I think I'm pretty much the last of the people to be educated for free in my country. When I was growing up, everyone went from school to university all for free. Then the government started to introduce fees. They started prohibitively high, and then got upped to being preposterously high. These fees are either paid by parents, or just plunge the student into debt. Nowadays the average university leaver is about £10,000 or so in debt. Great way to start your career, huh?
But I digress. I don't remember much about primary school, I don't remember much from early childhood in general. Other than remembering that people who were 16 were really old, and people who were 20 were ancient. I do remember secondary school fairly well, although throughout my whole education I hadn't yet been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS).
Secondary school was where people really started to form friendships, "relationships" even, but that was rare. There were cliques and in-crowds. I had people I mucked around with, but not many, I tended to latch onto single friends. I was never popular, liked by some but actively disliked by many. I think this was probably down to the fact that I hadn't fully learned to be acceptably sociable. I was still saying things without really thinking, offending people left right and centre. I was also developing quite a strong moral code (something else popular among people with AS), a code that seemed to get a lot of people's backs up, especially the teachers. I couldn't stand to see favouritism or double standards, and always vocally fought it. It was at secondary school that I really started to feel like an outsider, to feel that no-one else was like me.
As well as the confusing social side of school, there was the academic side. I wasn't a brilliant student, but I was better than average. They didn't teach any form of computers at my school, so I couldn't study that. However I did take an interest in physics, and I was ok at maths too. I was beginning to learn that if I didn't like a subject I found it very very hard to concentrate. My mind easily wandered and after every parent's evening my folks would come back saying the teachers all said I was "clever but easily distracted".
As I was quite gifted with computers I think my parents thought I was academically gifted in general and super intelligent. Of course the truth was somewhat different, so it did cause some friction. My teachers were saying I was intelligent but didn't apply myself, my parents could see I was exceptional with computers, yet my grades were average to slightly above average. It was a time of many conflicts; I really didn't enjoy school at all.
I was really just waiting for university to start, as it would give me an opportunity to study something I was interested in - all I'd ever wanted to do was work with computers. I was also looking forward to being in a more mature learning environment, mingling with like-minded intellectuals all chasing the same dream.
How naive. University was just high school, only the people had different names and different faces. The only difference was that we were now treated like "adults", and that meant that people could get away with a lot more as you can't give adults a "telling off". While I was working on my projects, my peers were in the student bar. As deadlines neared I had my coursework all handed in, but I was usually the only one. Everyone else started their work the week before the deadline, then complained to the lecturer the day before the deadline to say that they need more time. As everyone was doing it the lecturers always gave in. Not one ever thought to say "well AS4L handed his coursework in two weeks ago so I think you do have enough time". Instead people just got extensions and leeway. Obviously this irked my strong moral code.
People also formed cliques and groups, and things were even more social than school. There were always nights out, parties etc etc. Of course I was never invited to any of them. University left me quite jaded and disillusioned, I thought for once in my life I'd be among like-minded folk, folk like me. Folk for whom socialising isn't everything. It was beginning to dawn on me just how different I was.
Not everyone at university was a waste of space, there were some who were interested in doing well academically ("nerds" I guess you could call them) but they bothered me in their own way. This was the first time I'd met people who were ambitious and talked about what they wanted to do when they left university. They were driven in a way I wasn't (I was obsessed by computers, not driven with them), they had their eyes on the prize and it made me feel quite uncomfortable. Jealous even.
The lowest point of university was the year out in industry we had to do. We had to find a placement, a real job in a real company. My lack of ambition meant I didn't get many interviews, and awful people skills meant I didn't get the jobs for the ones I did interview for. It looked like I was not going to get a placement at all, but I was thrown a pity line at the last minute. A place about 900 miles from where I lived was willing to take me on. I didn't want to move so far away (the money was a pittance too) so I turned it down. However I got a call from someone quite senior at the university who was rather insistant that I take the offer. So I did.
I said previously that I found it hard to get motivated for something I didn't enjoy…boy was that about to hit home. As this was scraping the barrel, the job was very little to do with what I was studying for my degree. I was hardly coding at all and found the job very boring. It was split between two locations so I often said I was at one when I should have been at the other. The reality was that I was often still in bed. It was an aspect of my personality that I really hated. I knew that if I wanted a job in the real world I would have to actually do the work, but I found motivation so hard to come by. I wasn't learning anything and I was 900 miles from home, I wasn't really enjoying it.
Apart from the work, it was the first time in my life that I was in a new town not knowing anyone. I was actually enjoying that aspect of it, being on my own. Always able to do my own thing. I was always at clubs and music venues, or going to the cinema or just wandering around. I was really beginning to explore my anti-social nature, beginning to indulge it. Work was less than happy, though…beginning to realise how often I was actually absent. After six months I'd had enough and told work that I was leaving. The university was furious, but I didn't care. I returned home, dossed for the next 6 months then went back to finish my degree. Of course when university started back everyone was full of stories about how great their placement was, how much they'd learned, how they had job offers for when they'd done their degree. Once more I was left feeling jealous and bitter.
Leaving university firmly behind me I took my education door to door, trying to find a job. However that was only another hurdle I had yet to discover…I was still rubbish at interviews. I always passed the technical part, but failed the call-back when you have to speak to the HR manager, or the MD or something. To this day the only jobs I have ever got have been from interviews that have been purely technical, focusing on what you can and can't do.
It's been a struggle, but I came through it in the end and it all taught me a lot about myself and my capabilities. My strengths and weaknesses.