by Jesse Sparks
I regret my mean words. I still remember feeling nausea bubble inside of me as I sat in my high school’s journalism classroom trying to get a grasp on all of the tasks I needed to complete by the end of the week. From English essays about books I barely had time to read to extracurricular activities to college applications, the work on my plate was overwhelming.
With my palms moist, forehead clammy, I knew I needed to take a walk and breathe. I didn’t know where, I just knew I needed to go.
It wasn’t until I walked back into the room that an ill-timed and an unwarranted quip from my partner on a team project hit me.
The comment itself wasn’t anything remarkable, nothing especially creative or ruthless, and any other day I would have kept a clear head and brushed it off.
But it wasn’t the day for grace or a clear head.
Before I knew it, a bitter string of mean words I didn’t really intend shot from my lips as I gathered my stuff and walked out. Immediately, I knew I’d rattled a relationship I valued, and I regretted it.
Typically, in high school we’re fed narratives that tell us to fit neatly into cookie cutter stereotypes, or that tell us high school is going to be the best time of our life, or that tell us we need to have everything figured out.
But that’s the thing about high school, it’s a time for teens to experience themselves in their greatest and their worst moments. It’s a time for them to be inexplicably emotional or painfully ambivalent. For me, high school was a time and space for me to start figuring things out about the world, the people I surrounded myself with and, most importantly, myself.
During the inevitable encounters with petty meanness, I grew more emotionally intelligent and learned about how I react to stress. I owe that largely to my mom. On the numerous days I came home furious, I would start debriefing the day’s events. Oftentimes, stories would come out muddled and confusing, but she offered something I didn’t know I needed: a reminder that I wasn’t crazy and the gift of perspective.
In the moment, high school engulfs you. Dating drama, academic stress, and a myriad of other things cloud your vision. It feels like people keep adding more and more onto your plate. Sometimes, you drop the ball, you hurt, and you get hurt. But it’s the chance to learn how to deal with the consequences and do better next time that really matters.
We make horrible mistakes in the midst of our haphazard attempts at self-discovery, and that’s okay. But its beauty lies in the chance to do it again and do better. Sometimes high school sucks, but often it sucks so the rest of life doesn’t have to. To me, that’s worth more than a little nausea.
Jesse Sparks is a junior in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University studying Journalism and African American Studies. He can be contacted at @JesseASparks on Twitter.