10 Things We Learn During The First 10 Years After High School

Young Adult
Young Adult

I recently attended my ten year high school reunion. It was exceedingly difficult for me — not because I had a hard time in high school, but because I had to make peace with how damn old I’m getting. I’m in complete denial about my 30’s knocking on the door — but with age, comes some wisdom. Here’s ten things I’ve figured out in ten years since high school.

1. Health

First things first. You need to get in the habit of taking care of yourself as soon as possible. Look, ten years ago I could go on the Hot Pockets, french fries, and Coors Light diet and still weigh in at a svelte 150 lbs (not to mention feeling great after only a few hours of sleep a night). Unfortunately, mean ole Mr. Metabolism is waiting for you right around the age of 25 or so, and if you aren’t ready for him, he’s gonna take that zero-effort “beach bod” and turn into something that you will find horrifying. There is however, “one weird trick” you can employ to fight back Mr. Metabolism. Which is eating better and working out a lot. I won’t belabor you with my unproven assumptions about nutrition and fitness, but chances are if you cut the sugar, fried things, and cheap beer out of your diet, and pair it with running every day or so, and lifting some weights (this includes you too, ladies), you got a better shot at winning the battle then if you try my early 20’s lifestyle of being a video game athlete and going through two cases of Mountain Dew a week. Unfortunately this is a battle that can only be won through habit — so you ought to invest some of that professional big kid money you’re hopefully earning in a really good pair of running shoes. Not to say you shouldn’t be comfortable with the way your body looks, you should. But you should show your body how much you love it by feeding it lots of good things and exercise.

2. Success & Popularity

About that big kid money — so sometimes the popular kids grow up to be total losers. And sometimes the unpopular kids grow up to be brilliant and successful. And then sometimes the popular kids grow up and continue to bask in the light of prosperity while the unpopular kids end up being big losers. And then sometimes you’ll realize that labeling everyone around you was pretty pointless because everyone was just as insecure as you were back in high school, spending 4 years fighting hormones and your awkward body, trying to make sense of the incredibly complex world you have inherited, while you do your best to get acceptance from your peers and try to assert independence from your parents and teachers. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t just make it easy for you to interpret social status and success by having a Prom King and Queen, so you might as well just work hard and kind to others. Also, no one gives a shit about what kind of car you drive anymore.

3. Success & Popularity Pt. 2

Addendum to rule #2. The coolest people from high school that I know, are the ones who were cool. As in interesting, considerate, deep thinking, trusting, warm, congenial, excited about things, funny, reliable, passionate etc. Anyone can be these things.

4. Your Teachers

Your intuitions about your teachers were absolutely correct. Some of them were completely inept and had no business being in a classroom. The ones you liked are probably the same types of people you’d hang out with now. And some of them were too smart to be in a high school classroom with people like me and my fellow idiot friends. By now I’ve realized that this was excellent preparation for life outside of the classroom, as people you have to interact with in a real job usually fall into one of those categories — severely overemployed, severely underemployed, or right where they belong. Also, teachers put up with a lot of bullshit and no matter what anyone says, they are tremendously underpaid and underappreciated. So stand up for them, because unfortunately these days it’s become politically advantageous to demonize teachers, and you owe them your support.

5. The Role Technology Has On Our Lives

Technology has brought the promise of bringing us closer together while secretly isolating us in ways that we don’t realize. High school reunions used to be the only vehicle you had to see how your old classmates were doing. Not anymore. How many people have you not spoken to a day since you graduated, yet you’ve probably seen dozens of photos of their children or the inside of their home thanks to social media? It’s pretty bizarre if you think about it in the context of what socialization used to be like. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being friends with an old classmate on Facebook, it can simultaneously make you feel voyeuristic and give you a false sense of social connection that simply doesn’t exist offline. Implications of this on humanity? Beats me. I can’t tell you that you need to immediately delete your Facebook account and move to a lean-to in the woods, but you when you go to your reunion you should probably avoid saying something stupid and creepy like, “I saw the video of your baby on Facebook, she’s a good lookin’ baby!” But seriously — it’s easier to blurt that out than you think.

