Awhile back I returned to my high school alma mater and spoke to the high school students. Here’s the gist of my message: 12 Things I Learned in High School.
1. Act as if you belong.
In 12-step support groups this means “fake it til you make it.” I just remember being incorrectly placed in an honor’s class. I sat there next to Tony M., a fellow average-intelligence classmate who I recently hooked up with on Facebook, wondering what language everyone was speaking. And Tony reminded me that by acting as though we belonged, we fooled Mr. Troha into giving us As!
2. Today can be the beginning of a new life.
My senior year, a few teachers pulled me aside and challenged me on my self-destructive behavior involving alcohol. Apparently some stories about the Homecoming dance had made it back to them. “What’s going on?” one religion teacher asked me. It prompted me to ask the hard questions and confront my alcohol addiction. I remember sitting up in bed one evening that year wondering if the decision to abstain from alcohol that day would really influence the rest of my life. Twenty years later, I can confidently answer that question: absolutely.
3. Never lose your sense of humor.
Humor is by far my strongest ally in the fight against negative thinking and despair. I try to remind myself daily of what G.K. Chesterton said, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”
4. Success is 99 percent sweat, one percent talent.
Take it from this girl who didn’t break 1,000 on her SATs. Perseverance. That’s all you need. Just as the Japanese proverb says, “Fall seven times, get up eight.” Or an anonymous saying “The greatest oak was once a little nut who held its ground.”
5. Gratitude and kindness will open many doors for you.
My dad taught me this one. As a very savvy business man, he stressed the importance of “thank you” notes, and expressions of appreciation, especially to the gate keepers like the assistants to the publishers you want to publish your book. A little kindness to her will get you in the door.
6. Compare and despair.
Something to keep in mind: you never know the whole story on people you envy, so try not to compare your insides with another person’s outsides. I can confidently say that it will never lead to peace.
7. Give back.
Gandhi once wrote that “the quickest way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” The only surest way out of my pain has been to box it up, sort through it, and figure out how it might help someone else.
8. Peer pressure never goes away.
Your friends influence you more than you think. Studies show that folks who hang out with optimists become optimists themselves; folks who hang out with cheating couples are more inclined to cheat. So choose your pals wisely.
9. Ask for help when you need it.
I did that for the first time when I was a senior in high school, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
10. Be yourself.
Anna Quindlen writes in her small giftbook “Being Perfect” that “Nothing important or meaningful or beautiful or interesting ever came out of imitations. Perfection is static, even boring. Your unvarnished self is what is wanted.”
11. Forget about perfection.
Leonard Cohen writes in the lyrics to his song, “Anthem,” that there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
12. Lean on God.
He is always there. Don’t be afraid to call on him.
Like Psalm 145 says “The Lord is close to all who call on him.”