S1: The best things that I’ve ever had the opportunity to do in my life, none of those things happened because I knew what I was doing. Ever, ever. They happened because I was like, I know what the next step should maybe kind of probably look like. And I have confidence in myself that when I get there, I’m going to be able to figure it out. And if I don’t, I’m going to ask for help.
S2: Welcome to How to. I’m Charles Duded. This is the third and final episode in our three part series, Cheat Sheet, which is designed to help you make the most of this really strange back to school season. Last week, we talked with parents who were struggling to navigate conversations about sex with their middle schooler. And today, we’re moving forward a few years with an episode for teenagers in their parents about dealing with the unique stresses of high school. Ari is a senior at a suburban high school south of Chicago, and she’s got a lot on her plate.
S3: I’m involved in multiple honors societies at my school, and I am also holding leadership roles in those honor societies. And I also have cheered for three years and I am a part of the top choral ensemble and I’m the president of that ensemble.
S4: After school, I have a meeting for the National Honor Society and I probably get home and have to record for my podcast. And that’s probably a perfect day.
S5: And the most busy day I was going to say that’s a pretty full day.
S5: Tell me a little bit about your school. Like, is it a is it a big school or a little school?
S4: Yeah, so it’s a super big school. And with that, you know, there’s the theater kids, you know, the football players. But then also there may be those same athletes on the same team that are also a part of the drama club or that are also a part of the robotics club, which kind of breaks those stereotypes are is one of those kids who doesn’t fit into an easy box. But that can be tricky because when you’re on the cusp of adulthood, not fitting into stereotypes, sometimes that makes it harder to figure out who you want to be, you know, being not only a black girl, but just a girl and kind of the dichotomy between being feminine and being intelligent because I am someone who is really into fashion. And then also I would, you know, consider myself to be intelligent. There’s an either or in that you can either, you know, like biology or like to do winged eyeliner. And that’s something that I’ve experienced so many times just growing up. And I think that it makes it really hard to find my identity and find myself despite all of these things.
S5: And that’s hard. It’s really hard. I mean, what do your parents say? They’ve been been helpful in helping you try and figure out what the future should look like?
S7: Yeah, they support me regardless of what I do. But they also recognize that, you know, we’re not necessarily in a financial situation.
S8: As a family, you do have to figure out a 17, 18 year old prospectively what you want to do for the rest of your life and where thousands of dollars are going to be put into that interest. So making sure that that’s exactly what I want to do.
S5: And you originally wrote to us even before the pandemic had started, right?
S8: Yes. So originally I wrote to you guys, just because we’re approaching college application season and just the pressures of being a teenager and also balancing your education and also your future as of right now is definitely really hard.
S5: And this is kind of why are you wrote to us is because she’s stressed out like a lot of high school students are these days. She feels like she has to plan her whole future right now in the middle of a pandemic. Well, being stuck at home and and juggling the daily grind of remote learning and extracurriculars and college applications. So what should she do about that pressure? How can she stop worrying about the future and just enjoy senior year while also figuring out where she’s supposed to end up in life? On today’s show, we’ll get schooled by Professor Evildoing, who’s taught kids like Aria for years. And more important, she knows what it’s like to feel a little unsure of yourself at age 17 and then eventually find your way. See you back in class after this quick break. We’re back with Ariah, our high schooler, who is trying to figure out who she is and how to do her senior year and where she wants to go to college and how to get accepted there. And it’s a lot. Luckily, our expert knows how to deal with a bunch of things going on at once.
S1: Hi, my name is Eve Ewing Liguria.
S5: You grew up around Chicago. She was a teacher in the city’s public schools for a number of years, and now she’s a professor at the University of Chicago.
S1: And I’m also a writer. I’ve written a few different books and I write poems and I write comic books and writing a TV show. You name it, I write it.
S5: But you didn’t always have such an impressive resume.
S1: So I was really a much less responsible high school student than it sounds like Aria was. I was the president of no clubs. I think that I often made a lot of really bad decisions in high school. I didn’t check a lot of the boxes. That seems like Arias doing a really good job checking checking off.
S5: One of the things that I heard Arias saying. And Aria, tell me tell me if you feel like this is wrong. One of the hard things about being a senior is that there’s all this anxiety, particularly in a world like the world we’re living in right now, where everything’s changing so much and everything so uncertain, but also just anxiety about the future that would have happened at any time in life. Eve, did you feel that way when you were in high school?
