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

Written on May 28, 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.

Social Media Shame

Written on February 18, 2017

Lately I’ve been posting a lot of pictures of my family’s new dog on social media. Like, a lot of pictures, as in literally my last fifteen Instagram posts… oops. I realize that “oversharing” like this can be annoying – and I respect every individual’s right to feel annoyed! But the truth is that I don’t feel bad and I’m not going to apologize.

Social media exists to give people a platform to share the things they’re passionate about. Some of the things I happen to be passionate about are my pets; they bring me a lot of joy. And yes, passion can sometimes be annoying… but in a toss up between being annoying or failing to fully embrace the things that make me happy, I’ll choose the former every time.

I’ve wanted a husky since I was a little girl, and the last few weeks have been huge for me. In the midst of an extremely busy and stressful semester, our new family member has given me so much to look forward to. I truly feel this indescribable elation when I’m around her – and I’m not ashamed to share that with the world. I will never apologize for using my own personal social media outlets to let my friends and family know about the happiness in my life.

I honestly think social media is great, and I love the fact that it gives so many people – regardless of who they are – the opportunity to share things. Connecting with others is human nature, and I know that I personally find immense fulfillment in relating to those around me. If sites like Facebook and Twitter can facilitate these meaningful interactions, then I’m all for them.

I mean, of course social media has it’s problems – there’s often drama and fights and way too much political banter (at least in my opinion). But everyone uses it for different purposes, and there’s something pretty cool about that too.

I’ve made a deliberate effort in the past few months to redirect my thinking whenever I see something that annoys me; instead of complaining that so-and-so is whining about being single again, I try to be happy that so-and-so has a place where they feel comfortable sharing and getting support. I know that if someone started to get annoyed with my social media habits (and I’m sure there have been plenty over the years) I would want them to extend the same kindness to me. I’d want them to think, you know, I’m kind of sick of seeing another pet post, but I’m really happy that Haley likes her new dog, instead of just complaining to their friends about how much I suck. (I mean, I totally do suck sometimes, but we all just want some understanding, right?)

2017 has already been a year of reflection and realizations for me, and one of my lightbulb moments has been that I refuse to feel bad about what I post on social media. I’m conscious about being polite and relatively positive, and my posts are authentic to who I am. At the end of the day, I’m an animal lover, and I wouldn’t want to present myself as anything else.

I’ve struggled with insecurity for almost as long as I can remember (in truth, I think most of us have had our battles with this particular demon) but I’ve become so much more confident in the past few years. I still overthink much more than I should, but I’m growing into someone who feels proud – not embarrassed – about who she is. This is in large part because of my relationships with some amazing roommates and friends, but also because I’ve simply started to retrain my thought processes.

At the end of the day, I’m going to keep posting pictures of my dog. And my cat. And probably random web development and writing links that no one really cares too much about. If these things bother you, you’re more than welcome to unfollow me – no hard feelings at all. My social media is a place for me to express what makes me who I am; I respect that not everyone gets as excited about those things as I do, but I also refuse to stifle my passions just to avoid being a little annoying.

So keep being you. Keep saying what you want to say. Keep sharing, keep being transparent, keep being honest about who you are and what you love. I promise to hit that “like” button even if I’m not crazy about what you are – I promise to simply like the fact that you have a place to express yourself.

Dear Larry: Beginnings

Written on January 26, 2017

Dear Larry,

We’re getting another dog. That sounds awfully blunt, but I’m not sure how else to say it – we’re picking her up a week from today, in the beginning of February. February 2nd, to be exact… exactly four months since we lost you.

We didn’t pick that date on purpose. It’s just how it happened, and like everything else that has been a part of this experience, I think it was another sign. I think that somehow everything is coming full circle. I think that we are really, truly saving a life. And I think, most of all, that this is what you would want.

We all miss you so much baby. And I know I was never able to have a full conversation with you, back and forth, even when you were still here with us. But despite that, I feel like we all knew you pretty well – and the Larry we knew loved us so much he would want there to be new life and joy in our home even if he couldn’t be there to see it (though to be fair, I still believe you can see everything now).

