Back when I was a teenager, I went to a small religious school; there were only about 65 people in my class. I was totally loud, and I'd say I was pretty funny, or at least I made a lot of wise cracks. When I had a bad day, I could get really angry and kick my locker. I wasn't shy, let's put it that way. My tastes were pretty 60's oriented. I listened to bands like the Grateful Dead and was kind of obsessed with hippies and peace and love. I felt like I was born in the wrong generation, and that I should have been a flower child.
As for friends, I definitely hung out with the more high status people. Of course that's not saying much in my little Jewish school, so let's not get carried away.
I had two really good friends in high school. I had my partner in crime. I'm not going to say too much on the subject, but you get it, we used to break the rules together (only every once in a while). She was my really fun friend. Then I had another friend who was less popular, but probably the truest friend I had around me. We're still friends today, and if you ask her about how we became friends, she likes to laugh about being the dorky one and inviting me to her grade 7 birthday party, and then being shocked when I actually came.
However it came to be, we had this friendship, a friendship that was always a little bit separate from my other friends. It didn't matter that she wasn't one of the "cool" kids, I could tell that the quality of the friendship between us was completely different, in important ways, to others in my life. There was no denying what was real and what was true.
We were hanging out around the time I began to realize that popularity was overrated (stupid even) and that my true friends were going to be people who weren't popular. That was a really big lesson for me in high school.
Before that, I pretty much followed the crowd. I was too afraid not to. I really, really wanted to fit in. I was afraid of being different. And that's why I do what I do now. I remember what it was like in high school, what I was like in high school. I think I was really haunted by the pressure to fit in and I think it really compromised me. That's why I work with girls and young women: to help them understand the value of authenticity.
I think I sacrificed a lot trying to fit in back then. There are going to be moments in your high school life where you are going to have to decide between popularity and doing the right thing. It can seem impossible at the time, but do your best to resist caving in to peer pressure. Trust me on this. I had a really good friend that I betrayed because I was trying to be accepted by somebody else, and I can never take back what I did. I write about the situation in my book Odd Girl Out
in the chapter entitled "The Bully in the Mirror." For the rest of my life I'll remember the feeling of regret I had for what I did to my friend. I lost something really important and precious to me because I wasn't true to myself.
Even though I find it easier to be true to myself as an adult, the fact of the matter is that in every stage of life there will be external pressure to act a certain way and to live a certain way. When girls are in high school, the pressure is to have a boyfriend, to wear certain clothes, to like certain things. When you're a woman of my age, the pressure changes to having a husband, having a baby, having a certain kind of life. And while cliques will never be nearly as intense post-graduation as in high school, there are still a lot of cliques in colleges, particularly in environments like sororities and athletic teams, and then there are definitely mommy cliques that will sprout up in your adult life.
Bottom line: Other people are always going to be there to pressure you to be a particular way, and it takes a lot of courage to go against that. The catch: In high school, cliques are a life raft; they provide security. It's kind of like when you're sitting at home, after school and you're really hungry. Now you know that you could just grab a Twinkie out of the cabinet, shove it into your mouth, scarf it down and snap, you'd be full. But you also know that it would be healthier if you took the time to cut up some vegetables or cut up some fruit and mix it with some yogurt; it might take a little bit longer but in the end, it's better for you. Now right now you're probably asking yourself: "Where is she going with this?" Okay, so, what I'm saying is that sometimes, hanging on to a group of "friends" is a quick fix for the insecurity that you might feel. But, what you should really think about doing in high school is taking the time to actually try to find a person that's healthy, a relationship that's healthy, instead of going for the quick fix of a group.
If I could give you one piece of advice from the perspective of my 16-year-old self, I'd say: Find someone older that you can trust and that you can say anything to, someone that gives good advice. Not necessarily an old person, just somebody that's a little older than you, who can kind of be your go to person. It's an invaluable asset.
Having someone like that to talk to got me through a lot. I had this girl that used to babysit me, she was about 6 years older than I was; I could talk to her about all my problems. She made me feel more sane and less alone. But most of all, knowing her while I grew up showed me that there was life after the craziness of high school.
When it comes to sharing and talking about things going on in your life, don't be afraid to trust that your parents might just be right about a thing or two. My parents were wiser than I gave them credit for, not all the time, but sometimes. The essence of being a teenager is to be driven insane by your parents; adolescence is about gradually separating yourself from the folks. Whenever a teenager I'm working with says to me: "I'm best friends with my parents. I have no complaints." I always ask: "Are you ok? Are you on something?" Longing for privacy as a teen, and wanting distance from your parents so you can take care of things yourself, is just a part of growing up. You feel like your parents are driving you crazy? That's like saying, "I'm in kindergarten and I finger paint." That's just what teenagers do: They are driven crazy by their parents.
Don't worry so much about growing up fast. There's plenty of time for that. Enjoy being a teenager. I mean it. Life is messy and unpredictable and its hard to actually become what you think you want to be at 16, unless you want to become a doctor and you go right off to medical school or something. I thought I would get married and have kids. I don't know why that was what I thought. I just thought that I was going to have a "normal" life like everyone else, but that's not what happened at all. Most of the time that's the way it works out: different than how you expected. Life is just really unpredictable, you'll get opportunities that you didn't expect and they'll subsequently lead you in a new direction.
So don't get too hung up on fantasizing about what your life will be like after the years of homeroom and math class. It's more important to be in the now. The best thing you can do is look at the moment that you're in and make sure that you're doing things that you want to be doing. Be true to yourself, work hard and be kind to the people around you: friends, and strangers who might just end up being the best friend you ever had. Do this and everything else will fall into place.