What are small ways you use to make a mundane life more bearable?
February 15, 2009 1:47 AM   Subscribe

What are small ways you use to make a mundane life more bearable?

It probably sounds stupid to ask for ways to change without totally making over my life but I guess I'm stuck in the excruciating wait of the last years of high school.

School is pretty tough and with all this godawful pressure to do well and get into X college, I'm fucking my sanity up the ass with a few scant hours of sleep a night and awful weekends when my parents rail me about female domestic obligations and ask me how that job search is going. I go to one of those sad schools near the top of those U.S. News rankings so they are beating us with hypothetical whips of sorts. I respect my teachers and don't cheat, put in an awfully ridiculous amount of time into student organizations in need of devotion and can't help but get the feeling that none of it matters. It's just high school, after all.

When I get my report card, none of it matters, and it's not satisfying, but not doing well in school would make me feel crappy too. So I can't really change all of the above, the not sleeping and homework and shit, but I guess I'm looking for ways to make the days pass by a little easier. I don't exactly have sunshine coming out of my ass either. Sometimes I sit in the bathroom and read Harper's instead of doing math, which is really a piece of shit of a subject for me, and that makes me happy for awhile.

In short, I am a helpless nerd tied by all sorts of silly obligations who doesn't have time for herself. Being a teenage girl sucks and there's not much I can do about that, but wait.

What do you when you're stuck and just have to wait for time to plod on by?
posted by mmmleaf to Human Relations (53 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mindfulness. I feel calm and restful when I practice it. I also practice gratitude (not to a deity) because in comparison to many, many others in the world, I have unprecedented health, wealth, and opportunities to learn and experience life. So even when I have daily chores that irritate me, a quantity of boring tasks, and little opportunity for leisure, I try to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty and bounty of each instance, and be grateful for those things that I do have.
posted by b33j at 2:02 AM on February 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Take some time every now and then (not even everyday, but at least a few times a month) to do whatever you want. Not just reading Harper's, but something you really enjoy and want to do - maybe go find a park that you can just hang out in for an hour every Saturday. Go jogging for 20 minutes every morning. Take that camera you got as a gift and have fun taking those goofy "myspace pictures". It doesn't really matter what it is, but the fact that you chose it. Not your teachers, or your parents, or those administrators off at some college 3 states away. You did.

I'm in the same boat, and some days all I have time to do is to say "I'll be back in 30 minutes" and walk around the block a few times - at 12:30 at night. It's late, it's nothing special, but I chose to do it. It's my thing to do.

There are seasons in everyone's life when we don't have a lot of say in what we do, and school is one of those. But they're called seasons for a reason - they change. And while we wait for change, we can at least make use of a few hours here and there...even if it is a 3am after we finally finished that Econ paper.
posted by niles at 2:03 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think waiting this out and hardening yourself to the sucky situation are your only options.

I'm probably two and a half times your age, but I have no trouble remembering how much I hated the rigid structure of high school and felt utterly unsupported by most of the adults in my life. In retrospect I suppose their behavior made sense -- the teachers were coping with oversized classes in an underfunded school, while my parents desperately tried to get in that last bit of parenting before their ability to influence me crumbled entirely.

I suspect the misery I felt (and that you feel) is a built-in psychological incentive to grow up, and I think you find relief through expressing and asserting rather than repressing yourself. I think you need to consider that even if you could completely succeed in the roles and meet the expectations that are being pressed on you, life would not be complete. The adults might get off your back, which would no doubt be nice, but life would still be a thin and unsatisfying gruel. With that in mind, I think you ought to look for activities that you find engaging and worthwhile, and spend some of your time doing them whether your parents like it or not.

What's available in the way of extracurricular activities? Try the ones that seem a little scary rather than boring, and be careful that you're not saying something is boring to avoid acknowledging that it's actually scary. A more outgoing friend roped me into doing lights for a one-act theater production, and this put me in touch with other kids who were more like me than the general student population, and who were up to all sorts of mischief that was technically school-sanctioned but actually somewhat under-the-radar. I also joined AFS, which did an exchange program with a town in Connecticut, which in turn swept me out of my oppressive suburb and set me loose in NYC for several hours one day. I never overcame my fear of team sports, but I now wish I'd tried out for something like track and field -- sports that would've pitted me against a clock or a an inanimate object would've been better for me than those that would put me directly up against other kids.

I don't mean to suggest a blissful, sunshiney happiness is right around the corner. It will probably be a while before you're comfortable in your own skin, but know that that's part of the deal, and you're very, very far from being alone in feeling it. You can cut through the utterly crappy misery of trying to be someone you're not. You can respond to it constructively, and start adding in pieces of a life you'll actually enjoy, an identity you'll be proud of and feel good about. But you can't doing it by doing exactly what everyone else wants you to do. You're going to have to assume a leadership role in your own life.
posted by jon1270 at 7:37 AM on February 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Recognize you are part of a society that has no idea how to collectively accomplish the requisite per capita economic productivity to maintain current standard of living and thus we torture our youth (i.e. you) with hours of meaningless work and "education" and pray to god you end up making above 50k/yr and that there will be an economy that can support those wages. Also recognize that you were born into a world unlike any that has ever existed in the entirety of human civilization. If you read about ancient Rome, for example, realize your world is entirely unlike that one. We are at the peak of an exponential human population explosion that began a few decades ago. Developed nations are at the peak of per capita energy and general consumption. Furthermore, mass media, secularism, and multiculturalism have destroyed the existence of local communities, the kind in which the majority of humanity were raised in. Cities, jobs, and people are as fungible as toilet paper. You and I know that in the back of your mind, getting those good grades and going to that prestigious institution makes you feel good. But realize that feeling of goodness is pure utter bullshit and humanity is nothing more than a blind random search through the space of group selection.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 7:44 AM on February 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


I find a change of scenery, even a little one, is the most helpful thing. No matter how much you might love your room, kitchen, school, whatever, you probably associate those things with misery and stress and unpleasantness. Going somewhere else, even for a short walk, can be really refreshing. Maybe take a Saturday afternoon and pack yourself a picnic to take to a park (actually, if there's a well-tended and non-morbid cemetery near you that won't freak you out, that can be a really nice place to go. I was fortunate enough to grow up near a really beautiful cemetery with trees and a pond and it was a very peaceful place to sit and read, especially because I knew the odds of seeing anyone I knew were low).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:47 AM on February 15, 2009


Grandma chiming in here. You can get your parents off your back re the female domestic obligations by doing them before it gets to the point where they start nagging. I know this is not what you want to hear, but actually acceding to the mundane can sometimes be empowering. Just wash the damn dishes when they appear; you can practice mindfulness while doing it, as a side benefit. The major benefit however, is your mother gets off your back and you get the boring shit out of the way instead of it looming in the future.

