High School. It was the worst of times: a miserable, awkward period filled with awful memories that I hope I lose first in my old age. I didn’t fit in anywhere, never looked right, dressed right, or did anything right according to the popular kids. I was such a social outcast that my tormentors formed a political action committee called PACY just to pick on me. Sadly, I’m not kidding.

In high school I had no confidence. I desperately wanted everyone else to like and accept me even though I had no idea how to like and accept myself. I didn’t even know who I was any more after so many years of bullying. Every time I was admonished for a character trait, I would remove it until there was nothing left but a skeleton of my former self. I changed what I could and sulked about the rest. I was teased for talking too much so I stopped talking and teased for not having the right clothes so I bought them. But I couldn’t change being a redhead or being pale. And it didn’t matter how hard I tried to fit in, they would find fault with something. If I drew a picture too large in art class, the popular girls would tease me about it so I’d compensate and draw it small, but then it wasn’t big enough and they’d tease me for that.

Then finally one day I hit the wall. Maybe it was after years of therapy. Or maybe I had finally just been pushed one too many times. But enough was enough. I learned that I did not need the approval of the popular girls because their opinion wasn’t all that important. I learned to use my voice again and to speak up. I learned to say NO. To defend myself. To express my opinions. To be me again.

You know the old adage, “the only person you change is yourself”? That’s what I learned in high school. And as I’ve grown up, I’ve also noticed that high school follows you everywhere you go. I find high school dynamics in the workplace, with other moms at my toddler’s school, in our community, and after watching Best Exotic Marigold Hotel the other night, I’m sure they will follow me into the old folks home as well. This was a painful life lesson to learn, and I sincerely hope my children don’t have to learn it the hard way as I did. So for them and everyone else who is still stuck in high school, here are my top three mantras for surviving:

1) Do not let others intimidate you (no matter how powerful or cool they seem)
2) Express yourself (with kindness whenever possible)
3) Trust in yourself (what others think of you shouldn’t cloud what you think of yourself)

I could probably write a list of 100 other profound things I learned in high school, but I think those three are all I can handle at the moment. I need to go meditate now so I can put my high school memories back in the past where they belong!

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