When I was in high school, I was miserable. I have an older sister who was off at college already while I was doomed to trudge through the hallways, avoid the mean girls, dodge the obnoxious boys, meekly try to get my favorite teachers to like me. It was awful. I truly hated high school. I also hated the place we lived. We moved there right before I entered middle school, a very inopportune time for my dear parents to uproot us with the best of intentions. So I was a depressed, angry, anxious, Gilmore Girls fanatic who just wanted to go to college and find myself like Rory did. Truly, didn't we all? It all came to a head at the start of my senior year when the principal called the class into the auditorium for our big beginning-of-the-year assembly. I remember very little about what he said (sorry). What I do remember is his praise of our school, calling it the Ritz Carlton of high schools (HA okay) and then his big finish:
"These are the best four years of your life! Don't let them go to waste! This is the best time of your life so enjoy this last year and appreciate it."
Or something to that effect. WHAT? I sat in my seat, horrified. All the other faces were beaming, beaming! I was surrounded by buffoons (sorry) who would follow the same path their parents carved out or inherited from their parents: go to the big high school, go to a big state university, then MOVE BACK and live there FOREVER with all the same people they've gone to school with for their entire lives. Now, maybe had I liked the place we lived, that fate wouldn't have induced my most dramatic eye rolls and sounds of disgust. But knowing that system of this weird, wacko Florida town, and coupling it with that speech, my vision for my future seemed all the more in danger. This is it? We've all peaked now? THESE are the BEST four years of my life? Oh dear God.
We shuffled (I shuffled, they skipped) back to our classes and I went back into the photography lab. And those next moments lifted the relief off of me so quickly that I swear had I tried, I could've floated right out of the room. My teacher, more than slightly eccentric but dear to everyone's hearts, had us all sit down and look her in the eye before we got back to work. She told us,
"Don't listen to that man. These do NOT have to be the best years of your life. Do not peak in high school. That does not have to be you."
(Again, or something to that effect.) I mean, I wanted to fall down on my face and worship her. In a sea of settlers, here was this amazing woman telling us to do better. To make better years. To aim higher for our lives, not even just for our education. So I strutted around the rest of that day feeling infinitely superior to everyone else for already wanting to aim higher and to have better years and to move on from high school and and and and...
I had an amazing college experience, I mean truly remarkable. I could talk to you for hours about how amazing and superior my experience was to anyone else's. Humility is not my strong-suit, as you can probably tell by now. But my last (fifth) year in college was different. Most of my friends had graduated and left, I was ready to be done. Granted my mom had just died, so I was raw and low, so low. My best friend, my saving grace that year especially, was staying for another year too. We had talk upon talk about how it just wasn't the same that year, that we wanted everyone to move back and be friends and live within five minutes of each other and be pals all the time. Is this sounding familiar? I had idolized college and the freedom from that high school and those people for so long but I was doing the exact thing they did then. I thought I had peaked. I thought that nothing would ever be as good as college was.
So settlement. I genuinely thought I was destined to settle. Ugh, shudders down my spine. I may not have put it in these words until recently, but I neglected my ideas and values because I didn't think I could make anything as good as those years were, so why try? Why put in all the effort just to be disappointed? A lot of layers to this thinking. But then I had to quit my job. I was suicidal. I haven't publicly acknowledged that before now. But I was. I'll spare the details for now, but suddenly I found myself without any purpose. I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I had to determine if I'd go back to design, or just find any job to get by for the rest of my life. Then little creative thoughts entered my mind. I wanted to be a woodworker, a writer, a florist, a painter, a stationery designer. I still want to be all of those things, but realistically I cannot. Talent only goes so far with some things. But, I can be something. I can be something. I can be something. I can make a grand life. I can plan it all out, but chances are those plans are probably in vain-worry not about tomorrow today, for tomorrow has enough problems. Is that how the verse goes? Anyway, I can't determine every step, every turn, every hill, every valley in my future, but I can move forward expecting things to go up. I'm anything but an optimist, so I don't go further blindly thinking nothing will ever go wrong. I have really bad days. Then I have really good days. But what matters is the general upward trend. As soon as that line on the graph starts flat-lining or declining, I'm in trouble, because settlement is dangerous. It halts every ambition and deprives you of hope. And after all, what more do we have than hope?