Here's my feeling about USNews top-ranked highschools. These schools have got college admissions down to a science. EVERYONE from these schools who tries to get into a top-100 college will get in. If you keep your grades in the Bs and above, and your SAT/ACTs in the decent range, you literally do not have to worry about getting into college. It's a done deal. If your parents and you are set on a top-20/50, you have to suck it up and get the grades, but if you've got them, again, the college admissions processes at these places are stacked in your favor.

If you are not on the same page as your parents regarding college, you need to get this through to them NOW, before you either spend a lot of their money going to a top tier school that's a bad fit, or take someone else's scholarship slot. Plus, four more years of misery.

Don't believe for a minute that a- none of it matters, or b- you can't do anything about it. That bad grades make you feel bad says to me that in fact it DOES matter and it IS satisfying to you. What you might want to do is look at the courses where a bad grade really wouldn't matter and you really wouldn't care. Drop that course, or take that one at a lower level of input (for the enjoyment not the grade) and just accept the class ranking hit.

Finally, to the Miss Sunshine attemps (I love your image of "sunshine not exactly shooting out your ass, Nora is that you?). So what. Teenagers are pigs. Ride the wave, you'll never get the societal permission to be this nasty again. If you make your mother cry, I'm on her side right or wrong, but up to that point, you're finding your way and it's really hard, so just hang on and hit those bumps full speed. You'll come out stronger on the other end.

P.S. My kids tell me I was a great mom for teenagers, but man you guys are hard to live with. (I sure do miss it though)
posted by nax at 8:00 AM on February 15, 2009 [12 favorites]


Go somewhere you don't normally go. It's easier than you think. If it's cold where you are, wear something very warm, have a little cash to treat yourself to something nice to eat along the way. Go to a park, outside your town, a museum, and leave when you want to, not stay as long as you should. Look at people, notice things, breathe deeply. Maybe go alone to the cinema or your local university's plays, or take a bus to the end of a line and walk around there, hopping back on once you're bored. All of these helped me get through university: suddenly papers, roommates, my lack of post-university work became far away and really small. You probably won't need more than a couple of hours, and you will be surprised how easy it is to make time if you really want.

You could use those hours awake or spent in the bathroom reading Harper's helping out. There's nothing like volunteering at a soup kitchen overnight to get some perspective.

On a more mundane note, it may also help to start working out.
posted by tavegyl at 8:06 AM on February 15, 2009


take more time off, whether you have time to or not (jack in some of your student organisations). Find a hobby. Preferably something that doesn't make you look like the best student in the world, is something your parents might disapprove of or find uncomfortable for you wasting your time with, and that might even expose you to other people people that do not share your current interests or state of mind, but it is something that you gives you a secret, gleeful, and dirty joie de vivre and lets you be something out of your current skin. Pop music, or having a band, has worked for many people in that situation, but it can be anything that takes your fancy.

Mindfulness, as recommended, isn't too bad either. And plan a trip far away from your current life for the moment that you're free and can afford to do so.
posted by iamnotateenagegirl at 8:11 AM on February 15, 2009


School is pretty tough and with all this godawful pressure to do well and get into X college, I'm fucking my sanity up the ass with a few scant hours of sleep a night and awful weekends when my parents rail me about female domestic obligations and ask me how that job search is going. I go to one of those sad schools near the top of those U.S. News rankings so they are beating us with hypothetical whips of sorts. I respect my teachers and don't cheat, put in an awfully ridiculous amount of time into student organizations in need of devotion and can't help but get the feeling that none of it matters. It's just high school, after all.

The only thing that saved me during high school was my devotion to creative activities--writing and reading both poetry and fiction, drawing, and painting. I'd highly recommend seeking out your school's art club if you haven't done a lot of art. Painting is stunningly cathartic, and even if it's not "good", art and writing will feel meaningful in a way with which your schoolwork can't plausibly compete. Set aside an hour a day for that, or something else you enjoy (even if it's reading trashy magazines). Once you've penciled it in, you'll be surprised at how you'll get other stuff done so that you can get your own stuff done.

Also, if your parents are saddling you with domestic obligations because you're a girl, start reading about feminism. I read the Feminine Mystique at your age and it was mind blowing and really changed the way that I've structured and approached my entire life after it. You might not be able to change your life now, but it's never to early to start planning the sort of future that you--not your parents--really want to live.

Also, make sure that you really want to go to College X. If there's some school or passion that you think you should be pursuing instead, don't be afraid to go to a college that will cater to that. This is your life and you'll have to live with the choices you're making now. I've known many, many people who totally fucked up in college because they went to the school their parents wanted them to go to, because they majored in things they weren't really interested in. You'll be much, much better off pursuing your actual interests than endlessly chasing prestige, especially if (already) the pursuit of prestige is crushing you emotionally.

Feel free to MeMail me if you ever want to vent. I remember, all too sharply, what being a teenager was like. The funny thing about adulthood is that, while you have obligations, they're largely the obligations you choose--adulthood really can be as fantastic as you want it to be. But getting there can certainly be a pain!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2009


Sometimes I sit in the bathroom and read Harper's instead of doing math, which is really a piece of shit of a subject for me

That had to get you chuckling, no? Seriously, lots of great suggestions here. Hardening yourself is NOT the way to handle the situation. Trust me, I know this from experience. You will just wake up one day and wonder where you went! Mindfulness is definitely an excellent way to deal with what you are going through. It's pulled me through many a hard time...
posted by scarello at 8:35 AM on February 15, 2009


Take some time for yourself, even if you don't really have it. A half hour of Metafilter or some other easy intellectual distraction works wonders, and don't forget to get some exercise, even something as simple as a twenty minute bike ride.
posted by caddis at 9:02 AM on February 15, 2009


This sounds a bit like me in high school, although I guess the difference is that I pushed myself to do all those things - I didn't go to a super high-pressure school and my parents weren't pressuring me. But I had times where I felt like it was too much and wasn't enjoying any of it.

Some advice:
Rethink your college search. There are good colleges that will respect you, and still accept you, if you make the choice to trade some of your resume-fillers for activities you actually want to do.

Take a class just for fun. I took modern dance, didn't have to, just wanted something different with no homework. Yeah I probably could've filled that spot with another science instead, but I decided I had reached my limit.

Quit one of your extracurriculars. Yeah, maybe the group needs you, but you need yourself more. It's okay. I went from about seven activities to about two my senior year and it was a good decision.

Sleep more. It will make everything else feel easier.

