I was five years out of high school when the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower had me regretting my formative years. Specifically, my failure to more passionately pursue being a teenaged misfit. I had to remind myself that the emotional vertigo of high school could never have been avoided. Not even with a hip pixie cut. Plus, Emma Watson as an outcast is even more of a Hollywood lie than Seth Cohen was for my generation.
There are enough platitudes about high school to shake the eagerest of middle schoolers, pad the lamest of reunions and guide the greenest of screenwriters. Trust me, you don’t want to peak in high school! None of this will matter when you’re older! The cool kids aren’t that cool! The problem is, if any actually helped kids in the thick of it, they’d reverse-engineer themselves out of existence. Such is the magic of those four, decade-long years. Against all expectations, they continue to be predictable as hell.
That said, there are still a few things I wish I’d known when I was scribbling furiously in my journal about why Sonia didn’t tell me, Jen didn’t invite me, Stewart didn’t ask me or whatever I was always going on about. If I could Tom Riddle my way back into that diary, here are seven things I’d scribble to my tender teenaged self.
1. Your tendency to cling to one or two people makes others feel excluded.
I was what you’d call a bff clinger in high school. I was never good at juggling a lot of friends and, as a result, I hung on to the same one or two people for dear life (sometimes driving them away). My mom once joined me on a trip with my soccer team and, upon witnessing this, told me I was coming off like a brat. I was shocked. In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense, but at the time it was how my social discomfort manifested. I wish I’d known.
2. The people who make you feel left out are just as insecure as you.
Of course, I never applied my own “exclusive” motivations to others. Instead, when I felt left out, I assumed it was out of malice or because I’d done something wrong. I wish I’d had the wisdom to understand that everyone’s actions were a reflection of their insecurities, rather than my inadequacies. I would have saved myself a lot of heartache and learned to practice empathy much earlier.
3. There are extracurriculars besides sports, you know.
I don’t regret my high-school passion for soccer and track as many of my most visceral high-school memories are tied to them, but obligating all of my waking hours towards sports narrowed my breadth of experience. My failure to nurture my excitement for art, design or writing lead down a path that — while perfectly okay — took much longer to bend back towards creativity than it might have otherwise.
4. Look beyond your family and town for examples of success.
To that end, I wish I’d considered my future through a broader, more imaginative lens. I was so comfortable following in my siblings’ footsteps. I never took time to explore all the possibilities of who I could be, what I could try, where I could go. I think I would have been really energized and inspired by girls in far-away places who were breaking their respective molds and doing unexpected things. It took me a long time to tap into a world beyond my own.
5. You. will. not. always. be. this. emotional.
Okay. This one might not have helped. But damn.
6. Your “lamest” high-school experiences will ultimately be your proudest.
This is the linchpin for me. Nearly all my traits and endeavors in high school that didn’t register as cool have netted out as huge sources of adult pride. My after-school jobs, my string of unrequited crushes, my try-hard style, my lonely diary entries, my distinct dislike of high school and everything it stood for. I knew, intellectually, that popularity as a jumping-off point for life was a scam — not that it helped — but if only I’d known it worked the opposite way, too. The stuff that left me feeling alienated in high school is almost the only stuff worth remembering.
Illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.