It’s hard to be yourself when you don’t yet know exactly who you’re supposed to be. As much as the school tries to orient us before we enter the Upper Division, students are often still at a total loss when it comes to navigating Horace Mann’s challenging social, extracurricular, and academic landscape. In my experience as an underclassman, I found that a lot of us came into high school with the expectation that we were going to have some kind of perfectly curated “experience” that will stay with us for a lifetime. An experience we certainly got, but perfectly curated it was not.
Over the years, I longed for structure and guidance in a way that frequently led me into less than pleasant situations. I stayed with friend groups for the sake of having a friend group, and sacrificed my academics for a role in a club with the sole intention of eventually joining its leadership. Both of these endeavors failed horribly, as did many of my other attempts at fitting into a structure based not on what I needed, but on what I thought I really wanted. Only by the summer of junior year did I start actively making authentic decisions, starting with the choice to take summer physics in order to replace science with a history my junior year. Now, as a senior, I can positively say that I am glad how things turned out in the end.
There are plenty of situations that have left me extremely unhappy, though, both in the way I handled them and in the impact they had on my life. Thoughts like “had I been stronger in my refusal to continue a toxic friendship” and “had I been more attentive in chemistry” have frequently crossed my mind. The main thing it all taught me is that regret is pointless. I now feel like I have no room for regret in my life.
I firmly believe in the teaching power of mistakes and in actively doing something about your current situation instead of being hung up on the past. I do not have the time to passively wonder “what could have been” if I had chosen different friends, different clubs, and had focused more on my academics than on the anxieties of the immediate moment. Active regret only brings about a tentative sense of despair, one that will leave you lost and unsure of what to do next. This is no way to move on.
High school is not about “finding” yourself. It is about laying a path for your future and setting a precedent for who you want to forge yourself into. And that future does not end in college; it does not end with your first promotion, nor anywhere else. Your treatment of friends and strangers, your attentiveness to your academic work (and later to your profession), and your willingness to participate in altruistic pursuits, all contribute to who you are and who you become. Your decisions create you. And if your decisions do not come from an authentic place, then you are not authentic.
I know I haven’t always been — and am still not constantly — authentic. I’ve made many choices that are not in line with what I feel, not true to my morals nor what I believe should be done. Sometimes these choices were made on a whim, sometimes they were made to cater to someone else’s fragile ego and feelings. Over the years, it has been such decisions that I have had to work to undo or, at the very least, abandon to pursue a more authentic existence in which my choices reflect who I really feel I am.
This is my final stand against all things superficial, I suppose. High school is a pressure cooker, a paradise for the ambitious, and a place where many shallow concerns can sweep away the strongest sailor. A word to the young, to the unsure, and to the ones who are lost in an endless sea of indecision and anxiety: be authentic in your decisions. Do not live looking back with regrets. Live looking forward, holding tight the lessons of the past. There is more to life than high school, and there is more to high school than the worries of yesterday.