BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

How Much Have I Actually Changed Since High School?

High school library

This was not the original idea. The original idea was to explain everything I’d do differently if I could do high school again. Conceivably, years of maturation and perspective would help me sidestep the angst that sabotaged my first go-round, ensuring an encore of good times and swooning prom queens.

But the more I considered it, the more I wondered: If given the chance, was I truly capable of rewriting my experience, or would I be destined to let history repeat itself?

The answers to those questions hinged on the answers to a few others: Yes, I’m older, but am I wiser? Have I grown from the lessons of my youth, or is all I have to show for them a forehead requiring an extra inch of sunscreen?

I didn’t know. And that begged the most important question of all:

How much have I actually changed since high school?

Social Graces

My preferred Saturday night has always been the same: At home, gym shorts on, grabbing extra napkins to combat the cheeseburger I ate while watching the Texas Longhorns play football.

Of course, when the game’s over and I flip to Can’t Hardly Wait or some other high school-inspired classic, my mood shifts. Watching such movies should inspire sentimentality; I’m tweaked with regret.

I was neither victor nor villain in high school. Too quiet and too shy, I was just…there, an extra camouflaged into the periphery. I was lucky to have a few great friends, but most of those four years I spent stationary, stuck on the sidelines.

These days, this stagnancy endures. I try to engage, and I’m winning more than before, but too often I feel like that no-name Jennifer Love Hewitt couldn’t pick out of a yearbook.

I hate having past sins on Repeat, and I’m constantly pushing back against the resistance. But as I sit amid the TV’s glow, for better or worse, I remember I’m at the age when it’s OK to remain on the couch.

A Penny Earned

I got my first job at 16, serving as a moving bull’s-eye while picking the driving range at a golf course. Take one Titleist to the cage and your equilibrium’s never the same.

From there I moved to Blockbuster Video, though I’m not sure why. The pay was minimal, the hours astronomical; closing shifts on weekends meant straightening shelves of strewn-about VHS tapes until 3 a.m.

My professional career has similarly zigzagged. But it’s zigzagged out of purpose — a purpose inspired by my experiences as a teenager. Those minimum wage jobs taught me about responsibility and accountability, about how McDonald’s tastes better when bought with earned money. They instilled in me a work ethic, and they demonstrated the importance of doing something that feels important. They showed me what I didn’t want so I could find what I did.

And finally, I have. As a writer, I sit at a comfortable desk, go home at a reasonable hour and never remind anyone to rewind. It also gives me time to enjoy the driving range from a different perspective, where, conscious of the PTSD that comes from driving the firing line, I aim away from the caged-in cart.

Happy Endings

My high school dating life in two paragraphs:

After getting a “yes” from the girl I’d had a crush on since fourth grade — call her Jane No — I couldn’t reach her on the day of our date. Desperate (psychotic?), I drove to her house, only to have her mom say that, A) Jane was out; B) she wasn’t aware of Jane having a date; and C) even if Jane had a date, she couldn’t go because she was grounded.

I didn’t see how A and C were both true, and I thought Jane having her mom do the rejecting was short-sighted; it’s not like she could do the rest of sophomore year abroad. Come Monday, though, her plan made sense, as she extinguished any threat I posed just like she always had: by ignoring me.

Like every teenage guy, there was nothing more I wanted than a teenage girl. I just didn’t have the confidence to get one. And truthfully, putting my 37-year-old brain into an 18-year-old’s body wouldn’t much change that. Why would it? It’s not like my luck turned once I got in the real world. With my post-graduate conquests too few and far between, I kept my mattress on the floor, so I wouldn’t be taunted by notchless bedposts.

Thankfully, I somehow found the nerve to pursue a setup with a pretty girl from California. It only took six more years to find the courage to make her my wife.

Lights Out

When I was a freshman, my parents implemented an 11 p.m. curfew, and over the next four years, it never extended much later than that.

Surprisingly, this same curfew remains applicable today, albeit it’s now of my own doing. I wake up before work to exercise, and come the 10 o’clock hour, my eyelids prove no match for gravity.

This bedtime shift has taken getting used to, because I’ve always preferred staying up late. The solitude, the stillness…there’s something almost spiritual about that time of night, when you’re the only person awake in the house. But if I’m not in bed before the clock strikes 11, I’m toast.

That doesn’t mean I’m OK with it, though. I’ve hated giving up Tony Horton’s infomercials and the end of Monday Night Football, and I’ve hated that my post-dinner Netflix-watching window continues to shrink.

Lying in my half-state, my beautiful wife next to me, I marvel at just how much I’ve been blessed and how far I’ve come. Still, I struggle to sleep. I wonder what’s happening around me, what I’m missing, and I grapple for peace as the world keeps turning. Will I look back on this time as a time I wish I had to do again?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

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