Illustration by Maxine Crump.

Illustration by Maxine Crump.

I recently started uni, but all I can think about is how much of a waste my high school years were. I always had this fantasy of things coming full circle, of stepping out of the moment and recognizing that one day this would be a part of a beautiful nostalgia; I wanted to fit my life into a narrative. But shit happens, and I ended up graduating with no group of friends, no prom, and with next to nothing that showed that it even really happened.

I feel as if I’ve wasted four years of my life waiting for something to happen, but now it’s too late for me to become anyone, like I’m milk left too long on the stove so it’s curdled instead of reaching that perfect temperature. I feel lost without the idea of a narrative to cling to (if that makes any sense), and that I wasted my chances at having the kinds of friends and wonderful moments that made up what I aspired to, and I’m scared that I won’t accomplish anything in uni. I’m not exactly sure what my question is, but I guess it’s how do you reconcile yourself with the fact that the ideals that you clung to in order to make sense of your world crumbled, and how do you find/explore new versions of yourself when it seems like you should’ve already? —Emily F.

Hi, Emily! First up, congratulations on graduating high school and starting college! Despite any regrets you may have, that’s an accomplishment you can be immensely proud of. There’s a lot I want to tell you, but let me start by saying you’re not alone. I, too, spent high school tormented by the idea that I was doing something terribly wrong, though I could never quite pinpoint what that was. I believed every day would be like an episode of One Tree Hill (seasons one to four). It didn’t take too long for me to realize the narrative I had dreamed of living would be completely distinct from real life. I wouldn’t kiss many boys (in reality, none!). I would cry a lot more times than I expected. Sometimes I would just want high school to be over.

I won’t pretend I was all like, Screw high school!! I don’t care!! I’m too cool for it anyway! Realizing things don’t go the way we plan is a difficult (yet very human) thing to go through. We dive into an adventure, such as high school, thinking we know exactly how it will turn out. And when it doesn’t, we may think, OH NO, IS THIS HOW LIFE WORKS? WHAT NOW?! When we see everyone around us “getting it all,” we may wonder, When’s my time? What am I doing wrong? Will my whole life be like this—building my hopes up and being disappointed?

Fortunately, life isn’t limited to the brief years spent in high school. And even though these years might seem tremendously important right now, there’s a lot you can do to heal and take advantage of your time in college. You can start by stepping out of your comfort zone. Try doing things your old self wouldn’t do out of fear of a possible negative outcome. It could be cooking classes, photography, soccer…anything! You could even try striking up a conversation with someone in your class who has the same interests as you, or buying a ticket to a concert. Trying new things is a great way to build up trust in yourself that everything will be just fine. If you’re busy doing something you love, then you won’t have the time to obsess over things you can’t control—like the past!—and it’ll be a lot easier to focus on the present. Plus, you may meet cool people to hang out with!

Doing something you’re afraid of might sound nerve-racking. But a lot of times when you take an opportunity and something good comes of it, you’ll feel so great that you may just want to keep exploring and testing your boundaries. You may find that feeling lost is not the most horrible thing, and that we can rarely predict when the best things will come into our lives. That’s what makes life all the more thrilling—it’s a big, complicated riddle we can only solve by navigating through it. It helps to accept that sometimes we’re scared, because feeling scared can’t stop us from doing what will make us happy.

Different people go through different life experiences at different times. There’s nothing you should’ve done already. Your whole life is ahead of you. I can guarantee there will be so many chances to make friends and kiss people and laugh hysterically and dance to better music than at any prom in history. You will have so many opportunities to explore yourself and learn about who you are—a complex, fascinating, brave human being.

You’re NEVER too late to become the person you hope to become. Just sit back and trust that it will all work out. And someday, I promise you, you’ll look back and everything will be even better than you could’ve ever imagined. —Mia ♦

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