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

This post has also been published by The Odyssey!

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.

What Teaching Has Taught Me

This semester I’ve been a teaching assistant for the Wisconsin School of Business’s LEAD course, a three-credit class designed specifically for direct admit students in their first semester on campus. Focusing on principles of leadership, ethics, authenticity, and professional development, the LEAD course seeks to bring new students into the business world in the most holistic manner possible. I took this class myself as a freshman and feel immensely passionate about the self-exploration and important content it explores.

I’ve loved holding this position and am saddened by the quickly approaching end of the semester; it’s absurd to think that in just a few weeks my job as a TA will be over, and part of me wishes it could go on indefinitely. The joy of connecting with other students and staff in such an influential manner has been overwhelming. And while my job description has been to teach, it’s safe to say that I’ve also done a good deal of learning.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways.

Everyone is fighting their own battles.
This is something I’ve been pretty acutely aware of for a few years now, but every so often I go through an experience that just emphasizes it even more. Being a TA is definitely one of those experiences. The truth is that everyone you meet is dealing with some sort of baggage; it’s so easy to get caught up in our own obligations and struggles, but it’s absolutely vital to remember that you are not the only three-dimensional human on the planet.

Every student I’ve taught is dealing with countless things on top of their schoolwork for the LEAD course. Every TA I’ve worked with is also struggling to manage the numerous parts of their lives that don’t involve this particular job. Even my boss has a whole world on her plate, and I’ve learned over the course of the semester that it is never fair to judge someone on only a fraction of who they are. The truth is that sometimes we all fall short – but in the grand context of the challenges we face each day, this is nothing to be ashamed of.

Every single person you meet, no matter where they fall in the hierarchy of your relationships, is going through their own alloyed array of experiences. The best thing we can do is try to offer some understanding and support.

Inclusivity is important.
Have you ever felt personally ostracized by someone around you making a sweeping generalization without thinking? I know I have. It’s easy to feel like you should just brush it off, but the truth is that you have a right to feel harmed by a non-inclusive comment. You have a right to your feelings and your beliefs – and everyone around you has that right, too.

Many people think that there are more important battles to fight than the one involving inclusivity, and I will concede that sometimes focusing too intently on watching every word you speak can ultimately detract from your message. But with that said, inclusivity is still absolutely vital to creating psychological safety in any environment, especially the classroom.

Sure, there have been times where I’ve said “you guys” instead of “you all” when talking to my students, and I haven’t let it get to me too much. We can’t all practice perfect inclusive language one-hundred-percent of the time. But I’ve learned that it is important to at least be conscious of the unintended effects your words might have.

Take, for example, a simple comment along the lines of “we’ve all had this experience” or “everybody loves game days!” While innocently intended and perhaps not drastically harmful, these words can still make someone who hasn’t had that experience or who doesn’t love game days feel like they don’t belong. I’ve been in this exact situation before, subtly wondering if there is perhaps something about me that is wrong or not normal. And I know that no matter how many other “bigger” issues there might be in the world, I never want a student in my classroom or a friend in my circle to feel that way.

Teaching is hard.
It is. Much harder than I had ever thought. Some days I finish sitting through my own lectures and the last thing I want to do is facilitate 75 minutes of curriculum to students just like me… but there’s no way around it. As the daughter of a teacher/principal/counselor/million other amazingly involved things, I’ve always had a fair amount of appreciation for education staff, but nothing could have prepared me for the reality that is controlling a classroom.

Every day as I stand in front of 22 amazing first-year students and two amazing co-staff members, a hundred jumbled thoughts leap through my brain. I worry that I won’t capture the most important takeaways of the curriculum. I stress that my students won’t like me. I fear that I will be boring, or inept, or completely unqualified to take questions and offer advice. It’s a scary thing to have 22 pairs of wide freshmen eyes staring at you, especially when what you desire more than anything is to have a positive, lasting impact. All I want is to change everyone’s lives for the better… small feat, right?

All sarcasm aside, teaching is immensely difficult. You can never fully prepare for how the classroom dynamics will actually play out in a given discussion. You can’t help the fact that some of your biggest content will fall on intense exam weeks, or that some of your students might never buy in to what you’re teaching. It’s a stressful job… but I’ve taken that stress as a blessing, because it only shows how much I care. The worry comes with the territory. I may only be a year older than the students with whom I’m working, but that doesn’t change the fact that I feel immensely proud and protective of each one of them.