Her name is Snort. I think you’d like her – although you did always like every dog you met, perhaps even a little too much. She’s not quite two years old and she’s the sweetest thing, Larry, and I mean just the sweetest. She and Lucy get along; I know you’ll be pleased that there’s someone who can lay by her when she isn’t feeling well like you always used to. She’s a good girl, and we’re all so happy that she can be a part of our family. But she’ll never replace you, and you have to know that.

Your collar and paw print and ashes still sit in Mom’s beautiful teal cabinet shelf. We all still cry about you, laden with the weight that your empty kennel brings (I never did fully appreciate how heavy emptiness can be). We still miss you every single day… but we also still love all animals, and we’ll never be able to stop inviting them into our home.

I want to thank you for paving the way for Snort, Larry. You changed our lives. Without you, we probably never would have made our annual donations to the humane society, never would have fallen in love with the companionship of dogs, never would have met Snort and ended up realizing it was meant to be. I think everything happens for a reason, and the reasons in this story are all wonderful ones even if chapters of it are sad.

I hope you look down on us and wag your tail because you know that our capacity for love has grown even further in these past four months. I hope you feel happy when you see Dad cuddling with your new sister, and I hope you run alongside her in the snow from up wherever you are. We adore you, buddy boy. You’re still my first best friend.

Keep watching over us – you know we still need it.

Always yours,

Natural State

Written on January 23, 2017

I wonder if loneliness is my natural state
Can years of believing you are an outsider cause you to become one?
Self-fulfilling prophecy, my roommate calls it
Maybe I don’t feel fulfilled unless I’m leaking sadness
Maybe I am not me unless my emotions are twenty feet tall

Is it possible that I exist in the empty spaces between book chapters
And the white silence when one song finishes and another has yet to start?
Perhaps I am a playlist wrought with scratches and flats
Or perhaps I am the emptiness you feel when your favorite song becomes just another noise

I know I set myself up for failure – I have watched it happen through eyes painted with tears
The world brings me helpings of joy but it tastes so sweet alongside heartbreak
And some days I think I am something special
Some nights I know I am anything but

I wonder what it is like to ooze confidence instead of apologies
To feel the ferocity of standing your ground
To take the world in your hands and shake it up like it weighs nothing more than a memory
It seems I’d forgotten how heavy the past can be

I do this to myself, I am adept at embracing blame
And I continue to dwell on the most trivial of things
But in solitude at one a.m. I realize how foolish I have been
Half of the world parties outside my door, half of it sleeps
And I feel at home in the emptiness caught in-between

I wonder if loneliness is my natural state
Can nothingness be as fulfilling as tangibility?

I find myself in the spaces between words and the semicolons linking sentences
But I have yet to remember who I am when it’s time to turn the page
I’ve done this to myself, but I can’t see the switch to make it stop
Maybe I am not me unless I wrestle with isolation
Maybe I can’t exist without an addiction to silence and this fear of what it might mean

I wonder what it’s like to find yourself without crafting any contradictions
Because I am bursting with too many to count

Why Gen-Eds and Breadth Requirements Matter

Written on January 20, 2017

As the popularity of vocational schools rises and that of traditional four-year universities falls, a lot of things are happening in the world of education. I don’t pretend to be an expert on these trends, but I am in a prime position at a renowned public university to observe some of the changes among the mindsets of students.

I frequently hear individuals complaining about general education requirements; they wonder why they have to take an English class when they’re an engineering major or devote three credits to anthropology and philosophy when their dream job is to be an accountant. It’s a fair point and something that I myself have felt over these past three semesters here at Madison; I won’t pretend that I’m super psyched to be taking finance when I want to be a front-end developer. But even though these breadth requirements sometimes mean that I end up in a class that doesn’t really interest me, I still think they’re absolutely vital to my education.

Here’s the thing: some of my most valuable learning experiences have come from courses that on the surface seem to be completely unrelated to my desired future career. I mean, I want to be a web developer, so it seems that I ought to just take a few programming classes, some design labs, and maybe a little bit of marketing, right? It’s true that I could probably function in a full-time position with education that was limited to the tools I would actually use day-in and day-out… but I think I would be a worse employee than I’m going to be when I graduate with all of my general education too.

For example, my microeconomics course changed my life – and I really mean that. It completely altered the way I look at the societies around me and gave me the tools to better understand what happens in my country and my world. Econ may not be directly related to web development, but my intellectual capacity, ability to learn, and interest in important topics all grew as a result of that course.

