On High School: What I’d Tell Myself If I Could Do It All Again

Written on May 28th, 2015

If keeping a 4.0 requires you to lower the rigor of your classes, don’t. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get good grades, but you definitely shouldn’t compromise your learning opportunities just to maintain a number.

There will always be people who seem to have or get more than you. It’s because the world is full to bursting with all kinds of talent and sometimes it’s hard to recognize all of it. It’s not fair, but it’s true. Don’t get down on yourself.

There aren’t scholarships for making the most people smile or for being nice to the substitute teacher or for only saying positive things about your peers, but these things are infinitely more important than your test scores and GPA. Remember that.

No one really cares about prom queen ten years down the road, or honestly even just a month later. Popularity is an illusion – everyone has something to offer, and no one is the end-all-be-all of perfection.

Jealousy will hurt you more than anything anyone can do to you. It’s hard to overcome it, but try to realize that you don’t know enough to judge who deserves what. Someone is always better off than you, but someone is always less fortunate, too.

Get to know your teachers beyond how they grade your work or insist on teaching class up until the second the bell rings. They’re human too – vast, fascinating, flawed, wonderful. They have stories to tell far beyond the breadth of their subjects and it’s these stories that you really ought to learn.

Don’t run away when you mess up. Learn to turn and face your mistakes head on, because it’s better to fix them all at once than it is to let them shadow you for days or months or years. Be the person who apologizes right away instead of the one who slinks off into a corner to hide.

You’re going to cry, and you’re going to make people cry. It might be because of a boy or a girl or something silly like a failed group project, or it might be because your life is literally crashing down around you. The reason doesn’t matter so much as the recovery, and the recovery doesn’t matter nearly as much as those who help you with it.

There will be favorites in high school and you may not be one of them. There will be kids who don’t even have to work to get the same things you have to fight so hard for. Don’t think that this is your fault or that it makes you any less of an important member of your school; people are flawed, sometimes even those in charge. Be anything but bitter. Be understanding.

No one cares about your ACT score once you’re actually in college. It may feel amazing to score highly or awful to scrape the barrel, but it doesn’t matter to anybody else nearly as much as it matters to you. This is both good and bad – accept it.

Participate in every damn thing you can fit into your schedule, because the people you meet and the friendships you build and the experiences you gain are worth so much more than the time you invest in them. Sing your heart out on your school song, paint your face for homecoming, stop being afraid of what you look like or what people think. Just jump in. You only get this once.

Stay home with your parents once in a while. Talk to them. Vent to them. Listen to what they have to say. While you are growing up, they are growing old. It’s easy to forget how important they are in the rush of these four years, but remember that they are the biggest thing you’ll be leaving behind.

You are not better than anybody. I don’t care if you run faster or score higher or sing more on key. You are not better, you are different. You will surpass your peers in some areas and fall far behind in others and you need to be okay with this.

The first time you really struggle in a class, it will feel awful. It will feel useless and impossible and you will become convinced that you’re the stupidest person to ever walk your school’s hallways. Remember that none of these things are true. The truth is that sometimes it seems like not even the hardest work pays off like you want it to, but you can’t forget the value of your effort.

Watch your words, always. You never know who is around you or who they know or what kind of horrible day they might be having. Never say anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable justifying to someone’s face, and if you do, don’t wait to acknowledge it and try to make it right.

First impressions will kill you. They’re impossible to shake and you’re going to have to deal with whatever initial thoughts popped into someone’s head regarding you for the next four years. You might never fully change someone’s mind, but you can still always focus on being who you really want people to perceive.

This is it. You don’t get to come back and slink into your old homeroom desk like it’s a second home ever again after you graduate. You’re going to hate high school, and you’re going to love it. There will be days you can’t wait to graduate and nights where you want everything to freeze – but it won’t. Know this. Learn to soak up every single experience. You are choosing who you are and who you will be day in and day out. This is a beginning… but it, too, is going to come to an end.

Photo credits to the Wausau Daily Herald.

Be Someone You’re Proud Of

Written on May 16th, 2017

I try to keep myself pulled together. I try to do things right. I try to be positive, to be kind, to be brave. From the outside it may seem as though I have it figured out… but the truth is that it only appears that way because I’ve worked hard to make it so. The truth is that I fall into the trap of attempting to come across as perfect when I really, truly am not. The truth is that there are many things about me that are far from desirable, and the truth is that I’m tired of trying to look like someone I’m not.

