Last month I missed my ten year high school reunion. It wasn’t because I have hard feelings about high school – I really don’t – it was mainly because of logistics. Flying into my hometown of Tallahassee from Austin can cost upwards of a month’s rent. Plus, to be honest I just don’t seek out unstructured social interaction. A weekend-long mixer with people I knew-ish ten years ago sounds interesting in theory, but I knew a few hours in I’d wish I were somewhere else…and probably leave.
It has nothing to do with the people. I don’t know what aligned in Tallahassee in terms of gene pools and the like, but most of the kids I grew up with are incredibly smart, unique, motivated individuals with varied interests and good heads on their shoulders. We were all brought up by parents with good intentions.
Tallahassee itself signifies something entirely different for me. It’s a place where I did most of life’s requisite (as well as some unnecessary) suffering, placed value on the wrong things, and created a toxic mental environment I don’t like revisiting. I don’t mind saying if it weren’t for my family living there, I would have no reason to see Tallahassee again. Ever.
But high school isn’t part of that dark cloud. In fact, I think I spent the rest of my time in Tallahassee, in four years of college, trying to find people with the same strong character as the ones I’d grown up with, but to no avail. Not because those people didn’t exist, but because they were going through the same gruesome changes I was in the time approaching my twenties. It’s a tremendously selfish time.
Even though I didn’t go to my reunion (from the pictures it looks like the majority didn’t either), social media has allowed me to keep in touch with a lot of people from high school. And watching everyone grow up and grow into the people they actually want to be, free from the peer pressure of their former cliques, has taught me a few things that I think are worth sharing.
- The Popular Kids Didn’t Peak In High School
This is a myth we misfits tell ourselves, and teen movies like to reinforce, that the popular kids will end up as sad burnouts in unhappy marriages or living with their parents or hooked on drugs or something. Anything that will make the unpopular kids feel better about their high school experience.
Hate to break the news, but the kids who were popular at my high school are doing just fine. Some are happily married and raising beautiful kids, some are hedge fund managers, some are traveling the world. And it’s not just coincidence.
The truth is that the popular kids had a leg up because they discovered something early on that changes everything: self-confidence. Sure, it was always helpful that they had their crew backing them up, but I can’t say with any sincerity that if I’d been self-assured at that age I wouldn’t have been the same way. All’s fair in adolescence and survival, and I hold no grudges.
2. Your Fuckups In High School Mean Nothing
If you’re anything like me, the crap you got yourself into in high school is nothing compared to the weird shit you find out you’re capable of in college. In your teens, I don’t want to say you’re supposed to be a disaster, but I think most parents are far less surprised than they pretend to be when you do really dumb things and get caught.
In college, you have no one to answer to but yourself. So instead of acting in defiance against your guardians, you’re taking steps towards who you are, and that’s a reality that crashes a lot harder than any punishment dealt out by your parents.
Bottom line, high school is fuckup training wheels. I was just getting started.
3. You Don’t Get To Skip Steps
Meaning, the suffering is mandatory. Bummer, I know. A good example is The Codependent Relationship. You have to do it, and you have to come out the other side. That obsessive, don’t know which way is up, “mom I think he might be the one” (she’s like, yeah he had me at lip ring), can’t get anything else done kind of puppy love – you have to do it. And then crash, crash hard, shake it off, and move on. It’s when you learn that someone else should never have the power to define you or decide how you feel about yourself. It’s fucking required.
And if you think you skipped it, it means you’re still in it, or maybe it hasn’t happened yet. Brace yourself.
The bottom line is, no one gets to just skip to the end of the learning experiences associated with adolescent emotions. They’ll catch up to you, and you’ll be that adult experiencing a delayed adolescence, which we all know is really graceful and forgiving. Needless to say I’m thankful I got most of my disasters out of the way all at once. Just one big decade of “let’s light this part of my life on fire and see what happens!” (Cue mushroom cloud)
4. Learn To Laugh At Yourself
The dumb shit I’ve done, which is probably not as bad as you’re imagining at this point, served a lot of purposes in my personal growth, not the least of which being to humble me. Humility is how I approach most things, not in a self-apologetic way, but in a way of openness to learning, and knowing that the smaller my ego, the shorter the distance I might fall if I turn out to be wrong about something…or a lot of somethings as is often the case.
No one is keeping score, but perception is reality. And it’s only your own time you’re wasting by swinging your dick around trying to convince everyone you know everything. My dad told me as a kid,
“If you think you’re always right, you better damn sure always be right, because everyone around you will be watching and waiting for you to fail.”
Given the option, I chose the other road, the road where I’m allowed to fuck up. And the best way to confront your own fallibility is to always be ready to laugh at yourself. It saves my relationship, day in and day out. It helps me not take things personally. It helps me blow people off when they might actually be trying to hurt my feelings. It helps me stay humble. Nobody’s perfect, certainly not me, so you have to learn to laugh or else what’s the point?
5. Ultimately, Authenticity Is What Matters Most
Being “true to yourself” isn’t just some SkyMall garden stone saying, it’s a cliche for a reason. It’s also sneaky because the first step to being true to yourself is figuring out…yourself. That’s a really big, life long project, and the older you get, the more important it becomes. Worse is, avoiding it makes you stick out like a sorer and sorer thumb with age. People can smell the stink of insecurity on adults. It reeks.
The cool kids, like I said before, had confidence on their side. But kids are wise to fake it till they make it. As adults, everything shakes out and we can spy the difference between real self-confidence and well-worn defense mechanisms from a mile away.
Knowing ourselves, loving ourselves, and having a firm sense of who we are, free of outside influence – it affects personal relationships, the way we interact with our surroundings, our careers and ultimately our potential as a humans, so it’s of the absolute highest importance that above all we prioritize knowing ourselves, and being true to who we are.
By the same token as the unmistakable stink of insecurity, people can see the glow of authenticity on you, too. Once you know and love who you see in the mirror every day, you’ll radiate confidence, and that’s what makes you “cool” as an adult.
Do you have fond memories of high school? What have you learned since?