S1: I did not my mom didn’t go to college and I was raised by my mom growing up, and I think that I was really kind of lackadaisical about college, I actually I’m going to admit something that’s probably going to be horrifying to Aria, which is that I applied to exactly one college. I got really, really lucky that I got accepted into my one college that I applied to and that it was a good fit for me. So much so that I’m actually a professor there now. But I have a lot of thoughts about the stress that is perceiving.
S5: Are you. Let me ask you, because it sounds like you’re surrounded by a lot of people who are saying you need to make some choices and going to college is important. Do you like having that pressure around you?
S7: Well, I would say I don’t know, because I think a lot of the pressure that I feel is not just for my family, it’s the entire world. And just growing up as a teenager in this time, you know, your access to social media is immense. Any time I can go on the Internet and go on social media and see into other people’s lives and, you know, people succeed on social media. And so when you see that constantly, I think that it does culminate a feeling in you that you have to succeed all the time. And I think that that’s a sentiment that can be expressed not only by me, but by pretty much all of my peers.
S5: When you see something like that on social media, like like what does it look like?
S7: A post like that would look like someone who fits into all of society’s beauty standards. And then the caption could be something like, I just donated three thousand dollars, you know, and then you click on their bio to learn a little bit more about them. And they say Harvard class of twenty, twenty four, National Merit Scholar, all of that. And I do think that has contributed to my anxiety around applying to college and succeeding because I do have that subconscious pressure telling me to succeed.
S5: Yeah. Do you feel like you would have been a different student if you were 17 today?
S1: You know, I see multiple sides of it. We didn’t have the technology to be posting pictures. So many things. But I also remember that the analog version of those feelings, you know, like which for us came in in magazines, I think particularly as as a black girl growing up, I often just felt actually pretty invisible in the media that I consumed. But I think what Ari is describing is a sense of being hyper visible, that everybody is watching you all the time and you’re constantly being invited to compare yourself to other people. And I think that the kind of an escape ability of it has to feel really scary, you know, and really overwhelming. I think that as black people in particular social media makes it very hard for us to manage our exposure to trauma.
S7: Yes. Yes. Like, I completely agree with everything that I’ve said. And it’s something that it’s become normalized in our society to go on your timeline and see the senseless murder of another black person. And then like what Ive said about just being a black woman in this time and growing up as a black girl and and representation or lack thereof, there are just so many things that I could talk about it for hours.
S1: I hear you. I hear you.
S5: And one of the things that’s interesting about what Ari is going through is that in a lot of ways it’s fairly new, right. Social media and the ability to constantly compare yourself with your peers and to see these disturbing things unexpectedly. Teenagers face these pressures today that that their parents never did.
S1: Everything you’re describing is historically unprecedented in the history of adolescence, in the history of society. Right. And that’s really hard. But have you ever read anything by Toni Morrison?
S7: No, I haven’t.
S1: That’s like mandatory black girl homework. So you’re going to. Yes, you’re going to read before your senior year is over. You’re going to read something by Toni Morrison and her most famous and well regarded novel of all of her work is is beloved. And there’s this scene where one of the characters is giving a sermon in the middle of the woods and she tells all the people who are gathered around her, many of whom are formerly enslaved people, you have to love your flesh. You have to love your neck and love your eyes and love your skin and love every part of you. And because she says yonder, they do not love it. Yonder they fly it. Right, meaning meaning it literally in that sense. And therefore it becomes more imperative than ever that that you love yourself. And saying something like that is. It can be really cliche, but I think of it as like, OK, you were a cheerleader, right? And you know that at the end of the day, being a cheerleader, it’s something that you had to work for and all these tiny little moments every single day, every time you did an AB crunch, every time you practiced your balance, you could tell I’m being madvig because I actually don’t understand anything about cheerleading. But I’m doing my best here. Right. OK, so what does that mean as it pertains to loving yourself? It means that you actually have to work as hard to love you as you work hard at all.
S2: These other things that you’re so good at even remembers this one moment where that lesson really hit home. She was about to finish graduate school and was feeling overwhelmed under a lot of pressure, the same way Aria feels right now.
