By Rainer Wasinger
My first day wasn’t necessarily a bad day. I got up early, went to freshman orientation and played games, ate free lunch, and went to the easiest day of class ever. There were no embarrassments, no traumatic experiences. It wasn’t what happened that made it a quintuple bogey, it was what didn’t happen.
If I could get a mulligan on that hole, if I could do that day over, and maybe save par or even score a birdie, I wouldn’t go back and change the things I did. Instead, I’d go back and just do way more. On your first day of high school, you are given a wonderful opportunity for a fresh start, and to make new friends. Though you have some holdovers from middle school, there’s probably droves of people you’ve never met, and thus, droves of opportunities to make a good impression. In my case, it wasn't like I made a bad impression, I simply didn't work to make any impression at all. Instead, I chose to stay inside my short, socially anxious shell, pretending I was too cool to reach out, that people who were worth my time would come to me.
I was deranged. Life is too short to wait around for others to talk to you, and in the end, I severely limited myself by doing so. It took years for me to find the people that I actually built friendships with, and though it may have taken some luck, I'm certain that if I was more friendly and open with people I would have found them sooner. People, even into my sophomore or junior year, would remark that they didn't know I existed until recently. And it wouldn't have taken much. I could have palled around with the boys in my orientation group, or struck up a conversation with the girl who sat next to me in the opening assembly. Instead, I chose to wait for things to come to me, favoring security and ease over uncertainty and perhaps a more enriching social experience.
Maybe I simply wasn't ready to take the leap at the time.I was 5'4" with a healthy dose of social awkwardness, and frankly, I probably wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Chuck E Cheese’s . But all the things that make me who I am socially now were there then, except for one. I dressed well, I had the same sense of humor, and the same commitment to being good at lots of different things. However, I lacked the confidence necessary to translate these into the social life I wanted.
Of course, you're not me, and there are things that you may not be able to control. You can't make yourself more attractive, or taller, or more athletic. You can't, with one fell swoop, give yourself the social life you want. However, identify some people you want to be friends with, and be friendly. It won't happen overnight, but it starts with the first day. Go out and try to find the people that'll make you happy as soon as possible. It'll be exhausting, and sometimes uncomfortable, and not everyone you talk to will end up being your friend, but you get the wheels rolling.
If I could do it over again, that's what I'd do. My quintuple bogey wasn't because I hit the water hazard twice or shanked the approach from the rough into the greenside sand trap. Instead, the hole was a 200 yard par 5 with an expansive treeline that obscured the hole from the tee box, complete with a winding fairway that took the timid golfer on a 1000 yard expedition around said treeline. All it would've taken was a powerful 3 iron from a pro like Rory McIlroy to get on the green and putt for double eagle. Instead, I got caught on trying to avoid the unknown treeline, and followed the fairway all around, not knowing that all it took was an ambitious tee shot over the trees.
So, if you are nervously anticipating that first day, remember that you only get one chance to make an impression. It’s not even about being popular, it’s about minimizing the inertia that is middle school history. It took me years to be truly satisfied with my friends, and I think, had I been friendlier, I would have found my people much faster. Sure it’s a cruel irony that you have to reach out for others at the moment when you are the most socially awkward and have the worst skin, but it’s an opportunity you only get once. So go forth, and be friendly. You’re only going to get this one chance.