If “Life” were a Class in High School

Michael Costigan is a 17 – year-old from Orange County, CA. He is a social entrepreneur, public speaker, and truly enjoys helping other’s better understand teen related issues. You can follow him at www.SpeakingofMichael.com

Unfortunately, it’s not. There’s no class to teach us about life. We only have our own mistakes, experiences, and successes to learn from.

For a long time I’ve been thinking about writing a post that tries to sum up what life has taught me, led me to believe, and challenged me with. However, I don’t think there’s any way to capture all those thoughts entirely. Needless to say, this is my attempt at describing some of the bigger ones.


I feel like trust isn’t about people keeping your secrets. Sure that may be part of trust. But for me trust is in people’s actions towards myself and others. When someone trusts you that means you should be looking out for them in their best interest. Not yours. Trust isn’t selfish and trust shouldn’t be one sided. Anyone who says you can trust them, but thinks differently, isn’t being honest with you or themselves.

It’s often hard to trust people. Perhaps people we’ve trusted in the past have hurt us or lied about their trust in us. But for all of us, whether we like it or not, trust is the unit that connects us to each other. Because to trust someone else completely means letting your guard down and being open to the risk of being betrayed. If we don’t place our trust in people, we live in a very lonely and artificial world. We can’t do everything on our own, believing that we can would be one of the biggest traps we could fall into. We need other people’s help for so many things. And we have to trust them to help and support us when we don’t know what to do. We have to try and trust the right people. We have to watch their actions towards us and others, always trying to see if they match what they say to us. Who are the people ready to jump in and help when a decision is unpopular, unsupported, or misunderstood? Our trust should lie in the people who try to help us even before we come to them for help, because they recognize the need, and they’re doing it voluntarily out of care. It starts with you.

All of us like to make up reasons in our mind why we can’t act a certain way towards someone or say what we wish we could. This is the worst place to be. Thinking like this forces us to be someone we’re not, to hide how we feel, or to say things we don’t mean. Imagine if you’re doing this, just how many other people probably are too. So much for being real. If all of us act this way, and we all do at times, our relationships with other people are built on things untrue to ourselves. It might work in high school, it may even work in real life, but it won’t work when you realize there’s no one to whom you can turn to who understands your real beliefs and passions for living.

Personal Life.

I consider this the foundation for all my interactions in life. The quality of your personal life depends on the health of your relationships with your friends, boyfriend or girlfriend if you have one, and family. When things aren’t right at these levels, it’ll affect everything else you do, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

This is the part we all mess up on. The closer a person is to you the easier it is to hurt them. And we don’t expect to be hurt by someone we’re close to, so when it happens, it makes it that much worse. There’s usually a common denominator to the problems that arise in our personal lives. Usually a communication break down of some sort is the reason. So why is this? Most of us don’t like confrontations. We go about our lives trying to avoid asking the hard questions or dealing with the uneasy answers. And in turn, we just make it worse for ourselves. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone else is. It’s so easy to avoid dealing with the difficult conversations, decisions, and problems life throws at us. Instead, we push it off or tell ourselves it’ll just work out on its own, and sometimes it does, but rarely the way we wish it had. Often it’s not even as big of a deal as it seems. Being happier starts with facing those issues first. If you make this a habit, people will respect you for it. There doesn’t always have to be a negative side to everything, some things you should just give a chance.

Public Life.

Heard of the phrase “keeping up appearances”? It’s what most of us do. Until the last couple of years I was relatively ignorant to this fact. It wasn’t until more recently, particularly when the economy became the train wreck that it is, that I realized just how many people will do what ever they can in order to preserve their perceived status. Whether it’s leasing cars just to drive the latest BMW, or buying expensive clothes to fit in with the crowd and then not having enough money for food. It’s really pathetic when you think about it. We place a gross value on material items and we’re all guilty of it at times.

Now, I’ve come to realize that the nature of being a public speaker, and a consultant to various clients has created a polarized audience for myself. What do I mean by this? As I’ve written more content for various websites, spoken in front of more people, and worked to mobilize more individuals in their personal businesses, the feedback I receive is directly correlated to my level of authenticity. When I play down the middle, careful not to offend anyone, or point out why I think my opinion is better than another, I typically don’t receive any negative feedback. But I also don’t receive any really awesome feedback. When you act in a way that isn’t true to values, in order to avoid offending anyone, you lose the characteristic beliefs that make you real to others. By no means am I saying should try to offend people with your opinions, but playing it neutral on everything won’t get you recognized. Be decisive about your beliefs, and smart about your decisions — most importantly, make them all count.

Chasing after popularity doesn’t bring it to you. The most sought after people reached that point by their own actions and personality. It does you no good to try and be like someone else. If you’re looking to gain a following, that’s the worst way to go about it. But really, you shouldn’t be trying to gain a following. Support and admiration will come with a reputation for being a person of integrity and a defining personality. It may not always work this way in high school, or in some social settings, but in the grand scheme of things it does. No one can effect change in other people’s lives, or their own for that matter, unless they’re self-driven.

The Big Picture

Time is more scarce than you think. Don’t waste it wishing things were different or that things had played out the way you wanted them to. Get out there and make your life what you want it to be. Maybe your grades aren’t what you wish they were. So what. Are you going to let that determine the quality of your last year in high school?

Have you ever been in a state of introspection? It’s amazing the impact experiences can have on us. If we’re lucky enough sometimes we can feel at one – like everything could be perfect if even only for a minute. We all know what changes would need to be made in order for us to enjoy our life more. Those things we wish we knew how to say to others, they’re so easy to think about, yet so difficult to act upon.

So here’s my challenge for you, stop using those same old excuses. Stop finding reasons not to do that thing you want to do. Stop thinking about what could go wrong before it even does.

Why? Because your life, your happiness — it’s all determined by you.

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