What was high school like for you? Was it hell on earth or a taste of heaven? Did you have the time of your life or are you simply grateful that that part of your life is over? Did you feel unstoppable or did you feel overshadowed by those who looked unstoppable and at the top of their game? Most importantly, what lessons did you learn in High School?
High School wasn’t really my cup of tea. I learned a lot of lessons, but not necessarily the type that helped me in a positive sense.
High school taught me that you needed to fit in in order to make it in life. Grades ultimately determined whether or not I’d be successful. Never mind if I had other gifts and talents that could be put to great use… unless I did it like how everyone else was doing it then I had no hopes of succeeding at anything. I was taught that I needed to be something, or someone else, to please the crowd. I was taught what to wear, what to say, what to listen to, and how to act… yet I felt out of place… an awful lot.
Even though I made friends and shared some wonderful memories with them, I still didn’t feel like I belonged. I felt I was too different. My close circle of friends knew me, but they didn’t know the real me; I didn’t feel like I could connect with them on a meaningful level.
Sure, we could cry over some things we shared in common, laugh at one another, and call one another when we needed someone to talk to… but they couldn’t answer some serious questions I had about life, they couldn’t really encourage me to go after those secret dreams I had in my heart, and I definitely couldn’t bring myself to share my fears, my wants, and deepest desires with them.
At times, I’d be more of a follower when it came to suggestions that my friends made, which resulted in terrible consequences for me.
But aside from feeling & thinking different, I often wondered what group category I would fall under if I were ever to take a “Which H.S. Group Do You Belong In” Quiz, and shuddered at the thought of being at the bottom of the H.S. food chain.
If you’ve ever watched Shark Tale, maybe you remember the scene in which Oscar’s boss bluntly tells Oscar that he is at the very bottom of the food chain. In fact, Oscar is lower than whale poop…
I honestly felt like Oscar… I felt like I was lower than whale poop only in the real world.
Because even though I guess I could say I had “cool” friends, a decent wardrobe, and a good list of R&B, Hip-Hop, and Rap songs on my music list… I still felt out of place.
Truth was… I hated being everything that I thought I should be, should like, and should think. I hated those uncomfortable Vans that everyone wanted to get their hands on; they were extremely uncomfortable to wear and they weren’t as cool looking as everyone was making them out to be.
Makeup was a must have for girls, but what that meant for me was that I had to get up at a certain time in the morning to put it on my face. I then had to continue checking my makeup throughout the day to reapply or fix it.
While I honestly did like R&B, Hip-Hop, and Rap music, I hated how I’d pretend to like certain pop songs to be in good standing with the other kids. And if i was more honest with myself and others, I would have stated that I preferred listening to Opera and Classical music.
Baby Phat, Dickies, Hollister, and Apple Bottoms had an amazing number of stylish clothing, but they were often uncomfortable, unfit to handle cold weather at times, and I hated walking around trying to keep my clothes clean and in place half the time I was wearing them. Plus, it was exhausting and downright expensive replacing my wardrobe with even newer and trendier clothes.
High heels were fashionable, and I admired how pretty they looked, how they could make your legs stand out, and how they could make you a little taller, but they hurt my back… and within 15 minutes of walking around in them, I looked more like Quasimodo rather than the runway model I’d hope to look like.
I didn’t like that I had to say certain things and act a certain way to be in good standing with people or to get a boy’s attention. I felt anxious and horrified that you had to compromise your worth to get the boy you liked to notice you.
[Side note: most of these things were not bad to desire nor to have. The problem was that I had accustomed myself to lying and pretending to be something I knew I wasn’t. I was so eager to fit in that I started basing my worth and identity on things.]
For years I tried creating the perfect image.
I hated the slightest dent in my body because it meant I wasn’t fitting in. I hated that I didn’t look like the girl next to me and I hated that I didn’t have any of the things that teen magazines said you should have. I hated the shape of my body, I hated the height of my body, I hated the small wrinkles, and pimples, on my face, I didn’t find anything unique about my hair and eye color, I hated the color of my skin at times, and I hated the fact that behind all the clothes and pretense I wore, I was actually a much different person.
I disliked the fact that I was too different. I disliked the fact that I liked things that others didn’t. I disliked that I was too simple &, maybe according to society, boring.
Bottom line: I didn’t like nor love me very much.
