#3. The Things That Make You Cool Now Mean Nothing After Graduation
There’s a really strange, unique phenomenon that happens in high school that you don’t find anywhere else in life. It’s a sort of social hierarchy that’s built around a person’s activities, looks, fashion sense and taste in entertainment, a power structure that seems to mean everything for a few years and immediately evaporates within days of graduation.
In a few weeks, the real world is going to stage a bloody coup on this little teen junta.
It’s most noticeable among the jocks, who grow accustomed to being showered with praise on a level way out of proportion to what they’re accomplishing. Oh, sure, if you’re a rare athletic talent bound for the pros or the Olympics, congratulations, you’ll be getting that praise for another decade. But at the high school level, just having the right genes, hormones and frame can make you good enough at football to win huge applause from stands full of adults trying to relive their glory years. These kids find themselves having to completely rebuild their identity and status from the ground up at age 20, suddenly living in a world where there are no longer rewards for tackling skinny 16-year-olds.
The non-jocks out there shouldn’t start smirking just yet — the game changes just as much for them. Take the class clowns, for instance. There’s a huge difference between someone with a genuinely good, clever sense of humor and the kind of “bet me five bucks I won’t eat this” act that gets you attention in a classroom. In fact, that kind of attention magnet is as incapable of adapting to the real world as any personality type in the entire school, including the drug dealers.
If you’re a “look at me” class clown, the thing that made your classmates like you is the exact thing that will make the rest of the world hate you. I know, you’re just trying to make people laugh, and getting reactions out of people feels good. But if you were known as the guy who goes too far, chances are that you’re bad at judging when it’s time to hit the off switch.
In high school, the only negative reinforcement you get is a trip to the principal’s office, which just makes your act seem edgier. And that’s the thing — this act only plays in that setting, because the school has to put up with it, and everybody knows it. High school is the last time that will be true. A year later, your employer calls you into her office and says, “We’ve received multiple complaints from your customers and co-workers that you’re annoying and distracting. You’re fired. But only because we can’t legally shoot you in the face.”
#2. Pep Rallies Are Commercials
I’m guessing that a good chunk of our audience already went through high school thinking sports were lame and pointless. Or at least they thought that about the hype that surrounds sports — the whole school stopping everything for homecoming, grown men who don’t even have kids on the team showing up at the games and screaming their heads off, banners and decorations around town celebrating some victory or other. Well, there’s a reason for all that.
Take pep rallies, for instance. Most pep rallies are phrased as “We’re all here to get our team pumped up and ready for tonight’s game.” But does it make sense to pull hundreds of people out of class to cheer for 10 basketball players several hours before the game even starts? The reason it doesn’t is because what they’re saying isn’t entirely the truth. It’s not so much about “team spirit” as it is “please buy a ticket and some popcorn and some sodas and some team merchandise.” They’re not trying to get the team pumped up. They’re trying to get you pumped up, because the games need to make money.
That’s most of the reason sports teams still exist. Forget about “it promotes healthy competition” or “it teaches the value of teamwork.” That may be true for the dozen or so guys on the court or field or diamond, but it means nothing to the several hundred (or several thousand, if you live in a big city) people in the bleachers, looking at their watches and waiting for that last bell to ring. No, sports are still around because they bring money not only to the school, but to the entire town.
They’re not doing it because they’re evil, greedy corporate scumbags. They’re doing it because public schools regularly get financially screwed by the state, and if they want to make any of their cut funds back, they have to do it where they can: sports, dances, candy bar sales, black market gun running.
#1. Nobody Has Any Clue What They’re Talking About
Everybody has an opinion, and never in my life have I heard people so eager to express those opinions than when I was in high school. The reason is fairly simple. For the first 15 years, you’ve been shaped and molded by your environment. Everything about your life has been influenced by the people you know and respect — even the really stupid ones. Once you step into your teenage years, biology switches gears and you start to think for yourself. It’s nature’s way of grabbing you by the neck and suplexing you out of the nest.
Your brain kicks into overdrive with swarms of brand new thoughts that seem so unique and interesting. Every other day you have a new epiphany. You want to share these revelations with everyone you know, because for the first time, you’re seeing the world for what it really is, and it seems like everybody else is blind to it. “Why is she listening to that song? Can she not hear how much it sucks? I have to tell her right now; otherwise, how will she ever know? I have to save her!”
Like many of these examples, the resulting annoyance isn’t your fault. If you haven’t learned the following by now, you will very soon: Nature has horrible timing. Just ask the 12-year-old with the horrified look on his face why he can’t walk up to the chalkboard. In the case of opinionated teens, the bad timing comes in the form of the thoughts coming to you before the experience. Your new ability to process information and form opinions based on interaction with your peers hits you right while you’re still in that high school bubble, sealed up with the ring of people you grew up with. You won’t realize how skewed a picture of the world you have until five years later, when even your opinion on opinions will turn 180 degrees.
Eventually, you find that the opinions you used to have weren’t actually your opinions at all, but rather a soupy puddle of other people’s regurgitated ideas that sounded cool at the time. That doesn’t make you a blind follower. It makes you human. We all go through it. It’s part of growing up. If we didn’t understand it, none of us would have ever made it to adulthood, because society would have set us on fire long before puberty.
So with that idea in mind, apply it to every person in your entire school, and then try to step back out of the picture and see it with neutral eyes. In the broad picture, everybody has been doing the same exact thing as everyone else for the last 15 years. Everything has revolved around school and building what little social life they can when they’re not in class. Because of that, nobody has any more experience than you. Not in any measurable, meaningful way.
Since opinions are so tightly bound to experience, it means that every one of their sentences that makes you roll your eyes carries the same exact weight as your own. But don’t let that get you down. A few years after graduation, it’ll all make sense. Maybe you can pass this article along to your own teenage relatives and watch them roll their eyes. You’ll get a good chuckle out of it, and then you can sit back and watch the cycle start all over again with them.