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18 Things High School Actually Taught Me

Facing my 10-year reunion, these are the lessons that have lasted.

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1. Identity is flexible.

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High school was like an all-you-can eat buffet of possibly identities, and it was easy to believe that if you started ninth grade as a jock or band kid or whatever, you were set for life. How freeing to find out that you could hang with the skaters even though you'd never touched a board, or you could listen to Elliott Smith AND Wu-Tang Clan, and that the most fun you can have is playing around with expectations. Personal rebirth was as easy as deciding you were only shopping at PacSun from now on, MOMMMM.

2. But first impressions do matter.

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That being said, people remember the first time they met you. Keep it mind; be present; be attentive.

3. It's cool to be single.

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This isn't to imply that being in a relationship in high school is bad, but there is something to be said for the self-sufficiency skills you develop going through your teenage years solo — at least in the romantic sense — and the benefits of learning early on that your worth isn't defined by the love of a significant other. Plus, freedom of crushes is the best.

4. And it's worth doing things alone.

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One of the best ways to get to know yourself and the world around you is to experience it on your own. Yes, discovering new interests is partly about learning from people whose opinions you respect, but it's also sometimes a struggle to separate those opinions from your own. It's good to take a step back and get comfortable in your own company, and check in on yourself. It's a skill you'll always appreciate having.

5. But you should also, sometimes, dive headfirst into love.

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It was so easy to get caught up in young romance because everything was heightened by the newness of it all (especially the newness of hormones — WHAT ARE THESE FEELINGS??) and it's even easier now to brush off those experiences as naive or foolish. But there's nothing like the rush of falling deeply, and often unthinkingly, for someone. Even if it doesn't pan out, the exhilaration is something you'll revisit for years.

6. You are responsible for what you get out of life.

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It's a cliché for a reason: You only get out of life what you put into it. It's both terrifying and liberating to realize that you have the power to really soak up the world around you just by choosing to engage in it, and that the more independent you become, fewer people in your life will be pushing you to do so. Sure, alone time is important and worthwhile in its own right, but the best memories come from getting up and just DOING stuff.

7. A majority of the problems plaguing you today won't even register in your mind in about three months.

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Everything was catastrophic in your teenage years, because it was often the first time you were navigating such intense interpersonal relationships. But how often do you think about the time Sarah got hold of the note you passed to Caitlin about how annoying she's been lately? Or the ensuing fight you were certain meant the end of your friendship? Basically never, right? We're resilient, y'all.

8. But the significance of your friends can never be underestimated.

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You can look back at a lot of the many, many feelings you experienced throughout high school and laugh about how monumental you truly believed they were. Were those the best days of your life? Thank god, no. But the one thing that wasn't exaggerated was the importance of your best friends — and even if you've lost touch since then, they were still fundamental to your development as a person.

9. You can't always predict who will be important in your life.

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Likewise, you can rarely manufacture friendships. The best relationships are spontaneous, largely effortless, and often where you least expect them. Which makes meeting new people that much more exciting!

10. Hard work is inherently worthwhile.

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Just because you didn't end up going to your top-choice college, or using your degree exactly as you thought you would, or even — sometimes — seeing graduation day, doesn't mean all of those hours spent studying or putting in work in after-school clubs were wasted. Diligence and effort is beneficial in its own right, and you never know where the effects of it will crop up.

11. Plans are different from goals; the latter are better.

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Making plans for the future can be a fun pastime, but when you think about your envisioned future against your current reality, chances are they're pretty different. Which is fine, of course. Imagine living a life designed by a 16-year-old? A nightmare. But goals are different: wider, more malleable, and usually more optimistic. It's nice to have an idea of what you want in life — a cool job, a loving family, a close group of friends — but it's especially exciting to be flexible on how you get there.

12. Never let insecurity determine your experiences or dictate your reality.

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Don't stay home from the pool party because you're too embarrassed to wear a bathing suit. Don't keep quiet because you're certain everyone around you is smarter than you. You will regret missing out on new experiences; you'll forget the everyday awkwardness. And besides...

13. No one is looking at you as closely or as critically as you are looking at yourself.

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They are all too busy looking at themselves! It's so rare that the idea you have of yourself aligns perfectly with the way others see you, which is why it's so common, when reminiscing with former classmates about how awkward you used to be, you're usually met with things like, "What? You didn't come off like that at all."

14. Music isn't just a hobby; it's a way of life.

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It is impossible to overstate how much music can augment your experience of life. Think about how deeply you associate certain songs or artists with specific experiences, and how quickly and firmly those songs can plant you right back into those past emotions. It's easy to get lazy about finding and really listening to music when all of these other responsibilities pile on, but fight for it. Make time for it. It's important.

15. Breaking the rules, or at least challenging them, is a necessity.

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Some of the best, most exciting experiences come from getting outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you're not regularly sneaking out of the house anymore (your roommate isn't exactly keeping tabs), but it's a good idea to sometimes jump the fence to the park that closes after nightfall or sneak some booze into the game. Practice some brazen defiance, and it will help you when it comes time to really take a stand — like standing up for yourself at work, or questioning authority in the face of injustices.

16. Family relationships need to be cultivated.

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Family is forever, as evidenced by their ability to stick around, despite the fact that you were likely a nightmare to them from the ages of 13–18. But they're good allies, and you'll never regret getting to know them the way you get to know your friends.

17. Caring about things is cool.

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This might be biased by a growing-up-in-the-height-of-emo perspective, but remember when you were proud about caring — and caring so deeply — about things? Remember laying it all out there in AIM statuses and LiveJournal entries and late-night tell-all conversations? It's so much easier (and safer!) to be apathetic but also a LOT more boring.

18. You will never regret asking your crush to prom.

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OK, granted, you are most likely not asking crushes to proms these days, but the sentiment stands. Don't wait around to see if the cute girl is going to approach you. What AGONY. You know what I remember most about asking ultimate high school dreamboat John Lawrence to prom? NOT his saying no, which he did, thankfully with grace — it's the energy and excitement of working up the nerve to ask him. It's an adventure regardless of the outcome.

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