Throughout life, we are trained to constantly anticipate the next phase. In 2nd grade they tell you that 3rd grade teachers won’t let you get away with switching from print to cursive in the same sentence. In 8th grade they say you’d better learn how to properly format your papers or else you’ll never make it in high school. But once you get to high school all they talk about is how ill-prepared you are to survive in college when college is just one long scare tactic about how frightening “the real world” is.
Well, jokes on them ‘cause I never learned any of that stuff. Then again, perhaps it’s all an elaborate ruse to distract us from the fact that nothing in life ever changes. Sure, we no longer have to buy our own markers and scissors at the beginning of the year but the rest of it is pretty spot on—especially when you look at all the ways that high school is just like real life:
#1: You Would Never Intentionally Choose To Be Around These People
There’s something to be said for diversity, but this doesn’t count. You spend your childhood and adolescence being herded into classrooms with kids who wear necklaces made out of impaled grasshoppers. You have to endure all sorts of annoying personal convictions like the kid in band who won’t sit near you because his European ancestors were oppressed by your European ancestors. When you finally “grow up” you think you’ll now have the freedom and autonomy to choose who you share your life with.
Now you’re sharing a hallway with a man you’re pretty sure keeps a gun in his desk and reading passive aggressive emails from a harpy with a silver-streaked bun atop her head. Just when you think to yourself “my God, are these people real?” the extreme couponer from the 2nd floor walks in your office to show you a panoramic photo of the 27 bottles of handsoap they just bought for $4.37. Yes, these people are real and no, you have no choices in life.
#2: You’re Pretty Sure That Nothing You Do Really Matters
There are two things I’ve retained from high school—one had something to do with how snails were crushed to make purple dye (possibly in the fertile crescent?) and the other was that some guy named Thales of Miletus invented math. Beyond that, I have no idea what else happened for those four years. There was a lot of instruction on how to properly cite webpages whilst writing useless research papers but this didn’t seem to matter when I could still score an A+ on an essay full of hidden references to various pop culture icons.
This continues to be something of a trend in the real world. While I occasionally involve myself in things that matter I also write a lot of reports no one bothers reading and review policies that no one cares to follow. When I take a two-week vacation, the only chaos is over the fact that I didn’t delegate someone to hold onto my thermostat key while I was gone.
#3: You Have No Idea What’s Going On When Someone Calls Your Name
In highschool this was the dreaded “having the teacher call on you” moment. If you were like me, you copped up to your ignorance immediately. I found it was safest to say “I have no clue” and then follow up with a “yes but seriously I have no clue.” The one advantage here is that if you play your cards right you can actually shift the blame back to the teacher for failing to properly educate you.
This doesn’t exactly work in the professional world because it’s no one else’s fault that you haven’t been paying attention for the last 20 minutes when you’re asked to chime in. You can’t exactly own up to the fact that you were distracted by a tweet about body image that led you to google Mary-Kate Olsen and that this somehow led to reading an article on offshore banking. Then again, if they didn’t want you to do such extensive research during meetings, why did they buy you a company iPhone?
#4: You End Up Doing Everything, Every Time
Group work, while endlessly frustrating, is actually really great preparation for future moments in your unfulfilling career. Just as in the high school days of yore, you can pretty much count on the fact that no one on your committee will ever follow through on what they’re supposed to do. No matter how many times you reschedule the meeting to accommodate their half-assery, they will report the same efforts and updates each time, and everyone else will be too distracted hoping that no one notices they haven’t done anything to notice that no one else has done anything either.
#5: You Are Everyone’s Favorite Topic
Or at least it seems that way. No matter what you do, someone is going to have an opinion about it. The guy with three DUIs is going to look down on the woman with a pregnant teenage daughter and the guy who beats his wife will think he’s better than the dude who once got busted for possession of marijuana. The truth is, everything you do is worthy of public discussion regardless of whether you are 17 or 47 so get ready to be judged for every wrinkle in your shirt and every fast food sack seen through your untinted car window.
#6: You Can Accomplish A Lot While Mostly Doing Nothing
So much is said to caution us from developing a habit of writing a paper the night before it’s due or waiting to study for a final until the end of the semester. And yet, this is actually an incredibly valuable lesson to learn because your 40-hour work-week will largely be consumed with trolling the internets, favoriting tweets, and planning vacations on Pinterest. Why work on something at a slow pace for 8 hours when you can crank it out in the last 2 ½ and still receive half-hearted appreciation from your boss? Think of all the wikipedia articles you could have read in that 5 ½ hours–now you’ll never know everything there is to know about the Palomares Hydrogen Bomb Incident.
#7: You Follow The Same Cycle of Motivation and Demotivation
Year 1 at Your New Job (Freshman): You have great hopes for your future, you take notes, show up everyday and are there on time.
Year 2 at Your Job (Sophomore): While you retain a certain semblance of ambition you’ve learned exactly which corners to cut and how little you have to do in order to get by.
Year 3 at Your God Awful Job (Junior): You’re pretty sure that you’re doing everyone a favor by showing up.
Years 4-40 at the hell hole where you’re probably going to die (Senior): If you can’t find a good enough parking spot, you’re probably going to just go back home and get in bed.
Never underestimate the value of what you’ve been taught in school. There will always be “free days,” freaks, and frenemies—but it all boils down to how well you can avoid eye contact when someone asks for volunteers.
What did you learn in high school that is still relevant today? Do you ever feel like you’re constantly waiting for the next phase of life? How have you managed to convince people that you’re a functioning adult?
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