S1: I was going through a hard time and I had ended a relationship that was really abusive and was trying to kind of put myself back together. And I saw this picture of myself in this picture and probably like two days old. And I’m being held by my mom and my dad and my grandma. And in this picture, I have accomplished nothing. And I looked at the picture and I looked at their faces and I was like, wow, in this moment, I was already the most important person in the world to these three people without having done anything. And they already just loved me. So I must be that dope. Right. And like, what does it feel like to treat yourself like that if that’s everything I needed to hear today?
S5: This is our first rule, especially if you’re a teenager, feeling overwhelmed right now, give yourself a break, recognize that this is a really stressful time for everyone. There was a survey last year that found that seven out of every 10 teens considered anxiety a major problem among their friends. But most teens, according to studies, also think that the best way to deal with that anxiety is to hide their feelings and pretend that everything’s OK, but everything’s not OK. And the best way to deal with stress is to be honest about how you’re feeling. And for parents, make sure you’re checking in with your soon to be graduates and helping them talk about their stress, which is all great advice. But but what do you do when something goes really wrong along the way? How do you get back on track for the life that you want? We’ll talk about that after this break.
S9: If you like this episode, you should check out another one called How to Perform Under Pressure, which features tips from a psychologist who works with Olympic athletes and musicians about how to excel in super stressful situations.
S5: You can find that in all of our episodes by subscribing for free to our podcast visit. We’re back with our high school senior Ariah and our expert, Eve Ewing, our is done just about everything right so far. But but she’s still worried about setting herself up for success, and she’s not alone. Right. Think of all the TV shows and movies that are focused obsessively on high school and this crucial moment in kids lives.
S10: A total party to me. What nobody knows that we are fun didn’t party because we wanted to focus on school and get into good colleges and it worked. Responsible people who partied also got into those colleges.
S5: Well, and I think one of the things that’s so hard about right now is that there’s all these things that are supposed to be fun and are supposed to be part of being a teenager in high school. Right. That’s been served up to us by movies and TV shows and now by social media. And that you’re supposed to check all these boxes. You mentioned that you were on the cheer team. Has the cheer team been a been a big part of your your time in high school?
S11: Being a cheerleader was probably the most important part of my identity. But the team itself was really toxic because we weren’t much of a team, there was not a lot of friendship. It became really stressful and really hard on my mental health.
S5: Yeah. And I think part of growing up is learning like actually I don’t like this even though I’m supposed to. This isn’t the thing I want to do. If you are a teacher for a little while, did you see kids go through that process of of learning to separate who they were from?
S1: From who they thought they were supposed to be, yeah, I mean, I feel like sometimes I found myself in a position where an opportunity arises and I’m like, wow, this is a dream, right? This is a dream, dream, job, dream, opportunity, whatever. But then I’ve had to realize that doesn’t mean it’s my dream. None of us really have time to waste doing things that don’t bring us joy or at the very least, you know, like there are a lot of times when we have to do things we don’t like. But at the very least, we should we shouldn’t be doing them because that’s what other people expect of us.
S5: So here’s our next rule, especially for anyone listening who’s struggling with other people’s expectations right now. Think about your life, about the choices that you’re making, and then ask yourself, do you actually like this? Are you a cheerleader or a premed major or an office worker? Because that’s what you want or because that’s what it seemed like everyone else wanted for you? You know, Eve, I think that the easiest advice is to say, look, you should just be yourself, but it’s hard to be yourself. It’s hard to even know who yourself is sometimes for sure.
S1: One question I have is ariad earlier when you were talking about like being successful, who are some of the people that you represent success for you?
S6: I mean, there are so many, so many different people. My sister, who is nine years older than me, is such an inspiration to me. Alexandro Cosio Cortez. She’s she’s amazing. She’s so well-spoken. She’s so intelligent. Her activism and everything about her, you know, speaks for herself. I don’t know. I see so much of myself in so many different people. But I don’t think that there’s one figure that I’m like, this is the exact path that I need to follow.
S1: The reason I asked that question was because I was wondering what some of those people could demonstrate about, like the way paths work. Right. And I wonder, this is probably something you’ve talked about with your sister a lot because you grew up with her, you’ve witnessed her path. And I would be willing to bet that that path had a lot of surprising twists and turns. Alexandrea Ocasio Cortez, she went from being a bartender to being a member of Congress. And I think for me, I think that the reason being is senior in high school feels really scary is because when you look at people that you admire, you see Point Z and you see Point A and everything that happened in between can be really obscure. Right. And so I often use the analogy of trying to cross a river. Right. So let’s say you’re standing at the bank of a river and is rushing, rushing waters rushing by really quickly. And there’s all these rocks in the river and you can see the other side. How do I get across the way? I live my life as I try to make the best decision to just get to the next rock. I just look around and I’m like, OK, I think I can make it to that rock. And I don’t know what I’m going to do after I get to that rock, but I’m going to get to that rock and then we’ll figure it out and then I just jump. Right. And then once you get to that rock, you’re like, wow, there’s all these other rocks that I couldn’t see from the bank.
