Whoever first said that life is like high school all the time sure hit the nail on the head.
An aside – Yes, I know that’s a cliché, but I love it. Because I know exactly how hard it is to hit the nail on the head when I’m trying to drive a nail into something!
In any group of people you find yourself in, throughout your life, you will always find the iconic personages of your teenage years.
Whether it’s your workplace, a guided tour in a museum, a continuing education class, a group travel experience, jury duty, a volunteer group, a party, your neighborhood or a doctor’s waiting room, there are familiar stereotypes that you can identify immediately.
There’s always the flirt. The nerd who everyone mocks. The popular girl. The handsome quarterback (who everyone lusts after and turns out to be the actor Ed Harris.) The rich kid. The closeted homosexual. The political activist. The jock. The honors student. The sissie. The class president. The slut. The cheerleader. The hippie. Ms. Congeniality. The bitch. Ms. Goody Two Shoes. The loner.
When I find myself in a new group, I find it very clarifying – when people’s behavior annoys me or surprises me in some way – to sort things out by realizing we are all back in Mr. Wallace’s homeroom.
“Oh, okay, I get it,” I say to myself. Then I can let go and be more compassionate. I can see the teenager in that person, who exactly I’m dealing with. I can see how we all fit together and how I should behave to get what I want or give them what they need. It makes life so much easier.
I was the unnoticeable, unremarkable girl in high school. I had average grades and many friends from all the different social strata. I enjoyed sports. I liked art and literature. I was sensitive. I was a pretty, smart girl who didn’t think she was pretty or smart.
What I’ve learned in my life and what I tell my students who complain that they’re “just” average is that average is a good thing. Average means you have staying power and the room to grow upwards and higher, to get better. I was average but I went on to have a big life with many accomplishments and joys and their counterpart, difficult challenges and sadnesses, too, along the way.
I am the average girl who had an unaverage life.
I earned an MBA; I had several interesting careers; I started several businesses; I wrote and published two novels; I raised children; I moved abroad; I founded an English language library in a foreign land; I built a house; and who knows what else I will do in the future. Oh, I still can’t flirt and am not a girly girl.
I can’t speak for you, but I feel I’m still the same stereotype I was in high school. Unremarkable until you talk to me. Strong on the outside, delicate on the inside. Serious, sensitive, thoughtful. Compassionate. I’ve always had a dramatic flair and being an adult allowed me to access and flaunt it.
This comforts me – that who I am is ingrained in me so solidly, so deeply that even life’s circumstances could not change it. My personality has been my friend all my life. My values have been with me, held fast my whole life.
I just became more of who I was, a better version of who I was.
The nerd who we perhaps mocked in high school turns out to be Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. Still nerds, but now celebrated and changing the world. The handsome high school quarterback I mentioned earlier, who turned out to be one of Hollywood’s top actors, Ed Harris, calling the shots of his own life in an entirely different way. The quiet, sensitive “ethnic” kid who turned out to be the Pulitzer prize winning poet, Peter Balakian.
That’s a good thing too! It means you’ve shed skins, moved on. It means you’ve blossomed into a whole new person. It means you transcended and freed yourself from something that didn’t fit back then.
I’m not one for ruminating about the past. But I do find that occasionally referencing the past brings a smile to my lips and can put things in order. It enriches my life in its more delicate moments when I’m looking for meaning, definition or inspiration.
Are you the same person you were in high school? If so, why do you think this is? If not, how have you changed? Please join the conversation!