8 Things I Learned In High School About Becoming the Person You’re Supposed to Be

Life isn’t easy. Everyone knows that. There are ups and there are downs. But everyone is always saying not to worry because everything will turn out the way it is supposed to. Until recently I didn’t really understand what that meant.

For a while, to me, that meant just going with the flow. I thought that God, or whatever you want to believe in, would push me down the right path, that there would be a light obviously shining down on what I was supposed to do and who I was supposed to be. While I still believe we end up where we are supposed to be, I have realized that light isn’t as obvious as I originally thought. It’s bright when you find it, but you have to look for it

Becoming the person you’re supposed to be and doing the things you’re meant to do is so not easy. Sometimes it’s easier just to say that everything will turn out the way it is supposed to and wait for that to happen. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to go along with the crowd. But I guarantee you that finding your place in the world is going to take time and effort. Sorry to say, but it takes a bit of work to be happy.

So, in honor of school starting back up, here are some things that I learned near the end of high school, that I wished I had learned sooner, about being happy with who I am and finding who I am meant to be:

  1. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth: As cheesy and cliche as this one might sound, the truth really will set you free. In order to be who you are meant to be, you have to learn that people can’t read your mind. If you feel something, tell someone. If you think something, tell someone. No one can help you feel better or accomplish something you want to do if they don’t even know what you’re feeling and thinking. And yes, while some of the people you’re closest to might be able to practically read your mind, there are still a lot of things worth saying, even if you don’t think they are. Don’t trick yourself into not saying something you’re afraid to say by convincing yourself it won’t make a difference. Don’t let guilt or shame or regret eat you up. Say what you want to say. It’s the only way to live with no regrets. Keeping secrets, big or small, will make you feel alone, because there is always something separating you from those you love.
  2. Don’t be afraid to get a little lost: There’s a quote that says “the best way to find yourself is to get a little lost.” Again, cliche, but true. Whether this means literally or figuratively, leaving your life, stepping out of your comfort zone, is the only way to learn about yourself. When I’m particularly confused or upset, I jump in my car and just drive. I’m not going to lie and say I come back healed with all the answers to my life’s questions. I wish. But I will say that when I allow myself to get lost, I at least come back clear headed and feeling a little bit happier. And if you’re lost figuratively, stumbling through your life with what feels like no direction, I promise that there is a purpose. I mean, where would we be if Christopher Columbus hadn’t been a little lost? He got lost and was disappointed to have not found India. The founder of the American Continent was worried he got lost, but ended up going down in history for what he thought was a mistake. So celebrate your stumbling, and don’t reach for the GPS right away. Sometimes when you land in what you think is the wrong place, you end up discovering a whole new world.
  3. Don’t be afraid to cry: When you do inevitably get lost, figuratively or literally, it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to cry a lot. It’s okay to sit in your bedroom or car, turn up the sad music, and let it all out. I will admit to having done it many times. I will also admit to disagreeing for a long period of time. I thought I had to not cry because people were watching and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I thought holding my tears and feelings in made me strong. But the people who loved me most, I discovered, wanted to share my smiles as well as my tears, and were actually more disappointed not to know when I was upset because they wanted the chance to be there for me. They didn’t pity me, they loved me. And in turn I learned not to pity those who cry. In fact, we should pity those who don’t cry, because those who cry are lucky enough to have something worth crying about. Crying is a sign of strength, not weakness, because anyone who has the strength to show their feelings in this world that tries to harden our hearts, has more courage than those who are too big of cowards to show their weaknesses. And when you cry and allow people to comfort you, you will find love and support and feel much less alone.
  4. Don’t be afraid to do things you think you don’t want to do: When your friends invite you out, go. Even if you’re tired or think it won’t be any fun. Even if you would rather stay in your bedroom and binge watch your new favorite TV show. I have been there, and that can be fun, but that little bit of happiness only lasts so long. That is happiness by living in another world, but you need to find happiness in your own world. Even if you go out and don’t have the best time, at least you have a new experience, a new memory, and you have learned something about what you don’t like to do. Everything is a learning experience, and even if you don’t know what makes you happiest, I guarantee you won’t find it staring out the window at the world you never allowed yourself to explore.
  5. Don’t be afraid to fail: This was a big one for me. I am quite the perfectionist. Often, when presented with new opportunities, I will make excuses and back out because of fear. One of my favorite musicians, Ben Rector, put this beautifully in his lyrics: “I’ve been scared to death of failing, scared that I’d look like a fool. And I’d rather quit than risk that I could lose. And I’m not proud of that position.” When I let fear of failure or looking like a fool run my life, I kept myself from so many wonderful people and experiences. There’s no way that you can find your place in this world if you don’t try new things. And in trying new things, you are going to mess up. But don’t be afraid of that! One day you will look back and be glad that you had the courage to make that first mistake.
  6. Don’t be afraid to stand alone: Being alone has such a negative connotation in this society, but it really isn’t a bad thing. In fact, in my opinion, taking time for yourself is one of the most important things you can do. And yes, I mean reading a book or drinking tea in your pajamas in the quiet of your home. But I also mean, don’t be afraid to stand alone against other people. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t like something, just because it seems like everyone else disagrees. I guarantee you that there are people who feel the same way you do, but you will never find them if you don’t speak up. Yes, you might lose people you called friends because of your opinions, but the kind of people you want around are the ones that can respect your opinion whether or not they agree, not those who pressure you into following them. The most rewarding paradox lies in this idea: by having the courage to stand alone for what you believe is right, you will soon find yourself less alone than ever, because a lot of people will admire and support you for your ability to confidently stand alone.
  7. Don’t be afraid of silence: I used to hate silence when I was alone because I got lost in my mine and I got easily overwhelmed in thinking so many things. I also used to hate silence with other people because I thought it meant that we had nothing to talk about and didn’t get along. But I learned, over time, the true value of silence. The best people are the ones that will share silence with you. And it is only through listening to the thoughts that come to us in silence that we can really get to know ourselves and face our fears. And I have learned that sometimes the most beautiful things require a little bit of silence. Tears, hugs, kisses, trust, love. So many discoveries are made in the silence of our hearts.
  8. Don’t be afraid: “Be not afraid.” This quote appears 365 times in the Bible– A daily reminder to not let the Earth’s fears swallow you up. I let too many things go in high school because I was afraid of what people would think. I didn’t say things because I couldn’t predict the outcome, so I thought it was better to keep it wrapped up. But, let me tell you, I was so wrong. Because it is far better to momentarily look like a fool than to live with life-long regrets. So do and say what you want to do. And don’t be afraid of looking like a fool. Normal is overrated and life’s best people are fools. What fun would life be if we were all “normal.” Those who want to judge you for it?  Let them. I guarantee you they have looked like a fool at least once in their lives. Don’t be afraid, because “those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Apparently there’s a problem with smart choices…

