From age 18-22 I wrestled with a spiritual, psychological, emotional and social break down that I now believe, with the benefit of hindsight, stemmed largely out of a realization that everything I had been working so hard for had nothing to do with living life well. Around the middle of senior year of high school, after I had “gotten in to a good college,” I began to ask some questions about my lifestyle and purpose:
Why had I studied so hard? My teachers and parents said that I needed to get A’s so that I could get into a good college. Questions I never asked but should have: Why did I need to get into a good college? What do you mean by a “good” college?
Why had I played three sports almost every season with nary a break in between? Because it was fun? Truly, sports stopped being fun for me after 6th grade. But I was of the mindset that since I could do it, I should do it. Because I used to play soccer, basketball, lacrosse, or volleyball I should always play them. Also, I should play sports so that I could have a good resume to get into a good college.
I remember losing touch with my little brother, to whom I had been so close growing up, as soon as I entered 7th grade. “Come out and shoot hoops and play with me?” he would ask, standing just at the threshold of my bedroom door. Without looking up from my homework, I’d reply pretentiously, “No, I’ve got to study.” My response became so immediate and unyeilding that he stopped asking. I remember having to skip church with my family to go play a soccer game in Duluth or Lawrenceville or Fayettville. What insane system was I a part of that as a 7th grader I felt like it my history homework took prescedence over my relationships with my family? How did a sporting schedule–something that was supposed to be “play”–turn in to a requirement that overrode my spiritual development?
What crazy expectations was I meeting when I slept only 6 hours a night (when most teenagers need between 8-10) my sophomore, junior, and senior year because I was so busy doing homework and engaging in scheduled extra-curricular activities that I couldn’t go to bed until midnight?
Last year, I saw the documentary movie Race to Nowhere, and it opened my eyes to why I entered such a desolate period between 18 and 22. As I questioned my purpose, and I had come to understand that mine, up to that point, was superfluous. I didn’t know anything about how to take care of myself or be a contributing member of society, and this was really frightening.
I lacked the following essential skills when I entered college:
1) How to prioritize my time. In high school, I never had to prioritize because my entire life was scheduled by someone else from 6:00 am until midnight nearly every day. Technically I “chose” to engage in all those activities, but choosing to play basketball because it was fun turned in to choosing to be on the team because that is what I did. That’s not prioritizing.
2) How to budget my money, invest, and save. The blessing of not having to work or pay for anything myself turned in to a curse when it came to managing my money. I didn’t know how much it cost to live or how much I should spend on entertainment. I was too busy studying or engaging in extra curricular activities–for none of which did I have to pay– to have a job. I never paid for anything out of my own pocket until I graduated.
3) How to cook for myself and choose foods that would nourish my health. My dad famously tells the story that when I was 13 I tried to make him a frozen pizza for dinner. Never having done anything so domestic in my life up to that point, I forgot to take the cardboard off the bottom of the pizza and cooked the pizza onto the cardboard.
4) How to rest. I did not know that resting was different from sleeping until about 4 years ago. This may have been one of the best lessons I’ve learned, but one of the hardest to practice.
5) How to live mindfully. I didn’t enjoy most of my endeavors as fully as I could have because they were activities to be checked off my to-do list. Go to basketball. Read English homework. Write paper. Call Friends. No one taught me to savor the moments– to be fully present to each moment. That wasn’t important– “getting it done” was.
6) How to live spiritually. Even though I attended a Christian high school and was part of a family that went to church regularly, I never understood the importance of living a spiritual life. I thought spirituality was for retreats– God only showed up when you went away into the mountains. I now believe that my lack of understanding in this area contributed the most to my tough time as a young adult.
7) How to be an engaged citizen in my community: Everything I did until I went to college was for myself. I played sports and studied so that I could succeed. I even participated in community service to bump up my resume. I never watched the news, read the news paper, knew about local, US, or global issues or current events, researched a politician, or volunteered for the sake of volunteering.
I entered college very prepared to succeed on an academic level. I certainly cannot fault any of my teachers for that. Boy, I knew how to write papers and read long texts and annotate. But I had no idea how to live outside of the academic realm. This is one of the problems I would like to fix in the school system in which I work. The unspoken curriculum that we teach is very powerful, and right now our unspoken curriculum is not teaching kids how to be productive and healthy adults. Currently, we prepare students to be academic working machines–machines who have no concept of how to be whole people… citizens…humans.
The next set of blog posts I will start to explore seven of the hardest lessons I have learned that I wish I could have learned in high school instead.