My time as a beginning freshman in high school was only a mere two years ago, but a lot of changes have taken place – probably the biggest changes I’ve ever experienced in my life.

As a teenager, you get a lot of things shouted at you from all different directions and sometimes, if you’re lucky, a few bits and pieces actually stick to our indifferent hearts. I’ve learned a lot over the last few years of high school and often find myself wishing so badly to be able to go back in time and talk to 14-year-old me. Here are some things I wish someone would have informed me in my naive, dreamer girl days.

1. High school is never like it is in the movies.

While we may already know this, it’s hard not to map out your last four years of education as something based straight out of a Disney flick. We’re taught, as children, that it’s completely normal to be serenaded by the hot basketball star like in High School Musical. He just can’t get you out of his mind, why not burst into a musical number about it in the middle of a game? When you’re first starting out as a teenager, everything is so new and you’re dealing with the constant feeling of apathy all while caring way too much. It’s a delicate balance that I think only teenagers alone ever understand fully. To put things in more cynical terms: lower your expectations. Don’t expect your knight in shining armor to pick you up for a magical time at the school dance. Don’t map out a crazy romance soirée that belongs in a Nicholas Sparks novel. Expect change, but don’t try so hard to fantasize it because you could probably be using that brain power for something a little more applicable. Romanticizing things will only lead you on a deluded pathway to disappointment and empty cartons of ice cream.

2. Make friends with your teachers.

I sincerely regret any major attitude I had in the beginning of high school because it definitely tampers with the relationships you have with your teachers. Not all of them will be fair, or even all that tolerable, and while that may inspire you to want to take your first dignified stand against today’s education system, it won’t prevent you from failing. I’d hate to be one to say high school is all about grades, but at certain times it is going to matter whether you get that extra 2%, and if you’re not on good terms with your instructor, that number probably won’t budge. Respect your teachers and pay attention in class because no, you’re not ‘too cool for school’. That kid who drags everyone down with his or her reluctance isn’t someone I’m going to remember fondly of after I graduate. In fact, I probably won’t remember them at all. Don’t waste your energy on trying to seem above your assignments because it’ll just come back to bite you. Plus, who do you think is in charge of writing your recommendation letters for college? Exactly.

3. Get involved.

Getting involved is hugely important, and I don’t even mean it as far as the extensive extra curricular activities that would look good on college apps. Just get up and go outside. Maybe I sound like those cheesy “get active!” commercials that were pushed on us from Nickelodeon for so long, but it radiates some truth. If you miss out on all these events that are being offered to you along the way (ie. proms, carnivals, dances, field trips, camps, etc), then you’re missing out on some pretty eccentric memories. I’m not guaranteeing they’ll all be the best times of your life, in fact some may even be the worst, but it’s the experience that really shapes you. I remember my first dance experience: it was embarrassing and pretty disappointing to say the least, but I look back on it now and laugh (or grimace). It taught me a couple of things, and honestly I’m glad I got the reality check because if anyone needed it, it was me.

Extra curricular activities are just as important, too, though. They’re crucial for college applications and make a good impression on the adults that come at you like hungry bears with a million questions about your future. Take pride in the sports or clubs you participate in. They make great memories too! It’ll all work in your favor at the end.

4. Be nice to people.

This is similar to number 2, but I’m not just talking about teachers. I mean everyone. Everyone is fighting their own battle whether you can see it or not, and by being unnecessarily rude isn’t going to help. We’re all at our melodramatic stages in life and the excess drama is just annoying. So what if she said your eyeliner is uneven? Retaliating is not worth a year of awkward passes in the hall. Maybe it is true that they were talking behind your back at lunch. Good! If they’re behind you, then that means you’re already ahead. Maybe in your eyes yelling at someone over some gossip is the heroic thing to do, but honestly, people will only ever remember it as D-R-A-M-A. Think, in a few years when you graduate, do you really want to leave knowing you’re entitled to more apologies than goodbyes? Treat everyone as equals. No exceptions.

5. Be the kind of friend you would want.

You’re going to meet people who are dealing with all kinds of problems, whether it be at home or just mentally. Things like eating disorders and mental illnesses are growing like an epidemic in today’s youth and while you may not want to believe it, chances are you’ll get to know someone who suffers with it. In times like this, you have to be that friend that’s going to pick up the phone at 3 A.M. when someone needs to talk. Maybe you’ll be the one experiencing these things, and in that case, what would you want your friend to do for you? Sometimes you won’t feel like being there, maybe you’ll be too tired to listen, but it’ll be worth it in the end if you really just put yourself out as that reliable person. Don’t put your own needs aside too often, though, because that’s not healthy either. Create a balance for both, be encouraging, listen, and don’t always voice your opinion. Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you have to start WWIII over it. Remember: drama is only going to make a mess, so be reasonable even when things don’t go your way. These people you call your friends are going to be the very ones who make grueling projects and venting sessions worth while.

