7 things I wish I had known when I was in high school

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In American teen films, you’ll often find a philosophical college counsellor or a wise old teacher who dishes out pearls of wisdom. At my high school, it was the elderly Chaplain who tried (perhaps a little too hard) to fill this role.

One day, after I had received some disciplinary action for arriving late to school, the Chaplain said to me, “High school is the best time of your life Jane. Now go make the most of it! Get out of my office!”

In the Chaplain’s world, high school was all ponies, kittens, and rainbows. But my experience was a little bit different.

High school was one big crock-pot of confusion with a great big dollop of unnecessary pain and suffering. I had no idea how to study. Consequently, I hated learning.

The best thing about high school was…

I got through it. And it led to university. At university, I rediscovered my love of learning, became friends with like-minded people, and felt an incredible sense of freedom.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing though. Of course (15 years too late), I can see how high school could have been an easier and less painful experience.

“If only I had the ability to travel back in time!” I sometimes think. Then I could tell my younger high school self what I know now.

But until a time travel machine comes on the market, the only consolation is at least you can benefit from my mistakes.

So here it is! If I could travel back in time, this is what I would tell my high school self.

1. Don’t worry about results/grades/awards

Stop obsessing about your school grades. It’s pathetic. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s true. No one will ever care about the grades you get in high school.

Yes, getting a good ATAR score makes life easier. It opens up more and better opportunities. So aim to do your best. Give it your all.

But as you’ll discover later in life, if you focus on enjoying the process of learning then good grades will naturally follow.

2. Study in short bursts

You’re not winning any extra points for studying for several hours straight without taking a break. I don’t know where you got the idea of longer study sessions being better, but here’s a tip: study is in short focused bursts.

Choose a concept and study it for 15 – 20 minutes. Then get up and have a break for 5 minutes (e.g., go for a walk). Then choose another concept. And work away for another 15 – 20 minutes.

When you study this way your mind is going to stay sharp and clear for much longer. You also have a better chance of retaining the information.

3. Don’t just sit there in class. Do something!

Why aren’t you taking any notes or drawing pictures about what the teacher is saying? Pick up a pen and doodle! Write!

More importantly, why are you pretending to understood what the teacher is saying when you have no idea what is going on?

If you are confused, stick your hand up and ask the teacher to clarify. This will save you so much time later down the track.

4. Don’t interact with toxic people

You know that guy on the bus who harasses you? And that girl who wears way too much makeup and mocks you from the back of the class? Ignore them. Keep away from them.

Calling them names and fighting back will only make things worse. Just walk away. Save your energy for more important things.

5. Exercise isn’t just for sporty students

Where did you get this idea that exercise was only for sporty, athletic students?

Science now shows exercise sharpens your thinking, improves your memory, and boosts creative thinking. Team sports aren’t your thing? No problem! There is a whole other world of movement that is open to you. Walk the dog, go for a swim at the beach, or crank up the music and dance in your bedroom. All movement counts. So have some fun!

6. You can train yourself to be more organised

You think being a disorganised slob is in your genes. But think again. Being organised is a skill you can develop by implementing simple practices into your lifestyle.

Once you get into the habit of being organised (e.g., packing your bag the night before and filing your papers away into subject folders) your life is going to become so much easier.

7. You’re not born dumb, smart, or average

Stop telling yourself that there’s something wrong with your brain. The only thing that is wrong with you is you don’t understand that the way you get smarter is through practice and putting in the work.

Take a good hard look at your ‘smart’ friends. They weren’t born good at Maths, Science, and/or English. They just worked hard to master those subjects. If you spend a bit of time trying to actually understand the material (rather than just rote learn it) you could grow a smarter brain too.

To sum up

Looking back, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so harsh on my school Chaplain. She may have been right. High school could be some of the best years of your life.

The bottom line is this: you’re only young once. You might as well try to suck all the juice and enjoyment out of every life experience. Why should high school be an exception?

If you’re a recent graduate, parent or teacher reading this, do you have any other words of wisdom/advice you’d tell the younger version of yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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