Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What I Wish I Knew Before I Started High School

I've been thinking about my friend Isabel who will be starting High School this week.  I didn't want to give advice (although I guess that is what this is) but I thought about the things I wish I had known before I began.  Here is a starter list....

1.  Popular kids are not happier.  Ditto star athletes, band stand-outs, teachers' pets, the kids having sex, the ones getting get the idea.  Yes, some will have (or will seem to have) an easier time of it in high school but that is not the result nor the cause of any perceived social status.

2.  Everyone gets pimples.  Everyone is a mass of volatile hormones that cause them to (at least sometimes) feel uncomfortable in their own skin.

3.  Some boys need to shave.  Some girls look like they could be the substitue teacher (I was mistaken for one the first day of 9th grade).  Puberty arrives at different times.  Physical maturity does not necessarily correspond with emotional maturity.  At the end of all this you'll be spit out 4 years older.  But your body and your brain will still be developing.

4.  One lie leads to 2 which leads to more and more and you will never feel more alone that when you are living dishonestly.  Just tell the truth and deal with it.

5.  That said, not everyone needs to know everything about you.  There is nothing wrong with keeping your private core protected.  Choose carefully who you let in.

6.  Along those lines....make sure you have someone to whom you can tell everything.  If you don't have a person like that, keep a journal.  Writing or speaking about things, even small ones, helps you to figure them out.

7.  Yeah, it's a tricky line to walk:  don't give yourself away, except for when you do.  Easy for me to say, right?  I'll tell you the metric that works for me in finding people I can trust.  They must be smart, funny, and kind.  And they must be all three.  Smart, funny, and unkind?  No good.  Smart and kind with no sense of humor?  Great people to have around.  But unless I can share a belly laugh with someone, I don't feel aligned with them somehow.  Funny, kind, but not smart?  Also great people to have around, but again, lacking alignment.  By smart I don't mean geniuses--just people at or above your own level.  And with funny I'm not talking (necessarily) about the class clown but about those who share your sense of humor--people with whom you can be silly.  And kind, well.  Kind is kind and that is clearly the most important of the three.

8.  You know what's right and what's wrong.  That doesn't mean you'll always choose 'right', but whatever you choose, do it because it is your choice, not because you feel pressured or uncool otherwise.  Doing something 'on a dare' is never a good reason.

9.  It's okay to say 'I'm not comfortable with that.'  You don't have to give reasons or even know the reasons.  You can figure it out later (with that friend or journal).  If someone says:  'give me one good reason...' just say I'll get back to you.'  Or even better, just say:  'No.'  It's not a legal debate to win or lose; your own conscience and your own preferences are what count.

10.  Don't do things to make people like you.  People will like you if you like yourself.  And you will like yourself if you stay true to your beliefs and ideals.  Be that kid and you will have plenty of admirerers.

11.  And anyway, there are already more people who like you than you think.  If you find yourself feeling intimidated by a group of people, just imagine them all as kindergarteners.  You can totally deal with this.  Or, if they're older, imagine you are the kindergartener and they are in 3rd grade.  Remember how when you got to 3rd grade you didn't feel so big?  Yeah--3rd graders don't have everything figured out and neither do these kids.

12.  Good news and bad news:  You are not alone.  Yay!  Other people have been in my shoes and can relate to my experience!  Boo!  Why does it seem like someone is always watching when I make the slightest mistake?

13.  Be gentle with yourself and others.  At a basic level we are all just creatures making our way in the best way we know.  Be quick to forgive and slow to anger.

14.  High School is not the whole world, even thought it might feel like it.  Try not to obsess about what you look like or sound like.  Everyone is trying out personae.  Live and let live.  It's a cliche but it's true.

15.  Take hard classes.  Don't shy away from something out of fear you won't be able to ace it.  (I did and still regret it.)  Also take fun classes just because they're fun and to give yourself a break in the day.

16.  Don't be afraid to ask for help on anything.  Most teachers and counselors are in their jobs because they want to be of service.  Let them!

17.  Think of this time as a springboard to your future.  You don't have to win High School.  Your job is to learn and have fun.  And you're not just learning chemistry and composition; you're learning how to interact, how to study, how to be patient, how to plan.  You will build upon and use these skills as much as you will the academics.

18.  High School marks the end of a certain part of your life and it could be one of the most unsettling periods you go through.  Hundreds of people undergoing chaotic hormonal changes thrown into one stew pot--craziness!  Definitely expect some days to be achingly long and boring.  However, chances are that you will experience higher highs and lower lows in these years.  And just like when you are on a roller coaster, it is okay to scream sometimes, laugh like mad, and cry with relief when it's all over.

19.  Which leads to....enjoy your time at home.  I know school can be stressful and you might have a part time job or college prep stuff to work on, but really soak in this time when someone else is legally required to take care of you.  You might feel like you are part adult and part kid.  Make sure both parts get some air time.

20.  You are great.  When you are feeling your ugliest, clumsiest, stupidest, most clueless, remember that actually you are pretty fabulous.  And I am not the only one who thinks so.