S5: So here’s another rule, instead of spending so much time thinking about where you ultimately want to end up, focus instead on just taking the best step that’s in front of you. One of the secrets of life is that most of the successful people you see, they don’t know their life’s journey when they start. It’s roughly a third of college students change their majors at least once. A recent study found that today workers will switch jobs three times as often as their parents did. Life changes in unexpected ways, and the adults listening know how true this is, no one knows their path when they start it. But if you try and make the best choice that’s in front of you, things tend to work themselves out.
S1: You know, the world is full of unexpected twists and turns, the way I became a teacher is that my fourth year in college, I took a leave of absence from school. And at that time, my plan was to go to the Peace Corps. That was what I thought I was going to do when I graduated college and I went abroad, I went to Paris and by the second week in Paris, I was like, I’m really not in a place to live for two years in another country by myself. I miss my family. And I burst into tears when I realized that I didn’t want to be in the Peace Corps and I wasn’t crying because I was like, sad about missing out on this opportunity. I was crying because it sucks to not have a plan, you know, and I was going to graduate college in a few months and I had zero plan. And what I did in that moment was I tried to reflect on, like, why am I crying and and what are the things I’m actually going to miss about this opportunity? And that was when I realized that what I had been looking forward to was teaching. And it’s like the greatest decision I ever made to become a Chicago public school teacher. And I wouldn’t have made that decision if I hadn’t been able to accept that the plan I had before me was not the right plan for me.
S5: Let me ask you, like in high school, when you’ve had setbacks, when when things have happened, that they cut you off guard, it sounds like one of the things that you did is you became pretty proactive, like you started a female empowerment club. You started a podcast. Yes, that’s exactly right. Your podcast is called FM Boldon. Right. How did that start?
S11: Yeah. So there’s an individual who would sexually harass me and many other girls at school, and it just kind of was swept under the rug. Whenever we would talk about it, no one would believe us. So that’s why we started from Boldon was just kind of in response to people not listening to victims and people not listening to women who want to be empowered. And so we wanted to create a space for people to feel safe.
S4: Hey, guys, it’s Aria. And welcome back to another episode of Wimbledon. Today, Caitlin and I will be talking about how hard it is to be a teen in these days and how anxiety contributes to a lot of our problems.
S11: So we’re just going to have a nice chit chat, especially in the beginning stages when we first launched. And we would have we had so much feedback from so many different girls for so many different reasons. And of course, there are times when I’m super busy and the last thing I want to do is record for a podcast and then update the website and then do my presidential duties for choir. But when I look back and reflect on the benefits of those things is ultimately the most rewarding thing of it all.
S5: I think that’s really I think it’s amazing that you’ve discovered that and that you’ve committed to it so much and that you can remember to do all those things. Yeah. Eve, let me ask, you know, I think one of the one of the risks of coming on a show like this when you’re successful is, is that we can say to folks look like the the the road to success has all these zigs and zags and setbacks. But it all works out in the end. And I can tell you that because it’s worked out for me.
S1: Yeah. In social science, we call that survivorship bias.
S5: Yeah, exactly. But for folks who are still on the road, what do you do in that moment?
S1: So when I feel down or when I feel hopeless or when I feel really stuck, the three things I usually do are, number one, what you said, which is like give yourself space to just feel bad, right in your 50s, like cry, be mad, yell at a pillow. The second thing I do is I tell myself, like you’ve done this before, you know, you’ve done this before and you you have done amazing things and you have so much evidence about what you can do. That’s part of why I’m a runner. I’m I’m not as good a runner as you are a cheerleader, it sounds like. But something I love about running is that you always have your past success to fall back on. Right. Like you ran a mile before and you can probably run a mile again. But the third thing is that’s like for me, really important is that I ask for help a lot. I reach out for help a lot. And sometimes that help is on material things like, hey, how do I solve this problem? But I reach out for emotional help and support a lot. Whatever your struggle is. James Baldwin always said you think you’re alone in the world and you’re suffering, right? And then you read, here’s our final rule.
