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Resultant force

I always say, but then feel weird saying ‘good luck’ on getting your exam results. It should depend entirely on your hard work throughout the year (or two, or three); no amount of luck on results day, good or bad, is going to change that. Even if the envelope spontaneously combusted, it all goes through automatically online now!

Fourteen years ago, I opened that envelope. I had made firm and insurance choices for university, but as both universities gave me the same offer, I was either getting in to university or not. It certainly made opening that envelope even more stressful than if I had even the remote possibility of a backup plan. They may as well have written ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a slip of paper in black felt pen and sealed it in there.

It was a ‘yes’, thankfully. But as I’ve learned over the years, if it had been a ‘no’, it wouldn’t necessarily have been the end of the world. It would have been a setback and a major disappointment, with a tangible and natural emotional response. But I’ve had the opportunity to see that there are second chances. I’ve taught people who didn’t get the A-Levels they needed, who have gone on after their foundation year to do really well on the same Physics degree as the rest of us.

If you got the results you wanted, give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back, and a well-deserved break from the stress over the next couple of weeks. If they’re not what you hoped for, you still need a break, and when you feel ready, regroup, be objective. It’s not as simple as the memes make out: it’s not as simple as believing better things will happen merely by thinking positively. But success is still a possibility. There are also many, many definitions of success.

Objective Retrospective

They say that friends are the family you choose. The fact I’ve chosen to think of my parents as friends shouldn’t be incompatible with this. There are many who tell me how much they admire how close we Nemeths are as a family, and how special this is, but I also encounter people who – I guess the best word I can find to describe it – are troubled by our closeness.

I completely understand that not everyone is close with their relatives, and that in extreme circumstances this can be due to events which no-one should have to go through, making any connection totally untenable. But enduring forced separation, whatever forced it, should make strong connections even more precious, not less.

Even amongst those who aren’t ‘troubled’, there is still a perception that I am somehow hampered by my parents, that I could have achieved so much more without them if I’d flown the nest, or cared less about what they thought, or stopped letting them tell me what to do. At this point, I’m hearing a parody of the recent We Buy Any Car advert in my head: “my parents even let me say all this in a blog!”

To be fair, I haven’t helped myself. I often say “my parents this“, or “my parents that“, without clarifying the deeper meaning behind it. I don’t make the assumption that I have to explicitly state that my parents are more experienced than me, often know better than me (not always, they’re human), that I look up to and respect them, and so if they think this or that, it adds tremendous weight to what I could say on my own, even though I happen to agree with them. Nor do we always agree. Nor do I assume that I have to clarify that we don’t always agree, in order for the full weight of “my parents…” to come across in the way it was intended.

I’ve only just learned to drive. If I said to you “my driving instructor said I must stop at traffic lights”, would you tell me that I shouldn’t listen to their experience? Should I be allowed to make my own mistakes? Am I really going to allow my driving instructor to tell me what to do?

OK, at this point you may argue – quite rightly – that this is not a good analogy. There are rules of the road. There is the Highway Code. There is also common sense. But common sense still has to be learned, and it has been passed down, from generation to generation, whether in print, in traffic law, or in driving lessons. Doing the opposite of common sense, just to be seen to be doing it differently, would be foolish and reckless.

But let’s be more realistic. Parental advice is more like the later lessons. Read the road ahead. Slow down just in case there’s a hazard around that bend. Make sure you can see both ways coming out of a junction, and stop if you can’t. It does sound a lot like being told what to do, but it’s far more subtle. They’ve seen more roads than you have. They’ve seen more of what happens on those roads. There’s no reason why taking their advice necessarily stops you going your own way, but it will help you to do it using experience you haven’t had to gain for yourself. If instead you choose a different route, based on their experience, is this really being told what to do?

When I listen to my parents, I am making a conscious decision, as an adult, to take advice from adults who are wiser than me, care deeply about my future and well-being, share many of the same interests and thought processes, who also happen to be related to me. Some of us find many of these qualities in people who are not related, whether they be friends or partners, yet it’s only parents who apparently exist on a different strata of human being in some people’s eyes. This is unfortunate, and to me, it doesn’t make sense.

Going back to me potentially achieving ‘so much more’ if I’d been ‘more independent’ – let’s be objective. I often wonder what it would have been like to move away to university. I have sometimes allowed myself to be swayed into thinking that I was prevented from doing so by my parents, and it’s all too easy to skew my own memories if I forget to be objective. The reality is that I was impressed by the university I chose right from the day I visited there on a college trip. I’d seen it often from the bus. I’d walked past it, orbited it, and always been curious about it. On open day, it didn’t disappoint. I went to other open days, and some universities came closer than others, but Swansea was still in first place. It just happened to be on the doorstep. Others cited this as the very reason I shouldn’t even be considering it, but if this was the only argument against, it was a pretty poor one. Swansea was a win-win: it was my favourite university, and I lived a minute’s walk from a bus that would get me there reliably each morning (at the time, at least – it’s not quite so convenient now as it used to be, but the declining bus service is a different rant). Maybe I shoulda woulda coulda lived out, but I saved a lot of money by not doing so. I missed out on some of the nightlife, but I also missed out on not getting regular sleep because other students not doing physics weren’t missing out on the nightlife. I missed random fire alarms, and having to move my belongings back and fore each holiday. I didn’t miss my parents. Well, I did miss my parents, but only for a day, not weeks or months.

They get me to work every day, and they get me to gigs. Yes, I could have learned to drive sooner, but with money I didn’t have to spare, which is why I chose not to. Yes, I could have my own car now, seeing as I’ve recently passed my test, but 1) I can’t really afford to buy or maintain one at the moment, 2) where would I put it, 3) isn’t it more environmentally-friendly to car share with the other people I live with, who I just happen to be related to, and happen to share the same musical interests as me? My parents, you say? No, they’re friends I’m bringing to the gig, or rather they’re bringing me to the gig. They really enjoy the music, and promote it loads. It’s a win-win, for me and them. Did they give birth to me? Yes, I suppose so, but they’re actual people and everything.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe, said Carl Sagan. Yes, I could be more independent. But no-one is truly independent. I could shun the kindness and generosity of these adults I happen to live with, citing the fact that they are my parents, but if this is the only argument against, it is a pretty poor one.