Here are the facts: I’m oversensitive. I’m insecure. I’m easily influenced by those around me. I’m conflict-averse, but sometimes I’m impulsive as hell. I can’t let go of things easily; one negative comment can keep me up for days. I value forgiveness, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know how to hold a grudge. Sometimes I don’t listen when the people I love are talking. Sometimes I get hung up on little details that detract from a beautiful big picture. Sometimes I’m judgmental, and hypocritical, and biased. Sometimes… I suck.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately as I continue to struggle with some mental health difficulties. My insecurities are fanged dragons that refuse to be slain; my overthinking is a habit so deeply ingrained that I’m not sure who I would be without it. I often walk away from conversations and worry for hours afterward that I said or did something wrong. I can dwell on one negative interaction for days at a time, and I can mutate a neutral experience into a horrible one with just a few minutes of overanalyzing.

Some rational part of me can identify when my insecurities are taking over and can actually offer pretty sound advice. I can step back from a situation and say “okay, things really aren’t that bad.” But no matter how sound my cognitive thought process is, I can never seem to get my heart to agree with the reality in my head. I carry around a hollow weight in the pit of my stomach more moments than not, wondering why my feelings refuse to match my rationality.

It is a horrible balance to constantly crave affirmation yet understand how annoying it is to be so needy. I have come a long way in the past years, but there are still so many moments that I react in ways I am not proud of. I have countless lists of goals scrawled into my planner and plastered on my walls, phrases that are supposed to remind me how to be someone lovable: be honest, make everyone feel welcome, be brave. But what I have come to realize is that it’s silly to try to follow some agenda of how to be a good person, because I will undoubtedly always fail. It’s silly to look to the world for cues of what is and isn’t acceptable.

Instead, I’ve just been trying to make myself proud.

I’ve been thinking about the qualities I appreciate and the people who I love to be around. I’ve been evaluating my own judgments of the world around me. And mostly, I have been accepting that I can be riddled with flaws and yet still be someone good. When I think of the reasons I am proud of my mother or my father it is never because they are perfect – it is because they are comfortable not being so. It is because they own their mistakes, they accept their flaws, they take responsibility for the times they have not acted appropriately. I am proud of them not because they are pristine… but because they are honest about the fact that they are far from.

And that’s what I want to do. Instead of trying to always act right, to always hold my tongue, I just want to be real. I will sometimes be sensitive. I will sometimes overreact. But if, at the end of the day, I can look back and swallow my pride and apologize and try to be someone better tomorrow… well, that’s all I really need to be proud of myself.

So here I am, world: completely imperfect. Totally messed up. Oh, I know it: sometimes I’m downright annoying. But I’m me, and I’m a work in progress. Wherever I go from here, I don’t want to be a mold of ideals – I want to be a carving of love, of passion, of growth. I want to be honest. I want to be genuine. And I want to always, always, always keep improving.

I’m going to make myself proud.

Tidal Waves and Hurricanes

Written on April 3rd, 2017

I do not feel things in trickles or raindrops or teaspoons
I feel them in tidal waves and hurricanes
Raging floods of my humanity that sweep aside rational thought, crests of emotion deep enough to drown
I do not simmer, I burn
Foam boiling over my rims until it extinguishes the very flame it just birthed
I do not worry, I obsess
And sometimes I don’t love, I possess
I breathe chaos into the world, stain my sheets with tears, wake up to the sun and radiate joy
I do not feel things in increments or tally marks or inches
I feel them in miles and mountains and shouts
I do not know sadness but cross paths with despair
Linking arms with elation, releasing monsoons and earthquakes and avalanches of life
But never just a spring rain
I do not know what it is like to be mild
How do I water myself down without dissolving away?
I exist in extremes, in contrast, contradictions of proportion
Full of everything at once, overflowing with emptiness
I do not feel things politely, with a soft voice, please and thank you
I feel them with volume and fervor and depth
I do not cry in trickles or raindrops or teaspoons
My eyes burst with tidal waves and hurricanes


