Last week, I found myself feeling all sorts of things: sick, tired, sick of being tired. The trimester was coming to a close. It seemed as if I was spending every waking moment planning, grading, putting together the literary magazine, supervising an intervention group. Plus, a former student asked if we could resume our evening tutoring sessions. I did not say no. When I felt like I could not put anything else on my plate, I was nominated to coordinate treat day for our department.
As I stood in line to pick up the catering the evening prior to the event, I made eye contact with the bubbliest, bright-eyed teenager I had seen in a long time. She exuded politeness and personality. A quick glance at my watch and a fast calculation helped me realize that she probably had at least another three hours of work before her shift ended. After which, she would embark on her pile of homework, catch up with friends, and maybe even spare some time for her family if anyone was still awake. Then, she would crawl into bed and do it all over again the next day. I used to be that girl. We all did. And somehow we’ve forgotten what it’s like to hustle like we’re still in high school.
There is No Small Task
In high school, everything matters. Every job is an opportunity to inch towards a little more freedom. Every class is a stepping stone towards the college or career of your choosing. Even if the pay is not good enough — it’s never good enough — and the work is tedious, you still gave it your all because there was no small task.
I remember the first time I deposited babysitting money into my bank. I was beaming with pride as the poor bank teller counted out my pittance and checked it against the deposit ticket. My earnings amounted to three dollars an hour, and I had been paid in spare tollway change.
Fast forward to my first real job. I nervously filled out the application for a work permit at the guidance counselor’s office when I was fourteen years old, and I landed a job at a gift shop earning five dollars and some change per hour. Everyone had to start somewhere, and I was grateful to find my start.
Now that I’m a grown up,* I find myself thinking about things in terms of money. Is that really worth my time? Is that really something I should do? Don’t I do enough work without stipends? Should I really give more of my time away for free?
I’m right to be cautious of my time. It is an important skill to learn to say no. I hope to God one day I master it. But there is danger in this way of thinking too.
Even if a career is just a stepping stone while an exit strategy is formulated, it still matters. That meeting might be boring. That task might be one or two pay grades down. But how we handle every situation matters. We might not see the immediate consequences of them in our bank accounts, but we will see them. We expect high schoolers to gobble up experiences to prepare for the future. Why don’t we?
Pursue Your Passions
Perhaps I’m being overly sympathetic after sitting in a series of meetings for eight hours last week, but being a student is no easy task. Say what you want about the American education system*. Eight hours of coursework followed by homework, projects, research, and essays is exhausting. Throw in the delightful awkwardness of being a teenager, and I get tired just thinking about it.
But academics is such a small part of any student’s day. Families push for them to get involved. Colleges insist that they do. Volunteering, practicing a sport, playing an instrument, and getting involved in other projects. Extracurricular involvement has become a multiple choice test question and the only correct answer is all of the above. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing.
This past month, I had a conversation with a friend who confessed to be hesitant about getting back out into the dating world. His concern wasn’t the awkward first encounters, the social pressures, or even the expectation from his mother that hurry up and he find someone to settle down with soon. He was worried that he wouldn’t know what to say when asked, “What do you like to do?”
He is one of the fortunate ones. He loves his job. But he loves his job so much that he has relegated his interests and hobbies to the background for so long that they now linger like a soon-to-be-forgotten memory. I know many people who have done the same for jobs they do not like, let alone love.
I recently started studying Spanish again. Someone asked me why. She found my response irritatingly simple: “Because I like it.” I am one-step-below-ameeratur-level when it comes to running, knitting, photography, and blogging. None of these interests or hobbies would likely ever appear on a curriculum vitae. I might not even mention them in casual conversation with acquaintances. But I do relish the thought of having an answer to the question, “What are your interests?”
Schedule Time For Fun
They rise in the early hours of the morning, endure eight hours of classes, participate in extracurricular activities, work menial jobs, and carve out time to study. In spite of all of the other commitments, most teenagers still find ways to schedule in fun. From folded notes and text messages to lunch dates and social media, students stay connected with their friends. It might not be for longs spans of time and it might only happen virtually, but it does happen.
How many adults do you know who avow to be too busy to do anything other than work? It is almost a point of pride to declare a schedule so full with work commitments that catching up with friends has to be booked weeks or months in advance like a biannual dentist appointment or wellness screening. When did we stop prioritizing friendships and relationships? It might just be a matter of recalling how much we actually used to enjoy the jaunts to coffee shops, hurried phone calls before bed, or stopping by someone’s house with no objective other than to simply hang out. Surely, if a sixteen year old can figure these things out, so can we. Right?
* At least according to the government. Considering I still have to call my mom figure out her stain fighting sorcery when doing laundry and I have been known to Google things like “how to defrost bread,” I’m still not so sure on the whole adult thing.
**But don’t say it on my blog. I’ll delete your comment. Just kidding. Kind of.
So Tell Me…How did you hustle when you were a teenager? How do you pursue your passions or make time for fun now?