If it’s one emotion I continuously feel while teaching, it’s that I do not miss high school. Not. One. Bit.
Why would I ever want to return to a time when I was painfully self-conscious, quiet, dependent, and stressed about the future? I look back at pictures and scoff at how atrocious my fashion sense was, how my naturally curly hair was just a total frizz ball, and how strained my smile tended to be. I had a lot going on in high school, and where school was ultimately the place where I discovered my true passion, uncovered my talents, and made irreplaceable friends, it was nevertheless a place where I wasn’t really comfortable to just be myself.
Lately, I’ve had a few conversations with students that remind me just how difficult point in life can be. Students stressed over completing schoolwork and holding down a part-time job mix in with girls who fear what boys will think of their eating habits during a recent “Mix-it-Up” day where they were told to sit with new people during lunch in an effort to increase diversity awareness. It’s moments like these when I wish that I could sit all my girls down and have a heart-to-heart about the bright light on the horizon where it is so much easier to be yourself, but that lesson is one that will surely come with maturity and experience. For now, I’ll have to try to integrate the following points into my everyday interactions with them.
1) There will be a day when you aren’t self-conscious (or at least THAT self-conscious) around guys.
You’ll let them see you without makeup and tell them your darkest secrets. They will be your best friends, and they will break your heart, but eating in front of them, my dears, will no longer be a concern.
2) Do not define yourselves through the perceptions of others
People are cruel. They may talk behind your back or forget to call you or text you and not even realize what that does to your bruised and broken heart. But those actions are in no way a reflection of you – they are merely a reflection of another. Yes, they can be an indication of what you may want to work on in the future, but no one is defined by their flaws. Work on them, but cultivate your strengths as well – those are your gifts and it is an injustice not to use them.
3) Pursue your passions
Parents put unbelievable amounts of pressure on their children. I’m sure many of them feel it is for the child’s benefit, but when that comes at the expense of them not exploring their interests, it does a huge disservice to them and their personal growth. Find a way to explore something new – if nothing else, you will learn more about yourself in the process. You being a woman does not mean you can’t enter a field that tends to be more male-dominated. You may have to work harder to make your mark, but the important thing is that whatever you do with your life makes you happy.
4) Find a mentor or two…or twenty
The opportunity for mentors can be difficult to find when you are younger. But the more you have, the more you will learn what to do and what not to do. I have so many teaching mentors, mentors for student leadership, and mentors in my major, as well as for everything in between. Each has given me an example to follow as I become who I want to be.
5) Everything works out in the end
Fact: Life is one giant unknown. You’ll sit and watch the successes of your friends and wonder why that can’t happen the same way for you. But everything, EVERYTHING, works out in the end. What seems like a perfect fit may pass you over, and you settle for what you believe is second-rate, but as the days, months, and years pass by, it becomes ever clearer to see that you are right where you belong.