As a teacher, the month of July brings mixed feelings. I’m wrapping up summer break, about to dive face-first into registration, lesson plans, testing, football, pep rallies and accountability systems. But that is the life of a high school writing teacher.
As said high school writing teacher, I have to get back into that “waking up” routine. I’ve started hacking away at snatching glimpses of my former lessons, trying to see where I can improve this lesson or ratchet up that lesson. Since I’m just an “elective teacher” certified in English and history, I’m taking it upon myself to become a stickler for testable support material. These poor kids will be bombarded with ACT prep material, English II readings and US History political cartoons. All in the name of writing.
So many people compartmentalize the lessons learned in high school that they never really learn from their high school experience. I learned a lot as a know-it-all kid who slid into college with that same arrogant mindset only to be smacked in the face with the fact that I didn’t really know all that I thought I did.
One of the pleasures of social media is keeping up with former students. So many have been posting pictures of dorm shopping, muscling their way through orientation, and masking the anxieties they are truly feeling about actually having to hold themselves accountable as…(wait for it)…“adults.”
I am a proud graduate of the University of Mississippi, and I vividly remember my transition from “got it under control” high school senior to “can anyone tell that I have no clue what is going on” college freshman. I’ve often thought about what I would do if I had those four years to do all over again—the four years before iPhone was released in 2007.
I’ve written before about how my graduating seniors should feel. This time, I’m addressing those “freaking out freshmen” as well as the rest of humanity. Here’s some not so brief pieces of advice to those freshmen. However, I dare to suggest that this advice could alleviate some stress in the everyday person.
To steal from Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”:
“My advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience, I will dispense this advice to you now…”
- Simplify: Look at your childhood bedroom right now. You’ve spent nearly 18 years collecting “things” that have no intrinsic value. The “things” may have sentimental value, but here’s the harsh reality. The rest of the world looks at your 8-year-old soccer trophy and your 7th grade science fair ribbon as junk, rubbish…trash. If it’s important to you, go grab you a Rubbermaid box and put it in there. If it’s truly important enough to keep forever, having it in that box will make it easier for you to clear it out of your parents’ house when they finally tell you to get your junk out of your old bedroom, currently referred to as their new gym/office/guest room. You’re starting over. Really, you’re not even starting over. You’re starting. Your high school work experience was good at building character and earning that scholarship. Now it’s time to actually build your future. Your efforts over this next decade will benefit you (and only you) or hinder you (and only you). Evaluate what is important to you and keep the physical things that are actually vital. Don’t decorate your dorm room with a ton of junk. You’re going to collect more junk. A Stadium Cup or Foam Finger sitting next to your Senior Prom Favor just isn’t fung shui. Reflect on your past. You’ve done a good bit of work to get where you are. Place those laurels on the shelf (or in that Rubbermaid box) and get to earning the new ones.
- Trace Your Route: Remember that whole lesson about assuming? Yeah. The same goes for your future. You’ve been given your class schedule. The buildings, the classrooms, they’re clearly marked on it. Take that schedule (you may even have to “like, print it off, like, on paper”) and actually go to the physical location those numbers and letters indicate. Go and actually find Bondurant Hall Room 205. Go and actually put your butt inside Swalm 115. Actually time yourself on how long it takes to get from your car to Jennings 310. Assuming you know where something is doesn’t actually mean you know where something actually is. Walk your route. Figure out how long it takes to get from point A to point B. Make this a habit. And remember, five minutes early is on time, and on time is late.
- Join Everything: Remember that high school resume you built as an eager teenager? Yeah, that’s shot. It’s gone. You need to join new clubs. You need to meet new people. You never know when knowing someone will play to your advantage. I know a guy who writes for Rivals.com, a guy who covers big time sports on the coast, a guy who writes for the AP, a guy who is a state representative, a guy who served multiple tours in Iraq, a former Marine who is now a beast in the court room, an insurance salesman who can give you some good advice, more than a couple of fellow teachers who help me when I get in a bind, a dentist, a Mississippi Department of Transportation engineer, a radio personality, another lawyer, a digital artist who has worked with Pixar, a dude who has moved up in the ranks at Disney, a pharmacist, a CPA, a few doctors, a Getty Images photographer, another lawyer, Non-Profit director, school counselor, chef, football coach, and so many other people in different walks of life. We’ve all shared similar opinions and differing opinions during our times in various clubs and organizations. And we rebuilt that resume one year, one internship at a time. Join stuff. You can always quit (if you’re a quitter), but you can’t jump on that train once it’s left the station.