Written on April 2nd, 2017

Home is sitting on the living room floor surrounded by parents and pets and pizza
Leaning onto cushions worn in like the memories of sick days and family campouts captured in pictures on the walls
Wrapped in frames but never contained because love has a way of crossing borders
And home is memorizing the sound of the garage door that means Dad is home from work, without realizing that the noise births a symphony
Inciting dog barks and paws on tile, vibrations in the air I once found annoying but now long to feel in the quiet of my apartment at night
And home is how we all fell so naturally into step, feet on the carpet, fingers on the doors, not a single doubt that we belonged
I was naive and unaware that one day there would be no coming back without the weight of having to leave again
Home is stained carpet and scuffed trim and cracking paint surrounding me in comfort the way your arms always have
I never knew things without breath could radiate such warmth
Home is open space and being only rooms away, not a single mile between our heartbeats and not a tear ever shed in isolation because
Cat hair and clean blankets and board games mean family,
Because home is just another word for together

Long Distance is Not a Competition

Written on March 6th, 2017

My boyfriend and I are going to celebrate our four year anniversary this May. We’ve spent about one and a half of these years in the same place, and the rest has been varying degrees of long distance. We do pretty well with it, but of course there are times where we just feel sad – I’d be worried if there weren’t!

Last fall he visited for a weekend, and after he left I tweeted something about how empty my heart feels when he leaves and how those who live in the same city as their loved ones shouldn’t take it for granted. Sure, it was a form of complaining – but I have a right to post what I feel on my personal social media. It wasn’t inappropriate, it wasn’t attacking anyone, it was simply an emotional sentiment.

A girl who I went to high school with but was never close to was quick to tweet back “I would definitely settle for the same state 😓”.

I was a little taken aback. For one thing, my boyfriend transferred schools in January and is now over twice as far away from me as he was then – and get this – in a different state. Back in October when I tweeted that, I was hyper-aware that I had less than three months before he moved. This girl knew nothing about our situation or the fact that he was indeed about to go further away.

Moreover, I found the comparison ridiculous. Long distance is hard regardless of how many miles are in-between you and your significant other, and the magnitude of that distance doesn’t automatically determine how often you’ll see each other. One of my roommates is dating a wonderful guy who lives in England, and over the past semester she saw him almost as much as I saw my boyfriend. I’ve found over the years through painful battles with insecurity that comparisons rarely breed anything positive unless you’re looking at your own individual progress.

I was a little upset, but simply replied to this girl’s tweet with exactly what I was thinking: “everyone’s struggle/sadness is valid.” She never responded.

I quickly moved on from the entire thing and went on with my life. I respected that this girl also has a right to say what she wants on her personal social media, and I realized that it would be hypocritical to act as though she shouldn’t post certain things.

But it’s not hypocritical to encourage the world to compare less and empathize more.

I’ve seen many posts and heard many comments lately about long distance relationships and the people in them. Around Valentine’s Day people were “waiting for everyone in LDR’s to brag”. I constantly see individuals whose relationship stretches across a country belittling those who are “only” a few hours apart. It seems like we’re not allowed to share how we feel without someone questioning whether or not we “should” feel that way.

I’m sick of it.

Long distance is not a competition. No relationship is a competition. It doesn’t matter if you’re 60 miles or 600 miles apart – you’re still allowed to miss your person and you’re still justified in feeling sad. I firmly believe that we shouldn’t take what we have for granted and I do my best to be thankful that my boyfriend and I aren’t even further apart… but you would never say that you can’t be happy because someone has it better, so I don’t understand why we should feel guilty about being sad because someone has it worse.

Everyone’s relationship is different, and comparing them doesn’t do anything but create contempt.

Sure, I frequently think about the time difference and longer distance my roommate and her English boyfriend have to fight through, and it helps make my own struggles feel smaller. And yes, I know that watching my long distance relationship has helped one of my other roommates appreciate the fact that she and her boyfriend both live here in Madison. Acknowledging the battles of those around you helps put things into perspective, and that’s absolutely important – but you don’t have to fight your feelings or feel guilty just because someone might have it worse.

We all need more understanding, more empathy, and more support. We don’t need competition or comparisons.

If you feel lonely because you’re missing someone you love, I stand with you. I don’t care if you just saw them yesterday or if it’s been months. I don’t care if they live a half hour or a full day’s drive away. If you miss them, you miss them, and that’s okay. If you feel your heart caving in because they’re not there to hold you, that’s okay. You don’t have to pretend that nothing is bothering you simply because you’re afraid that you shouldn’t be sad. Here’s a pivotal truth I recognized a few years back: your feelings are valid, always.

