This past weekend, I went back to school. 

Or rather, I was in a high school.  My niece’s high school to be specific.  But I was only there to watch her play in a volleyball tournament with many other teams from the surrounding counties.  Whew!

And I offer that interjection in all seriousness, too, because my recurring nightmare happens to involve having to go back to high school.

You see, in these periodic dreams, I find out that there was either an exam I failed or a course I didn’t finish and so my high school diploma is now worthless. As an adult, I now have to return and either repeat the course or the retake the exam.  Therefore, I have to quit my job and give up my life as I know it and my grown-up responsibilities to become a high schooler once again. 

I’m also supposed to remember my locker combination after all of these years (which only adds more stress and drama to the nightmares).  And so I usually wake myself up in a panic and a sweat, because I can’t take it and just want it all to end!

Well, thankfully, I was not dreaming just a few days ago and was only a spectator (praise God!).  And you know what I gathered in just a couple of hours while sitting on the sidelines in a hot and humid gymnasium?  Not a whole lot has changed in high school.  Really.  In fact, if anything has changed, it’s just the fact that it’s more of the same. …

More drama. 
More competition.
More emotions. 
More comparisons.
More efforts to achieve. 
More practicing. 
More “dude!”
More “suh-WEET!”
More tears.
More misunderstandings.
More hairspray.
More hair gel.
More boys checking out girls.
More girls whispering about boys.
More talking (albeit via texting).
And much more …

Now, I’m not saying it’s any easier than it was back in my day.  I think it’s probably harder to be a high schooler in the 21st century, as everything that I had to go through many years ago seems to have now been kicked up another notch. 

These days, teens are expected to be superstars and be successful at everything they try or are working toward.  It seems like there’s no room for failure (or even mediocrity).  It seems like you’ve got to be multi-talented, multi-faceted, multi-EVERYTHING-ed!!!  Oh, and also "the best."

But what happens when a kid doesn’t measure up in a certain area or pursuit?  What happens when she does everything possible to practice and prepare but is passed over by the coach?  What happens when she has to sit warming the bench for an entire game while team members who are making continual mistakes are still playing?  What happens when her positive attitude, good sportsmanship and solid leadership skills don’t mean anything?

Well, that’s when some character is built and some hard life lessons are learned.  As an aunt, it was not fun to watch this happen to my niece.  And I know as parents, it was even harder for my sister and my brother-in-law to stomach.  You want the best for your children, and you want them to have as many opportunities as possible to use their talents and showcase their abilities.  But when something—or someone—stands in the way of that happening, there’s not always a whole lot you can do to make things go differently.  And so you must choose how you will respond. 

These are good lessons for my niece to begin learning now at the ripe young age of 16.  I know she will face many more obstacles in college and as she enters the workforce after that.  There will inevitably be situations and people standing in her way, all along the way.  There will be times when she will do everything (and more!) that she possibly can to get a good grade, to be successful, to be chosen for a project or to be promoted.  And it just won’t work out the way she wants it to.  I know.  I’ve been there.

Since we are very similar in our personalities (she mistakenly gets called “Laura” sometimes … er … when she gets in trouble), I know that I can share what I’ve learned with her from my own experiences.  And hopefully this will make a difference for her as she finishes her remaining high school years and moves on to the next phases of her life.  Perhaps she’ll even be able to sidestep some of the traps or attitude pits that have ensnared me along my way.

In the meantime, I just hope that she doesn’t inherit Auntie Laura's recurring nightmare.  Oh, let’s pray that’s not in the genes.  After all, she already has my “spiritedness," and I think that’s quite enough for her to deal with.  For now.