I want to be a journalist one day, I told a friend in high school. I think it was Grade 10. The friend said she didn’t want to go to university. She planned to get married. This was the mid-80s. The idea of not going to university was surprising to me. I had always been a good student. I don’t think I ever learned good study skills but I naturally did well in school.
Cut to Grade 12. I was barely going to class. I don’t remember when it started, but sometime in Grade 11, I stopped going. I didn’t do anything exciting either. I didn’t do drugs. I wasn’t into drinking. I worked part-time in retail as many kids did and I worked a lot. Something about being at work separated me from the numbness, the drift, I was experiencing at school. I think of those days as a kind of blankness. I don’t remember much other than I didn’t go to class. When I did, teachers who knew me as a decent student would talk to me about coming to class and I remember feeling embarrassed, if grateful, that they were trying, but it didn’t help me go more. I remember friends getting skip sheets because their grades were low, but I evaded the skip sheet because I managed to keep mine in the 70s even with not going to class (I’d show up to write exams).
My timeline was different than others. I did go to university at 21. I had a great average for a couple years, but I still also suffered from crippling anxiety and terrible self-worth that felt like a cloud a lot of the time. I still hadn’t learned good study habits, so I would procrastinate and then cram, procrastinate and then cram, then feel sick after I got everything done. I also felt the stress of living on student loans. I hated the feeling of having $13 dollars to buy groceries for the week.
I had a great student summer job in Toronto and when it was done, I decided to get a full time job, stay in Toronto and finish school part-time. In many ways, this decision worked out for me, but I still wish I had finished at the time. I wish I knew that another year was nothing and sticking out would have positive lifelong effects.
Since then, I’ve finished many degrees, certificates, programs, etc. I’m a lifelong student, because I love learning but also likely because I’m trying to make up for my younger days.
I remember reading a book in book club that was about a journalist, whose son lost track in high school and wanted to take the year off. His father agreed if the son agreed to watch the father’s choice of movies for the year, as a way of learning in an unconventional way. I remember one of my book club pals saying “I just don’t understand why someone who was doing well would want to drop out.” It was a shame I kept inside (still do for the most part) so I didn’t say “there are SO MANY reasons”. None of them have to do with ability. No one would have guessed that 8 year old, 13 year old, 15 year old Nicole wouldn’t finish high school with the rest of her year. I still didn’t believe or understand it.
Why am I rehashing this? Because one thing I know at 49 is that no part of me is shameful. That what others think about my history has nothing to do with me or my ability. What I think DOES matter because it will shape how I live each day. Each day provides experience. Some experiences make sense and some don’t. I am the person I am today, to be cliched, because of all of those experiences. And I am doing better than OK. There’s no one way to a fulfilling life.
I’ve learned so much as an adult and continue to learn each day. These are some of the lessons I would impart on my teenage self.
Be yourself without apology. The people who get you are your people. Pay little attention to those that are not.
Take chances that make sense for you. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. You need to feel a little uncomfortable. But listen to your inner voice telling you or shouting at you to try.
Ignore your self-doubt and help others. Seeing how your gifts can help others can be it’s own kind of ego boost.
When you know you are good at something, don’t be afraid to brag. Not every day and not in all settings. Even if only to yourself, a little bragging is healthy
Feeling lost, bored, self-conscious, etc., are all normal human emotions. Learn healthy ways to re-direct those emotions.
Move more. It helps with the anxious mind. It also helps you feel strong and capable. In terms of the benefits on the brain, here’s an article.
Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, stop.
Look after your body as it’s your vehicle through which to travel in life. There’s no guarantees, there’s no one way for bodies to be healthy, but as much as you can – move, rest, eat, mindfully.
Figure out how to re-direct your mind from scrutinizing your every flaw. Direct that to something good. Helping someone. Moving. Laughing. Reading. Anything.
Whether people “get you” or not, you are worthy.
Don’t take dating too seriously. Don’t settle. Even if it takes you longer to find your partner, or you never do. Being single can be a gift. If you do find the right partner for you, you’ll know. No need to agonize over someone who isn’t the right one. Remember the “get you” part? Don’t waste time on those who don’t.
Learn about active meditation.
Help others. I might have mentioned that already, but if you can find a way to use your gifts (and we all have gifts) to help others, either in your career or in your day-to-day life, help others.
Oh and laugh. Find ways to laugh and have fun.
Readers, do you have advice for young people?