Earlier this week, someone left a comment on an article I’d written to shame me over a word they considered “not a word”. A few years ago this would have stung and left me feeling like an imposter. At age 42 I have very few fucks left to give about such pedantry.

I left school age 16.

I left school age 16 with 1A, 4Bs, 2Cs and a D in my GCSE exams. I had what I needed to take up my place on the dance course I had auditioned for which required 4 C or above grades at GCSE.

I was told I was no good at maths. I bizarrely got a B in the “modular science” GCSE despite never going to lessons. In lessons I was bullied. As my school career went on, I found ever more creative ways to not attend them. My English vocabulary was always good due to being a keen reader, but in addition to having great skills in classroom avoidance I fell into that generation of British schoolchildren who were not taught the rules of grammar.

There are gaps in my formal education you could drive a truck through.

I do have an undergraduate degree. At one point, I wondered if I had the capacity to gain a degree and studied with the Open University taking subjects I had an interest in. I gained a degree in Humanities with Religious Studies, despite my initial few essays being returned with comments pointing out that I had no idea what an essay actually was. By then I was already writing for several magazines, I knew how to write to a style guide, and treated the essay guidelines as exactly that. I graduated with First Class Honours.

I’ve discovered the holes in my understanding of basic physics as I learn to fly. I am enjoying every moment of filling those in, and in discovering all the places where I had an observational understanding but had never consolidated all the theory behind that.

Formal education gives you words and technical understanding, it helps you interact with other people on a level where you can all assume you have the same starting point. It isn’t everything, and perhaps my hard-won knowledge, learned from trying and failing and figuring things out alone is my greatest strength.

I’ve written 22 books with my B and a C in GCSE English, and helped countless people to understand the things that I worked hard to figure out. My terrible maths gets me through, despite sometimes having to resort to Google to figure out what those words being thrown about in the CSS Working Group meeting actually mean. I try not to become overwhelmed with what I don’t know, I’m there because of what I do, the rest I can learn. As long as I remain unafraid to admit that I don’t know, as that is the first step to finding out.

So shame me about my choice of words, I hope it made you feel cleverer than me. You probably are. Or perhaps you had the benefit of a different sort of education than I did, but whatever. You handed me a hook for this article, but otherwise I’m far too busy writing useful stuff for those who want to read it to care.

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