What I wish I knew in high school

The day I received my ATAR score was the day I felt like I had failed at my schooling. It was called an ‘ENTER’ back then, and I had been studying my butt off for the previous 2 years to achieve something that would make all the stress worth it. It was a bit weird when the number flashed on my phone. The fact that 12 years of schooling comes down to one number seems a bit ironic, but what is sadder was the fact I was disappointed in myself. The numbers said 87.35. That’s a great number. But it wasn’t good enough. I had wanted a 95. It meant I wouldn’t be going to the university I’d applied for and I’d have to settle for the course with a 68 entry equivalent. It meant I would be living at home for a few more years, and it meant that my future was ruined.

Clearly my future was not ruined. In fact, it has turned out pretty great so far. But in that moment, the weight of ‘school’ and the pressure to have my life sorted felt like too much. It defines a lot of my school years for me. The pressure I felt, the anxiety to succeed, the need to impress others and fit in, the need to somehow turn into an adult overnight even though all I wanted to do was sleep for a decade. Whether it was my ENTER score, the shoes I was wearing on casual clothes day or the sidelong glances of my classmates, I wanted to please everyone. Mostly because I wanted to fit it; I wanted to belong somewhere. I wanted my life to mean something, and when you’re surrounded by the same bunch of kids week in week out for at least 6 years, what you think they think of you, tends to define your life’s meaning.

It’s been 6 years since I graduated from high school, which makes me either really relevant or really old. In any case, I’ve grown up a lot since then. And a lot of the stuff I learnt has come from stepping out of the box I placed myself in at school. You probably fit in a certain ‘group’ at school. Most schools have the popular kids, the athletes, the musicians, the art and drama kids, the nerdy kids and the religious kids. It is actually possible to fit into more than one of these groups (I know, mind blown!), but inevitably there seems to be this unsaid rule that you belong in one of these ‘clubs’ and therefore you have to stick with it. There are always a few kids who waft between groups, they have an uncanny knack of making everybody laugh or are ridiculously talented people, but you get a sense of where you belong and you tend to stay there.

Well, most people do. I didn’t, because I was somewhat oblivious to the social order of high school. I knew about the ‘groups,’ mainly because I was intimidated by the cool kids, but I didn’t really understand the need to stay in them. I mean, a friend is a friend, right? That doesn’t always float well for other people though. It meant that when I befriended people outside my group, I was causing tension. And we all know that in high school you don’t cause tension, because then you don’t fit in ANYWHERE.

That being said, I really disliked myself while I was at school. I wasn’t a bad person; in fact I think I was pretty nice. I tried to be friendly, to be honest and a hard worker. I wanted to make everyone happy, but I soon realised I couldn’t, because sometimes fitting in meant that I would be changing who I was. I had a strong faith and I tried to live by it, and that meant I believed I stuck out big time.

When I was in school I believed a lot of things about myself. I thought I had to try harder and be better. I felt pressure to fit in, but stand out because I knew Jesus. And I desperately wanted to love everyone, but it was hard when it was really obvious that some of my classmates didn’t like me. 6 years on and there are some things I wish I knew in high school; things that may have changed my behaviour, my perspective and my ability to love myself.

I wish I knew my future was not dependant on my grades.
Towards the end of school, the pressure to make good grades is shoved down your throat. Nothing you do is ever good enough, and there is always pressure to do better. Add on to this the endless hours of homework, the exams and the physical stress of the scenario and you’re a basket case. I was sure my future- my happiness, hinged on this one score. Newsflash, it didn’t. There are always different paths to your goals, and if you don’t know what you want to be yet, THAT’S OKAY. You have another 60 years of your life post high school to figure it out.

I wish I knew I was not defined by a relationship status.
So often it felt like EVERYONE was in a relationship except me. There were constant rumours of who liked who, who did what and who was angry at their best friend for liking the same boy. The fact is, anyone who determines your worth based relationship status (or lack of) is not worth your time anyway. As much as it sucks to hear it, you probably won’t want to date any of these people after high school any way. There are always exceptions- people who are childhood sweethearts, classmates who become great friends after school and get married; but inevitably most of you will not date each other (or probably see each other) after high school. That’s actually okay. Trust me, what you want in a relationship will change dramatically after graduation, and who you (and they) are will too.

I wish I knew I didn’t have to please everyone.
It’s impossible to please both your parents and your peers. It’s impossible to hold your values and always be cool, and it’s impossible to be someone everyone likes. Trust me, I tried. Relax, be you. Don’t change your behaviour to fit in, and don’t give in on your integrity to fit in with your classmates. You are so much cooler than that, really.

I wish I knew it was okay to be different.
Everyone feels different in school. We always feel like we stick out and that something is wrong with us. Know that everyone, even the super cool kids, feel like that. It’s actually ok to be different; it’s what makes you unique.

I wish I knew God wasn’t mad at me.
I felt so much pressure to ‘save’ my year level. I would walk back into school on Mondays after Sunday church and have strategies on how to evangelise, how to love and how to bring people to Jesus. By the time I was in year 12, I felt like I’d failed dismally. Know this: when you love others and keep close to Jesus, God’s gonna be pleased with you. Do your bit, but trust God to do his.

I wish I knew that it wasn’t my fault I was being bullied.
Sometimes people suck. And sometimes, when they feel threated, they mistreat you to feel better. It happens all the time and it’s not right, but it’s not your fault you are being bullied. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CHANGE WHO YOU ARE. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from an adult. Being bulled doesn’t mean you’re weak, it probably means you’re a lot stronger than you realise.

I wish I knew it was okay to be friends with different people.
There were some really cool people in my year level who I met because I was brave enough to talk to them. One of them is still one of my best friends to this day. Don’t undervalue a person because they are in a different group to you. Everyone has something to offer, and chances are there are a few people you’ll really hit it off with.

I wish I knew I didn’t have to be so afraid of everything.
I was afraid of what they would say about me, I was afraid of failing, and I was afraid I would be teased for not being sporty enough. The scary moments will pass, and you’ll see you’re a lot stronger than you realise.

I wish I knew a lot of things in school, but most of all I wish I knew I was going to be okay. Because when it’s over, you’re alive, you’re breathing and you have a great big world to explore. Life is pretty great after high school, trust me, I’d know.

This article was published by CYC Ministries: The Hub.