Talk to your parents about domestic obligations. Tell them it is a stressful time at school and you are feeling overwhelmed, and figure out what you can do around the house that will be less stressful or time-consuming.
posted by mai at 9:04 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can you clarify what "female domestic obligations" are? Does that mean "clean your room," (reasonable) or does it mean that you're being held to some inequitable standard that, perhaps, brothers or male relatives your age aren't (potentially unreasonable)? It's the "female" that's throwing me.
posted by Miko at 9:06 AM on February 15, 2009


My last years of high school were a lot like what you describe. The pressure was on, if often unstated, 24/7. I did the work and ironed the pillowcases (end of the seventies--both parents working full time, paying private school tuition for me and my brother--a mere pittance of what it is today, but a struggle for them). No sexism about domestic chores, however, my mother was a feminist before they coined the term. And I second the recommendation of The Feminine Mystique. I read it in a Women's Social History elective in 11th grade. Nary a day goes by when the phrase "Work expands to fill the time available" fails to crop up in the back or front of my mind. This is equally true of domestic chores and academic activities. Take it from a champion procrastinator who needs deadlines, or children, to rise to the occasion.

Two things kept me from misery. And they are not "small," in the way I think you mean in your question. First, my parents bought a house outside the city and would go there every weekend. I stayed home, alone, citing--not untruthfully--homework, library research, etc. as reasons to stay behind. The truth was I hated the country more than anything. Second, I had a boyfriend. He went to the all-male version of my pressure cooker school. We were precocious in more ways than one and our weekends together were a mixture of adolescent competitiveness re getting our ridiculously copious loads of homework done, going to movies and museums and sleeping together. In my teenage myopic state (please don't be offended, I've lived through the tween-to-teen years with three of my own and been extremely humbled by them) I was completely unaware of how lucky I was.

So what can you do, if your parents won't go away for the weekend and you don't have a boy (or girl) friend's shoulder to cry on when your mental and physical exhaustion threaten to deaden your willingness to persevere even when you're not quite sure the end justifies the means?

Go places you've never been before. Local is fine. There are probably all kinds of places you've never been, right around the corner. Listen to music. Play music. If you don't already play an instrument, go to a music store and sit down at the piano. (The piano appears to be saving my sixteen-year-old's life at the moment, but that's another story.) Don't be afraid of strangers. Yes, I am a mother and that is exactly what I said. See your fellow humans for what they are. It seems like you already do.

"helpless nerd"? I don't think so--you're here with all these people sending you heartfelt and intelligent (mine not necessarily included) advice.

"silly obligations"? Well, all things except some being subjective, silly is one of my favorite words. Someone once said/sang, "Someday, we'll all look back and this will all seem . . ." Oh, forget that.

"Being a teenage girl sucks"? No, no, no, and just for good measure, NO. Sometimes, maybe, but do get out and run around the block. Go out when it's raining, because it's raining. Look in the mirror and try to remember what you looked like when you were six. Then try to imagine yourself at 26. Old! No.

While you're in it, it may feel like forever, but keep your eyes on the surface of the water. It's there waiting for you.
posted by emhutchinson at 9:08 AM on February 15, 2009


school is like a diet. nobody diets so they can say "hey, I did it. I managed to stick it out." they diet to be thinner, to achieve a result. the diet is just the necessary evil to get to the real goal. your description sounds like you are going through the necessary evil without really knowing what the goal is. you need that goal because it's the payoff. it's the reward.

so you need to set yourself a goal, something you can work up to. like getting into a certain college or achieving something else. do you know what you want to do once you're done with school? figuring that out is one of the most important issues in your life, so do get on finding something you really would LOVE to do for a living. this makes a huge difference as far as quality of life is concerned.

all school is really supposed to do is lay a foundation and teach you how to learn. you've got that covered, so milk it to get those awesome grades as much as you can. set yourself up so that once you can move on to college you have the best options available to you. I can already see college working as a reward for you because while in school you have to learn subjects you don't enjoy (like math), college allows you to only spend time on the topics that actually interest you and to go much deeper on them.

bigger picture: always have three goals. one of them must be big and tough to get to, one may be easy and doable in a few weeks. you check one off, you add another. it's okay if you need a month to find something new to put onto that list but once you do have a goal, work on getting there like a dog. you'll find out just what you're capable of and when adversity strikes you're more prepared to deal with it. you're clearly not a person destined to die on a couch.

get on it.
posted by krautland at 9:09 AM on February 15, 2009


There is always time for yourself. What are you doing all night? My guess is that you're getting everything done, but procrastinating in some way that isn't fulfilling like you need it to be -- mucking around on the internet, perhaps? That's how I got through. It's really not the best choice. I was in your place three, four years ago -- high-pressure school, high-pressure parents who mean well, high pressure organizations.

The most important lesson I learned in high school was how to say no. Say no to organizations that you haven't yet put your heart into, say no to things that don't matter to you and you don't actually need to do.

Start taking walks. Not walking the dog, if you have one, just by yourself. It's really cathartic to get out of your room and physically out of the space where you have a billion and one responsibilities.

Good luck; you'll get through. Also, if you end up with good time management skills now, you'll be miles ahead of the other freshmen in college. In a good way.
posted by mismatched at 9:25 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Since you asked, might I suggest picking up a copy of A Quaker Book of Wisdom. I'm not a Quaker but there is some good stuff in there.

Also- ride a bike. If you get around by car, there is a whole wonderful world you're missing with the a/c on and the windows up. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the wind going by. Leave the Ipod home and ride. It gives your mind a chance to think about things other than studying.

And finally..... a line from an old Billy Joel song, "James"- Do what's good for you, or you're not good for anybody. If you feel the path you're on is not taking you where you want to go, and part of that is personal satisfaction, putting the effort in because you want to, not because you feel obligated to, it's probably time for a reality check- one that involves your parents. I've seen this from both sides now and your parents want to be proud of you, but if you asked them, they would probably say that what will make them most proud is that you get to a place in life where you're living within your means, happily.

The happiest people I know don't make a lot of money, they do what they love. Pursue your passion, the rest will fall into place.

Remember, though, that you have to put in your dues doing some things you don't particularly enjoy to get to the things you love.
posted by Doohickie at 9:38 AM on February 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just because pressure is dealt doesn't mean it must be shouldered. Once you're feeling stuck it's easy to let that martyr thing kick in where you just watch helplessly and accept it as more weight is added to the pile, but really you are complicit in your problem.

If you don't want to be in student organizations, don't be in them. They are there for your enjoyment and your betterment, not your misery and detriment. Unless they are of enduring interest to you, then you're right about the fact that they don't really matter. You matter. Tend your own garden, so to speak.

Avoidance, compliance, and complaint are three ways to cope with your burden, but they are not the only three. You are essentially an adult now, it's time to start exploring options and living life by standards of your choosing. You may worry about letting people down or disappointing your parents, but get this -- that doesn't end even after you go to college and move away. They will continue to guilt you, dog you, and influence you for the rest of your life, so you might as well set an early precedent for standing up for yourself and being independent. Bonus points if you can actually consider and even respect their position before asserting your own.

It's time to stop being the person you think you're supposed to be, and start being the person you really are. You'll inherit a whole new set of problems, but it's funny how fast all those tics and freak-outs and paralyzing fears will fade away.
posted by hermitosis at 9:50 AM on February 15, 2009


Figure out a way to break free now. The later you do it in life, the harder it becomes since you're more invested in the present.