It was a similar story with accounting, which I walked into last semester full of fear. I’m not a numbers person and although I’m a business major, I’m about as far away from the finance/accounting world as I can be with my studies in marketing and graphic design. In the Wisconsin School of Business every student has to take the introductory level course associated with every major offered here, regardless of their own field of study, which means finance majors find themselves in human resources classes… and this marketing major found herself in an accounting course. I was terrified at first. I was upset that I had to take a course that was so “irrelevant” to me.

But guess what?

It was one of the most satisfying, educational, and downright fulfilling experiences of my life. I challenged myself. I learned new study strategies. I improved my time management skills, engaged with concepts I had never before considered, and left the class with a better understanding of how businesses work. Sure, I may not spend my future creating financial statements – but I will spend it utilizing the skills and thought processes that I honed while in that seemingly “useless” course. I ended up loving accounting, and I never would have experienced it if it weren’t for breadth requirements.

Now, I understand that school is expensive (sometimes ridiculously so). I appreciate that many students want to learn what they need and get out of there as soon as possible; that’s completely valid. Vocational schools and hyper-focused online programs are rising in popularity for a reason, and I commend what they’re doing. But at the same time that I appreciate such streamlined processes, I still think that at least some general education requirements need to exist.

One of the most valuable things in the world is developing the skill of making connections. A professor here at Madison wrote an article about this that changed my life (arguably even more than my Econ class did). The primary idea is this: general education opportunities simply make you a better person by exposing you to a greater variety of ideas, topics, and challenges. I firmly stand by that statement.

When you are in a multitude of different courses on different topics and you find ways to connect the material across academic disciplines and with your own life outside of school, you are becoming brighter. It can sometimes be a challenge when you’re faced with breadth requirements that seem irrelevant to your career goals, but I’ve come to realize that nothing is truly irrelevant if you don’t allow it to be. Sure, it’s a struggle sometimes to see how I’ll use a philosophy lecture on the morality of abortion in my future as a web developer… but I’m confident that the exposure to new ideas, the practice of critical thinking skills, and the mere challenge of finding connections between two unrelated things will serve me well.

At the end of the day, I applaud the general education requirements present here at Madison and I think they should continue. I understand that it can be stressful to take a million unrelated classes, and I think there are many different ways to go about education that are all worthwhile. But for me personally, there’s nothing I appreciate more than the well-rounded range of complementary courses I’m able to get here.

When I graduate, I will not just be someone who can design an interface and build some code. No, I’ll be much more than that. I’ll be someone who can talk competently about financial markets. Someone who can read The Wall Street Journal and understand an article’s implications. Someone who can communicate effectively and speak in front of crowds. Someone who can interact with her peers and superiors. Someone who can engage with philosophical arguments, who can think in the hypothetical, who can appreciate opinions contrary to her own. I will be a strong, well-rounded, educated person.

I couldn’t be more thankful that my academic journey has been – and will continue to be – full of much more than just the classes I strictly “need”. I firmly believe that I am a better person for the challenges I’ve faced and the connections I’ve made, and I have to credit those pesky breadth requirements for a lot of that.

I’ll leave you with a quote that I both love and think is perhaps a bit extreme. Regardless, I find it fitting:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
― Robert A. Heinlein

Better Again

Written on January 16, 2017

I have learned to love deeply
To crave the rawest parts of those around me
I extend love in the face of myriad mistakes and never give up on those I care for

But I have also learned to be bitter
Sometimes I fear the darkness within,
My leaps to the most terrible conclusions
My discomfort when I hear whispers from the other side of the room

I cannot cite certain baggage forever, I know
I cannot be damaged goods from events so far in the past
But sometimes it seems, no matter how hard I try
I will never recover what I felt was taken from me

And I’m faced with a question, the most uncomfortable of all:
Was anything stolen, or did I just let it go?

I wonder if I’ve littered my life with excuses
The mysterious collisions of passion and pain
I want to be me again, no doubts or hesitations
But I’ve forgotten how to act even while surrounded by love

It’s too late to change what has been done,
Yet I grapple with leaving it behind
All I can do is be better tomorrow
All I can do is be better again