S5: When things don’t go according to plan and sometimes they definitely won’t have something to fall back on, whether that’s going for a run or asking someone for help or just giving yourself some space to feel bad for a while. Psychologists refer to this as emotional readiness, and it can be as simple as stocking your pantry with a supply of chocolate for a really rough day. The point is that failure is going to happen. But if you have a plan for what to do when that failure arrives, then it’s easier to bear. One of the things that I found when when I felt like I was the same way you were when I was in high school, I was just desperate, like desperate for someone to tell me, like, here’s the mistakes you’re going to make and here’s how to avoid them. And when I kind of discovered as I went through life and made all those mistakes was that it was much more the anxiety of not knowing then the mistake itself that ended up being stressful to me. So real. Do you feel that way? Are you like do you feel like it’s the it’s the anxiety of the unknown that’s making you anxious more than anything else?
S6: I would say I definitely from this conversation, I’ve kind of been been reassured and my beliefs that everything will happen for a reason and that life doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight path in order for it to be a good path. And you don’t have to follow what society is telling you to follow. I’ll end up where I’m meant to be at the end of the day.
S5: Yeah, you’re going to be great. Thank you.
S1: OK, I’m going to get like, really unapologetically corny and emotional. OK, is I really everybody is prepared for you by very virtue of being a black woman in this country. Your life and everything you’ve already done so far is so wildly improbable. And I know you know that because you’re a student of this history, you carry in you the love and the sacrifice of infinite people, infinite other women and and humans whose names you will never know, whose losses you will never even be able to fully comprehend. And that is just really powerful. That’s when we say something like you are enough. That’s what that really means to me, is like your being here is already so miraculous. And it doesn’t mean you cut corners. It doesn’t mean you get to be lazy. It doesn’t mean you get to rest on your laurels. But I know you’re not going to do any of those things anyway. So I think that’s that’s my piece of advice is when all else fails, just remember that you are actually like a magical star child human being who by all odds was never meant to be born. And yet here you are. Eve, let me ask one other question. Yeah, shoot now now that I’ve lighten the mood. Yeah.
S5: If you could go back in time and give yourself any advice when you were 18 years old, what would it be?
S1: Get sleep, get sleep and do and don’t procrastinate. Yeah, get sleep. You vegetables don’t procrastinate.
S5: Well, and we should probably let you go because. Because it’s a school day and you have a class coming up, right?
S6: Yes, sir. Viking Choir. Last class of the Viking choir.
S1: Fantastic. And Aria, it was really, really wonderful talking with you.
S11: Thank you so much. I’m so, so glad that I got to meet you. You’re such an inspiration.
S1: I’m so glad I got you. I’m so proud of you. I’m so, so proud of you. But ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba.
S12: But thank you to Aria for listening to our show and to reaching out to us and for coming on and telling us a little bit about her life and to viewing for all of her heartfelt advice. But you can go to evildoing dotcom to find her many writings, including her book Ghost in the Schoolyard, in her Marvel comic Ironhorse. Also, if you want to know how to get more sleep and stop procrastinating like Eve recommends, we’ve actually done two whole episodes on those very topics. You can find them in our feed. Are you feeling pressure to accomplish something or do you have another problem that needs solving? If so, you should send us a note at how to add slate dotcom. Or you can also leave us a voicemail at six four six four nine five four zero zero one. And we might have you on the show. How TOS executive producer is Derek John. Rachel Allen is our production assistant and Marc Jacobs is our engineer. Our theme music is by Janice Brown. June Thomas is senior managing producer and Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcasts, Gabriel Roth and Slate’s editorial director of audio special. Thanks to Rosemarie Bellson, Bill Carey, Maggie Taylor and Asha Soldier. I’m Charles Duhigg, class dismissed by the.
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S14: We also aim to bring you important investigative features that you’re not going to read or hear anywhere else, like Season four, a slow burn, which looked at David Duke’s rise to power and what it took to stop him and which Vulture called a scorching listen for the class of IBG, an audio print production held by America’s host Dahlia Lithwick, who was staff writer Molly Olmstead, tracked down the nine other women in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg law school class and told the story of their lives and of an entire generation of American women. As we continue to cover the pandemic, the presidential election and the most consequential movement for justice and equality in this country since the 1960s, we could not be more grateful to have you on our side.
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