“We’re preparing you for the real world.”
This was a phrase my teachers reiterated over and over again while I was in high school. They would all constantly tell us, “It’s just going to get harder from here.” When the “harder” parts of life came, I always wished I was better equipped with tools on how to deal with it all. Upon entering the real world, I couldn’t have felt less prepared.
It’s been seven years since I graduated high school and I catch myself thinking daily, “I wish I would have learned this in high school.” I can’t tell you how many times I was told that I NEEDED to learn the Pythagorean theorem because I would be using it in my daily life.
Well, folks, I can say loud and clear that I have yet to ever use it. I have no idea how to do my taxes, change a tire, or what a Roth IRA is but hey, I can do the Pythagorean theorem.
These are the big life lessons I wish high school taught me:
1. The Importance of Mental Health
When we feel sick, we don’t think twice about seeing a doctor or fixing the root problem. When it comes to our mental health, it is a conversation that is happening in hushed tones or not at all. While taking care of our physical health is front and center, there isn’t enough emphasis on how equally important it is to take care of our mental health.
According to the National Education Association, “Mental illness affects millions of youth across America, with 1 out of 5 children and adolescents suffering from some form of mental illness. Examples include stress, anxiety, bullying, family problems, depression, a learning disability, and alcohol and substance abuse.”
In a time when students are spending more time at school vs. being at home, it is vital not to overlook taking care of our mental wellbeing and learn healthy coping mechanisms. This is something we carry with us far beyond the classroom doors which is why it’s so important to have these conversations early and prioritize our mental health.
2. How to Manage Finances/Debt:
Student loans. Savings. Debt. Interest rates. Credit scores. Credit cards. Mortgage. Roth IRAs. Stocks. Social security. 401k. Retirement. What the hell do all those lines on our tax forms mean? How does social security benefits work? At what age should you start saving for retirement? What happens after you graduate college when you’re stuck with thousands of dollars in student loans? How important is your credit score?
These are questions many (including myself) find themselves without any answers to, feeling anxiety and panic at the thought of them all. I wish I would have been thoroughly educated on the meaning and importance on how essential all of these components are to your future. These are crucial lessons that students need to learn to be able to properly function in society without contributing to the growing national debt.
We are told over and over again that we will be treated like adults yet we aren’t being educated on the real, everyday problems that adults actually face.
3. Importance of self-love:
I look back at pictures of myself in high school and cringe. I had crooked teeth which soon became braces, acne, frizzy hair and the thinnest eyebrows. High school is one of the most vulnerable, uncomfortable times for an adolescent because you are in this awkward phase that never seems to end.
Everyone is dealing with their own set of insecurities whether they’re feeling like they’re not skinny enough, not smart enough, not good enough, fill in the blank. It doesn’t help when your flaws suddenly become the butt of a joke used as a ploy to make fun of you or put you down. The importance of self-love and a strong self-esteem is so important to not only acknowledge, but implement in our daily lives.
Positive or negative, your sense of self-worth and self-esteem go on to impact your relationships, habits, decisions, etc. At times, we can be our own biggest critic, filling our minds with negativity and self-doubt. Realizing that at the end of the day we are all we have is pivotal. We only have one body, one heart, one mind- and it needs to be constantly nurtured, loved and appreciated to succeed in life.
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The four years that make up a teen's high school experience are so significant yet there are so many important issues left unsaid and unexplored. Once you're released into the real world, it's up to you to find out the answers. While I am grateful for the teachers I had who made an impact on me, I wish they would've had a class called “Adulting” that taught you all the things you’re about to face when you walk out of those doors.
As ideal as that may sound, high school isn't going to teach you everything. There are so many life lessons that no one can prepare you for like how to deal with divorce or how to cope with death and the grief that follows. The truth is that we never stop learning and even the people who are put in positions to teach you and guide you don't have all the answers.
If I could share the life lessons I know now to my high school self then, it would be:
1. Stop wasting precious time worrying and caring so much, half of this won't matter in a year.
2. Being kind will always be more important than being cool.
3. Don't over tweeze your eyebrows, seriously.
4. Don't try to fit in, embrace your individuality.
5. No matter how hard things feel, this too shall pass.
6. And most importantly, these are NOT the best days of your life, it gets so much better.