I graduated high school just a few weeks ago, and have recently been reflecting on my experience. High school is a transformative period, and these four short years have shaped me more than I can comprehend. I will be starting college this fall and still have many lessons to learn and adventures to embark on, but I feel compelled to share a little bit of the insight I've gained in high school, because I remember being a freshman not that long ago. I scoured Seventeen magazine and implored my older sister for advice, but there were still quite a few things I wasn't prepared for when I started high school. Here are 8 things I wish I knew as a high school freshman.
1.) Stay focused on learning and furthering your education, but remember that grades aren't everything. Don't let your GPA or SAT score determine your worth as a student. Try your best in class, but let your mind wander outside the curriculum. Read books that your teacher didn't assign. Think outside the box.
2.) Don't wait to pursue your passions and dreams. At this very moment, the world is turning and people are living and you can't "wait for life to happen" because it's already happening all around you. You can start putting your ideas into action right now. I ran a nonprofit charity, served on youth councils for international organizations, and worked on a radio show - all while in high school. But I still remember being 14-years-old and feeling frustrated with the immobility of my life. As a teenager, you're constantly patronized and condescended by adults who have little faith in you. Find mentors who encourage you and believe in you. Being young and naïve and full of wonder is such a beautiful thing; don't allow others to tell you your dreams aren't valid.
3.) Do something that scares you. Go to football games, talk to new people, join the swim team, and take advantage of all that high school has to offer. There's quite a few classmates who I didn't encounter until the very end of my senior year because we never had classes together. Make an effort to talk to strangers and make conversation with someone outside of your usual group of friends. Wonderful, magical things can happen when you widen your horizons.
4.) Don't belittle yourself by pretending to be dumb or ditsy. I promise you, stupidity isn't cute. Playing dumb won't impress anyone. You're better than that! This antiquated, anti-feminist ideology that beauty and brains can't co-exist is something that has been ingrained in our culture. Think of all the "dumb blondes" you see in movies and television; young women are often times portrayed as shallow, vapid caricatures. Fight the stereotype and rise above it, because you're worth more than that. Being intelligent and articulate is way more attractive. Remember that goals, aspiration, and ambition are true beauty.
5.) Don't be embarrassed about your passions. Read Harry Potter, play chess, watch Star Wars, build model trains -- whatever your "nerdy" hobbies are -- embrace your differences, and stop trying so hard to fit in. Ignore the pressure to conform, and immerse yourself in what you love. Everyone is a little bit weird. (Confession: I have a pretty extensive coin collection).
6.) Worry less about the insignificant things. Seeing photos on Instagram of a party you weren't invited to isn't the end of the world. The girls who betrayed you or the boy who rejected you will soon be forgotten. Also, stop dwelling on that one bad quiz grade. It's not going to change the course of your future.
7.) Learn life skills. My high school unfortunately didn't offer life skills or home-ec classes, so I never learned the simple fundamentals. I don't know how to make rice without scorching the bottom of the pot, and I feel deeply confused when reading words like "sauté" and "marinate" in a recipe, but it's a good thing I know the periodic table of elements and have the quadratic formula memorized. I'm sure that will be handy when I'm an adult and hunger strikes. But really, take time to figure out how to make more than toast! Learn how to sew a button, change a tire, and address an envelope. I recently had to ask an employee at the post office where the stamp on a letter goes; I'm pretty sure she thought I was incompetent. (Upper, right-hand corner by the way. Your welcome).
8.) The upperclassmen don't have everything figured out. When I was a freshman I absolutely worshipped the seniors and thought they were the coolest people ever. I thought the upperclassmen were these magical, wise, mystical creatures, and I was blessed to be graced with their presence. Looking back now, I realize they were only a couple years older than me (and they possessed no magical powers, besides having the ability to drive a car). I didn't realize this until I was a senior myself and was like, This is it? Why don't I feel so much cooler? When does my newfound knowledge arrive? Respect the older kids, but don't let them push you around. You're not any less of a person, just because you're younger.
Most importantly, remember that high school isn't everything. You're going to mess up a few times, and that's okay. You'll probably fail a test or disappoint someone, but this time in your life is only temporary. Throughout these next four years, you're going to experience heartbreak and loss and fashion mistakes, and sometimes things will go terribly wrong for no reason at all. In these moments, it will seem like time is moving excruciatingly slow. You're going to say, "I cannot wait until I'm out of here," but don't rush it, because four years will pass quickly. This is the youngest you'll ever be, so make it extraordinary. And don't forget to smile, even in your braces.