You're in high school now, you live with your parents now, and I'm sure working for the school paper takes out a big chunk of your life.

Do something for yourself that will have no bearing on anything in the future.

Take up a hobby you can't list in college apps, start reading books that your 'rents wouldn't be too ecstatic about seeing around the house, or just do things just to do them.

When I was in high school. I took on this other persona and snuck into the paper's computer room to write a piece every few weeks. Nobody knew who the author was, but because it was written well, and placed very appropriately in the newspaper, nobody took it out. It was awesome. It was my own nerdy version of "going bad".

I suggest you find something you can do as well.

Good luck, and good job not allowing your future life to become boring.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:55 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


distract yourself with a specific project: photograph rocks shaped like shoes or sad chairs. silkscreen goofy words on handkerchiefs and sell them on etsy. learn to play guitar or take up a new language. do something that is just yours and takes time, but not so much time that it feels arduous. it does get better.
posted by judith at 10:11 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish someone had told me that writing and drawing and making things in my bedroom when I was a teenager was an act of planting seeds for most of the exciting things that would happen in my 20s - the things that make life more bearable and have created totally unexpected possibilities, from friendships to barely-related job offers. Do things, make things, learn things, think and say and produce and act, big ideas and small projects in whatever form does it for you.

Getting good grades and having your shit together (in terms of maintaining relationships, taking responsibility, personal hygiene and picking up after yourself) certainly make everything a lot easier, but the rest of the things I thought were vital and spent my time having a mixture of anxious freakouts and hissyfits over? They didn't really matter, not that much, and there would have been a way around them or a second chance in future.

This approach does mean the responsibility is on you to figure out what you want and what you care about, not necessarily to get it right the first time around and announce to the world that you want to be [whatever], but to take it in hand and not just react negatively to the pressures around you. It's hard and it's not a small thing, but it's totally worth it, for keeps.

p.s. Also? It gets better, you get to make more choices, and the hard work of taking responsibility pays much clearer dividends when you get past second-level/high school.
posted by carbide at 10:17 AM on February 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Aw, honey.

C'mere. Sit down.

Look -- all the stuff you're going through right now?

You won't even remember 80% of it in ten years. You know what you'll retain? You'll have a few flashes of the worst of it, sure, just as a sort of memory-based vaccination against future distress, but the rest of it will be the happy stuff you barely noticed at the time: the way someone smiled at you, an unexpected compliment, the smell of library books and the satisfaction of a problem solved or a sentence well cast. That's what will stick. That, and the flavor of lunch-room fish-sticks, which will haunt your dreams.

There are many things worse than boredom. Cold consolation, I guess, but there it is.

But the coping skills you develop now will stick with you for a long time. So resolve to feel everything. You are so much stronger than you can ever know.

Take your joy in micropayments. Hoard it. Do little things that make you happy. Tiny things. Stupid things. Look in the mirror and stick out your tongue. Dance around in your underwear. Talk to the cat in a silly made-up language only you and he understand. Sing along with the radio (do kids still listen to radios? My lawn, get off it.).

What's happening is that you are beginning to stare into the abyss of adulthood, and you have a chilling intimation of just how awful it can be.

Be a kid for as long as you can, because you'll never have another chance to do so and get away with it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:33 AM on February 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


My high school - like yours, on that list - was tough and there was a lot to do to get into College X. What happened, though, was I learned to learn under pressure. You have to do that a lot if your thoughts are going to be worth exchanging the rest of your life for. Learning early to direct them to a perhaps arbitrary goal gets you ready for when it is you who has to decide what goal is worth your thinking. Constraint now, even though it is occupying a large fraction of your life, is a reward in freedom for the rest of your life: freedom to choose knowingly, to learn more, to not ever re-visit Sartre.

I regret that my toughest teachers were dead before I knew what they'd given me.
posted by jet_silver at 10:56 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the suggestions, they were really helpful. The sad chairs, also a good suggestion, because we leave some of ours out in the rain.

Miko--I guess by "female obligation" I should er expand on that.

The chores aren't so bad, and I understand why I should and do them, but my parents seem to be outlining a really dismal life for me. I do have two other sisters, but they're long gone to college adventures, and my older brother is graduating next year. He literally has no domestic obligation. Like, he is expected to light the incense every night (we're Vietnamese) and take out the trash, but if he forgets, no biggie, my dad will do it. If I don't do something it's generally more memorable, and worse, I'm failing my duties as a daughter.

The pressure to do well in school is sort of weird, because my parents want me to do well but not pursue any of my aspirations. I do take part in a lot of activities I care about, but my parents always tell me I'm wasting my time and it's a battle just to ask to stay after school to work on the school paper. They don't believe in doing things that don't connect to my future career, and unfortunately they're still under the impression that I will be a doctor, go to a very nearby school and then settle down to give them a bushel of grandbabies...

Unfortunately everything about being a girl, with all our societal obligation and obligatory life-giving, seems awful to me, and so when I come home from school and my parents ram this "cult of domesticity" down my throat, it's depressing.

That was lengthy. In conclusion, I am not too proud of being a girl. My parents are not supportive of my interests (Quote: "you might like it, but that doesn't mean it matters") and everything they suggest seems to lead to things I am uninterested in. I suck at being near children, and don't think it should be legal, but this appears to me by fate.
posted by mmmleaf at 11:21 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Our situations are different, but here's what helped me...

I was the first member of the Mouse family to stay in school past sixteen and was working entirely without a map when it came to higher education. None of the friends I had grown up with were going to university and I didn't get much help from my teachers. I was basically going through the admissions process alone.

The whole thing would have been incredibly stressful and scary if it weren't for a group of online friends that I made around that time. The key thing was that they were all older than me, which helped me in a number of ways. They were proof that the slightly lonely place I was currently in was only temporary. They helped prepare me for college by telling me all the stuff that doesn't go in the prospectus. They were supportive, while still helping me see that my current problems were fairly trivial in the long term. Perhaps most importantly, seeing what they were doing with their lives gave me something concrete to look forward to.

Best of all, they're growing older at the same rate I am. It's like having a permanent sneak preview into the next 5-10 years of your life!
posted by the latin mouse at 11:27 AM on February 15, 2009


You need to start a riot grrl band RIGHT NOW.

Get either a guitar or bass (pawn shops are usually good for cheap ones, or you can cajole a friend into letting you borrow one, if you know anyone that has an old guitar lying around). Learn three chords. Get together for practice once or twice a week. Possible sources of inspiration might be: Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney, Ani DiFranco, The Ramones, Sarge. But don't feel limited by those, of course -- you might find yourself going down some kind of Tori Amos Neko Case Indigo Girls kind of path, and that works fine too.

You currently have access to some of the purest ennui and anger and awkwardness that you will ever have. Use it while you got it.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:29 AM on February 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Unfortunately everything about being a girl, with all our societal obligation and obligatory life-giving, seems awful to me...