Now, it’s important not to let those feelings dictate your life or make you bitter, but it’s also important not to squash them under shame. You feel what you feel, and that’s a beautiful thing. It makes you more human. It makes you more brave.

Your feelings, your experiences, and your life are yours. They are not anyone else’s. As difficult as it is, I’ve been making a massive effort lately to compare less and love more because I don’t want to participate in the judgment filling our world. So whether you’re miles away from your significant other or right next door, I support you in every last struggle you have. I stand with you in every last thing you feel.

What I Learned From Getting Rejected By My Dream Company

Written on March 2nd, 2017

I’m pretty obsessed with Squarespace. It started casually this past fall when I realized they’re a dog-friendly workplace; I was sitting in the living room with my mom and I remember saying something along the lines of “hey, I found my dream company!” It was more of a joke than anything (she made sure to tell me that allowing dogs does not automatically make an organization perfect) but after some more research I realized I was onto something bigger than four-legged companionship.

In short, Squarespace blows my mind. The work they do is beautiful, the team they have is amazing, and the way they treat their employees is second to none. I’ve conducted two informational interviews with full time employees already and plan to conduct a third one next week, and pretty much all I’ve heard is great things.

It didn’t take long for me to become head-over-heels passionate about this company. From their espoused values to their gorgeous design sensibilities, I felt like I had stumbled upon my perfect match. I even carved a Squarespace logo pumpkin for Halloween this past year – sure, it was probably over the top, but that’s just how excited the idea of working for this company makes me.

I applied for their summer internship program back in January after laboring over my cover letter and resume. It hasn’t even been a year since I decided I wanted to pursue web development as a career, so I was a little nervous about the quality of my portfolio and skills, but I went for it full blast. One of the wonderful employees with whom I had an informational interview was kind enough to put my application in via their referral process, and then I waited.

I heard back just last week that I had made it to the second round and that the next step was a JavaScript code test. My stomach turned. JavaScript is the newest language to me – I started getting familiar with it about six months ago, and it’s been hard to find time to devote to it on top of my school and work obligations (you can read more about how I’ve improved my time management skills to fit this in here).

I spent the weekend and start of this week reviewing, then sat down for the code test last night. Let me be blunt: it was a trainwreck. I did my best with the knowledge I had, used up the full time, and sent an honest followup email to the recruiter acknowledging that it hadn’t gone well. Today I heard back, and while she appreciated my professionalism and told me to stay in touch as I grow my skills, the reality was that I just didn’t cut it.

It was hard. I knew it was coming after what I experienced yesterday, but nothing can really prepare you for the email that tells you your dream internship is out of reach. I thought that I’d feel absolutely devastated – and part of me does – but more than anything I just feel motivated. I have a full year before graduation to hone my skills. I have the attitude and capacity to learn infinitely more than I know now. And it helps that I’ve already had three backup jobs lined up for this summer, so at least Squarespace wasn’t my only viable option.

I’m disappointed, but I’m at peace. All I can do is move forward.

And while this experience didn’t land me my dream job, it did teach me a lot of valuable things I can use in the future. Here are a few of the biggest ones:

  • No matter how professional and passionate you are, your skill set still matters. I had the right attitude, I did the right research, but at the end of the day my technical capabilities just weren’t up to par. Professionalism goes a long way, but it still isn’t everything.
  • If you care enough about something, you’ll be able to make the time for it. I reviewed JavaScript for over 12 hours across a two-day timespan before my code test, and still managed to stay on top of schoolwork.
  • There’s always tomorrow. Failure isn’t the end of the world. It’s an invitation to get out there, grow, and come back a million times better. I feel ready to take on every challenge that comes my way.
  • It’s the people that matter. Through this whole process I’ve been unbelievably thankful for the support of my parents, roommates, boyfriend, and everyone else. At the end of the day, I’d pick these relationships over the best job in the world – every single time.
  • The only way to really fail is to give up. I know, cheesy… but it’s true. I might not have succeeded this time around, but I don’t feel like a failure – because I refuse to act like one. I could have cried and pitched a fit and decided I sucked (and trust me, I was close to doing just that) but ultimately I realized that the only course of action was to keep moving forward.

It’s difficult to face the reality of my failure, but it would be even harder to give up on something about which I’m so passionate. The web development world – and especially Squarespace – has not seen the last of me.

I’ll get there one day. Until then, there’s nothing left to do but hold my head high and my nose to the grind.