Have you ever wished you could go back in time and do things differently? Sure, most of us do. I recently came across a cereal box that had list on the back of “18 things to do before you turn 18.” This list got me thinking for two reasons. First, most of the suggestions (bungee jumping, create a new word, go backstage at concert) were useless in terms of helping people get the most out of life at that age. Second, I thought about what I would tell myself if I could go back in time.
The cool thing about high school is that it’s a period of learning and transition. And despite the pressure to fit in, it’s a relatively safe environment to make mistakes — after all, college can be a complete reboot of your social life and a clean slate to start over.
It’s important to have fun at every stage in your life, but it’s also important to prepare yourself for the future. So here’s my top ten things for people in high school to do before they graduate.
1. Get a job
Although a paycheck has some obvious benefits (money for gadgets, food and fun), a part time job when you’re in high school has so many benefits. Yes, even flipping burgers or pushing a broom teaches you some of life’s important lessons such as being responsible, being accountable and showing up on time. When you get that first paycheck, you’ll learn that you don’t get to keep everything you make — welcome to the world of paying taxes.
A job also teaches you important interpersonal skills such as patience with customers, following rules (as if high school didn’t teach that enough) and interacting with adults other than family and teachers. Some people also learn that this life is not for them and decide to start a business instead.
But whatever your goals are, a job will at the very least give you resume experience, contacts (both for social and professional purposes) and prepare you for life after senior year.
2. Open some accounts
All kids over twelve should have a savings account as it teaches good lessons about saving. But it’s also good to learn about CDs (for long term planning) and a checking account to understand the concept of bills and basic bookkeeping. Again, the younger you develop good habits in these areas, the more likely you are to not run into trouble when you’re older.
3. Play an organized sport
Team sports are some of the best “classes” you can take in high school. I wrestled for all four years (I also ran track and played soccer as a freshman) and many of the useful life lessons I learned in high school were learned on that mat. In addition to many treasured memories, I learned important interpersonal skills first hand.
Playing sports teaches you to work as part of team and the important lesson that one person not pulling his or her weight can make everyone fail. You can also create habits related to exercise and health (and if you wrestle, you’ll learn how to lose six pounds in three hours). But most importantly, you’ll learn that dedication, hard work and focus can pay off and are often the only way to reach your goals.
4. Run for elected office
Even if you’re not interested in a career in politics (and never say never as you may find yourself running for elected positions within a club or organization as an adult) you can learn a lot by running for office. The biggest lesson you learn is how to ask for help – you need to ask someone to nominate you and then ask people to work on your campaign. And if that’s not hard enough (and it’s very hard for a lot of people), you have to ask people to vote for you.
These skills will help you with selling (and everyone is a salesperson, even if it’s not your job title), negotiating and learning how to get along with people. You also get some valuable leadership experience if you get elected — experience that competitive colleges love.
5. Interview someone you look up to
Whether it’s a teacher, the most popular kid in your school (assuming he or she will do it), a local business owner, someone in local government or a celebrity, interview someone that you admire. Technology today makes so many people accessible that you’d be surprised who you can actually get in contact with, even if it’s electronically.
Choose a person and try to get in touch with them (this is great lesson in sales prospecting, networking and looking for work) and then ask them good questions. Ask them about the challenges they overcame, the lessons they learned, the things they did right and the things they’d do differently. Plus, you may make a new friend that can help you in the future or get some advice that could help you avoid a few bumps on the road to success.
6. Set goals
Having goals is very important as you can’t reach a destination unless you know where you’re trying to get to. This is another one of those good habits to develop early on. Your goals can be about saving/earning money, getting certain grades, sports related accomplishments or even social such as getting a date for a prom.
Set a goal, create an action plan, take action and make changes if things aren’t working.
This is especially important for those that live privileged lives as you may be sheltered from the challenges that other people face. If you think that being grounded and missing the party of the year is problem, this will be a reality check for you. Imagine not knowing where you’re next meal will come from, wondering if you’re sick child will see their next birthday or what it feels like to be addicted to substances that kids use for fun.
Organizations out there need the extra help, but you benefit as well. Helping someone in need is a great way to build your own self esteem. Plus, the feeling you’ll get is something I can’t really explain to you — you have to experience it yourself.
8. Learn a new language
You probably have to take a foreign language as part of your requirements for graduation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve learned it. Take an interest in learning the language and the culture behind it. It’s so easy to connect with people from all over the world through online forums and social networking sites that you can make thousands of new friends in a short period of time. Being able to speak their language (or at least making an effort) can open some new and interesting doors for you.
9. Learn to be a true friend
I once read that a true friend is someone who is there for you when they’d rather be anywhere else. I can’t think of any truer words when it comes to relationships. For some people, the friendships you make in high school last a lifetime. If the pressures of school aren’t enough, there’s the temptations of peer pressure and even tragic events such as loss of a loved one or parents getting divorced.
There’s also the ultimate test of friendship — sticking up for someone when everyone else is against them. My biggest regret from high school was not doing this even though many others did this for me. We see this as adults in the workplace when someone makes a mistake and no one wants to be associated with them — it’s almost like a mild form of bullying. So be there when people need you. The relationships you’ll create will last ten times longer than your “tarnished” image.
10. Learn to have balance
Life is all about balance. As kids, we tend to play hard and barely work and many of us keep that outlook all the way up until college graduation. Then we go the complete opposite once we enter the full-time workforce. Now is the best time to learn how to juggle your studies, your friends, your family and your activities. Push yourself, but know your limits.
My final piece of advice for high school students is that you have your whole life ahead of you. So even if you never get to date that person you feel you’re destined to be with, miss your GPA goals by a quarter of a point or get in a fight with your best friend, there’s still a lot more life to live. Life is about memories so make some great ones in high school. Most of the not so fond memories of high school will go away by the end of your first semester in college. Then before you know it, you’ll be working, get married, have a family and reconnecting with all your old high school pals on the latest social networks. So get out there and go make things happen.