6. Time Flies

Time passes faster the older you get. It feels like it was yesterday that I was sitting in a scraped up plastic sled, recently purchased from a rural Walmart, about to kill the winter blues by letting my friend tow me across a snowy parking lot from a Geo Metro. Look, I’ve never pretended that I was an intelligent kid. But man those were the days. It’s still unfathomable that so much time has passed since then. But it’s true. If Tommy from Rugrats were real, he would be old enough to drink. Eminem — that irreverent angry rapping kid your parents didn’t want you listening to? He’s in his 40’s. There have been three 2-term presidents in office since I started high school. Hell, Friends has been off the air for nearly 10 years now. Time flies these days. It’s not just my fading memory of pop culture phenomena — science even says that the older you get, the faster you perceive time passing. Science.

7. Love

The girl (or guy) that broke your heart — you’re better off without ‘em. Yeah it sucked when you got dumped for the first time. It was the kind of pain that your fragile little body had never experienced before. Your chest hurt, your head was spinning — getting out of bed felt like trying to stand up after losing a brutal bout with Manny Pacquiao. And that heartbreak made you a little hardened, a little independent, and a lot less trusting. I don’t know why it is, but when we roll the dice with that whole love and romance thing, and lose, it builds some serious character. It’s a good thing. You need a thick skin to get through this life and this is one of the fastest ways to get it. Somewhat related, did you know how resilient not only the human body can be, but the human mind? Research has been done on happiness levels of lottery winners versus paralyzed accident victims — and you’ll never guess what the study showed. Lottery winners would eventually come back to their base level of happiness before their life changed, and so would paralyzed accident victims. So basically you’re wired to bounce back from nearly anything that life throws at you. Science.

8. Love Pt. 2

There’s a difference between dating a girl and a woman (or a boy, and a man). Girls and boys need to be taken care of. They need to be validated by another person (sometimes by being in a relationship and sometimes by sleeping with as many people as they can). They don’t know what they want, and they are constantly trying to “find themselves” which gives them an excuse to engage in as much insufferable careless behavior as they can, because, #YOLO, right?

On the other hand a woman(or a man) doesn’t need any validation. They can take damn good care of themselves on their own. They are capable of maintaining a clean, “grown-up” home with nice things. They won’t go out with you to a bar and become a liability. They can cook for themselves. They’ve picked a career and followed their interests, if not their dreams. But most of all a man or a woman feels confident in who they are. What kind of person does the person you want, want to be with? Your life will be made infinitely easier the moment you quit dating boys and girls and start dating men and women.

9. Your Reunion

After getting introspective about the upcoming ten-year reunion thing — the reunion itself, well, isn’t a huge deal. It’s a couple of hours of small talk with a bar. A bunch of your classmates have kids by now and have to go home to relieve the babysitter — who coincidentally is still in high school. High school itself was transformative and significantly influential, but otherwise small part of your life. You’ll go and say hi to old friends, share some laughs and stories, and promptly go back to continue the life you’ve been living since then. Hollywood has convinced you that there’s some life-affirming experience waiting for you as you relive the glory days of your youth, but the truth is, it’s just a couple of hours of beer and chit-chat and then you go home.

10. Those That Aren’t Here

There’s a good chance that if you graduated in a class any larger than a one-room schoolhouse in the middle of a cornfield, a couple of your classmates aren’t around anymore. Since I graduated, I’ve known classmates who have died from illness, accidents, and sadly suicide. The truth is that we’re not the immortal 18 year olds who thought we could get away with anything that we used to be. None of us are guaranteed to live for 100 years, achieving all the goals and dreams we had when we were young. It doesn’t work like that, and the first time you lose a peer will feel like whiplash — a practical joke, but it’s real. Life is short and sometimes tragic, and all we can do is make the most of the precious time we have.

Here’s to the next 10 years. How you will make them extraordinary? TC Mark

More From Thought Catalog