You do not have any obligation to anyone to give birth to anything, nor to look any particular way. Say it to yourself sixteen times a day if need be. Watch The Iron Giant and say it in his super-sweet metallic voice:

"You are who you choose to be."

This will become more apparent to you when you move out of your parents' home. I believe this to be true whether or not your parents are oppressive, whether that oppression is real or mis-construed, and, if it's real, whether the oppression is intentional, unintentional, malicious, or (as is almost certainly the case) with your best interests in mind.
posted by nosila at 11:43 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sounds like what might be really helpful for you, re: feeling hemmed in by your gender and seeing no way out, is to get an awesome female mentor. Some woman who is at least a decade older than you are, who has all her shit together, is leading a life of confidence and strength, and is willing to serve as a sounding board for you. I'm picturing one of those women who's fifty years old and never married/had kids and isn't ashamed by it... but don't rule out women who are married/have children, either, as long as they have maintained a sense of self and an identity outside of their role as mothers or wives. And plenty of women do! We're not all slaves to our wombs and our stoves.

Because you go to such a good high school I feel that the teachers there might be more used to serving as mentors, or more willing to help with these kinds of problems, than teachers are at worse-off high schools. Do you have a favorite female teacher who you think would be receptive to talking with you about this kind of stuff? If not at school, are there any other women in your life who you can use as examples of the kind of life you want to live, and ask to mentor you?

If not, you need to find them, stat. Or even read biographies of powerful women from history. I know that your question here was mainly "how do I keep my life from being so boring?", but I think that your uncomfortableness with being a girl--that is, an uncomfortableness with your very self--is potentially much more of a serious problem than some teenage boredom is.
posted by clair-de-lune at 11:48 AM on February 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I suck at being near children, and don't think it should be legal, but this appears to me by fate.

You don´t have to follow this life your parents have all planned out for you. Your parents certainly will not be able to force you to have children once you are an adult if you don´t want them.

Apply to multiple schools, even if your parents have a particular one in mind. Apply for scholarships and financial aid. Even if you end up at the closer school, try to live in the dorms. Argue that it will help you focus on school or something. Just getting out of the house and living somewhere else will help a lot, things will be hard until you get to this point, but you will get there.

Find some way to connect what you want to do to getting into college or scholarships. Maybe working at the school paper will help you with writing skills, or be one of those activities that colleges want to see for admission. Have a teacher tell them that writing experience is helpful in college.

College will be different. Going to college will open doors for more choices in life beyond what your parents have planned for you. Do not let them talk you into majoring in premed, pick something that you like that also has good job prospects. Those good job prospects are very important, that´s what keeps you from moving back in with your parents after college.
posted by yohko at 11:59 AM on February 15, 2009


Oh, and just in case you are not aware of how to not have babies:
Planned Parenthood
posted by yohko at 12:03 PM on February 15, 2009


The great thing about the fact that you've done well at a prestigious high school is that it'll make it easy to get in to whatever college you want, and will open up the opportunity for merit scholarships. Please, please, please be sure to apply to schools you're actually interested in, rather than following the path that your parents have laid out for you. If you can get a free ride at a fantastic university, you can be both physically and financially independent, which will give you the opportunity to do all sorts of things you've never even considered.

I have a very close friend who (though she comes from a different cultural background) is the oldest girl in a family that sounds very much like yours. Her parents pushed her to go to a school very close to home, tried to twist her arm into becoming a school teacher (the one aspect of their plan that she successfully resisted--and they still give her hell about it), pushed her to move back home immediately after graduation, wouldn't let her buy a car, etc. Now, at twenty-five, she's fighting an even rougher uphill battle to move out and get a graduate degree that her parents keep telling her is useless. At some point you will have to rebel against your parents to lead the life that you want to lead. It will be painful and difficult but is also worth it. You only get one shot at life. Rebellion will only get harder as you get older. When your parents tell you that your interests are useless, let it go in one ear and out the other. Know that you'll be a more productive and happier member of society doing what you're truly passionate about. You probably suspect this already--you're still working on the school paper, right?--but I just want to reassure you that you're doing the right thing. Only you know what you really want in life, and so you'll have to work hard for yourself to make your desires bear fruit.

Unfortunately everything about being a girl, with all our societal obligation and obligatory life-giving, seems awful to me, and so when I come home from school and my parents ram this "cult of domesticity" down my throat, it's depressing.

Seriously, feminism! And I like Greg Nog's suggestion about exploring Riot Grrl and old school punk rock. Know that people have successfully resisted "traditional values" before and gone on to lead unbelievably fulfilling and happy lives. You are not your parents, and you don't have to let them push you to be them, either.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:17 PM on February 15, 2009


If the student organizations don't satisfy you, stop doing them. Extra-curriculars are supposed to be rewarding and enjoyable. No point in doing *extras* you don't enjoy. Do the stuff you have to as best you can, and make room for stuff you enjoy.

Part of enjoying life is being able to guiltlessly prioritize, and shake off unwarranted criticism. Maybe the school newspaper will suffer and mom and dad will be disappointed. But if your workload is making you nuts, prioritize. Out of all the stuff you do, *something* is the least important thing. Don't let unimportant things negatively affect important things.

Now, for sage advice: don't let the bastards get you down. The only thing you HAVE to do, at this point in your life, is get as much education as you can stand, and do as good at it as you can. The rest of it is bullshit. Mom and dad can whine and guilt you all they want, but unless they're outright crazy, they aren't going to do things that materially affect your life. Thank them for their advice, consider it thoughtfully, and then do what you think is best.
posted by gjc at 12:29 PM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Step 1: XBox 360
Step 2: XBox Live Subscription (12-months)
Step 3: ???
Step 4: Life no longer mundane
posted by AlbatrossJones at 1:09 PM on February 15, 2009


So I can't really change all of the above, the not sleeping and homework and shit, but I guess I'm looking for ways to make the days pass by a little easier. I don't exactly have sunshine coming out of my ass either. Sometimes I sit in the bathroom and read Harper's instead of doing math, which is really a piece of shit of a subject for me, and that makes me happy for awhile.
You're an excellent writer, and one can tell just from this bit I (and others) have quoted. Be a teenager with a vengeance and blog this stuff, or put it in a private diary. I know this is a dated suggestion, but without writing I don't think I would have gotten through my teens. Or my twenties, for that matter. If you end up adding a new extracurricular, try going for the school's literary magazine. Write fiction, poetry, or just personal essays.

I have much more time on my hands than you do, but I have also found that oil painting is something that lets me get all my anger, self-pity, and frustration out. There are lots of ways to do that: a sport you genuinely like, art, music -- whatever is important to you. And when you choose that thing, don't let it become another source of stress. Don't beat yourself up if a poem isn't accepted, or if you don't get picked for varsity, or if no one likes your paintings. Do some of these things just for yourself, just for the joy of knowing you have something you can do and enjoy.