Remember that your professors and TA’s are doing their best. Remember that being in charge of a class’s learning is an intense, frightening, difficult thing. Most of all, remember that no one is perfect… not even your teachers. It’s easy to place educational figures on pedestals that demand they know everything under the sun, but they don’t, and they never will. And that’s okay.

Teaching isn’t easy. Neither is being a student. The two experiences are much more similar than we tend to realize.

Relationships and memories are the greatest form of compensation.
Yes, I am paid to be a teaching assistant. And though I’m thankful for the monetary benefit that comes from my hard work, what I’ve found to be more important than each payday is the quality of the relationships and memories I’ve made over the course of the semester. I look forward to the bi-weekly increase in my bank account, I won’t lie – but what I yearn for even more is our weekly staff meetings and curriculum planning where I get to feel like a valuable member of a hardworking team.

Nothing is more satisfying than building strong relationships. My friendship with my co-TA has been one of the greatest joys of my semester, and the rapport I feel with my boss and co-instructor is an indescribable gift. Every Thursday I get to spend two hours with ten TAs who are dedicated, bright, and downright hilarious. I have countless fond memories of long days of training, bonding over the stress of exams, laughing over awkward moments of facilitation, and falling into rabbit holes of digressed conversation. We’ve had our struggles and we’ve had our moments, but we are one damn good team.

And I wouldn’t trade those experiences for all the money in the world.

Managing Madness

As I write this, I’m sitting in a lecture to which I should probably be paying attention. We are discussing arguments for and against abortion in my philosophy course, and I am quite frankly exhausted. The literature is intriguing and my professor engaging, but I can’t find the energy to throw myself into such a complex topic today. Not with the focus it demands.

I pride myself on being a good student, but here’s the truth: I am tired.

I’m currently enrolled in seventeen credits, working three paying jobs, and spending the majority of my free time on what is probably a few too many side projects. I’m halfway through my college career at the end of this semester, and my determination to graduate in three years has left me feeling accomplished but also drained. I’ve come to realize that attempting to fit the same quality of a four-year college experience into three-fourths of the time is not an easy feat.

On top of school and work obligations, I’m in a long-distance relationship that makes my life joyful but also more complicated, because weekends are dedicated to finding time for Skype calls and visits as opposed to catching up on homework. While I wouldn’t trade what we have for anything, the stress of being apart adds yet another layer of complexity to my life. I miss my family, I miss my boyfriend, and I miss the feeling of relaxation.

It doesn’t help that I am a perfectionist. There is almost nothing I hate more than disappointing those around me; I want to impress all of my professors, all of my bosses, all of my friends. Sometimes something has to give – and all too often that thing is my own self-care. The other week I woke up in the middle of the night in a sweaty panic because I realized I had answered an exam question incorrectly earlier that evening. What kind of a good night’s sleep is that?

Stress does crazy things to you. It robs your happiness, your health, your ability to take a deep breath and fall into a sleep that doesn’t involve nightmares. It may seem to some like I have my life together… but this past semester has tested me in ways I never imagined. And sometimes, I’ve very nearly failed those tests.

I am tired, and I am scared, and I am not as strong as I want the world to believe. But despite the intensity of the past three months, despite the stress, despite the overwhelming highs and lows, I couldn’t be more thankful for the things I have learned.

I’ve developed strategies for handling so many things at once. My planner, full to bursting with scribbled handwriting and hasty doodles, has become my best friend. I prioritize exercise and work out at least five days a week, even if it means I’m reading my philosophy textbook on the elliptical. I monitor my nutrition and try not to succumb to too many unhealthy late night study snacks. I drink water instead of caffeine. I listen to music that uplifts me, I read books that calm me, I call my mother to comfort me and rely on my friends to share their strength.

But more than anything, I’ve stopped demanding so much of myself. I’ve stopped feeling guilty when I take a break to scroll through my Facebook feed. I’ve built time into my schedule to dedicate to Netflix and mindlessness. I have given myself permission to be less than perfect, and that permission has allowed me to embrace all of the challenges and madness of this semester with open arms.

