Why High Schoolers Should Do Stuff They Suck At

I knew this guy in high school — for this purpose, we’ll call him Stephen. Stephen was a scholastic overachiever and prototypical golden child. His resumé included president of student government and several Ivy League schools competed for his attention. On top of that, Stephen played on the varsity football team in a competitive district.

But he was terrible at sports — to a humorous extent. And people loved him for it. Stephen figured out in high school what parents pay $100K in college tuition for their kids to learn in dorm life.

Embrace the journey.

At the end of every practice, we’d run sprints across the field. At the end of every practice, Stephen would get halfway through before projectile vomiting his lunch over the fence. After awhile I assumed he enjoyed the ritual.

Turning an extremely foreign process into habit is at once humbling and empowering. Forming callouses on your fingers makes you better at playing guitar. Taking notes makes you better at learning.

But doing something knowing there’s no tangible short- or long-term goal actually feels pretty great in its own right. Many times there’s a foundation for a deep college application essay hidden in the experience!

Audacity is its own reward.

Whenever Saturday night games reached a quiet point or we racked up a sizable lead, our coach would put Stephen in. At a completely random time. The stands would erupt in applause. Players would cheer him on.

We knew he’d only be in for a couple of plays. He wouldn’t make an impact on the game. But he always played as if his GPA depended on it (really damn hard). Nobody ever seriously made fun of him because they knew they could never enter his own turf at the Saturday morning Latin convention.

Do it all, while you can.

High schoolers have the rest of their lives to focus their time and energy committing to a specific path. Now is the time when they can fire all their cylinders. But society tells our generation that exploring our boundaries is not cost-effective.

Your son says he’s not a “creative type”? His elaborate excuses say otherwise. Incentivize him to write every day and he’ll begin to search the corners of his mind. If he realizes he really isn’t creative but still writes, you have instilled a really special habit.

Your daughter is falling behind in math? Try not to get too frustrated and invest yourself in the process of failing. Embrace the fail. Understand the fail. Like Stephen, keep throwing up over the fence with intensity and finding ways to stay in the game.

The “real” suck.

Doing things they suck at will invariably translate to life beyond lockers. Experimenting with foreign languages and writing extravagant sports fiction novels and trying to get recruited for lacrosse — I’ve never wondered what if I was good at any of these things? because I actually tried them and realized I sucked.

But each of them have opened doors in ways that make dealing with the real world so much better.

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