The Story Economy Blog

Realizing High School is Made Up (20 Years Too Late)

This past weekend, I did something I swore for years that I would never do.

I went to my 20-year high school reunion.

The day I graduated, I decided that I never wanted to look back. It had been four years I didn’t enjoy (big hair, hormones, awkwardness), in an environment I didn’t enjoy (all-girls catholic high school), stuck with an identity I didn’t enjoy (shy girl in the corner who never opened her mouth and always felt like a weirdo).

These last four years were just a blip, I told myself as I zipped up the gown and bobby-pinned on the cap. And the further away from it I get, I thought, the more like a blip they will feel, and the less relevant they will become.

And I was right.

I worked hard to shrug off that old identity. It didn’t represent who I wanted to be. I actively pushed it away. Done with that forever, I thought.

And then came Facebook. And catching up. And nice email exchanges. And curiosity. And before I knew it, I sent in a check to go to the reunion.

I will say this: it was interesting. And very weird. The real highlight was catching up with people who had been friends. I genuinely enjoyed hearing what they’ve been doing. Having conversations with people I only barely knew back then was probably the most interesting, because it was like meeting them for the first time as adults.

So, the night seemed to be pretty easy. Until the moment of Taking The Picture. The people who were the bossiest people in high school herded everyone over to the steps, where we had to assemble for a class photo. All together again. I felt the weirdo girl with big hair start to take over my body.

I’d rather run mile 25 of a marathon, 17 times in a row, with a blister and a black toenail than be stuck here, I thought. For a second, I couldn’t really breathe. So I made some sarcastic remarks to the girls around me (because I was a girl in that moment, definitely not a 38-year-old woman).

And I saw on some of their faces they felt the same way. In that moment I realized these ideas about who we are in this space are all completely made up.This is nothing more than performance. I knew it intellectually all along. Twenty years ago even. But it was probably the first time I experienced it.

What Else is Made Up?

Twenty years might be just about the right amount of time to see that it was all made up, all along, and to really, really not care anymore.

Time is awesome, because it builds distance. And things are incredibly easy to notice from the distance, but very hard to notice when you’re right in the middle of them.

So now I’m wondering this: Am I in the middle of anything now, where I’ve made up a bunch of things without noticing? Like, oh, possibly . . . my career? I’ve made up all kinds of good stuff, and then lived it. That’s the good part of making things up: you get to do what you want to do.

But I’ve made up stuff that’s limiting me, too. Like ideas about how people see me, what my work is worth, and what I’m not good at. I don’t want to wait 20 years to figure out that it could have been something different all along. I don’t want to wait to build distance. I want to short circuit that, and figure out some other mechanism to really get it now, while I’m working in the middle of it.

So, this is my project: notice some stuff I’ve been making up that’s limiting my business. I don’t expect the noticing alone to change it. But I’m not going to worry about that step yet. Short circuiting 20 years will definitely take more than one thought-session.

I invite all of you to get that short-circuiting process started in your lives and businesses. Because I guarantee you’re making up some stuff, too. Twenty years from now, you’ll be able to see it clearly. But do you really want to wait for that reunion?

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