High school might have taught me a lot about fitting in, but it didn’t teach me much about standing out, appreciating who I was, and being myself. It didn’t teach me to have integrity. It didn’t teach me to do things with excellence. It didn’t teach me to walk away from whatever would make me compromise my self-worth. It didn’t teach me to value and exercise my own God-given talents and gifts, it only taught me to lust and covet what others had. It also didn’t teach me to value, love, and have respect for myself; it taught me the exact opposite.
I took many blessings- both little and great- for granted because of these distorted beliefs. Even as I was already beginning to do things that I’d come to cherish years later, my attention was blurred.
At the young age of 11, I was already traveling, thanks to my father. Between the years 2000-2009, I had already had many grand adventures that, unbeknownst to me, were planting seeds in my heart. I became an explorer without truly realizing it. I had earned my adventurer badge without noticing because I was too busy focusing on things that didn’t matter.
Aside from the music that saved my life, adventures helped me cope with many disappointments and heartaches. Seeing that the world was much bigger than the neighborhood I grew up in, seeing that there were more beautiful places to explore than just the local arcade in my hometown, and seeing that traveling didn’t require you to have your life together nor to have a certain status or reputation gave me freedom that I didn’t start appreciating until I got older.
I remember how traveling gave me the opportunity to relax and not stress about the worries I had back home and in school. On the road, I’d meet all sorts of people- rich, poor, mean-spirited, kind, fashionable, and non-fashionable. I got to see the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the flatlands of Texas (that convinced me why I would never want to live in Texas), the country and city life of many states, and the dangers of being on the road in the middle of a rainstorm.
No experience was the same. Each state had something- an experience- to offer. Beauty had a different meaning because it came in all shapes and sizes whether in the city or out in the country. Certain occurrences were new to me but they felt familiar and welcoming.
Adventures didn’t go as planned all the time, however. Sometimes there were disappointments and setbacks. Sometimes we couldn’t stay the night in the hotel we had planned to stay in. Sometimes there wasn’t enough money to go to a certain popular destination. There were moments when I’d experience boredom and when I’d get incredibly homesick that I’d cry for days. But I learned to overcome certain fears while I traveled.
I learned to appreciate the fact that certain places, communities, and cultures were the total opposite of what I was used to.
I learned that there were things I liked and that I disliked. But most important of all, I didn’t have to worry about fitting in when I was on the road. I didn’t have to worry about which group I belonged in, according to society. It didn’t matter what shoes I wore, if I did or didn’t have makeup on, if I was an A student or D student, etc. I was free to be myself. I was free to enjoy life. I was free to smile, laugh, and live. I learned to be brave, flexible, and open to setbacks.
Every so often I’d go back to my old habit of thinking that everything needed to be perfect to be enjoyed- that I needed to travel with a certain style, with a certain gadget, or that my adventure needed to look like someone else’s adventure, yet i learned to start realizing that this mentality would not only rob me of contentment, but of creating my own personal stories and experiences.
Amid the comments I’ve received over the years about not wasting money on adventures and to settle down and take life serious, I have still made traveling a top priority in my life. Traveling has continued teaching me valuable lessons about myself, life, my God, and people. Just when I think I have learned everything there is to know, a new lesson emerges from a new and even an old adventure.
Traveling has taught me what kind of life i want to live, what my greatest interests are, what people I like and prefer to engage with, and what kind of future i want to create.
I’ve learned to embrace my differences and appreciate my gifts. I’ve learned not to care whether or not I have the makeup other girls have (i discovered that makeup and adventuring wasn’t such a great combination anyway).
Though I still keep my eyes on the latest fashion, traveling taught me what I preferred wearing.
I discovered that there were no other shoes I’d wander the world with than a comfortable set of Nikes.
I’ve learned to find enjoyment in the simple moments. I’ve learned to be okay with sitting still for a moment and thank God for the blessings he’s bestowed upon me, and that I often take for granted. I’ve learned to enjoy my current blessings while I work and wait for the ones I have yet to receive. And I’ve learned, and have continued learning, to appreciate my own journey and my own story rather than that of my neighbors.
My experience in high school might not have been a positive one, and the teachings I learned might have, once upon a time, damaged my self-worth and values, but i’ve gained an incredible perspective on myself, life, love, faith, and courage too, thanks to traveling.
Collect moments, not things.