- Explore Your Surroundings: This one’s simple. Find the center of your town, turn your phone and GPS off, and drive around. Get lost. I bet after the sixteenth circle around town, you may start to see familiar sights. Once you got the routes down, get out of your car and walk around. You’ll find the hideaways, the holes in the walls, the dives. These will become some of your favorite places and some of your fondest memories (Rest in Peace, Murf’s).
- Look up Every Athletic Schedule: …and attend those events. You may not care about football, baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball, rifle, swimming, gymnastics, basketball, bowling, or competitive bubble blowing. You’ll never get a time in life where you’re given free tickets to occupy your free time with quality entertainment. Learn the names. Cheer for the “Johnsons” and for the “Zchechovskis”…learn how to pronounce “Zchechovskis.” Again, the friendships you’ll make out of this will last a lifetime. I clearly remember often skipping class with a dude named Chandler to watch Ole Miss baseball games, and we talked about everything from God to pitchers to insurance. I promise you, we would both pay good money to do that again.
- Keep a Calendar: Your mommy isn’t there. I’m sorry, that was offensive. Let me say it louder…YOUR MOMMY ISN’T THERE. Keep up with your own life. Keep a calendar. Write things down. Look ahead. Plan. Lord, plan! Telling your professor, your boss, your parents, “Oh that was today?” doesn’t get you very far from here on out. It’ll only get you dismissed. Not necessarily dismissed from a job or position, but it’ll get you dismissed as a person with sense.
- Call Your Parents and Your Grandparents: As a know-it-all 32-year-old, I need to do this more often. Even if you’re not close, call them and talk to them. They want to be part of the adventure. They watched you be that little one. They want to watch you be that grown one. They’ll cheer too. Cheers in your life will become rare. Keep those given cheers close. My grandmother died about five years ago. I’d give you my truck, my house, my sanity to sit and talk with her again for just a few minutes.
- Go to Sleep: Sleep, son. Sleep. Your body will thank you for it. Remember being 16 and giggling with your buddies on a Friday night until you all finally passed out at 4 A.M. You didn’t even wake up until 1 P.M. the next day. Remember those days? They’re over. Sorry. Go to sleep. Your body is going to start showing evidence of poor habits. Sleep does a body good. Go. To. Sleep…and be consistent. Go wild a few times, but finally finding the pillow at 3 A.M. on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday…it’ll catch up with you. Rest, my friend. Rest.
- Wake Up: Good sleeping habits beget good waking habits. You may not be a morning person. And if you’re not, I don’t have the slightest sympathy for you. I was a night owl, and the oddest things happened…the world started at 6 A.M. whether I was awake or not. Wake up when you’re supposed to. Sleeping In should be a treat, not the norm.
- Work Out: I’m not saying you need to turn into a model. I’m not saying you need to become the next John Cena. You may not get a washboard stomach. Your legs may even rub together when you walk (heaven forbid!). But you’re building a foundation that will last for decades. I graduated high school at a buck sixty-five. I gained that freshman fifteen and then some. Be active. You’re not the spritely 12-year-old you once were. Losing weight as a thirtysomething is a lot harder than a fresh 18-year-old. Stay healthy. Do your future body good.
- Get a Job: I’m not saying 40-hours a week, but do something. The world is expensive, and your peeps are probably not too keen in paying for your weekly pedicures while you sit in your dorm room watching Toy Story. You’re an adult now. Grow up. There’s no better feeling than having your own money in your pocket (and there’s no tougher lesson than learning about Mr. FICA and how he gets a cut of each paycheck for the rest of your life).
- Talk to People: Learn their names. Learn their hometowns. You never know if you might tumble into a lifelong friendship. You never know when you meet someone who is just cool to hang out with who may turn into a future roommate who may turn into a future groomsman or bridesmaid. Talk to the people on your dorm floor. If they turn out to be a jerk and blow up, they have deeper issues than you may know. And you don’t need that in your life.
