It’s amazing how a photo can take you places… mentally and emotionally. Photos can send us on a journey of time travel that beats the pants off anything Hollywood develops. One moment, I’m sitting here in the year 2020. Then I look at a photo… BAM… all of a sudden, I’m a teenager again. I’ve been flipping through old photos lately, time traveling all around the past 41 years, accumulating enough frequent flyer miles to land in some distant Shangri-la where the only dilemma is whether to order french fries or onion rings with tonight’s cheeseburger (for the record, the correct answer is cheese curds).
My teenage photos are a journey of contradiction: they’re memories from a far-off land, yet still recent enough for me to recognize the dude staring at the camera. I’ve always romanticized my college years because that’s where I truly started becoming “me.” I’ve never done that with my teenage years. Frankly, I was glad to get the hell out of high school. I was a shy little fella who usually blended into the background. I was already an old soul and just wanted to get on with life. Some of my classmates were partying, scoring touchdowns, and making out in the middle of the gym during homecoming dances. I was collecting baseball cards and anchoring the Quiz Bowl team. Two different worlds, man.
If I were forced at gunpoint to repeat my high school years, I’d do a lot of things differently. I would have talked more. I wouldn’t have waited until the end of my senior year to start dating. I might have stayed on the basketball team longer than a week. Although my high school had its fair share of cliques and obnoxious egos, it also had its fair share of some pretty phenomenal people and I wish I had gotten to know them better at that point in our lives. I’ll always retain a bit of regret about missed opportunities during those four years; what would have happened if I hadn’t been so self-conscious?
Thankfully, with time comes perspective. Even though I harbor minor regret, I also feel like maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be. Those missed opportunities in high school gave me the fuel to break out of my shell in college. Breaking the shell in college set me up to step out of my comfort zone in my 20s, and that in turn prompted me to start defining who I really was in my 30s.
It’s all about evolution. If you ever refer to high school as the best years of your life, then you’ve probably plateaued more than you care to admit. As I stare at the teenage me in those photos, I see big grins and happiness. So maybe I enjoyed high school after all.