It’s this: Who You Are In High School Is Not Who You Are For The Rest Of Your Life
There are two big things I remember about high school: truly ridiculous amounts of homework. And being labelled. Do any of these sound familiar? You’re the sports star or the geek or the loner or the teacher’s pet or the brain or the gossip or the one who is always gossiped about. Or maybe you’re the bully or the loud mouth or the school captain or one of the “choir kids” or a muso or a science-lover or part of the “cool group” or the guy who spends his lunch hours in the library researching Japanese anime or the girl who seems to spend her entire life organising charity cake stalls and fashion parades. Maybe you did something in year nine that people were still talking about in year 12. Or maybe it’s what you didn’t do that set tongues wagging.
That can be the problem with high school. It’s like being forced to live in Summer Bay for several years. It seems like everyone remembers everything. The place thrives on rumour and gossip. And it feels impossible to shake off a label once it’s been super-glued to your back. Thankfully this doesn’t last forever. It really doesn’t.
The good news: once school ends you get to reinvent yourself
Some people – lots of people – feel tortured in high school because of the way they’re perceived or misunderstood, or the reputation (deserving or not) they get stuck with. But here’s the good news; whatever label was smacked on your head in high school can be peeled off when you walk out those gates for the last time. Think of it like an Etch-a-Sketch that gets wiped clean. Your reputation gets packed away along with your school uniform and textbooks.
See, the great thing about The Rest Of Your Life is that you get to reinvent yourself. And you get to reinvent yourself as many times as you like. A bit like Lady Gaga (except maybe without the meat dress).
Here’s an example. A girl in my year 12 class who was seen as Mayoress of Dorktown transformed into this incredibly cool political science student after high school. She went to uni and suddenly found her tribe – other students who were into the same stuff that she liked (the student union, rallies, clever jokes about politicians that no-one else understood). Her new friends were people who couldn’t have cared less that she was always chosen last when we played basketball in high school. At university she found people who liked her for who she was.
That’s the thing — many people blossom when they’re given the freedom to be themselves.
The great thing about the real world is that all of a sudden you’ll find yourself exposed to new ideas, philosophies and ways of seeing the world. After years of having to wear a uniform, adhere to ‘regulation sock height’ and live by certain school values — you’ll have the freedom to experiment with different looks and ideals. And nobody is going to be hovering by waiting to give you a detention because your fringe is too long.
In exactly the same way, whoever you were in high school can also end on that last day of year 12. Maybe you’re not that proud of how you behaved in high school (or the friends you were hanging around) but you felt trapped by a label and continued to play the role of the bully or the socialite or the brainiac. Well the world outside of high school is full of people who don’t know anything about you, so you get to start over. Sort of like being in a witness protection program (okay, not really). But my point is you get to start afresh with a clean slate. Learn from your mistakes. Decide what you want to do differently. Make a decision to be the best version of yourself that you can be and then go for it. It’s never too late to change.
Lastly, the great thing about leaving high school is that those people you really, really didn’t gel with — you never have to see them again. Huzzah! Once you’ve graduated you can choose who you’d like to see each day. You can kiss the bullies or the mean girls goodbye (not literally… that could be awkward.). High school ending is really just the beginning of a whole new chapter in your life.
The bad news: small fish in a big pond syndrome
While some people cannot wait to finish high school, move on and shrug off the labels assigned to them, other students may not be quite so keen to leave their glory days behind. I mean, what if you were school captain? Or voted The Girl Most People Want To Be Stranded on A Deserted Island With? What if you topped Maths or Biology and loved the fact you were the smartest person in your class? Now what?
You can really struggle when your environment changes and you no longer have the ‘status’ you had in high school. What I mean is, you become a small fish in a big pond (having spent maybe five years being a big fish in a small pond at high school). Maybe you were the smartest person at your school and now everyone in your first year Science degree is like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. Suddenly, nobody thinks you’re special (well, except your Nanna). But try to look at the bright side — the pressure is off you a bit. You can actually relax instead of having to maintain the reputation of always topping Chemistry or English. Or maybe what you were missing in high school was the challenge to push yourself. Suddenly you’re with a whole heap of other smart kids you can learn from. Maybe instead of being made to feel like a freaky genius, you can choose to revel in being around other students who love talking about politics and current affairs and who actually understand nuclear fusion. Accept the difference as a good thing.
Or perhaps you were extremely popular in high school and all of a sudden you don’t have an entire school community in awe of you. Maybe at your job, people don’t really notice you or give you any attention the way they did in grade 12. Again, look at the positive. You no longer have the pressure of having to behave in a certain way. Let me get all Dr Phil for a second and remind you that you don’t need to be the most popular person in the room to be happy. If you behave in a way that is kind and friendly, if you demonstrate integrity and compassion and can laugh at yourself — you’ll find your feet. And anyway, the more popular you are, the more people want a piece of you. Enjoy being part of the crowd for a change — sometimes it’s a relief to have no expectations on you.
You are not defined by your Year 12 score
Finally, let me repeat something I wrote an entire chapter on in Find Your Tribe (and 9 other things I wish I’d known in high school) — your future success does not rely on your year 12 score.
For the first few months after high school is finished your friends will probably be obsessed with knowing what score you (and everyone else) received but then they’ll moves on. A great score is fantastic (go you!) but is no guarantee that your life is going to be all ponies, kittens and rainbows. Long-term success is about being resilient.
In a similar way, a terrible score doesn’t mean you’re destined to be a failure either. So you bombed out? Okay, that sucks. But if you really want to chase a goal, you’ll find another way to get there.
It’s worth remembering that some people are late bloomers. A fabulous example is my friend (and fellow author) Kim Wilkins. Kim writes:
“I was a late bloomer in every sense of the word. I still played with my dollhouse in the first year of high school, until one of the other girls told me that it was lame. I was puzzled and sometimes horrified by the things my teenage peers talked about and did. I gained a reputation for being the biggest “dag” in my grade. I flunked almost everything at high school and spent a very long time working in fast food jobs and typing jobs. In fact, I’d say that I didn’t really blossom until my mid-twenties. I went back to school and finished my senior, got into uni, started writing books, and haven’t looked back.”
Let me tell you, Kim’s being modest. Today she’s an internationally acclaimed author of twenty books. She’s a university lecturer. She’s won a University Medal for pete’s sake. She’s living the life of her dreams. And she flunked out at high school. So if you too bombed out in high school… don’t despair. Tomorrow is another day. Just look at Kim.
*This is an extract from FIND YOUR FEET (the 8 things I wish I’d known before I left high school). You can by that book here or here.