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Rules for Life

Life is Better After High School, Kid. Trust Me.

This piece is dedicated to all of the high school guys who aren’t happy with themselves right now. The ones who haven’t been able to land dates. The dudes who may not “fit in” because they don’t wear the right clothes, aren’t “in” with the cool crowd, or refuse to kiss the asses of the popular kids. They aren’t invited to the parties. They don’t shine as varsity athletes. They’ve probably been rejected, ridiculed and left out.

The insults they’ve received repeat in their minds for years. They never feel comfortable. They rarely feel confident. They wonder if they’ll ever “turn it around” and succeed. They question if anyone will ever actually want to be with them. Sometimes it feels like an impossible battle, with no light at the end of the tunnel. They’re lost, afraid, nervous, anxious, insecure and frustrated. They are the misfits.

For whatever reason, at some point in time during their childhood, someone known as being “popular” or “cool” made the conscious decision that this “misfit” wasn’t worthy of their time, and such began the cycle of rejection for the misfit. He was put in a category. He was labeled. He was ostracized. His stock was priced very low. He never stood a chance to climb the social ladder, all because some other, more “popular” kid perceived him a certain way.

There’s no predictable reason why the popular kid would reject the misfit. It could be a wide variety of factors, including: jealousy, elitism, fear, insecurity, or just plain cruelty. He may have judged the misfit based on his face, physical frame, clothing, skin color, perceived family economic status, or athletic ability. Maybe he just felt like exerting his power on this misfit as a demonstration of strength. The misfit was left to feel worthless and helpless… to the point where he probably wants to sit at home in his room forever and never have to face the shame again. Seems like a miserable existence, and that’s because it is.

The reason I understand this is because at one point in my life, I was that misfit. I disliked middle school, and hated my first three years of high school. I was a late bloomer. I was left out. I was ridiculed at times. I lacked confidence. I definitely did not fit in, and after awhile I stopped trying to. I had this moment of realization about my social status when I was unable to find anyone to sit with at lunch. I looked around the cafeteria and every table was full. Judgmental, condescending eyes fixated on me as I scrambled to find a place to park myself. Time moved slowly and I legitimately wanted to disappear. Talk about a vivid feeling that will never leave your soul. It was brutal.

Most people who know me today would not believe I was once this person, and in reality they’re right. I am not the person I used to be. It was a very gradual progression which only accelerated when I stepped out of my comfort zone and decided to make the conscious decision to improve myself. I was able to find something I was very good at (hockey), and used that to build the framework of a social circle that I felt comfortable in. The confidence then followed, and then the knowledge, money and social status, too. Now, whenever I find somewhere to sit at any social function, I notice people begin to gravitate towards me. It is the outcome of a transformation that began a long time ago, and of course it started with a pretty painful experience.

I had a turning point in my junior year of high school, and it changed me forever. It came after a brutal rejection by a girl, who proceeded to tell me all of the things I had wrong with me. Looking back, it was all quite silly, but at the time it felt like the sky was falling, and it left me hopeless. I legitimately didn’t want to come out of my bedroom for a few days.

Instead of letting it bury me, I was able to “snap” out of it. I turned the sadness into anger and energy. I let it motivate me to be better. To improve everything I could control in my life, including the way I took care of myself, the clothes I wore, the money I earned at my part time job, and how I interacted with other people. Instead of being shy and nervous, I would just be myself and see who liked me for me. The process of going from sad to angry led me to a point where I decided to take action. I honestly analyzed myself and put together a plan to improve who I was. It hurt temporarily, but I would not let it keep me down.

The one thing I wish I truly understood back then was that high school isn’t the end, nor the defining moment. It does not determine who you can and will be. It’s merely the beginning of your journey, and most of the time it means nothing. It’s not how you start, but rather how you learn, adapt and finish. So you had a bad first round, big deal. You can come back stronger and win. The only purpose high school serves is to get you through some awkward pubescent years and prepare you for what you do next. College? Trade school? Full time work? Military service? Cool. You’ll get some of your basic lessons in high school. You’ll knock out all of the educational requirements for what comes after, and you’ll move on.

You might make some friends along the way, but I can assure you that you’ll make more friends later in life. When you’re older, you really become set in who you’re going to be, and you start to gravitate towards people with similar interests and world views. Let’s face it, in high school, you really don’t know who you’re going to be and what your future holds. You’re thrown into school with people who live near you. Unfortunately, you have very little say in which classes you take and what your daily routine looks like. It’s all very generalized.

You’re still living in your parents’ house, you have no money, you don’t get to dictate how you spend your time, and you probably don’t have a life mission (yet). It’s like an older version of being in day care, and trust me it doesn’t mean shit. What you decide to do with yourself after high school is the starting point of your true life journey. It might hurt now. It may feel hopeless. But it’s just a temporary phase. You’re still a young guy with a ton to learn, and to date you’ve had very little choice in what your day to day looks like. Don’t worry, it gets better.

If it’s been painful, carry those emotions and lessons with you. Use the pain to motivate and energize yourself as you pursue your goals. Prove them all wrong. Take the lessons and apply them to your future. Never allow yourself to be cruel, like they treated you. Always attempt to show understanding of others. Stop yourself from judging someone solely based on the way they look or talk or walk. At times, life’s lessons teach us more about what we should avoid doing than what we should do. If you were treated poorly, make sure you never treat anyone else that way.

This is merely your preparation for what comes next, and let’s be real about it. The harder it is for you now, the tougher of a person you will be later. If you’ve been coddled and praised throughout middle and high school, you’ll be less prepared for the harsh realities of adult life after high school than someone who is hardened and battle tested. My misfit friend, you are a survivor.

Once you leave high school, the decisions become your own. The world is a big, beautiful place full of opportunities and journeys to be taken. The “reputation” you had in your home town means nothing, because you can surround yourself with new people in new environments and can reinvent that image. You can pursue any job you’d like, and spend your money how you please. You’re no longer being controlled and monitored by adults, and you’re free from any closed environment you’ve been kept in. Your time becomes truly yours, and you can use it to train your body, mind, and soul. Just get through these tough times and understand the best is yet to come.

Take it from me; once a misfit with not many friends, no girlfriend, no sense of style, no life purpose, no money and no confidence. After high school, if you really want certain things, you can reimagine your life and take actions to shape it in any manner you’d like. Here I am, twenty years later with a great career, a beautiful wife, cute kids, lots of money in the bank, and a tight circle of friends. I’ve got confidence, purpose and drive. I never let the challenging times in high school define me, and I attacked adult life like a Spartan warrior. The world is yours, if you truly decide to take it on.

– Your Big Bro

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