Yes, I am a teaching assistant, and an honors student, and (I hope) a relatively good friend. I dress business professional at least a few times a week. I earn high scores on tests and go to office hours when I have questions. There are many things about me that seem ideal and composed… but I am also human. I am clumsy, and spacey, and sometimes I can’t get out of bed to go to the gym. Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes I don’t get things back to my boss as soon as I would like, sometimes I forget to tell the people I love how much I love them. Sometimes I’m selfish, sometimes I’m naive, sometimes I’m downright ignorant.

But I’ve decided that it’s okay to be all of these things at once. I have years and years ahead of me to continue to grow. I’m never going to stop chasing improvement – but I’m also not going to condemn myself for falling a little short from time to time.

It’s been a wild semester so far, and sometimes I still feel like I’m drowning beneath the waves of all of these expectations. But I’ve found that the most effective way to manage the madness is to just dive right in. I’m thankful for every last crazy piece of my life right now because the busyness just means I’ve been blessed with a plethora of wonderful opportunities. It’s true that I’m tired, but the fulfillment is worth every drop of fatigue.

Dear Larry: I Wasn’t Ready, But You Were

Your tail wags and I can’t help but wonder if your pain is an illusion, if we are wrong, if your life is still happy enough to go on. The vet said that you have reached your average lifespan and I want to shout at her that you are not average, that you have never been average, not for one minute since the day we first welcomed you into our home. You have been there through it all. You have seen me grow from a five-year-old child into a 19-year-old woman and though so many things changed, your love for me never did. You were always there.

What am I supposed to do when you’re not here?

I hold you tightly and close my eyes and try to be strong. You have always known how to sense my sadness, and I don’t want this moment to be hard for you — I want it to be peaceful, welcome, full of love. You have spent 14 years comforting me, and now it is my turn to see you through until the end. You’ve done your job so well, best friend, but no amount of cuddles or treats or lazy evening walks could save you from the clutches of arthritis, cataracts, deafness, dementia. Organ failure or a brain tumor … neither option is pleasant. I thought my love could do it all, but it fell short. I could not protect you from everything.

I watch you closely and listen to your breathing. I am afraid of forgetting the tone of your bark or the way your paws sound across the floor when you greet me when I get home. I fear one morning I’ll wake up and won’t remember the shape of your eyes, the way curls of fur would sneak down to cover the edges of your vision. I’m afraid I’ll forget the way you chased us kids around the couch when we were little, so playful and free, always looking for the next adventure and the next friend. And as I think about my fear, I realize how utterly fearless you have always been. Every time you met a dog bigger than you, you’d run right up and stand on your hind legs and eagerly say hello. Every time we took you on walks by the river you had no qualms about diving right in, even after the day the current got the best of you and Dad had to come to your rescue. You are so brave, my little man. I wish I was, too.

My biggest fear is that this is the wrong decision. You have moments of happiness and they warm my heart. We had such a good day yesterday; little girls pet you and another dog said hi and we even shared some caramel apple because you could have whatever you wanted. I don’t want to steal your joy, baby. I don’t want to end it too soon. But the thought of letting it get so bad that you die alone and scared and in pain is unbearable.

We have all thought so long and hard about this, buddy. The tears have been plentiful and the doubt even more so. But I think we’re all at peace … and more than anything, we want you to be, too. I wish you could just tell us that you’re ready. Deep down, we know that you are, but it’s so hard to feel like we’re making this decision without your ability to give input. I hope you trust that we’re doing our best to be faithful to our love for you.

You are amazing, little man. Today my heart breaks like it’s never broken before. I think the truth is that not a single one of us is ready, even though you are. You have had 14 years and two months and five days of unconditional love and unconventional adventures and probably more people food than you ever needed, but we couldn’t make it last forever. I will always wish that we could.

My love for you can still move mountains, baby. I just wish the summit of this one was a little less misty. When you romped into a little five-year-old girl’s life all those years ago, she never could have imagined how important you’d be. Thank you for the laughter, the tears, the stories, the memories. Thank you for the cuddles, especially these past two days. Thank you for making my life more beautiful and wild and full. You are more special than you’ll ever know.

Goodnight, buddy boy. I know you’ll have sweet dreams, and good friends are waiting for you.

As for me, I’ll never be the same. I love you for that.

Your girl.