It's hard to believe that I started high school just four short years ago. As I leave for my freshman year of college I can't help but wistfully think back to walking in the giant (I'm five feet tall, everything looks giant) building for the first time. Senior basketball and football players towered over me, I was lost and ended up using a map my whole first week, I was getting used to being allowed to carry my backpack around with me, and I was thrilled by the prospect of no one telling you where you were supposed to eat in the lunchroom.
As I take the first leap into my college chapter, my littlest brother takes his first steps into the deceptively brutal years of high school. As a survivor of the system, I'd like to offer a few words of advice in the hopes that he can skip the pitfalls that I fell right into.
Dear freshman brother,
First things first--sleep is a precious thing. But it's not the worst thing in the world to get used to being sleep deprived. I spent way too many nights staying up procrastinating and finishing projects and papers the night before, and more often than not, my physical performance the next day due to a lack of sleep was not worth the sleep deprivation. However, if you do choose to stay up (because let's be honest, some of us *coughmyselfcough* don't listen and learn these valuable lessons through trial and error), know when to quit. Too many times I've been in the middle of writing a paper and my eyelids were too heavy to prop open, and I began to write gibberish in my Word processor. At that point, do yourself a favor and go to sleep.
Speaking of procrastination... I'm not going to tell you not to do it, because that's what everybody told me to do and I did not pay one ounce of mind to them. Instead, practice awareness. Clearly outline deadlines for yourself and keep a realistic view of what you can and cannot handle/accomplish in one night. I recently watched a TED talk about how procrastination can be a gateway to creativity. Once you
identify the fact that you are not actually superman figure out what you can and can't do in a limited amount of time, use that information wisely. And preferably, (because I'm an adult and I can apparently give adult-y advice now) sparingly.
Be respectful to your teachers. First and foremost because they deserve it, and because you never know when you may have to ask them for a random/desperate favor or a letter of recommendation. This applies to both in-class and outside-of-class interaction. Having friends in classes can be a good thing, but it is also awesome to know that you have a mutual bond of respect with the person willing to help you in their field of expertise, even long after the class ends. You have two ears and one mouth-- listen twice as hard to them, be willing to receive advice, and get to know them. They're people too.
Grades are not the be-all end-all of your four years here. Sure, do the best that you can in your classes, but do not lose touch with your conscience and sense of mental well-being. My junior year was racked with anxiety and stress (which I owe partly to my perfectionist outlook) because I did not make enough time for myself, and I was overly my worst critic. Treat every test, quiz, or graded project result as an honest opportunity for self reflection and test of resilience. One completely bombed test grade will not ruin your high school career, nor will it dictate the rest of your life. Take comfort in the fact that people with real jobs in the real world fail on a daily basis-- it's all a part of innovation and improvement. So let it hit, think about how you can improve, dust yourself off, fail forward, and take care of yourself.
Do not, for goodness sake, be afraid to be different. If you thought middle school was a time of turmoil, believe me--it doesn't stop there. People are still trying to find themselves and figure out who they are going to be. Do not for a minute feel like you're "unpopular", or that "popular" is a label you feel you want to have associated with yourself. Take pride in every quirk, every snorting laugh, every part of your body that you're afraid to love. You don't realize how boring and fake "the norm" is until you're so sick of trying to be like them. You want to wrestle? Go for it. Want to be in a musical? Knock 'em dead. Want to study an obscure language? Watch foreign films, and practice aloud. Don't let their looks of surprise or bemusement get in the way of any opportunity that you feel is important to you. And especially do not be afraid to take charge of your own learning. Be "that kid" who asks questions in class or provokes discussion. You'll learn more than you thought you would.
Lastly--and most importantly-- be kind. Unapologetically and unconditionally. No matter the face your peers put on for others, they are fighting their own battles inside themselves that you may never become aware of. Use your words carefully, and try to steer clear of excessive swearing and insensitive comments. Oftentimes you'll find one of the biggest challenges is to remain positive in an environment that breeds negativity. Practice random acts of kindness, hold doors open, go sit with the person who sits alone at lunch. Even if you have "enemies" or complete polar opposite opinions with someone else, find room in your mind and heart to let it go. Hatred is like spinning your wheels in mud-- you end up flinging dirty particles in all directions but end up getting nowhere.
As we each start our separate four-year journeys, I wish you the best and that you enjoy all high school has to offer. Go to the football games, take someone to homecoming (or go with friends!), volunteer, stay after school for your interests, work hard to the best of your ability, appreciate the arts, have fun, and get a little bit of sleep in the process.
Your freshman sister