mental health · self-care · Uncategorized

Better to Fail the HSC Than Be a Workaholic

It amazes me that in the year 2017, many year 12 students still believe that they “must” get a very high ATAR in order to get into university, and be “successful” in their lives. 

Quick story.

Back when I did my HSC, a while ago now, I worked pretty hard, but didn’t burn out. I knew I didn’t need an ATAR of 99, so I didn’t freak out when I didn’t get it (or even close). I was very happy with my ATAR, overall a pretty average mark, which still allowed me to get accepted into my first choice for uni. 

In fact, bonus points aside, my ATAR was higher than what I needed to get in. Some may say wasted effort. And then, no-one asked me what my ATAR was, ever again. The end.

A few years later, I met a friend who had not completed year 11 and 12, let alone got an ATAR. He had worked hard out of school and pursued other interests instead. And guess what he was now studying? The same degree as me, requiring an ATAR of 75. My friend was only one year out of school and at the exact same point as many of his peers, who were sick with  worry during their HSC exams a few months earlier.

Another quick story.

When I began uni, I met a bunch of students that wanted to study law, but didn’t get a high enough ATAR. Yet they were determined.

So guess what they did?

They studied one year of an Arts degree, achieved a distinction average to show they could work hard, and transferred to law. (If you’re wondering, a distinction is an average mark of at least 75 out of 100, not 95. That is a band 4 in high school.)

The same thing can happen with medicine too. If you fall short in your ATAR, you are able to transfer to pre-med, providing you can work hard in another degree and achieve a good average mark (85 or above), like science, and transfer

Hang on. Wait. Does that mean that it was all a lie? Are you saying that I was put under the pump and almost had anxiety attacks before my HSC exams for absolutely no reason?


In the list of things that have held me back in life, numbers on a piece of paper are not one of them. They could have been a lot higher, but now 7 years out of high school, they are irrelevant.

The thing that has held me back the most is poor self-confidence, lack of self-esteem, and being emotionally dysfunctional.

If I ever have kids, I will tell them that them being happy and emotionally healthy during their HSC year is more important than whatever mark they get.

Being young is a gift, a beautiful season of life to explore what kind of person you want to be, what really matters to you. It is a time to develop your own values, and this takes time. It can’t be measured in a test.

So, if a 17 year old guy or girl ends up doing poorly in the HSC for whatever reason, there is still plenty of hope for them.

I’m more concerned for the kid who is suicidal if they get below 98. The kid who is developing early forms of workaholism, tying their entire self-worth into a number on a test. In 5, 10, 15, 20 years, their life will crumble into an absolute mess.

Obviously hard work is important, and demonstrating it can be a sign of a healthy young person too. Overall, I quite enjoyed my HSC year. I learned a lot and enjoyed being pushed to achieve big things. But I knew my limit and I didn’t work too hard, beyond what I thought was healthy. I kept up social activities, regular eating and sleeping patterns. That wasn’t the case for many others.

In the grand scheme of things, I reckon you’d be better off if you failed the HSC than buying into the lie that your self-worth comes from jumping through hoops to get a certain number next to your name. Our world has enough workaholics, it needs more emotionally healthy people. Better to fail the HSC than be a workaholic.

Grace for Failures is the blog of Carlin Doyle to encourage and inspire people who have gotten life wrong for a long time, and want to try and do things a little differently. Click here for more info, and here for more posts.

One thought on “Better to Fail the HSC Than Be a Workaholic

  1. A great and very increasing read. Really enjoyed it! I fully agree to everything that was mentioned as well, I know the HSC has become a core concept for year 11 and 12 students to play their role in the HSC exam period and even end up with a result that will support them to get into university and their potential dream career.

    Since it’s been about 4 years since I’ve left HSC and year 12 a lot has developed and grown within our society and how we view the HSC and the different challenges towards the years after 2013, as they get closer to HSC period and visiting all the different solutions that weren’t mentioned by universities, school advisors, teachers and peers, as it’s always been seen through our pleasure time.

    Definitely check out my wordpress as we explore the same ideas and concepts and further supporting the newer and upcoming HSC students to express themselves through different career paths online and on social media. It’s called Against the Teachings 🙂

    Thank you for the enjoying read and making me reflect on the difference stages and issues about the HSC and the upcoming “Dream job” as we slowly start to see a shift from the opposite viewer develop a mental understanding.


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