all and end all
The fear and panic that surrounded my Leaving Cert results day and CAO offer is something I'll never forget. I clearly remember getting my results and doing the maths to work out how many points I'd received. I stood in the carpark of my secondary school feeling slightly crushed, because I knew I wouldn't get my course.
The first three or four slots on my CAO form had been for primary school teaching. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. I got my results in August 2007 and knew I would not be attending one of those courses.
A few days later, a letter arrived from the CAO and I was delighted. I got an offer for Arts in UCD. That was fourth or fifth on my list, but I didn't care. I was going to college. Many had explained that doing an Arts degree could set me on the path to becoming a teacher.
To cut a long story short, within three or four months of starting in UCD I was miserable. I opted to study Geography, Irish and Political and International Relations. They were subjects that interested me, but the college structure didn't suit me. I only had around 20 hours of lectures a week and having moved to UCD from a small secondary school, I felt like an ant.
As I sat in Theatre L of the Newman building in September 2007, one of my lecturers said "take a look at the person sitting to your left. And now the person sitting to your right. That is the last time you'll see them. That is how big this campus is." And he wasn't far wrong. I had, and still have, a great group of friends in UCD, but if they weren't around it was the loneliest place on earth to me.
Around Christmas time I opted to take control of the situation. I, somehow, got it into my head that I wanted to work in radio. I wrote an email to pretty much every radio station in Ireland looking for work experience and one person got back to me. Her name is Annette Freeman and she is the office manager here at Newstalk. She told me that I would be welcome to come in on Saturdays and Sunday to help out and watch people work.
This email from Annette was a game-changer for me. I bounced out of bed every morning from then on out because I knew that each day that went by was bringing me closer to my next visit to Newstalk. I got up at 5.30am every Saturday to make tea and coffee for guests and help out a morning panel show. I did the same on Sundays for a world affairs show that used to air.
At the time, my friends thought I was utterly bananas because doing this meant I couldn't go out on Friday nights. I didn't care though. I thought of it as my hobby. I loved being in the station and during my time as a helper (or a runner) I was a sponge. I watched what every single person did. I observed how they spoke to each other, to guests, to ministers, how they dealt with dodgy phone lines and missing audio files. I watched it all and took it all in.
I did this alongside a weekend part-time job that kept some money in my pocket. I was wrecked 99% of the time but I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.
I can honestly say that I got more from those Saturdays and Sundays, working for free, than I did my entire time in college. I used those skills to work my way onto the freelance panel and, under the guidance of the programme director, developed as a researcher.
I still don't fully know how it happened, but on September 29th 2010 I was offered the role of researcher on Moncrieff. I cried. I said yes. I couldn't believe it. I had only finished college that May and now had an amazing job, working with an excellent team in a place that I loved.
Since then I've worked on the Tom Dunne Show and The Pat Kenny Show. This year I took up my dream job, and no, I'm not a teacher. I'm the Technology Correspondent for the station that took me in and trained me up.
Bottom line: Leaving Cert results do matter in the moment, but then that moment passes. Everything has a way of falling into place eventually, even if it doesn't feel like that right now.