You may think you’re confident and mature. You’ve put all the crazy, awkward, cliquishness of middle school behind you. That’s what I thought too. But I’ve been spending time at the middle school recently and I’m convinced that most adults have more in common with middle school girls than they’re willing to admit. I know I do.
1. The Cool Kids’ Table – In middle school, there was this illusive group of “cool” kids. Some were cool because they were confident. Some were cool because they were unbelievable jerk-nuggets who no one wanted to cross. They faked confidence by beating everyone else down. Individually, the kids at the cool table might not have been anyone you wanted to hang out with, but through some kind of tween mind control, everyone ended up looking to them to lead the way. If they said Levi Red Tabs were cool, you’d pay triple for the jeans with the red tabs or face the wrath of the masses.
I like to think I’m past looking to other people to tell me what to do, how to dress, and how to spend my money. But I have my moments. Do you ever spend more on an item than necessary just because it will make you look cool? Have you ever been ashamed or embarrassed by your home, your clothes, or car, even if they’re more than sufficient for your needs? Stop for a minute and think, “Cool Kids’ Table,” and realize how grateful you are to be out of junior high. You don’t have to compare anymore! Because you are no longer a thirteen-year-old with absolutely zero perspective.
2. Refusing to Shower – I remember a time when I fought with my parents about my stench. They thought I smelled bad. What!? I just showered yesterday. And I probably… maybe… might’ve worn deodorant. GOSH! Get off my back. But, somewhere deep inside I knew they were right. I knew it wasn’t a good thing to smell like soup. But I didn’t want them telling me what to do, and besides, a little thing like deodorant didn’t make THAT much difference, did it?
Do you ever find yourself not doing something you know is good for you? Dragging through your day because you didn’t get to bed on time last night, because you had a very busy evening full of Netflix? In middle school you were rebelling against your parents by not showering. Now when you refuse to do something you know you should do, who are you rebelling against? Showering is pretty much a must in my life at this point but I procrastinate water drinking and bedtime and fine, stop yelling at me, I don’t always floss. Choose one thing you’re avoiding like a little girl with BO avoids the shower, suck it up, and be an adult about it. Your ten-years-from-now self will thank you.
3. We’re all Alone Together – This one goes along with the Cool Kids’ Table. There is a plague of loneliness in middle school, all of these kids alone together. I remember when it suddenly occurred to me that if I just hung out with the other kids who felt rejected and alone, I would have… dun dun DUN… FRIENDS! For every one kid at the Cool Kids’ Table, saying my legs looked fat in those white ties, or wrote choice words about me on the bathroom wall with a sharpie, there were five kids in my band class who needed a friend and disagreed with the sharpie artist.
I cannot tell you how many times in my adult life I have heard someone say, “I don’t have any friends,” or, “People aren’t very welcoming here.” I’ve said it myself. But, when I really break it down, I would tell grownups the same thing I wish I could go back and tell my seventh-grade self, “To have a friend you need to be a friend,” and, “Are you very welcoming here?” There are definitely times and places where it’s more difficult to make friends than others and no one likes to beat her head against the brick wall of a tight social circle. But in every community there are other people who feel alone. If you keep trying to get a seat at the Cool Kids’ Table and it’s not happening, find a fellow band nerd and enjoy life together.
4. All is Lost – I blame hormones, YA dystopian novels, and Facebook for the soul-sucking gloom-and-doom pessimism I hear middle schoolers express. “This is the worst!” “My life is over!” “I don’t ever want to get out of bed again!” Until five minutes later when they find out they have no homework or a cute boy smiles at them or they simply forget that the world has ended.
We’re too mature to jump to the worst-case scenario in our heads and assume because one thing went wrong EVERYTHING will go wrong, right? Riiiight? I’m working on this one. When I was young, of course, thinking like this was pointless pessimism. Now I sort of pat myself on the back and say I’m just being realistic, preparing myself for any possibility… especially the awful ones. But it doesn’t lead to happiness.
If I’m terrified that something will go wrong on our vacation, I can spend three weeks prior to the vacation living as though something awful is going to happen, worrying, stressing. Then the vacation goes great and I’m relieved. With this kind of thinking, I spend more time worrying in advance for no reason than I would have spent being miserable if something had actually gone wrong on vacation. “Oh my gosh! If Jessica wears the same shirt as me to picture day, I’m going to DIE!” is a pretty pitiful way to live. Stop. Now.
5. Bullying – I wasn’t a bully in middle school. I guess you could say I was more of a bully-ee. And looking back, I don’t think I was a target any more than your average middle schooler, but there were days it felt like the entire school was out to get me.
No longer do people stand over me when I drop all my books in the hall, cackling like hyenas and throwing garbage in my hair. But, as an adult, I realized that the bullying was still going on but I was doing it all myself. Do you ever talk down to yourself, call yourself names, or say mean things to yourself? You’d never talk like that to a friend, or probably to a stranger, or honestly to your worst enemy. Don’t talk like that to your closest friend, you.
We aren’t in middle school anymore and when I’m on campus volunteering at my daughter’s school, that is a huge relief to me. We know more now about the world and about ourselves. We’re probably for the most part more confident, happier, and more secure. So, let’s keep the lessons of middle school fresh on our minds and put the awkwardness and angst behind us.