When you look back on the years you spent there, the actual school parts of high school weren't all that bad. I mean, sure, your teachers had ridiculously high expectations for your workload and it occasionally felt like you were going to start bleeding the parts of your brain devoted to US History out of your nose. It's not like that academic aspects of high school were a walk in the park, but all in all, it wasn't your grades that caused all the emotional distress—your own insecurities are what made high school the hot mess that it was. And with the rampant acne, awkward growth spurts and the merciless scourge of puberty, how could anyone blame you?
Luckily, like most rough times in life, high school ends, and more importantly, so does the self-doubt that plagued you back then. I remember feeling deeply distressed when my mom would say stuff like, "none of this is going to matter in a few years." Despite how unhelpful and annoying "advice" like that could be at the time, I was very relieved, in the years that followed graduation, to learn that she was right. The older we get, the more comfortable with ourselves we become, until one day, unexpectedly, we realize that we have shed most of the insecurities that upset us on a daily basis back in our high school days. It's usually the kind of growth that happens slowly and quietly, while in the course of living every day life. You don't realize you're getting over your adolescent insecurities—until you do. When you've finally gotten over high school insecurity, here's how you can tell:
You’re unapologetically open about what you like
All of us had that one "dorky" thing we were deeply into but disproportionately embarrassed about in high school. But eventually, caring what people think about the things that make happy just gets too exhausting to deal with. So you stop. And once you get over that and let your freak flag fly, you figure out pretty fast that the best way to get to know people who share an interest with you is to not hide what you're into. It's definitely more effective than awkwardly beating around the bush for several weeks before blurting, "DO YOU ALSO WRITE FAN FICTION?!" to a classmate sophomore year.
You no longer feel the need to compare yourself to other people
Even as a person who wasn't all that into clothes and make-up in high school, I remember constantly giving other girls once-overs and cataloguing all the things they were wearing and how they styled their hair to an exhaustive extent. I'm not saying that we never compare ourselves to other people in adulthood (we do, ugh), but it does get so much less consuming when you're not experiencing that high school level of insecurity.
You are genuinely happy for your friends’ successes
In high school it almost felt like our friends' successes were our failures—anything that they got was something we didn't get. A lot of that was because high school pitted us against each other at every turn, whereas in college and our adult lives, we were more free to pursue our own interests and develop respect for everyone's unique paths in life. You learn that someone else achieving something doesn't make you look work by comparison—but not being able to be happy for them does make you look bad. Once you are more secure within yourself, you are even happy for the friends who do get something you want. You know your time will come too, and their achievements aren't a reflection of what you haven't achieved yet.
You stop using social media to validate your happiness
The pain of having social media in high school was excruciating. My level of neurosis was so intense that if somebody didn't like a picture I posted within ten minutes, I would immediately and shamefacedly take it down. Even then, somehow just the memory of the photo would be tainted by people not approving of it online. Now I post things that make me happy, not things that I hope will make other people happy.
You don’t let your feelings snowball
It felt like at least once a month in high school, I would have some kind of mini-meltdown, and it was usually triggered by something so dumb, like misplacing a textbook or missing the bus. In high school, we all had this tendency to try and be tough by never looking phased, and then blowing a gasket when we couldn't take it anymore. Not too much later in life, it becomes easier to own whatever you are feeling and be honest about it rather than embarrassed, and it spares you a lot of snowballing in the future.
You don't even know what clothes are trendy anymore. You just wear what you like.
I personally remember bending to the ridicule of kids who said I wore way too much pink, and bending yet again when I grew out of all the pink and people were sad I wasn't the "pink kid" anymore. DO YOU SEE HOW RIDICULOUS THAT SENTENCE IS?! Once you get past high school, you stop caring how everyone wants you to dress and buy the kind of clothes you feel happy in, haters be damned. There's a huge, comforting freedom in figuring out what looks and feels good on you because then you can stop giving a crap what other people like.
It takes a lot more to make you melt down
Hey, remember that time you got a C and basically came entirely unglued? When you think about it, the things we get unglued about now are real human problems, like relationships or our careers. Things like silly letter grades can hardly graze us anymore. Once you are a more secure person, the foundation of your life gets a lot more firm, and you stop thinking of little things as actual crises.
Peer pressure has no power over you anymore
Even if you didn't buckle to the peer pressure in high school, you still felt the full force of the misery it could inflict. Once you get over that overwhelming need to be liked—and once you realize that being liked has very little to do with adhering to the ever-changing whims of what other people want you to be—listening to people try to peer pressure you into something just makes you feel sorry for them. Like, bro, are you so insecure in whatever choice you're making that you're not going to be okay with it unless someone is doing it with you? Who even needs this kind of nonsense in their lives? (Hint: Not you.)
You stop being afraid that you’re “missing out” all the time
In an effort to achieve anything and everything, we all threw ourselves with complete abandon at extracurriculars and clubs and team sports, determined to experience everything and make ourselves more brag-worthy on college apps. But once you become more grounded in who you are and where your interests lie, you relax a lot more and focus on the parts of your life that actually make you happy instead of trying to do everything at once.
You don’t take constructive criticism personally
The agony of this memory is still so fresh in my mind: In tenth grade, for the first time, a teacher told me that an essay of mine was poorly-written. I basically blacked out for ten minutes as she told me why, after which I immediately locked myself in a bathroom and cried for an hour as if she had told me that I was a terrible person and I should set fire to everything I'd ever written. Despite the fact that she was being completely kind and constructive (and honestly, just doing her job and probably making me a better writer), it's impossible not to take things personally when you're insecure, even if it is meant to be helpful. Once you are confident in yourself and your abilities, though, you can actually reap the benefits of constructive criticism by not letting your feelings get in the way.
You have more confidence and conviction in your decisions
In high school, you second guess every other move you make, convinced that it is going to determine a set path for the rest of your life. But experience helps alleviate that uncertainty, especially when you come to grips with just how unpredictable life is anyway.
You no longer think you're "ugly", and you don't blame your problems on "being ugly"
It was a terribly defeatist notion in high school, but also an all too common one: if you didn't have a significant other, or you didn't get picked for a part in a school play, or even if you felt like a teacher favored another student over you, the go-to explanation was "it's because I'm ugly." It was easy to blame our problems on our looks because they were something we couldn't change or even take responsibility for, and the hit it took on our self-esteem was brutal and unfair. Once you shed impulsive blaming mechanism from high school, you get more clarity on the real root of your problems and how to solve them. Oh, and you also stop thinking of yourself as "ugly" at a certain point as both your self-acceptance and your concept of physical beauty expands greatly in your post-high school life. Amen.
You stop fearing failure
"Failing" seems like the worst possible consequence when you're already not sure of yourself, but once you are, you realize that failing only hurts you as much as you let it. The pain or embarrassment of failure is self-inflicted, and once you get to a point where you can control those feelings, you don't let your fear of failure hold you back. So you might fail, whatever, bring it on. At some point, you have failed and recovered enough times to know that you can count on yourself to always get back up—which makes you no longer afraid of falling down.
You just want to hug high schoolers and tell them it will all be okay
Seriously, guys, if any of you are reading this, you've probably heard it a bajillion and a half times, but let me say it once more: It will get sooooo much better than this.