The Thief of Joy

11:44 AM

On Monday, I went to a high school and spent a nostalgic four hours remembering what it was like to be seventeen.

I guess I should really start at the beginning, because the reminiscing was hard. It a suffocating reminder of how heavy the perceptions of others can be. At least, how hard they were for me to carry around for four years.

Spring travel has officially started for me at work. High school juniors are enjoying their last few months of upperclassmen status without the stress of the college search. Sort of. I hit the pavement on Monday to give them their first taste of how expansive the hunt will be. I stood next to a representative from another college and together, we chuckled as we gazed into the faces that would become next year's cycle. The faces who were, for the first time, taking in the 90+ colleges that were waiting to talk to each one of them.

They walked in circles, around and around, in a giant gym filled with view books and admission counselors. They told us their plans, their GPAs and extra-curriculars. Some are there just to socialize for forty-five minutes, but others, well, occasionally I get this opportunity to be amazed by these young people who have their lives so planned out. They have these incredible dreams, these hopes that could change the world, and they know every step to get where they need to be.

And sometimes, they don't, but that's okay too.
Sometimes they're insecure and so unsure, but they know that they want to do something. And more than that, they want to do something important.
And sometimes, when the great ones tell me about their lives, about their pets and their favorite classes....they tell me how excited they are to leave home, and how nervous they are to be far away...

There's this wonderful, intense feeling of...wow when I realize this is what I do. There are these great, incredible, world changing human beings who are adolescents right now and while the rest of the world generalizes them as children, I'm getting a peek into the future.  

But I'm also getting a peek at the past. My past.

I stood silently, with my arms crossed behind my back (imagine it, I do it all the time) and I saw a guy walk by, slowly, awkwardly, familiarly.

One of the things that, if you step into a high school years after you stopped attending regularly, you notice immediately is the sameness of it all. The way there are those girls, tall, thin and beautiful, who manage to find each other and become each other's best friends. The strange way that they scout each other out in second grade is incredible...and consistent.  And there's the athletes. The guys who date the the tall, thin, beautiful girls and they become best friends too.  Then there are the kids who will grow up to be every one's bosses.

I saw that guy, the one I was watching as I held my arms in a pretzel shape behind my back. He was of the will-grow-up-to-be-a-Bill-Gates-type-boss-of-the-world variety.

He was walking alone. And painfully aware of of his alone-ness.

A giant backpack, probably weighing as much his he did, was attached to his back. His pants were slightly too short and he worse glasses that were threatening to fall from the tip of his nose. He walked awkwardly, balancing a growing pile of college view books in his arms and carefully scrutinizing each school's table before moving along to the next. He was probably dreaming about a future that I can't even imagine. That none of us could.

I had this instant, painful flashback to being fourteen and being so aware of being alone. I remembered making plans to meet with someone before lunch so I'd never have to enter the huge cafeteria alone and feel the eyes of everyone who would see....I was alone. I didn't realize then, I was too young to know, but I was so involved with making sure everyone knew that I was likeable. So likeable, in fact, that I always had someone hanging out with me. That's why I was never alone.

A half an hour went by and I saw two girls rush past me, one holding tightly to the other's back pack as they ambled by clumsily. They giggled but gave off an aura that I recognized.

I'm unsure.
I remembered when I secured my best friend and how I clutched so hard to that. See? I am likeable? We're both likeable. I was literally just like those girls who just went by. I remember the exact same mode of travel, hanging so tight to my bestie's backpack and pleading subconciously, don't leave me alone.

It was a brief trip back to a time, to a mindset, in which the validation of others was based upon having plenty of Abercrombie hoodies, a pretty face and a cute boyfriend. And it was as prized as, say, having a senior position in the professional workforce.
And of course, this leads me into a deviation of topics of which I will not officially launch, but the obvious question is: is it really so different post-high school. The validation? The sense of self-worth?

*****

The interesting thing, and the source of constant revelations, about traveling backwards physically and mentally into comtemporary high schools is not only recognizing the sameness of it all, but also recognizing the things you did not recognize when you were seventeen and realizing that it's all the same too.

I'm talking in circles, but I'll try my best to elaborate. Essentnially, here is what I gathered on Monday.
Even if there is not an official uniform, there is a uniform. I saw more black leggings and denim button downs in four hours than I did in the entirety of the '90's.

And it was probably the same when I was in high school. The unofficial uniform. I just couldn't see it then.

Kids still think that cursing and using foul language makes them appear more grown up. Makes them feel more grown up. I used to think so too, then I grew up.

It's all the same, but I didn't know it then.

*****

It's really too bad that the typical person doesn't acquire the self-confidence necessary to barrel through the most peer-scrutinized time in their life until after high school is over. Myself included. I didn't stop caring about what others thought about me, or realize that other's didn't think about me as much as I thought about me, until after I graduated and was halfway though college.

It's part of the process, I guess. You have to exhaust yourself, worrying about what others are thinking about you, before you just throw in the towel and decide that it doesn't matter.

Theodore Roosevelt was long done with high school when he wisely told the world, "comparison is the thief of joy."

Oh, I was robbed. Time and time again. Sometimes I still get robbed, but knowing that you're robbing yourself as opposed to being the victim of robbery, well those are two different things.

And the best thing about not being in high school anymore is the permission and cognitive ability to make a choice. I choose not to be robbed.

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