#820: A Letter to Me, Pre-High School Reunion

July 24th, 2017

My high school, while a fine place with some lovely people, was never much in the “having its shit together” department.

No one bothered to organize five- or 10-year reunions, and for 15, a few folks cobbled a Facebook invite that spread through the social circles I wasn’t a part of. I only found out after the fact that my high school reunion A. Existed and B. Was a lovely time.

While the organizers still haven’t bothered to, like, get a list from the school and actually invite people, at least in time for the 20th I’m Facebook friends with the disorganized organizer crowd. So on Friday, I’ll drive to Rockford, Illinois (Motto: We lost funding for a motto during the budget crisis) to attend my first high school reunion.

In advance of this momentous occasion, a few words then to young Paul Dailing, circa 1997 and probably wearing a Green Day shirt.

Dearest Young Me,

That thing on your chin you call a goatee — get rid of it. It looks like someone Xeroxed “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” onto your face. Wait until you can actually grow a mustache (1999, if I remember right) or hold off on the facial hair altogether.

I can also write off a list right now of the, like, 10 women you want to ask me about. It never happens with any of them. Sorry.

Now that that’s out of the way, here we are. Hello, Teen Paul. I’m really sorry about some of the stuff I’ll make you do in your 20s and you best apologize to me for having to remember senior turnabout dance. You know what I’m talking about. Idiot.

I guess I should write about how wonderful life becomes out of high school and how you just don’t see the beauty of the world right now. That seems to be the M.O. for this type of column or graduation speech or any other time a gray-hair is lecturing a young person.

But those columns or speeches are rife with sampling bias. The people who say “You’ll be fine” or “Just believe in yourself” believed in themselves and were fine. The others, just as good, wise, noble, clever and talented who believed in themselves and were killed in a tragic boating accident, lost their money in the market or got the wrong one preggo might give a different speech, if they could or were asked.

You, paradoxically, will be fine. But never think it’s because the universe is good, or because you’re innately sharper than life’s challenges. You’ve been damn lucky, have a damn good support network and walked into this world with a boatload of privilege you didn’t even know the world offered.

So life doesn’t get better, at least not on its own. You get better.

Your heart breaks and you’re a little more empathetic each time. You hit a roadblock and have to either muster internal strength to overcome it, or realize which challenges aren’t worth it and drive around.

(It’s OK to give up on childhood dreams if adult you realize they’re not worth it, by the way. That’s why you’ll run into very few Firefighter Ninja Ballerina Cowboys on Friday.)

Right now, you’re a mess of parboiled mid-90s political and musical beliefs, but things will soon be too hard for you. Rejoice when you come across something too hard for you. That means you’ve found a challenge, an opportunity to either redouble or reevaluate your efforts.

Losing can be good too, if you learn a lesson you can apply elsewhere.

And look forward to being an old man someday, writing a letter to his younger self about what an idiot he was in his 30s.


P.S. Shave that thing.

Read about my favorite high school teacher

Advice to a former student of mine

High school kids are goddamn idiots and I have proof

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