Just Entrepreneurs – Not everyone needs GCSEs to succeed

James Rix, founder StreetPR

I was watching the BBC the other day and they ran an interview with some schoolkids talking about their upcoming GCSE exams. Yes, it’s that time of year again, where every poor 16-year-old kid is made to think that their whole future life depends on the result of their GCSEs…

As if it’s not already tough enough to be a teenager with hormones bursting out all over the show!

Of course, exams are important, and we should give schoolkids every encouragement to pass as many as they can. But, if my personal experience is anything to go by, some teens just aren’t ever going to do well in formal exams, and it’s important to reassure these kids that you can still be successful, happy and rich without a row of A* results in your GCSEs. To be frank, I did terribly at school, – but that’s because, like one in 10 people in the UK, I suffer from dyslexia. I also have mild Attention Deficit Disorder (a problem again snared with one in 10 of the UK population).

I’m not stupid – far from it, I’m a pretty bright guy. But stick me in a room for two or three hours and make me try to do an exam, and the truth is, you won’t be seeing me at my best. So, for someone like me, using my exam results to base my entire future on is a ridiculous idea. Plus, you know what? I’m 34; I’ve started and exited two companies, bought two more and then founded another three. I’m now CEO of a group of companies which includes the UK’s biggest organiser of student events, a staffing agency, an experiential agency, a design agency, a social media agency and an event software company.

I’m proud of what I’ve been able to build up over the years – and I’m proud of the team I’ve got around me. I’ve travelled to 60 different countries; I live in one of the world’s greatest cities and I’ve done things other people only dream of. I’ve got a great life, and the only time I think about my GCSEs is when I watch the TV and hear it’s that time of the year again for all those poor teenagers…

I’m not unique: there are plenty of people I know with similar backgrounds. In fact, loads of start-ups are headed up by people who didn’t do well in conventional education. Don’t get me wrong; I had to work damn hard, take risks and jump when others wouldn’t. I had my dark times: at 24, I remember thinking “shit, I’m unemployable” and being worried about that. Two years later and I was offered a six-figure salary to run a division of a large clubbing and entertainment company.

But NOBODY now asks me what GCSEs, A Levels, or degree I’ve got (although I would love to have one).

I’m not trumpeting my own achievements here, although I am proud of them. And I’m not doing down education: I think it’s important. If you’re the kind of person who can handle the whole academic and exam system, then good on you – I wish you luck (and part of me wishes I were like you!). What I am saying is don’t judge people according to what exams they’ve passed – judge them according to what they have achieved and how much hard graft they are prepared to put in.

Yes, I expect my doctor and my lawyer to have certificates on their wall and to have gone to the right law school or medical school. On the the hand, don’t ever believe that just because you don’t do well at school, you’re condemned to a life on the factory floor or cleaning gutters. If you’ve got ambition and you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get into work; and if you then put in the hours and start learning some skills on the job; then you can go on to make something of yourself.

Work to your strengths and don’t be defined by your weaknesses. By the time you’re 22, you’ll have been in the workforce for six years and you’ll have money in the bank while your mates are just leaving university with a ton of debt around their necks. You have a head start on them — why not use it to employ one of your mates with a degree?

If you’re reading this and thinking my writing style suggests I’ve obviously recovered from the Dyslexia, I haven’t — the content is all mine, but the spelling and the grammar are all thanks to someone else.

I guess that’s the whole point of this piece: I’ve worked hard, I’ve been incredibly successful, I’ve achieved a phenomenal amount without having a load of A grade GCSEs. That means I can afford to pay someone to take my ideas and turn them into something readable.

Like I said, play to your strengths.

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