For most of my teen years, I was a flat-chested, frizzy-haired girl with bad skin who had no idea what she was doing.
And now, well…some things never change, I guess.
I’m still flat-chested. Rather than acne, my bad skin is the result of laugh lines and wrinkles. I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. And life still feels a lot like high school sometimes.
A few weeks ago, I was getting ready to go to a conference and confessed to a colleague that I was nervous. “I feel like everyone knows each other, and I’m an outsider and don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’m worried about feeling like I’m standing against the wall at the high school dance.”
You know, that.
High school was an awkward time for me. Not nearly as awkward as middle school, which was absolute hell, but high school was definitely a time of significant angst and insecurities. Most of my thoughts as a teenager were some variation on the theme of “I have no idea what I’m doing, and everybody else does. I’m not good enough. And my hair sucks.” Not to mention the various forms of bullshit that high school involves: cliques, labels, queen bees, humblebrags, social drama, you name it.
Nonetheless, high school passed, and I survived largely intact. But throughout it all, when the bullshit got really annoying, I reassured myself that once I was out of high school — once we were all “grown-ups” — the bullshit would end.
And yet, here I am, a 38-year-old adult, wondering when life will stop feeling so much like high school because the bullshit never ends; it just changes. In high school, the humblebrags were complaints about choosing between two possible dates to the prom. Now the humblebrags are Facebook status updates about how busy you are with your son’s travel baseball season. Back then, girls liked to complain about the struggle to find a swimsuit that fit their long but slender frame. Now a mom might complain that the maternity clothes you offered to her are “way too big” and it’s hard to find maternity clothes that fit her svelte pregnant frame.
In high school, the queen bees held court at the high school dances. Now the queen bees hold court on the playground. Back then, people were consumed with social drama about the latest gossip or breakups. Now parents are consumed with their children’s social drama.
Maybe we never leave our teenage angst behind? Maybe we never move beyond the bullshit? Maybe life doesn’t ever stop feeling like high school?
Except there is one big difference between then and now.
When I started to write this piece, I had planned on writing that the difference between the bullshit of high school and the bullshit of today is that I don’t give a fuck anymore. But that isn’t true. Sure, I give far fewer fucks these days, and the fucks I have to give about bullshit become less and less the older I get, but the truth is the bullshit — well, some of the bullshit — still does get to me. I still worry about not being good enough, not fitting in, and being left out. I still get annoyed with the humblebrags on Facebook. My feelings still get hurt when I find out that other moms got together and didn’t include me. I still grow weary of the labels and cliques and wish we could all just get along.
I still feel like I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
And that is the difference between the bullshit of high school and today. In high school, none of us had a clue what we were doing, but we pretended we did. We cared about the bullshit, but we pretended that we didn’t give a fuck about anything.
And now, all these years later, as the grown-ups we once imagined, much to our own chagrin, we realize that we’re still confused as fuck by life and trying to figure it out as we go along. We still want to feel like we belong, like we’re accepted and loved, like we are good enough. And though there is a whole lot we don’t give a fuck about, there are things we give lots of fucks about.
Maybe life never stops feeling like high school, and there will always be the bullshit. But even though we still don’t know what the fuck we’re doing, at least now we have the courage to admit it.