There's a lot of good advice above. I'm just here to tell you that you've got a talent, and that I hope you'll use it -- and enjoy it -- for yourself.
posted by brina at 1:16 PM on February 15, 2009


What gjc said was spot on, especially the last graf.

As a former teenage girl, I sympathize with your situation, even though I did not have parents who were putting pressure on me to be on the mommy track. But realize that butting heads with your folks is the first of probably many tests on your will that you will face. Life is not easy. You have to figure out what you want to do, what you have an aptitude for, and once that's settled, you should have a plan to achieve it. It's easy to go along with the parents, but if you think life is mundane now, wait till you've got three kids, a boring husband and an ugly house in the burbs.

As a stubborn teenager, I went to the college I wanted, studied the major of my choice, and after graduating, moved three thousand miles away, and thankfully my parents supported all my decisions, even though they were not happy about all of them.

Nthing the suggestions of others to find a hobby that gives you great happiness. Playing in a band. Kick boxing. Writing poetry. Rock climbing. Wood working. Juggling. Whatever! And there is nothing wrong with having unstructured time on your hands. Give yourself an hour a day to stare into space, watch the wind in the trees.

And always be proud that you are a woman.

P.S. Don't forget that your parents love you; they just have a peculiar way of showing it.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:22 PM on February 15, 2009


I am not too proud of being a girl.
oh, that's too bad. look, pride is a strange thing. you're supposed to be proud of achievements not things that were just handed to you, but you should be at least happy you're a girl.

My parents are not supportive of my interests (Quote: "you might like it, but that doesn't mean it matters") and everything they suggest seems to lead to things I am uninterested in.
okay, I understand that one. go easy on them though. parents are supposed to be like that. you'll suddenly end up not liking the music the kids listen, too as well and then you're stunned and wonder if you've all of a sudden grown old. you and your parents will always have certain conflicts but in the end both want you to be happy. it makes me happy is a reason to do things they will at least understand if spoken with passion and honesty. give them time and they will get it but for the time being fuck what anyone else things you should do. you need to figure out what it is that gets you going on your own. asking for advice is smart once you know what you want as their experience can help you get there but they cannot tell you what it is you should want. they just don't know you that well. nobody ever can do that for you.

this appears to me by fate.
YOU DETERMINE YOUR FATE. understand? you! you! you! take it into your own hands because if you don't you have nobody else to blame for your misery. you have to be the one who gets up and decides this or that is what she wants to do.

you need a role model. someone to mentor you. someone who wants to be that person for you.
posted by krautland at 1:25 PM on February 15, 2009


Unfortunately everything about being a girl, with all our societal obligation and obligatory life-giving, seems awful to me, and so when I come home from school and my parents ram this "cult of domesticity" down my throat, it's depressing.

I felt exactly the same way (Krautland's wrong, there's no need to accept the expectation that you "should be at least happy" to be a girl - I'm happy to be alive, neutral to mildly positive now about being a girl, very down on being a girl when I was a teenager). My journals are filled with critiques about the sudden onslaught of social expectations that hit along with puberty and intensified during the high school years, and about the generally ridiculous ways in which people try to pressure gendered behavior on you during those years.

The most important thing I'd share now is that all those conditions you feel you're suffering from are temporary. They're profoundly temporary - so fleeting, ultimately, that one day you'll think of those days with a lump in your throat, because they are so gone. I know it doesn't help right now to know that, but you can at least know that your experiences as they are today will emphatically not be the same in the future.

Once you get out of the house you'll have a whole lot more individual choice and power over your own life. I found it helpful, during high school, to get out of the house as much as I could - hanging out with likeminded friends, volunteering for things that I found fun and put me around interesting people, working at a job I liked, and finding things to do on vacations and in the summer that gave me independent experiences. I went to arts school one summer, worked in camp other summers, and found a backpacking group to take weekend hiking trips with. All this meant I was able to spend time around people who expanded my world, and found models for living other than those provided by my family. I also found great experiences that laid the groundwork for who I became professionally, and made some of my most lasting friends. Not in school - outside of school. Keep exploring. Are there nonprofits around that do work you like - I dunno, beach cleanup, concert series, community arts, archaeology? A smart, serious student can be a real boon to a small nonprofit group and it can help your life feel meaningful to you and to others.

Also, it helps to find a mentor of some kind. Some adult you admire. I was fortunate to have a couple good teachers in the arts program who lent me some good insight and support. But adults like that can also be found in youth groups, at jobs, at volunteer programs, etc. Keep your eyes out for adults whose act is together and who are willing to connect (avoiding, of course, the skeevy ones trapped in Peter Pan syndrome whose intentions may not be completely aboveboard).

And finally, the gender stuff? IT's fine to feel that way. You're not the first person ever to grow up in a family home that treated the females and males differently, and probably won't be the last. Write about what you notice and how you feel. Stay alert to it. Feel free to point it out. You might want to read some feminist blogs, mags, literature - I really liked it at your age and found it accorded with my experience. It gave me a good education in women's history, and then in college, I learned even more. Try to view this situation not just as a personal unfairness, but as a long social struggle for human rights, which touches your own life in small but important ways. Even though I don't fill journals with social critique and rant any more, the basic feelings I developed about rigid gender roles and the tyranny of expectations on women in adolescence are still with me today. I'm so glad I started thinking about it in high school, because I was ready for some of the battles that had to be fought in my workplaces and classes during college and afterward and, still, today. The topic interests you. You're probably not imagining the different expectations on you, and it may be reasonable to feel they're unfair. You really might want to start digging into how things got that way.

Anyway, it's a time to tolerate. School was miserable, limiting, boring, frustrating, and only intermittently rewarding for me and for many others. It's not a perfect system. But you do need to do what you can do for yourself, because you're laying foundation stones when you choose what to study, how well to do, and what to do with the rest of your other time. Focus on learning about colleges now, and find out where you might want to go, and make sure you are pursuing your interests in a way that will help you get into those places, where you can pursue them even more deeply. Stay active and be involved. It's okay to hate school and mid-adolescence even as you do them well.
posted by Miko at 2:17 PM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hi mmmleaf,

I just want you to know that I am full of love for you, even though I dont know you, and I'm sure so are all the people here. I love you just as a human, and also for the bit that you've told us about yourself.

I want you to know that this community will value you whatever choices you make, and so will many other communities - communities you have NOW and communities you will have IN FUTURE. Whether you choose to rebel or accept on a daily basis, they are there and support you. Those future communities you don't know about yet? They exist - just as Paris or Anchorage, Alaska exist and maybe you haven't visited them yet, but they are there.

