“As the Leaving Cert kicks off this week, I can’t deny that my stomach churns at the thought of sitting my own back in 1999! I feel for the kids who don’t feel ready, the ones who are dreading it and even the ones who are destined to ace it but are a ball of anxiety under the pressure.”

What I dread most for those students though, is the doubt, the nagging feeling that if they don’t “do enough” if they don’t get the points they need, if the exam just doesn’t go the way they’d hoped, for no particular reason, that it’s over. Their careers ended before they’ve even begun, their dreams gone.

Because it isn’t true. Dreams have a way of coming true because, as Disney as it sounds, belief – and in this case self-belief – and grit determination, is all you really need.

I was never a great student, mostly because I didn’t have any interest in anything but English and so, it was a struggle for me to study. All I wanted to do was write! So, whether it was Irish, or Maths, or Geography class – the vast majority of the time I was hiding down the back writing a poem for someone who had just had their heart broken or a short story inspired by someone I had met through my part-time job or just generally jotting down ideas on something that might be useful for me in an essay in the future.

I LOVED to write – and my dream had always been to become a published writer – an author and a ‘jernalist’ (as I spelt it in my Second Class copybook back in 1988!).

I had a goal, I was determined, but no matter how hard I tried – and I promise you I did try – I just didn’t have what it took to get the 480 points that I needed back then, to go to study Journalism at University. What I did get however, was accepted onto a PLC Diploma level course in Colaiste Dhulaigh, in Coolock, Dublin. I had to present my portfolio of work, pass an interview, and get a certain number of honours and pass grades to get in, and as it turned out I had what it took to do that.

I put everything into that portfolio, interviews, what I considered to be a wide variety of writing styles, thought pieces – my heart, genuinely, and I excelled on that course with more distinction grades than I ever dreamt of and why? Because I loved it! It felt like me, it fed my soul, it was everything I had hoped it would be and it made me excited, every single day, to think that I would one day (despite what my Leaving Cert results might have implied) become exactly what I had dreamed of.

I went on from that course to University in the UK where I finished with a 2:1 Degree in Journalism and Editorial Design. After that I took the NCTJ (the National Certificate for the Training of Journalists) and during that year I got my first real job on a newspaper! I lived in England for four years and moved home for a Senior Reporter’s position and I worked my way up over the following years, through the ranks, to finally become that newspaper group’s Editor.

I was literally then living my dream.

And it was because of that, the opportunities I’d been given to work at more levels in journalism that I’d ever expected, that I was able to move on and realise my next dream – to become a published author and set up my own publishing company, which is now 10 years old!

I am not, I hope you know, saying any of this to blow my own trumpet. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever said that I’ve “excelled” at anything, but I am stepping out of my own comfort zone to say, for what it’s worth, that points are not everything. The Leaving Cert is not everything – it is so far from it, so whatever our Leaving Certs do today and tomorrow and over the next couple of weeks, I hope they don’t stop doing one thing – dreaming – because even if that results paper doesn’t tell them what they want when the day comes, there is always a plan.

Success is so much more than numbers, whether they are points or pounds. It is possible to really love what you do, every, single day, and when what you do matters to more people than you, it’s priceless.

If I’d believed, for one second back in 1999, that my 260 points meant I couldn’t do what I so desperately wanted to, then I wouldn’t have even tried – and if I hadn’t had the support at home and at college, and later from my future employers, then I wouldn’t have had a chance.

At the end of the day, as the old saying goes, “where there is a will, there’s a way,” and if you already know that yours will see you taking whatever path you need to, to fulfil your dreams, then you won’t be long realising that your only failure could ever have been to underestimate yourself.

By Emer Cleary
Founder & CEO
Emu Ink Publishing