3 Things I’ve Learned Since Leaving High School

I was born into a middle class family, in an average American farm town, during a forgettable time in history. My town really didn't really understand me. I always felt like I didn't belong, that somehow I was placed there by mistake. I felt isolated.

I saw myself as creative, but many of my classmates thought that I was odd. They saw me as eccentric; I thought I was unique. I have to admit that I did little to quell their perception of me; in fact, I stirred the pot even more. I took a certain pride in my rebellious orthodoxy. I would activley pray in my school where prayer was not considered "cool." Similar to "straight edge", I wore clothes that challenged the status quo, but was simultaneously morrally upright. I took comfort in my grunge, alienated, tormented, artistic persona. My mask was my shield.

In a town where everyone knows everyone, I stuck out like a sore thumbtack. On the outside, I was thick-skinned. My headphones kept me away from the outside world. My apathetic exterior would hide and protect a sensitive heart. I pretended it didn't matter, but inside I was obsessed with what people thought of me.

Every time someone looked at me and then talked to the person next to them, I assumed it was about me. Every time someone snickered, I assumed they were talking about me. Every note passed, must have been written about me. I was very conscious of myself. Everyone was talking about me. They all hated me.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I had a brief conversation online with a former classmate. I said something about how strange I was back then and she seemed surprised. She said that she never thought of me as strange. She said that she actually kind of had a crush on me.

She didn't think I was strange? I was utterly shocked! I gave her another chance to agree that I was odd, but she instead stated once again how she never thought of me that way. I reflected on that conversation and realized three things about my time in school:

1) Not everyone hated me! You would not have been able to convince me of that at the time! I was certain that everyone in my class and probably everyone in the school thought I was weird. I felt so alone. The girls thought I was awkward - or so I thought. I realized that I was just as awkward as anyone else in the class! I felt like everyone hated me, but it was simply not true. This brings me to the second thing I've realized about high school...

2) Other people in my class were feeling many of the same insecurities that I was. I always knew that I was special. I thought that my awkward time in High School was unique to my journey, but I have since realized that everyone is awkward in high school! The same people I thought were talking bad about me behind my back were covering up for their insecurities! The people I looked up to were nervous about impressing their parents. The sports kids were anxious about messing up at the next game. The people I wouldn't dare talk to were insecure about their own lives. The high school years are marked with profound insecurities for everyone! It's not just you! It's awkward for everyone! However, I've also realized that...

3) Most people do not dwell on the negative thoughts like I did.  These same emotions that make me fabulously creative and excited about the future can also make me vulnerable to the criticism of others. Even today, I have to actively work to shrug off negative or judgmental comments. It can be easy for me to dwell on a negative comment and allow that to trap me in self-doubt, self-hatred, and feeling that I'm not good enough.

I have realized that when I dwell on negative comments, my energy seems to become consumed by those thoughts. I think about the negative comment. I replay it in my head over and over. I dwell on the comment, the tone of voice, what was said. Very soon, I'm no longer free to think about anything else - it consumes me.

I have to be cautious of where I permit my thoughts to go to. This was a powerful lesson for me; one I learned only much later in life. Emotions are powerfully real to us; however, that doesn't make them true. Just because something feels very real, does not make it true. Sometimes when we feel like people hate us, it's our mind playing tricks on us. Sometimes our minds fill in the spaces between what was actually said, and what our emotions lead us to believe was said.

I have realized that just as the evil one tries to tempt us to make poor choices by making bad things look good, he also tempts us by twisting our emotions. The evil one has access to our feelings and will manipulate them to his own evil end. He wants to keep us constantly afraid of what everyone thinks about us, secretly convinced that everyone hates us. The evil one tempts us to be afraid and to be insecure.

I learned from reflecting on my (often) painful high school years that much of my anxiety was my internal perception, not because of others. However, I was consumed with myself. I was prideful and self-centered. This limited me. I couldn't be present to my friends needs because I was so needy myself. I was too consumed with my own insecurities, my own pride, my own agenda.

I can now see a healthy remedy for my pride is selfless service to others. I realize that when I'm helping others, I have little time to be concerned with myself. This has caused me great joy in my life. When I can share my gifts with other people, I am not thinking about myself. To coin a phrase "Humility is not about thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Michael James Mette

After serving in the Air Force, Michael completed his degree in Theology and worked for 10 years in parish ministry. During this time, Michael felt increasingly called to focus on beauty by sharing the Gospel through music. His debut album, "Always What I Need" (2010) encourages trust in God's providence. His second album "Bring Forth the Light" (2012) reflects a more mature view of the Catholic faith, exploring musical themes of human love, life, and the afterlife. The music is brooding and spirited, full of lush guitars, piano, and haunting vocals. Equally fitting for Sunday morning or a Friday night, Michael's music provides a backdrop for an encounter with the divine. While some people may describe traveling cross country with kids as miserable, Michael James Mette merely calls it "life". He has modernized a 34' Airstream travel trailer in order to bring with him all the conveniences of home as he shares his music and testimony. Those conveniences include his family - Michelle, his wife of 14 years, and their five children: Gabriella, Trinity, Charity, Cecilia, and Michael, Jr. To learn more about Michael, please visit michaeljamesmette.com.