- Utilize the Spaces: I still regard this nugget in my life to this day. You grew up with everything that existed in your life confined inside your bedroom. Spread out. Your sleeping quarters don’t need to be your entertainment room as well as your dining room as well as your workout space as well as your study facility as well as your laundry room as well as your junk catchall. Spread out. Find a place to study. It’s designated to study, be it a nook in the library or a bench on campus (mine was at the bottom of the stairs between Conner and Holman or under the belfry of the Paris-Yates Chapel). Find a place to chill, to watch TV or movies. Find a place you can eat and preferably make it not the same place you sleep. Get organized and take your time. Utilize the beautiful campuses around you. I mean, you paid for the aesthetics. Go enjoy them.
- Do All Your Work: I’m going to invoke the whole “you paid for it” claim again. This isn’t high school. You’re not required to pass. If you’re an idiot, I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to find that fact out pretty quickly—and pretty blatantly. If you’re in college or have a job, odds are, you’re not stupid. Odds are you suffer from the same thing the rest of the world tends to suffer from…laziness. A good English professor told me one day that I had all the potential in the world, and that I offer great discussion topics in class…when I read. She told me that if I wasn’t going to put forth an effort, don’t come back. Dr. Fisher-Wirth, thanks for that.
- Look into Internships: Remember how your resume died? Time to spread the gospel of “Hire me, please.” Internships will give you that experience and will allow you to learn what you need to do to become what you dream of. I had one that destroyed my dream and showed me the reality of the path I had chosen. So much for Robert L. Chapman, Attorney at Law.
- Hold On: The past isn’t all bad. Hold on to those good times you had. Remember the fond memories of high school. Those people who only talk about how they hated high school make me smile. You didn’t hate high school. Your amount of obvious overcompensating is palpable. Also, sorry for using the world “palpable.”
- Let Go: Negativity is a cancer, and if you don’t attempt to let go of some of that pain, you’ll be haunted for the rest of your life. That girl that shot you down in tenth grade—she probably doesn’t remember doing that to tell you the truth. That kid who made fun of you for knowing all the answers on the Hamlet quiz—he only did that because he didn’t know them. You’ll find the people who constantly put others down are the ones who wish they could be whatever it is they’re trying to destroy. They’re lonely and sad. They don’t care if you’re sad. They want you to be sad with them so they’re not alone. That boyfriend that’s going nowhere, that girlfriend that is stringing you along—you’ve got to say goodbye. No one owes you anything, and they’re certainly not going to give you happiness.
Remember. Learn. Smile. Cry. Let go. Move On.
- Moderation: In all things, moderation is good. Learn this. If you cannot exercise moderation in your life, you may have a real addiction. I’m also willing to bet you’re eaten up with that selfish sickness. You practice moderation. You never perfect it. Work on yourself.
- Go Home: You’re grown, but you’re not that grown yet. Go see Mom. Go hang out with Dad. Even if you don’t really get along with either one of them. Let Mom baby you (but not too much). Let Dad tell you that story…again…of how he and Uncle Henry met Dale Murphy and Sid Bream (even you have no idea who those two guys are). You’ll feed nostalgia for a weekend while refueling your desire for independence. Visiting your childhood will remind you why you’re working towards building your future.
- Go Away: Both literally and metaphorically, go away. Travel. See the world. You’ll learn that people are different than you are, but they’re pretty similar too. Go to concerts. You won’t get to do that when you’re in your late ‘20s. I promise. Go kayaking. Go to the beach. Go to the mountains. Visit that “perfect” family. Realize they’re not so “perfect.” Don’t build those walls around your geography.
Also, “go away.” You’ve been inserting, building, investing, feeding…shut the door every once in a while. Sit in the silence. Cleanse yourself of toxins. You don’t need to be rowdy every weekend. You don’t need to fill every waking moment with stimulation. Meditate. Pray. Refocus. If you learn how to do this, and learn to do this well, it will pay dividends in the future.
Good luck with all this. Hate to break it to you, but you’ll fail. I promise.
If (and when) you mess up Today, you can start over Tomorrow. The good thing about tomorrow is it’s only a day away. That’s a good line for a song.