This is a note to my nieces and nephews who are, or will soon be, going to high school. I hope it’s helpful.
The second-best thing about high school is that it’s exciting, because everything that happens is the Most Important Thing Ever. Every minor error is the worst mistake in the history of the world. Every small success is the most epic victory ever. Every thoughtless word is the cruelest and most unforgivable crime since time began. You get the idea. Compared to high school, being an adult is pretty dull, if you’re doing it right.
The best thing about high school is that it ends. Eventually you will get a real job, and someone who actually cares about you, and you’ll figure out what love actually means. You’ll realize how completely out of whack your priorities were just a few years ago. And then, a few years later, you’ll realize it again. Hopefully, by the time you are in your late 20s, you’ll actually have some clue about what’s important and what’s not, and you’ll look back at yourself at 16-20 and you’ll chuckle at yourself because you were such a complete idiot.
The worst thing about high school is that some people don’t get the memo when it’s over. You’ll meet people who keep treating every day like it’s an episode of Gossip Girl, well into their thirties or even forties. At first, that might seem entertaining: they are the life of the party, and nothing that happens to them is ever trivial. Every moment of every day is filled with Drama with a capital D. Unfortunately, no one maintains that level of teen-age narcissism without severe deficits in their character. They might be unable to hold a job. They might be unable to maintain a healthy relationship. They might have substance abuse problems. Whatever it is, they won’t take responsibility for any of it: pathological narcissism like this comes with a persecution complex. Everything bad that happens to them, in addition to being the worst thing to ever happen to anyone, is someone else’s fault. Conspiracies abound. Other people nurse hidden grudges. Betrayal is around every corner. If you don’t agree to be part of their narrative, to play a supporting character in their High School Melodrama, you’re part of the conspiracy against them.
Spot these people early, and avoid them. Their entertainment value is not worth their cost to your sanity. And please, please, don’t turn into someone like this. But how do you avoid it?
When something terrible happens to you — your mother gets cancer, a traffic accident makes you late, your girlfriend or boyfriend’s car gets vandalized — stop and think for a moment about how it affects people other than you. Remove yourself from the equation, and see what the picture would look like if you weren’t at the center of it. Alternately, imagine what it might be like if this had happened to someone you don’t even know. If you’d heard about this on the news, would you still consider it a tragedy? If not, then maybe it’s not such a tragedy for you, either. If so, for whom is it tragic? Try to put things in perspective. It’s not always about you.
If this is all obvious to you, then that’s great: I sincerely hope it is. I hope that you are a more mature teenager than I was. But just in case it’s not obvious, I hope this has been helpful.