At some point in my sophomore year, I began to feel bad about not having a classic American high school experience.
What exactly constitutes a classic American high school experience? I wasn’t entirely sure of that myself. But it looked something like what I’d seen in movies as a kid — football games, parties, adventures, a chaotic but ultimately fulfilling growing-up montage.
It certainly didn’t look like staying in every night studying, or looking forward to Hebrew school as one of my few regular social outings, or bonding with my friends over how stressed we were and how little time we had to hang out.
I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not about to spend this column waxing poetic about the joys of being a nerd. In fact, it wasn’t the idea of being a nerd that ever scared or bothered me. When I started panicking in 10th grade about missing out on something essential, what really worried me was the feeling that my life was unremarkable. In other words, I wasn’t rebelling against anybody, trying exciting new things, or swinging through the tumultuous ups and downs I had come to expect from being a teenager.
Fast forward to senior year, and my time as a teenager is almost over. The end of high school is even nearer. And I’ve still failed to achieve the type of electric existence I once longed for. I continue to spend Friday nights at home. I have yet to go to a real party. I have gone to a few concerts — all of them with my parents.
I continue to spend Friday nights at home. I have yet to go to a real party. I have gone to a few concerts — all of them with my parents.
And though there is value in the type of experience some of my more outgoing or adventure-seeking classmates have had, the past several years have taught me that my version of adolescence is an equally valid way to grow up.
There was significance in the little moments: in slogging through the mile run in freshman year P.E. with people I didn’t yet know would become my friends; in learning to drive and relishing the tiny bit of independence that comes with running errands alone; in late nights at production that made me realize I’d unexpectedly found something new to love.
There’s a mountain of expectations that comes with being a high school student. For many of us at Palo Alto High School, those expectations — whether external or self-imposed — involve shining academically without giving up everything else we should be doing with our supposed glory days.
It took me years to accept that I couldn’t do both, and that I didn’t even really want to. There is no script for how to properly grow up, and the version of adolescence we see in the media, however “honest” and “raw” it claims to be, is far from capturing the realities of navigating high school today. So as I look back on my time at Paly, I don’t feel that I’ve missed out on a whole lot. I’ve surrounded myself with an amazing group of friends, most of whom went through high school the same way I did. With them, I’ve never felt inferior, boring or ordinary. I’ve always felt like I was having fun, albeit in my own, non-cinematic way.
I’ve challenged myself and grown as a person in ways that I’ve never seen reflected in popular portrayals of teenage life.
I’ve challenged myself and grown as a person in ways that I’ve never seen reflected in popular portrayals of teenage life. Taking classes that scared me (Hi, Calculus!) made me braver, more hardworking, more confident in my abilities. I’ve been exposed to new people and ideas and begun to figure out my own perspective on the world, my passions, what matters to me.
My sense of inadequacy didn’t stick around long past those sophomore-year hesitations; the more I embraced my identity and accepted the fact that I simply wasn’t destined to have a rollercoaster of a high school career, the less those things seemed like personal failures. None of us has had (or will have) a perfectly easy time at Paly, nor a smooth ride into adulthood, but we needlessly complicate both of those journeys with expectations that were never based in reality.
There are infinitely many ways to come into your own; I found a path that worked for me, and though it may seem mundane, I realize in retrospect that there isn’t anything wrong with that.