Please write any of us any time. I promise to give you time to listen, in the short or the long run. I am sure there are people you know who will do the same. And thus we build our communities.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:42 PM on February 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Not only are you dealing with the pressures of being a teen, but you have cultural pressure added to it. Other girls have dealt with this and have written about it. I *highly* suggest reading YELL-Oh Girls! Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American to get first had accounts of girls like you dealing with what you are dealing with. For a more academic approach, try Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States. You can also find online communities where you can talk about your life with people who have or are currently going through what you are. My best friend in college was going through this... and still is.

I really like the idea of starting an anonymous blog where you can vent. Remember to change the names to protect the guilty ;) If you have any more questions, please post another question or mefi mail one of us! And let us know how you're getting on. Oh, and if your parents give you any grief, remember to tell them that working on the paper will look excellent on your college application.
posted by CoralAmber at 4:46 PM on February 15, 2009


p.s. To get a fun fictional look at both girls under pressure in school and an asian-american girl dealing with a harsh mom, Check out the first few seasons of Gilmore Girls and watch any episode with Lane in it.
posted by CoralAmber at 4:50 PM on February 15, 2009


I am not too proud of being a girl.

Whoa. You have a lot of cultural and societal pressures pushing and pulling on you. Don't let these get you down. Your situation is very common. I know a ton of people who went through just what you are going through now. Now they are older and free from overarching academic pressure. You still have pressure from family as you get older but when you are earning your own money etc. then that pressure diminishes. You are going to have to endure this during high school most likely as your parents have not given you much control and they aren't likely to change. Create some time for yourself, but do keep up your studies. You know you will need some extracurricular activities to cement your college education. This could be a way of buying yourself some interesting time with your parents. An interesting class is also a good thing. I took shop every year from seventh through twelfth grade and ended up in an Ivy League university. You can too. Keep up your GPA but have some fun along the way, and never, never get down on yourself for being a girl. You get that good education and the world is your oyster, girl or boy. You do what you want then, have kids, have a career, start your own business, all of the above. Don't let them get you down. Respect them, even yes them, but find your own way in the end. You are your own person.
posted by caddis at 5:29 PM on February 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is what we have now moved beyond, mostly. Don't be this.
posted by caddis at 5:42 PM on February 15, 2009


Thanks for all the suggestions, again. I will probably read this again later as a reminder of sorts. Although, I am tittering at how once I mention I'm Vietnamese all sorts of cultural links pop up (not a bad thing).

Generally, I have to cater to my parents a little to make life at home bearable. I have Youngest Child Syndrome and tend to feel hyper-sympathetic for my parents after watching them take my sisters' and brother's rebellion so personally. It makes it hard for me to want to say something because even though our relationship is pretty feathery and shallow I don't want to destroy it completely.

Extracurriculars aren't so much a problem (I have a lot that I really like) so much as trying to balance them with my academics, but I'm not doing poorly. I just find it hard to stay sane on a day-to-day basis, because my parents and peers make me feel like I shouldn't be doing things I enjoy but things that will look better on my college apps. Realistically I could half-ass my newspaper articles and sort of just slap together events and it'd look the same on an application. Then I get confused about what I want--I know what I want, but I can't help but care what everyone else thinks about it.

I will try the mindfulness thing, and devoting time to myself rather than procrastinating indefinitely in between assignments and considering that relaxation.

Also, I'm glad you're all being so nice, because I generally don't like people my age or being this age, so I assume the rest of society feels hostile towards teenagers. I tend to act like I'm 37, so feeling angsty like this makes me feel ashamed of normal emotions. I'm really good at analyzing and discerning my own feelings but very, very bad at dealing with them.
posted by mmmleaf at 6:52 PM on February 15, 2009


Ah, Asian moms, immigrant family? You need to see this.

Enoy!

P.S. (call your local Asian immigrants society and see if they have a teen group for ABCs, um ABVs?. Nothing like griping to other people with the same problem. Plus your parents will think you're grooving on your heritage and are therefore likely to support this. Or there's always, mom I can't wash the dishes because I have to go to my Vietnamese dance class! How can they complain!?)
posted by nax at 5:37 AM on February 16, 2009


"I could half-ass my newspaper articles and sort of just slap together events"

Don't cheat yourself out of learning to write effectively... it matters, no matter what career you enter and so does your work ethic (which seems excellent). See everyone else re: dealing with parents. I just had to add my two cents about this comment.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:19 AM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


God I hate to say this, but...you'll soon be glad you did well in high school. It will give you lots more options to be who you want to be when you get out.

Your parents are probably not going to change, although you can try to talk to them about your feelings. What definitely can change is your approach to them. People tend to feel like their parents have a lot of control over them, and that makes everything they do drive them crazy. The truth is that any control they have (like right now, over your time), is superficial and temporary, or can be if you approach it that way.

Don't let the less positive things about their parenting shape your mind, your goals, or your self-esteem. They are just people, flawed people who want the best for you but don't necessarily always know what that is. Once you start seeing them as people instead of parents, it gets much easier to be your own person.

My relationship with my parents improved so much once I figured this out. Now I take their advice as if they were any other smart adults, and I make my own decisions.

This is a tough time but it will get better. As others said above, it's clear that you're smart and talented, and that will open a lot of doors unrelated to babymaking. Good luck.
posted by walla at 11:05 AM on February 16, 2009


Okay, this isn't in any way related to your initial question but I'll say it anyway. You have to fight for what you want. A degree is a degree, people say, but that three years (or more) you spend doing something you absolutely hate but are doing anyway because of guilt or fear are excruciating. Parents are parents, I get that, but don't let them dictate the course of your beginning adult life. From what you've written your parents don't seem like bad people. They want what's best for you and think they know what that is. Do you know what that is? Being happy. Doing something you love. If you're anything like me you still don't know what that is exactly. All you know is that it's not what your parents want for you. But please, please, please don't sacrifice those wonderful, amazing years at college for your parent's sake.


And yes I may be projecting but I think it applies nevertheless. I've read here a lot of times people saying that the first degree doesn't dictate where your life goes, sure, but it doesn't hurt to spend those years savouring every moment rather than counting down the minutes till graduation.


As for your actual question, as others have said, find something you're passionate about. A talent, a hobby, whatever. It's not work, like school or chores, because it should be something you enjoy. It can be something productive, or not. But it should definitely be something that doesn't take up too much time, cos as you said, you have a lot of stuff going on. For me it was just lying down listening to music. For you it might be writing, drawing, day-dreaming, the possibilities are endless. I always though school was a lot like a job given the strict hours so I treated it as such and didn't let it envelop my entire life. I made sure to keep some time for myself.


No-one can force you to do something. We all choose, even though it may be a painful choice, a choice made to feel comfortable and safe rather than fulfilled. The life you have is ultimately a product of these choices. Good luck.
posted by parjanya at 4:31 PM on February 16, 2009


Hermitiosis had a pretty good point a little upthread. Learn to say No. Don't let anyone (least of all yourself) guilt you into doing something you don't want to. It will be difficult, perhaps more than usual if you really have the Stereotypical Overbearing Asian Parents, but it will be worth it.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:27 PM on February 16, 2009


Yea, I'm working on how to say no. Generally I know I should defend my interests so I do, but I always get a residual feeling that maybe I'm fickle, and that this is a phase. So my convictions feel pretty shallow.

