By the time I entered high school in the tenth grade, my desire for acceptance was turning to resentment. After spending my ninth grade year at a newly built junior high with a much more affluent population (which didn’t include any of the poor brown kids I usually hung around with), I was pretty worn out with “not fitting in”. But, despite my best efforts, it just wasn’t meant to be. No matter how hard I tried, I was never going to be a rich white Mormon kid with a big house on the mountain.
Even so, I had hope for high school. As my high school was much more diverse than the junior high I had just come from, I was optimistic that fitting in might still be possible.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.
Because of the extreme diversity of my high school, it seemed even more fragmented into cliques than I had previously experienced: Only Preppies and Jocks could go in the Commons; The Gangsters hung out on the benches out front; The Cowboys had “Cowboy Corner” in by the back entrance and the Geeks seemed to spend their time in the cafeteria. Needless to say, I still didn’t fit in well anywhere.
I believe it was at this time that I started to become very exclusive with my circle of friends. So rejected had I felt by the groups / cliques / society that I began to project this rejection on to other people. I guess I figured that if I couldn’t fit in with any of the other groups that no one could fit into my group. The trouble was, I didn’t really have a “group”, per se. I had some amazingly close friends, but we were more of a United Nations than our own country.
Jerry, who had been my best friend since the fourth grade, seemed to fit in much better than I ever did with the Gangsters. Then again, Jerry fit in with everyone. Come to think of it, Tyler (who was my best friend since ninth grade) also seemed to get along with everyone as well, even though he was more of a Preppie by stereotype. Last, but not least, was Adam (who was also my best friend since ninth grade). Adam, like me, never seemed to fit into just one box. Even though he was best suited to hang out with the Jocks and the Preppies, he often times found himself walking around with a group of wannabe-Gangsters.
All in, this was my crew. And though it wasn’t my crew exclusively, I genuinely felt like I fit in with these three guys. But, the fact remained that I couldn’t navigate three full years of high school by interacting with just three guys. So, I continued the charade of trying to fit in with all of the different cliques that I encountered while constantly projecting the rejection I had previously felt. It got to a point where my strategy was to reject others first, out of fear that they might reject me. This is not something I’m proud of, but it is what happened.
I became resentful and jaded. I built up a wall in an attempt not to be vulnerable. I became unfeeling and cut-throat in relationships with people outside of my crew. I drew a clear line in the sand seperating the people I trusted and the rest of the world and the chance of someone crossing that line was miniscule. I had become so tired of trying unsuccessfully to fit in, that I tried to turn the tables on the whole system. Rather than seek acceptance from others, I decided that others could now try and seek acceptance from me.
Unfortunately, this strategy didn’t work as well as I had hoped. As I became more exclusive, my small circle of friends became closer, but I ended up excluding many people who weren’t nearly as judgemental as I had projected on them to be. And in reality, there simply wasn’t a group of people lined up to get my approval. I wasn’t that cool, I wasn’t that smart, and I definitely wasn’t that friendly. Over time, I actually gained a reputation as being a bit unapproachable, a little intimidating, and a lot conceited / arrogant. Right or wrong, this was my defense mechanism and it was the only way I found to cope with the situation.
What’s regrettable is that I wasn’t really that guy. Deep down, I was an incredibly optimistic kid that appreciated having many friends and loved helping others. But, because I didn’t know any other way to deal with these circumstances, I ended up selling others short and hindering my own experience more than I probably had to.
I recently read an article that evaluated the pros and cons of the American High School experience. The article argued that the social dynamics of an average high school in the U.S. were highly detrimental to the overwhelming majority of the students. As I was reading the article, I began laughing to myself as I considered a more appropriate title for the article: “New Study Confirms What Teens Have Know For Generations: High School is Bullshit”.
Now in my mid-thirties, I look back on my high school experience with bewilderment. Usually, I look back on an experience with 20/20 hindsight and think “if only I knew then what I know now” I would have handled it all so much better. But when it comese to high school, I’m not really sure what I could have done so much differently. Sure, I would have stood up to more bullies and been nicer to the less popular kids, but I’m doubtful that would have done much to change the toxic system that it is.
As I speak with adults now, about my “unique experience” of not fitting in during my high school years, I’ve found that the majority of people had a similar experience. Whether they were a Geek or a Preppie, a Cowboy or a Gangster, it seems that everyone was simply trying to assimiliate with one clique or another, often times unsuccessfully. Even the kids who were popular have stories about how insecure they were about losing their status as they understood how fleeting teen opinion can be. And of course, I’ve encountered a high school quarterback or two who aren’t exactly living in the past, but more so questioning how that glory slipped away.
So, if I had the opportunity to go back and do high school all over again, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t go. Knowing what I know now, I would have skipped it all together. As I see it, the negatives of high school far out-weight the positives. The social pressures are ridiculous and they have a distracting / negative impact on the academics. Additionally, most people I know spent the entirity of their twenties figuring out that all of the social practices that they learned in high school were, in fact, bullshit.
In the “real world”, unlike in high school, having a cool car, designer jeans, and cool shoes doesn’t actually ensure happiness. In the real world, there is no Prom King & Queen and the smart guys (Geeks) on average make a lot more money than the athletic guys (Jocks).
As such, I believe there are better alternatives like online education with a opportunity for community activities (city sports leagues, music lessons, community theaters, etc) that would eliminate the negative social dynamics while still providing the positive academic and team building opportunities.