One of my biggest hang-ups in my career to date is to do with qualifications and particularly those achieved formally, so through school or university. When I say hang-up I am referring to whether the quality of your qualifications will affect your future prospects.

Okay, so quite obviously I have hit a bump here, for instance, it’s highly unlikely that you would let a doctor anywhere near you if you knew that they didn’t have any qualifications in medicine. However, pieces of paper achieved from completing a course or a degree tells you and (significantly) the world that you are ‘successful’ in X,Y and Z. Qualifications also help build a bridge to where you might want to go, whether that be university or a job, and they perhaps tell us a little bit more about what you might want to be. They provide legitimacy to what you do.

This has become particularly apparent for me at this point in my life where I am re-evaluating my career. I know that I have reached an impasse with teaching and I am looking at what I want to move into next. Teaching has certainly provided me with a tremendous amount of skills and experiences and for me now it’s about recognising what these are and refining them for other potential career paths. However, there is a part of me that quickly becomes stuck when I consider the issue of qualifications and particularly my own.

I wasn’t the most focused of students whilst at school, preferring to play sports and hanging out with friends than knuckle down to study. I was also hopeless with revision. I had heaps of notes that I assumed simply through re-reading I would retain the information through a process akin to osmosis, which I would then recall. It turns out, your memory needs a bit of extra help – who would have guessed?

So as results day came around on a sunny day in August when I was 18, rather than celebrating with my friends down at the local pub I was left crying in the school toilets. I was a cliche. I hadn’t completely bombed, but I wasn’t far off.

A whole manner of possible futures presented themselves to me at this point, which mostly swung between repeating my exams the following academic year or taking a year out to travel. However, with little in the form of savings behind me and a resounding ‘No!’ from my parents when I requested a loan, it looked like I was doing the former.

But there was a silver lining. Miraculously my first choice university actually accepted me. Perhaps the rest of my university application was strong enough to counterbalance the poor grades. Whatever the reason/s I am still grateful for whoever was behind this because over the next four years I completed my undergraduate degree and then went to graduate school. With the benefit of years of hindsight, I don’t believe that I would have achieved some of those things, particularly attending graduate school without that (what was to me an) epic fail back in school. It provided me with perhaps one of life’s hardest but best lessons: it’s okay to fail.

I have spent my career training or coercing students (whatever way you want to see it) into preparing for annual examinations, and over the years I have found myself increasingly frustrated and more so despondent at the demands of the seemingly mystical workings of examination boards. Further to this is the pressure placed on young people by the government, the media, parents and educators, including me to achieve those often lofty and possibly unachievable grades for some. Achieving an ‘A’ grade is more important than any possible enjoyment of the content of a subject.

When I hear educators (like my boss) tell students that examinations, particularly those taken between 16-18 years are the most important they will ever do, I genuinely want to scream. And that scream has gotten louder over the years. Opportunities don’t simply dry up and nor is it the end of the world if you do fail. Your path may take a different and possibly unexpected turn but failings don’t define you, they, in fact, become part of you. They make you stronger, more complex and imperfect – which is the best way to be.




The other day as I was leaving a meeting a colleague approached me and asked if I had seen an email that he’d sent the day before. I said that I hadn’t, to which he replied that he had definitely sent it during the previous afternoon. He had obviously been expecting a swift response. I was fairly certain that I had had no such email, but then I started to doubt myself, perhaps I overlooked it or it had got swept up in one of my ‘What the hell is this?’ moments and I had deleted it with another load of emails.

Then my colleague identified the title of the project. Said project had absolutely nothing to do with me. Rather, it was to do another (female) colleague who had also been present in the meeting.

He said our other colleague’s name out loud as though he was addressing me. To which I replied, “Well I’m blah blah and I don’t deal with that area.” He had obviously thought that I was in fact her! This is despite working together for nearly a full year and him having addressed me with my actual name a bunch of times.

Upon realising his mistake, I anticipated some sort of acknowledgement from him, at a push an apology, neither of which transpired as he simply walked away. I however walked away feeling irritated.

My irritation morphed and grew into full on rage by around an hour later. I had assessed the situation and the damage to my self-esteem and found myself thinking: this happens a lot!

I am often mistaken for other people and usually to those who I don’t feel like I have a genuine physical similarity to in the slightest. To make matters worse, this is not the first time that this has happened at work. Only recently, the head of Human Resources called me someone else’s name and began telling me about something (which I can’t recall now). When I corrected her, it was as though I was in the wrong and I couldn’t actually be who I actually am!

Why does this happen?

No one seems to know who the fuck I am! I feel that I am disproportionately mistaken for other people at an alarming rate. I don’t know whether I am over-reacting or perhaps I am just one of those people who blends into the background like someone with a faceless face.


Don’t you know who I am?



I feel your pain.

I also have experienced that sinking feeling when someone is talking to you as though you are someone else. This is an existential blog after all… but putting that aside, it doesn’t ignore the fact that you are pissed at the idea of other people not knowing you.

The frustration at this incident indicates a deeper level of questioning of who you are. You want to know why this is happening? Why it keeps on happening? And with a particular significance due to the fact that it is colleagues who seem to be utterly incapable of putting the correct name to a face.

Our memories in spite of their awesome complexity and genius have a terrible way of convincing us of taking false information as fact. I was once convinced that I had contacted a colleague about some work related issue, adamant in fact. This was to the point that I was steam-rollering over any say otherwise. It was only when I checked over a back catalogue of emails that I realised that I was in the wrong. I had to see the mistake in Times New Roman before I backed down, held my hands up and admitted defeat.

So by any chance, are you more annoyed at the fact that he didn’t apologise or the act itself?

Look hard at that question. As one part relates to your normative understanding of situations and interactions with others, whilst the other relates to your ego.

Your ego of course helps constitute part of your consciousness. When that is indeed questioned, it casts doubt on your sense of self. You may wonder at one level, why doesn’t she or he know who I am? But at a deeper level, you are wondering who am I? What am I projecting to others that they either don’t or choose not to see?

Whichever, the issue lies with you. It is unlikely that your colleague has spent much time ruminating on this incident since. In fact he probably hasn’t thought twice about it, because after all he doesn’t know who you are.

Enough of the philosophy and introspection, maybe you want some concrete, practical advice:

  • A name badge may help, you could even make a new name up that no-one could possibly forget. There are plenty of helpful websites out there. I suggest something mythical straight from Game of Thrones.
  • Alternatively, you could get in your colleague’s face as much as possible until he has absolutely no uncertainty about who the fuck you are. If you choose this option, pretend like you are drunk and shout your name a few times in the next meeting. Then he has no option but to take heed and listen.

Another way to look at it is that at least if you have one of those faceless faces, you could rob a bank and maybe no-one would know it was you? You could even blame that colleague of yours with the remarkably similar features, or even better yet the one who thought you were one and same?