“I’m proud to announce that I will be attending community college in the fall.”
“Really? You’re way too smart for that.”

“Don’t waste your time on that.”

Yes, that is a conversation I have had multiple times. This is the culture we are raised in and this generation seems to think that the only way you are successful is by leaving home right at 18, traveling halfway across the country, and going to a full 4 year university. And there is nothing wrong with that at all! If that’s right for you, good for you! I mean it sounded pretty great to me too.

But then I didn’t get the money I needed to make that four year college affordable. I was going to spend my last summer at home working my butt off just to help my parents cover the crazy tuition. And for what? To go to a school I would graduate from with a cumulative debt of $60,000-80,000 to pay off fresh out of college? And really that is understandable for some people if that’s really where you feel you need to be. But for me, that didn’t seem like the way I wanted to start my life.

My parents mentioned staying home for a year and getting my GE done at a college nearby but I was hesitant because at school, community college was kind of a joke. Many students teased about it and thought of it as the suggestion that counselors made when your transcript wasn’t up to par for the schools you actually wanted to apply to. And everyone was going away and I didn’t want to be left behind. But let me rephrase my question: Should I go off to a school I would graduate from with $60,000-80,000 of student loans to pay off fresh out of college, just because I felt pressure from my school and peers?

And let me say something, not to brag but to make my point. I had above a 4.0 GPA, I was in the top ten percent of my class, was a runner up for valedictorian, and got into the schools of my choice. But that doesn’t mean that I wanted to launch myself straight into more hard-core academics at such a high cost, both monetarily and emotionally.

We have to stop telling our students that leaving is the only option. Stop putting everyone in the same category. The college system has become more and more competitive. It’s all about who can get in where. Acceptance letters are posted at schools and all over Facebook. And it’s great to be proud of your accomplishments! I love to celebrate my friends’ successes with them. But to me college is a personal achievement.

And personally, being able to do everything I want to do instead of forcing myself straight into the most academic, competitive program in the country after working my butt off for four years, is more of an accomplishment than anything else. And I shouldn’t feel shame for that. I shouldn’t feel the need to have to explain to my friends and family why a “gifted student” like me isn’t leaving for school right away.

Our culture is so hypocritical. We are supposed to be the educated, accepting generation that is open to change and progress, yet we continue to fall into certain pressures of society. Want to be accepting? Stop using acceptance to excuse and allow stupid behavior and try to instead respect intelligent decisions, even if they differ from popular culture. I want to be a well-rounded, happy person. I want to be successful in my eyes, not just the eyes of others. We all deserve that. And that is why we have to stop telling people that one type of education is better than the other. Someone once told me that comparing colleges was like comparing artists. How can you compare the Beatles to Mozart? Both extremely talented and successful, but different. Different doesn’t mean unequal.

So my mom had a friend who worked at the local community college and I agreed to go check it out. The counselor there told me that with my AP credits, I would only need about 3 semesters to finish my GE. So with a year there and a few summer classes, I could transfer to the private four-year university of my choice as a junior, when I’m really only of sophomore age, saving me about $65,000 and getting me out of college a year earlier. Still think I’m “too smart” for community college?

Also, with some of the money I save, I can take dance classes, travel to visit friends, and, for a refreshing change, have time to do the things I want to do, not just things I have to do: get a job I love, read a book, play piano, write a story. Not to mention the fact that I get to stay home with my family and friends another year, which in this teenage culture is also somewhat frowned upon. But it’s a plus in my mind.

And the best part of all–Want to know what my diploma will say when I graduate? The name of my four-year university, just like anyone else. Except mine will cost a lot less in both money and stress.

So, I am proud to announce that I will be attending community college in the fall. No, my attendance doesn’t mean I’m not smart. I got into multiple well-known, four-year universities of my choice. My decision to stay at home another year doesn’t mean I’m immature. It mean I am mature enough to make decisions for my future, not just for the instantaneous excitement. It means I’m happy, I love my hometown, and I have good memories here. It means that I want to save money and start my life in less debt. And I’m not going to miss out on the “college experience.” I’m going to have a great one, and just because it’s different from someone else’s doesn’t mean it’s inferior.

So I’m not “too smart “for my choice. I’m smart BECAUSE of my choice.

Want to know what happens? Check in with me in 10 years. I plan on being be a successful, well-rounded, happy individual.

*Update, for anyone who was wondering (12/1/16): I am on track to transfer to the university of my choice in the Fall of 2017 with my GE completed. I have also played the lead in two musical theater productions, traveled to San Diego, Portland, and Nashville to visit friends, and I have a job at the book store of my choice, making money and building a perfect resume for an English Major. I wouldn’t have traded my choice for anything.