It’s a bit of an over the top title, but in this quiet, peaceful period of my life I’ve taken to reflecting on some of my life growing up. That’s not to say I’m a Richard Branson-like figure of Rags to Riches brilliance whose every life detail needs to be documented. Rather it’s more an indulgent exercise for someone whose had a little experience being Not Average.
See back in Ye Olden Days when growing up between 12 and 18, you have to deal with something called “growing up”, usually in a place filled with others of the same age forced against their will into a building known as a “school”. the purpose, it is told, is to educate and prepare you for the real world.
Whether it succeeds or not I’ll leave to your own interpretation, but one thing that it absolutely taught better than anything else was how to feel like you don’t belong, should you not be part of a clique or social group that was considered acceptable.
The more eagle eyed among you might notice I wrote the word “outsider” in the title, so you can imagine I know that feeling rather well.
You see when you’re young and idiotic and surrounded by your peers, social pressure absolutely plays a factor in what you do, want to do and what to enjoy. Do you enjoy playing Trading Card Games about pocket monsters? Good fucking luck not playing “pinball” then when you pass by Set 3 French on your way to Welsh Class.
Did you actually enjoy a maths lesson? You’re in the minority buddy – and don’t be good at it, for the love of god. You’ll be labelled a “swot” or “swat” (I could never recall how it was supposed to be spelt when thrown about the place).
Don’t much fancy going on some bullshit skiing trip with the kind of tosser that thinks Banter is lobbing a bottle of suspicious fluid from a bus window? You’re unadventurous. Haven’t gotten laid by 18? You’re a loser.
You can imagine this positive experience does wonders for people.
The worse tragedy though is that to not be included actually feels painful. There’s a reason people strive to do these things young, and not admit to smashing through Final Fantasy X in a weekend marathon gaming session, or reading books about the Cold War instead of awkwardly chatting up girls through the medium of Strongbow.
So if you’re into some strange shit that’s not considered the norm, or acceptable according to some undecided consensus (actually decided by the most social/attractive people in a given year group), then you’re either going to have to seek out the other outsiders to get that social kick or face burying it and putting on a mask to get through the day.
This is coming from someone where Myspace and MSN were the main “social” tools online. I shudder to think Facebook and the like help matters…
Social status in school is a time limited commodity. By that I mean – it is worth everything at the time, until it suddenly is worth bugger all. It’s even worse when older folks tell you “These are your best days” and to “enjoy it”. There becomes an enormous pressure to join in, to belong, to be accepted despite the cost to yourself. It is expected! These are the best days of your life! Listen to Summer of ’69! At 18 your life is over, better do what is good for you, even if you think otherwise.
Don’t be weird, don’t be special, don’t do the things you wanna do, do what you can to conform and gain social status. Hang out with the cool kids, hang out with the tough kids, hang out with the music kids and hang out with the stoner kids. Just don’t be you. People might judge you then.
But then people do that anyways. Because people are people, each of them unique, with different stories, different tastes, different reasons. It’s not school’s fault necessarily – it’s just a place where a huge number of similar aged people in a local area are put together.
So rather than a rant about “school”, this is a rant about what kids, and to a lesser extent, society and expectations for people, and for each other. None of us really know the right way to go about things.
I know this because there isn’t a right way to go about things.
Everyone – your mum, the prime minister, and especially the Head Boy in Year 10 – is winging it. You look for precedent and you learn what you can, you ignore what’s boring and spend time having fun. You may try to do some pioneering stuff, and achieve some great things, but ultimately life is before you to do as you see fit. So long as it’s what you want it doesn’t matter.
Our time in school teaches us the opposite because the level of judgement amongst our peers is extraordinarily influential. But it does not last forever – or at least in future it is far less effective.
Because eventually you’re left in the breeze without the protection of the hallowed halls of school and the limited guidance of teachers. Suddenly there’s no one there, and the social status sought has vanished and the real world starts approaching on the horizon faster than any of us would like.
And at that point, it doesn’t matter if you liked stamp collecting or smashing someone to pieces on a rugby pitch. It doesn’t matter if you’re judged for being intelligent or beautiful. It’s you, the people you truly care about, and the world. And all that nonsense, that chase, that experience shared with peers, none of it matters not.
I reflect on this because I often have a thought in my head about what it would be like to regroup with my year group.
Then, that thought takes a flying leap out of a window because the only thing I had in common with my fellow classmates was that we were at the same place at the same time.
So what would we say to each other, after all this time? And in reality, how much would have changed?
I can look back in the last ten years and go “well that was different”. I imagine a fair amount of the lot from school have done the same. I also can imagine a fair amount have not. Then we get back to judging one another based on things done/not done, just like in the school days when your value was tied to your social status.
What countries have you visited? How many kids have you got now? What fancy job is allowing you to drive that Mercedes? What shitty job is allowing you to drive your college banger still? Have you gained/lost weight? All the social status points that mattered not a jot for a decade suddenly become gold.
Why on Earth would anyone want that experience again? I would truly hate to imagine what people thought of me at the time. I think I can choose to live in a bubble in that regard. I’d rather not learn how much of an asshole I was back in the day and that I had a temper accurately described as either “on” or “off”.
And doubtless I imagine people reading this from my school days, and have a few thoughts…
So to tie up this loose assortment of ideas:
School, school days, the social circles, the good/bad times, the expectations – they are just the passage of a time. If they were the best of times for you, then lament the loss but try to find solace you have a whole life beyond that before you. If they were the worst of times, well, they’re over. Behind you. They can inform, but shouldn’t decide how to go through the world.
The school bully, the class savant, the hottest girl in the room and the super popular jock, are gone now. Your life’s yours, and truthfully, always has been. Now go and do what you want. Except that, god. So weird.
But then, who am I to judge?