Advice to my high school self
It’s hard to believe I’m 22 now.
I’ve finished my University degree, I even did some post-grad study, and now I’m working full time in a proper job that helps Kiwi youth take control of their education. I even sometimes get paid to make memes, which you probably scroll past on our Instagram. When adults said to me “the jobs you’ll have in the future don’t even exist yet” – they weren’t wrong.
It was the golden age of 2012 when I was 16. If you have no idea what 2012 was like, imagine this:
Everyone’s hysterical about the world ending – not because of Climate Change – but because the Mayan Calendar said so (spoiler – the world didn’t end)
Carly Rae Jepson has just come on the scene, and Call Me Maybe is blasting out of everyone’s Gen 3 iPhones
Obama’s just won his second term against Mitt Romney
Low-top chuck tailors are in fashion and hot af.
Gangam Style has suddenly, inexplicably, gone viral
Whatever era you’re in, being a teenager is hard. Everyone who’s been there will attest to that.
I wish I had something like StudyTime at that age – someone to simply tap me on the shoulder and say: “look, everyone’s going through the same crap, you’re going to be okay.” But I didn’t. So giving advice to my former self, for all you guys to take on, is the next best thing.
Here it is.
1. Don’t take yourself – and everything else – so seriously
I used to agonise over the grades I got, even though I don’t remember any of them today. I would get swept up in full-blown-anxiety-attacks if I thought a teacher was mad at me. I would draft lengthy apology text messages to friends who I assumed I had wronged because they didn’t say “hi” to me in their usual tone at lunchtime.
I’m here to let you know that all of this anxiety was wasted energy.
It caused me a lot more suffering than healing. My panic was usually about nothing at all, yet it would paralyse me for days.
Don’t work yourself up so much over the little things.
Work out what matters to you in life, what really, really matters to you. When you’re older, you’ll realise that high school can be a toxic bubble. There’s a whole wide world out there, filled with new people, interesting places and meaningful ideas.
Everything before that is about learning and having fun.
2. It’s okay not to know everything
In year 12, I was faced with the terrifying reality of deciding what I wanted to do with my life. Uni applications were around the corner, and I looked at my friends who had their 5-year plans laid out, and thought: “I haven’t the faintest clue where I’ll be in the next 10 years, obviously I’ll end up a hermit.”
When I went on to study a Bachelor of Arts at Vic, I didn’t know the amazing places it would take me. The ideas that it would introduce, the paths it would take me down, the essays I would write, the interests I would cultivate. I just studied what I was interested in and good at, and hoped for the best.
The majority of my friends who bragged with confidence about their career plans at that age ended up swapping degrees, changing paths or even dropping out.
And kudos to them. If anyone stayed doing something they didn’t enjoy for their ego’s sake, I’d feel a bit sorry for them.
It’s great to have goals, but a part of growing up is working them out in the first place.
There’s always room to change your mind or refine your direction. I know from experience that no one at 22 even knows what they’re doing, and they’re a whole lot further down the line.
Embrace the unknown. It’s the most exciting part.
3. Document your life (but only for yourself)
I wish I kept a journal during this angsty period of my past, so that I could laugh at some of the things I thought were important. Documenting your life is important for nostalgic purposes – but also – it’s a good way to see how far you’ve come.
In saying this, Instagram was just a baby when I was in Year 12, so we didn’t quite have the same tools for documentation that you guys do now.
If you’re an IG addict, remember that recording your life for others consumption isn’t the healthiest way to gain self-awareness. If you’re not careful, you might start to value the documentation of your life (Instagram) more than the living itself – and miss everything.
Take lots of photos of your friends. Write down your emotions and feelings, no matter how pathetic or ill-willed or angsty they might be. Record how you felt when you drove by yourself for the first time, or got your best mark back on that killer essay you wrote on Gatsby.
You’ll look back and realise it wasn’t all so bad. You’ll also appreciate the memories.
4. Go against the grain
Except for all you Western Springs and Col kids, most teenagers tend to subscribe to a “follow the crowd” type mentality. It’s a survival mechanism, in what can often be a pretty cruel system dominated by the cool kids. I get it.
But if you’re living your life as an identical replica of all of your peers, you won’t ever work out your own identity. More urgent – when you’re thrown out into the “real world” you’ll be in for a shock.
I’m embarrassed now at how much I cared a lot about what other people thought of me at 16. My entire universe was the friend group I was in, and I tried my best to be the most “likable” one to them.
Of all the things I could’ve been – fierce, passionate, self-assured, extroverted, thoughtful, compassionate, confident, strong – it’s only now that I’m realising how vapid and meaningless it is to aim for “likeable” in life.
Set an example for the younger, (even more insecure) students at your school.
Don’t be afraid of sticking out, just be confident enough in your own skin to prove that ‘coolness’ doesn’t have one single aesthetic or definition.
Others will be attracted to your fearlessness, confidence and individuality (if you are convincing enough about it). I promise.
5. Trust your gut
When I was your age, I was a class A “people pleaser.” At the same time, there were heaps of harmful myths floating around that did my vulnerable 16-year-old self no good.
Myth 1: The idea that boys’ opinions of me mattered more than anything else.
Myth 2: The idea that speaking up against things I believed in meant I was a drama queen.
Myth 3: The idea that I should sacrifice my own wellbeing to make others happy.
And many, many more.
A lot of the time, these myths revolved around a common theme of feeling like my own voice was invaluable or unimportant.
Do not let others use you for their own agendas or purposes. Never let other people walk all over you in the name of being “liked”, or pleasing the crowd. It’s a losing game.
By putting others first all the time, you’re teaching them a harmful lesson: that you come last.
Be respectful, and kind, always. But never let people walk all over you to serve their own agendas. Trust your gut, and you’ll know when these sorts of scenarios are unfolding.
6. Take care of ya’self goddamnit
When I was at high school, I was probably a lot physically healthier (lol thanks uni), but much less mentally equipped to deal with ups and downs.
In 2012, mental health didn’t have the same “buzz” it did today. I barely knew what the term meant, let alone the importance of taking care of my own.
Gen Z is lucky that the self-care movement has taken centre stage in recent years, but be wary of its commodification.
Self-care isn’t all expensive Lush facemasks and hot baths. Sometimes, it’s saying no to another night of socialising when you have homework to do. Other times, it’s setting boundaries with your romantic flings. It might even be setting personal growth goals for your sport, or study, or personal life, and setting aside time to make them happen (even if that means sacrifice).
Most often, effective self-care takes place in the most boring of circumstances: a cup of water when you wake up, going to bed at a reasonable hour, refusing to have a cig at the party like everyone else (because you know deep down it’s just a nicotine addiction waiting to happen).
Have enough love for yourself to say “no” when you don’t want to do something, and “yes” when you really, truly do.
You are the only person running this ship. So look after yourself, and the kids will be alright.