My freshman year was both really hard and ultimately really rewarding. I started at a brand new school that year, which was nerve-wracking. I missed my friends from middle school and could barely find my way around the place, much less comprehend why I had to bear the additionally heavy cross of braces and awful bangs and a nose I had yet to grow into. But I actually ended up loving it - I did make friends, and figure out where to sit at lunch, and got cast in a lead role in the school play, and somehow ended up on the lacrosse team - a sport I'd never even heard of before. (In a related story, I was TERRIBLE at it. But I had fun!)
Of course, this is me as an adult looking back; at the time I know I was incredibly frustrated much of the time. It's so hard to be new. It's so hard to be fourteen! It took a long time for things to be mostly fun instead of mostly terrifying.
I've been asked a lot during this book tour what I'd say to myself if I could go back in time, and the answer is: PLENTY. Of course, I can't. So here are some tips for those starting on the often horrifying, sometimes awesome journey that is freshman year. Who, if they're anything like I was at fourteen... will probably ignore me. Ah, well. Points for trying?
1) Don't try so hard. Trust that people will like you even if you aren't always "on," or cracking a joke, or proving you're right about everything, or agreeing with the popular opinion, or whatever your go-to self-defense method is. Here's the thing - all the other kids are just as insecure about themselves as you are. Be yourself. Relax. All that energy you're expending working to fit in (or be deliberately different)? No one is noticing. Just do your thing.
2) The guys (or girls) you're agonizing over don't deserve your agony. People used to have to wait for their high school reunions to realize the crushes they lost their minds – and many, many tears, and occasionally even friends – over end up being, well, not nearly as great as they seemed at the time. In the era of Facebook, you don't even have to wait! So have fun, date, hook up, flirt, and do all that stuff. Even get your heart broken – we all have to go through it sooner or later. But try not to take it too seriously if you can. You will look back and think “I liked THAT guy (or girl)?! Whyyyyyyyyyy?” in ten years. I promise.
3) Don't suck up to that junior after the cast list for the fall play goes up - or whatever your corresponding situation is. It's annoying to everyone else and usually backfires. You will be better off earning upperclassmen's respect and admiration for your writing or art or whatever makes you special. Let them come to you, or see if friendships just unfold naturally. (Trust me on this one – that cafeteria scene with Julie Nelson in the beginning of the book? Ripped from the headlines of my life. Nightmare.)
4) Do not to go into Manhattan to stay over at the apartment of a random girl you barely know from camp. She turns out to be really weird and live in what is essentially a room filled with garbage! This will not end up being the cool adventure you think it's going to be – not even close. (Hrm. Maybe this one really only works for me? Sorry 'bout that.)
5) Don't let your parents – or teachers, or anyone - make you think that every single thing you do in high school is going to make or break the rest of your life. My parents had me panicked about my SAT scores the second I set foot in high school. Not to mention grades, extra-curriculars, clubs, leadership positions... the pressure to succeed was incredible. And I'm certainly not saying those things aren't important – of course they are. BUT. One C (or even an F!) on a paper or test is not going to kill your chances at a good school. Your SATs will not determine the kind of person you end up being or the quality of the life you end up having. So yes - study hard. Join clubs and activities that interest and motivate you. But also have fun. Make choices. Make dumb mistakes. Learn from them. Don't let this looming senior-year mission to get accepted to Yale or wherever predicate every move you make in high school. There are just as many important experiences to have that are never going to come up on a college application, and you don't want to miss them.
By the way - the advice I could offer for the next three years after ninth grade? Or college? Well, that list was be too long for this post. It's Friday Five, not Fifty. Don't blame me! It was all Karla's idea... Happy reading!