High school can be boring. Many students only keep attending so they can see their friends. Many successful students see it only as a tedious hoop-jumping exercise — a series of pointless requirements learning things you’ll never use again in your life. Play the game, they say, and eventually you’ll come out on the other side into college or the “real world” of life. There’s some truth to this, but there is a better perspective. How can you make the best of it? What if you could turn this high school experience into a springboard to your dreams? Here are some ways to do just that:
- Remember what Conan the Barbarian (1982) said: “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” It’s related to a favorite quote from Marcus Aurelius: “That which does not make a man worse than he was, also does not make his life worse, nor does it harm him either from without or from within.” High school can be very difficult, academically and socially. In fact the teenage years in general are a great challenge. This is reality. You can let it weaken you, or you can use it like weight training to strengthen you.
- “Begin with the end in mind,” as Stephen Covey says. Without specific goals in mind, you will either be like a leaf in the wind, blowing this way and that, or you’ll be just sitting on the couch, unmotivated and apathetic. At best you’ll be expending precious energy in the wrong direction. Know what are you aiming for, then you’ll know what you need to do.
- Read Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, or the teen version by Sean Covey.
- Realize the fact that you can think for yourself. Regardless of your test scores, regardless of what “level” or social class you have been assigned, you have the ability to think. This means you can make decisions and solve problems. This means you are competent for life. You have the basic abilities necessary to live a fulfilling life, and there is no reason you should not aim for this goal. A full and happy life is within your reach.
- Practice time management. You’ve got goals, now manage your time accordingly. Prioritize. Make sure the important things get done. Time fillers and wasters (e.g. Facebook) can wait. Do anything that can be done in 5 minutes or less first. This helps clear your to-do list and reduce stress. Put all of your tasks into your planner, with specific times. If you think you’ll need two hours to complete a paper, then block out two hours in your planner. And stick to your schedule. Work expands to fill the time alloted.
- Speaking of stress, make sure you plan in down-time. Put relaxation into your planner. Put time with family and friends into your planner. Put in a walk or hike or bike ride or drawing or whatever it is you like to do, even Facebook and role playing games.
- Regarding goals: Realize that this is not your parents’ world. Things are changing rapidly. Gone are the days when a college degree or good union job was your guarantee for life. Expect to be learning your whole life. Expect change and be adaptable. And regardless of what they say, college is not the only option. There are lots of good alternatives.
- Prioritize. If your goal is to get into a good college, you will use your time differently than if your goal is to start a business.
- Speaking of business, why not start one now? That’s how Zuckerberg got started. You have a market: Your peers. Or maybe you’d rather start a non-profit, or volunteer for a charity. Do it.
- Stand out. If you are aiming for college, high GPAs and SATs are good, but you need something that will make you stand out among your peers. Are you a horseback rider? An artist? An activist? A backpacker? Have you started a business or non-profit organization? Cultivate those things. They will make you stand out from the sea of bland “well-rounded” applications. The same holds for employment applications.
- Hone your study skills. Read this book, or one like it. You would be amazed how a few systematic tricks can help you get better grades and have more time for more important things.
There are many more ways to make the most of your high school career, but it all comes down to this: You are responsible for your own happiness and your own life, and your life has already begun. Make the most of every day — it will affect the days to come. If you messed up today, get back up, dust yourself off, and realize that mistakes are part of life and are learning experiences. What’s most important is that you got back up. Every day is a new opportunity — a new spring board to your dreams.