6. Don’t take everything so seriously!

I added an exclamation point because this is something I still have trouble remembering. While you may have been told the opposite in the past, I’m not referring to taking assignments and classes seriously. What I am referring to is people/drama/petty arguments/boys/girls/etc. Don’t dwell on the mistakes you’ve made or the chances you’ve lost because it’s in the past. Learn from it, but don’t analyze to the point where you’re questioning your own existence on the bathroom floor with a half eaten sandwich in your lap at 4 A.M. Stop complaining about all the things you could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done and start focusing on what’s next. Move on. This is the time to look stupid and laugh about it later. I always think about the times when my parents tell me anecdotes from their high school life. None of it matters now, and the same goes for you.

7. Do not wallow in self-pity.

As humans, we’re naturally self-centered creatures. We want to focus on all that we’ve done right, and, unfortunately, all that we’ve done wrong. Of course feeling sorry for yourself is okay, it’s even healthy! But when you’re the person who’s always complaining about yourself and your life and questioning all the bad things that happen to you, no one is going to want to talk to you. Trust me, I know people like that and holding conversations with people who only uselessly complain about everything is not my, or anyone’s, cup of tea. Wallowing in self-pity is gross and only makes you feel worse in the long run. You are amazing and talented and have all the right to own those moments that make you smile, so focus on that. No one is going to feel like running to dry you with a towel when you’re the one pouring water on yourself.

8. You are beautiful, intelligent, and worth it.

It’s cliché, it’s all over inspirational magazines and when overused, it’s even cringe worthy. But it’s true! Most teenagers experience a very common thing called low self-esteem. You’re surrounded by hundreds of other people who are even better at the things you thought you were best at and while it took you forty minutes to do your hair this morning, she just rolled out of bed looking like the model on the cover of Vogue. This afternoon you just hit your personal best in sports and you feel like a champion, that is, until that guy over there zips past you on his first try doubling your standards. Stop comparing yourself. You’re not dumb because you failed a history test. So what? Memorizing dates isn’t my forte either. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t look like someone because, in reality, you never will. You are yourself and that’s all you ever will be. It’s both mentally and physically exhausting to hate yourself and stand in the mirror picking out everything you want to change, telling yourself everything that’s so wrong with you, so stop. Think of yourself at your proudest moments and then pat yourself on the shoulder because that is exactly who you are. If you have countless problems with yourself, do something about it. You’re the only one who picks yourself up after a long day to keep going, even when you simply feel like sleeping through it all. That’s a pretty impressive feat, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

9. Study.

Simple as that. It’s been told to you your whole life, and now is the time to listen. Elementary and middle school are, to be frank, easy. High school is where the number next to the three letters of GPA really matter. Space out your priorities, write down your assignments (definitely do this), and take your time. Seek help if you need it. Don’t try to reassure yourself that if you fail this one test, you can bring your grade up on the next one. Maybe it’s an appealing last resort, but you know what? You’re going to end up doing it again, and again, and again, and again… You can’t whiz through high school classes on your hopes alone, so take your drink off of that makeshift text book coaster and put the information to use! I honestly will never miss those moments I used to slack off, because the feeling of being completely lost during a test the next day ruined everything. No one cares if you don’t get the material, so it’s up to you to slap yourself into shape and show people that you’re responsible and capable of pushing passed it.

10. Think for yourself.

There’s nothing that irks me more than people who are clones of what we are told to think. I’ve grown to be kind of a quite opinionated person and while that doesn’t always work in my favor, it gets you thinking about a lot of important things. Form your own opinions, it’s okay to think differently from someone else. In fact, it’s great! You are capable of doing so many things with your ideas and thoughts and you should never feel afraid to express that. If you want respect and individuality, then you have to learn to think for yourself and not just what people tell you. It doesn’t matter if you get written off as a moody, rebellious teenager just because your standing up for yourself somewhat relates to the movies. (Have you seen The Breakfast Club?) Thinking for yourself against all the odds is going to stick with you for the rest of your life. Plus, it is kind of fun.