A lot of my friends and people I know consider me as some sort of moral role model for some reason, so I tend to go through with my convictions and promises regardless of any doubts I have, but more for their sake than mine. That's probably where the problem is. I do a lot of things so people will continue to think having principles and a moral compass of sorts is worth it, but I'm not even so sure. I do well in school because I tell people I believe I can apply it to anything, and that if you love something it will pay off. I will probably defy my parents but feel bad about it, go to a school for something I enjoy and maybe succeed, but I don't know how good I can ever feel about it. I get the feeling I am here so people around me can have faith in following dreams and defying safe traditions, but they would never do it themselves. Do I sound like a lofty douchebag? Maybe!

Please tell me--are teenagers allowed to make real mistakes? Of course we are, but do they come back to haunt you later or do people hold burning resentments?

This is what I figure--that I can't really do anything about these obligations, and that I will just have to stick it out and hope that someday I can reconcile with the beliefs and standards I hold myself to.

(If you want to know the worst pressure to come out of high-performing schools it's that they bore into your head the idea that everything you do now is infinitely important and so don't fuck up lest you ruin your life, irreparably.)

It probably sounds like I haven't been reading anything anyone has written here so far, but I've been mulling it over for a good 24-36 hours. I guess I'm just trying to find ways to really believe it.
posted by mmmleaf at 7:58 PM on February 16, 2009


Please tell me--are teenagers allowed to make real mistakes? Of course we are, but do they come back to haunt you later or do people hold burning resentments?


I made one mistake I thought would really fuck up my whole life - actually, two of them, and they were both pretty bad - and not only did they completely fade in comparison to real life, but they did a lot to develop my compassion and my understanding of others. One of my giant fuckups was academic, and I never imagined it'd have a purpose until a couple years ago I was asked to be on an advisory board for students struggling with the same kind of problems I had that screwed me up. Suddenly I started speaking about my personal experience and everyone on the floor listened seriously, and it resulted in a really productive discussion and some changed policy direction. Fuckups - even some really serious ones - are absorbable. I'd stop short of recommending them, but I know that I felt a degree of horror for them that wasn't warranted. People remake themselves daily. Chances are that you aren't as fragile as you are afraid you are.

(If you want to know the worst pressure to come out of high-performing schools it's that they bore into your head the idea that everything you do now is infinitely important and so don't fuck up lest you ruin your life, irreparably.)

Yep, and they're wrong. I think a lot of this rhetoric is a result of adults' wishful thinking - what they'd do if they had it to do over, knowing what they know now. But students don't know that stuff yet.

One of the dirtiest secrets of schools like that, and of the colleges that accept students from those schools, is that there's a fair amount of attrition in the first year of college, and a fair number of kids in need of mental health services due to the stress of going from frying pan to fire. It's not all as shiny as it appears on the outside. Take care of your mental health. Don't compare yourself to others and don't feel like the way others handle the world depends upon you. It doesn't and that's not a burden you need to worry about, at all. Let other people live their lives, and you live yours. It sounds like you're feeling pretty stressed right now and you're extreeeemely senstitive to others' expectations. That can be hard. Expectations can be a serious psychological bugbear in life if you don't learn to manage them - other people may have them of you, but you don't have to accept them for yourself.

It's fully okay if you don't live up to anyone's expectations. But it's nice if you can live up to your own - which, minimally, should be doing yourself the favor of staying calm, not signing off on your self-development, and staying hopeful about the future. If you feel like you're legitimately about to crack - like, fly apart and lose it - then I urge you to activate whatever counseling resources your school has. But if you feel like you're holding on all right, not about to collapse in hysterics or be self-destructive, then you probably are hanging on all right. It's a fool's game to think everyone else has it together and you don't. You'll see - the dramatics and colossal fuckups visible during college and after will make that clear. Though what you do today is important, your moves today don't determine to an exact degree your future quality of life or your future success. Ease up on yourself a little - you sound a lot like a classic high achiever, trying to meet expectations. Read up on that, too, and try to get it under control a little, because it can follow you through life and it's kind of a bitch. But it's conquerable.
posted by Miko at 8:25 PM on February 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's a fool's game to think everyone else has it together and you don't.

So true. We all put up facades to hide the crazy things in our lives from public view, to make us look more perfect to the outside world, more confident, self assured and capable. Those facades are never bigger than when we are teens. All those kids who seem to have it so easy? Trust me, they are all nervous about basically the same stuff everyone else is. They just have better facades.
posted by caddis at 4:33 AM on February 17, 2009


Generally I know I should defend my interests so I do, but I always get a residual feeling that maybe I'm fickle, and that this is a phase. So my convictions feel pretty shallow.

Just a quick addition. It doesn't matter if your interests are fickle. If you are interested in it, even for just a day, then it is important. That's how you figure out what you like and who you are. People, especially teenagers, are allowed to explore interests, change their minds, and try different thing (and quit them when they figure out they don't like it!!!).

I liked playing soccer... until I joined the jv team. Instead of playing and having fun they just focused on winning and playing the best players. I quit late into the season and didn't regret it at all. I was really proud of myself for knowing that something wasn't for me after I tried it.
posted by CoralAmber at 10:38 AM on February 17, 2009


A lot of people are suggesting that you do a lot of soul-searching and make major changes in your life right now and really, they're wrong. Your intuition that you just need to hunker down and get through the next year or so and get into college is the right one. The opportunities that will be open to you are literally unimaginable to you right now. I'm not just talking about jobs here. I'm talking about skydiving onto tropical beaches with models of your preferred gender. The world will be your succulent oyster very soon. You just have to get from your parents' house to your first dorm room. Trust me.

I walked away from the life that is going open up for you after graduating from a pressure-cooker school, but I did it in my 20s because I knew I wanted to have children. (My parents pulled the reverse on me that yours are pulling on you; they refused to acknowledge my strong maternal drive and mocked and belittled my domestic inclinations. And there's no Betty Friedan for people like me.) If you want a career only, you will be UNSTOPPABLE.

So how should you get through it?

* exercise and eat healthy
* escapism - fantasy novels, movies about Paris, biographies about socialites
* some kind of craft/artistic pursuit that is hard to take seriously - embroidering your pillowcase, coloring books, collage, journalling. You want to allow yourself to play and relax your mind, and not get caught in the trap of thinking you might be able to use a more respectable art form as a path out of your dilemma.

Keep this stuff tightly locked down though. Don't let your parents know you're escaping. They'll step up the control freakage if they know. I am really sorry to say this, but I believe a lot of parents of high-achieving independent teenagers actively want them to fail. Mine did.
posted by daisydaisy at 7:33 PM on March 1, 2009


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