High school can feel like a battle field. Between hyped-up hormones rushing around our bodies, romantic trials and tribulations, and the need to stay up-to-the-minute with the dopest fashion, music and movies, it’s no wonder kids are buckling under the pressure.
High school’s an awkward period, filled with insecurities, shame and rejection. Suddenly, every harmless comment or benign glance becomes a huge deal, and it can feel like we’re the only ones carrying the weight of the world. It’s all very reminiscent of a Spanish soap opera.
And then, eventually, we grow up; we leave the nest, buy better clothes, get our first – and second and maybe third – job, make friends for life, meet our partners, experience heart ache. We wallow, and put ourselves back together, and grow in the process.
Before we know it, we’re adults, and what once seemed so earth-shattering now makes us chuckle. How, we ask ourselves, could we have ever cared about these inconsequential things? We realize that we could have spared ourselves a shit load of teenage angst, if only our future self could have traveled back to the past to tell us: Hey man, chill out. Everything’s gonna be fine.
Here are five things I wish I would have known back in the day:
1. Don’t worry so much about what people think of you (also: no one thinks about you as much as you think they do)
This one’s the holy grail, the mantra that would have spared me a lot of grief. Take note. You will never, ever be able to please everyone. Stop trying. It’s an existential conundrum, it simply can never happen. That doesn’t mean you should go around being an asshole to everybody. Just be you, the best version of you (yeah, I realize that sounds like a Dr Pepper commercial, but bear with me). Some people will feel you, and others won’t. And that’s alright. It goes both ways – think about it: you don’t like everyone either, even when they really, really, really try to get you to. It’s just how things work.
The second thing I wish I would have known back in the day is that most people don’t spend their days thinking about you. Sure, you might cross their mind from time to time, but the only one obsessing about their opinion of you is you. Just let it go.
2. Don’t try to be someone you’re not
We were all guilty of this one in high school. Whether it’s the clothes we wore, the albums we bought (no seriously, no one actually enjoys listening to Limp Bizkit) or the people we hung out with, the need to belong is the food which fuels our teenage brains. This need can be so strong that we end up making horrible choices, like fostering friendships with people we don’t actually like; or spending our nights throwing up cheap liquor; or wearing pants that are five sizes too big, just so we can show off our awesome Joe Boxer boxer shorts.
The need to belong is the food which fuels our teenage brains.
This one’s a cliché for a reason: the people who choose to be around you because of who you are (even if you are part of the elusive 0.1% who enjoy Limp Bizkit), are the keepers. The rest will fall by the wayside naturally – let it happen.
3. Things have a way of working themselves out
When I was 15, I was convinced that, at 30, I’d have my own swanky corner office, that I’d be driving around in a pimp car, and that I’d have so many dollar bills, I wouldn’t even know where to put ‘em. Things don’t always work out the way we imagine, but they do have a way of working out – if we let them. So, you didn’t get to date that boy/girl you had a crush on. And you didn’t get into your number one college. And you also didn’t get that job you thought you wanted so badly. Welcome to life, man. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.
The trick is to divorce ourselves from our rigid expectations – stop trying to make your life look a certain way; instead, be open to new trajectories, even if they’re not what you initially imagined. Not only will you expend a lot less energy trying to swim against the current, you’ll also experience things you would have never otherwise.
4. Don’t wear this Cartman t-shirt
5. Some people stay in your life forever, others are only passing by – and that’s OK
Popularity is prime currency in high school. The more people you surround yourself with, the higher your rank. You know you’re the Big Kahuna when even a quick trip to the vending machine (mhhh Chex Mix!) turns into a group outing. On that account, losing a friend as a teenager can feel like the end of the world – your market value drops, and it stings. But that’s not the reality, of course.
Over time, I’ve learned to make peace with the fact that some people are central characters in your life, while others are only guest starring (think Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee. Actually, don’t think Gwyneth Paltrow). What it eventually boils down is this: relationships with a shorter life span – whether friendly or romantic - aren’t automatically devoid of meaning. It’s a fallacy to think that a bond is only meaningful if it stands the test of time. As people, we change as we grow older, so maybe it’s unrealistic to think that every person we meet along the way will be there for the long haul. Enjoy the moment and don’t think too far ahead. It’ll all work out in the end.