Regardless of what some say, high school is not the best time of your life. It only gets better. And you should get better with it. ~ Lindsay B., age 21

Your graduation from high school has much more significance than the decorative diploma that you get for completing your senior year. The diploma is a symbol that you completed the work, but graduation itself marks a new beginning in your life. Once you cross the stage after shaking hands with your principal (and some faceless school board member who mispronounced your name), you will walk through a hole in the time-space continuum, and your life will never be the same.

Leaving Your Past Behind

Just when you've mastered the high school thing, you are ripped out of the comfort zone of the old campus, the old teachers (and for some of them, we do mean old) and the friends you have had since kindergarten. You're suddenly thrown into the abyss of the unknown: life after high school.

Before the panic sets in and you sign up for a second senior year, let us offer another perspective. Sure, it is scary, and we won't deny that initially your life will not be as certain as the day-in, day-out high school routine, but think about the benefits of moving on with your life and leaving all of that high school baggage behind.

This is your chance to ditch the stereotypes you have carried around since middle school. No one will care about who you used to be or what you used to do. Their opinion will be based on your present performance and personality, their judgment of you will have nothing to do with the reputation you got in the seventh grade. (That will be a refreshing change for you.)

Your new friends will never suspect that you were once an ugly duckling. They won't know that your appearance was technically augmented and visually enhanced by braces and a nose job.

That embarrassing nickname will be gone forever. Nobody will be calling you "little Patti underpants" or "Tyler the Crier" based on some humiliating episode that you suffered in elementary school.

Best of all, you can create a whole new you. The slate is clean. All of the previously established notions of who you are will suddenly vanish. You can create a whole new you. Maybe an entire overhaul isn't necessary; perhaps just a little fine-tuning will be all it takes. Whether you want to scrap everything and start all over, or just make a few minor adjustments, now is your perfect opportunity to do it.

Where Do You Want to Go?

When you were just a little tyke, your mother probably laid out your clothes for you each morning. (in the last few years, that hasn't been necessary, because your clothes were probably already laid out -- all over the floor). And the rest of your life was pretty much laid out for you, too. In high school, you had a few electives, but you had no choice about English, math, science and P.E. But now you are free from such rigid structure. Your future is not laid out for you. It is up to you to decide where you want to go.

What if you decide to embark on your journey into the future without a plan? Well, we sure wouldn't recommend it, but it will take some pressure off you -- for now. Planning becomes irrelevant if you have no destination in mind.

In fact, you might be tempted to approach your future with a cavalier, carefree attitude. After all, your past few years have been pretty intense (with school, dating, working, parents, sports and more). Maybe you feel like you deserve a rest.

Failing to Plan = Planning to Fail

As appealing as that may seem, failure to plan at this point in your life will probably make your life harder, not easier. Now is the best time to gain the education and experience that you'll need for certain jobs and careers. Think about it.

The older you are, the more complicated life will become. It will be tough to go back to college when you are 34 years old, with a spouse and two toddlers. (And it is no fun living in a college dorm if you have to miss the water balloon fights because you are changing your kids' diapers.)

You won't always be able to live this cheaply. Now you can probably survive quite nicely on a minimum wage job, but that 1993 Ford Escort that you are driving has a limited life expectancy. Sooner or later you'll be wishing for a higher paying job.

Some doors will close if you wait too long to walk through them. It's too late to decide to be an astronaut, for example, if you are already collecting Social Security.

There's no time like the present to plan for your future. Fifteen years from now, you don't want to be standing on the median at a busy intersection asking for donations as the cars drive by, with a message scribbled on a piece of cardboard that reads, "I didn't plan to fail; I just failed to plan."

Look Past Tomorrow

Your crystal ball is probably a little murky, but take a good look into your future. We don't mean the future of next week or even next year. Look harder. What do you see in your future 5 years from now? How about 15 years from now? What do you see yourself doing? What kind of job do you have? Where are you living? What are you doing for fun with your friends? Are you involved with your church? Are you helping with any community charitable organizations? What is your family situation? How are you spending your money?

We know these are tough questions to answer when the ink on your high school diploma is still wet. But a little long-range life planning shouldn't seem too strange.

The Art of Goal Setting

Are you intimidated by the thought of assuming greater responsibility for your life? Does it seem overwhelming? Well, don't get discouraged. There are some definite steps you can take to get a handle on managing your life.

Step 1: Dissect Yourself

Put the scalpel away. This is about dividing your life into different dimensions or roles. Most people live their lives in seven basic categories:

Spiritual -- your relationship with God
Physical -- your health and recreation
Mental -- your intellectual growth
Financial -- how you spend and save your money
Social -- your relationships and activities with friends
Occupational -- what you do to earn a living
Familial -- (it sounds awkward, but it's a word) -- your relationships with your family members.

You are probably having mixed success in the different dimensions of your life. In some areas you may be doing fine; maybe others could use a little help.

Step 2: Determine Your Objectives

In each of the seven dimensions, determine an objective for improvement. Even in the strong areas of your life, there is room for improvement. For example, you may want to set a spiritual objective to get to know God better.

Step 3: Set a Goal to Reach Each Objective

Once you have determined your noble objectives, you need to set a goal that directs your actions toward achieving those objectives. Objectives are usually general in nature, but goals are specific. For example, to reach your spiritual objective of getting to know God better, you might set a goal to read through the Bible in a year.

After you have set your goals, put them in writing and review them regularly. Don't forget to reward yourself when you reach your goal.

You are a Lifelong Project

You are an ever-changing, evolving creature. We aren't talking about Darwin's theory that a banana slug turns into a moose after a few generations. We're talking about your spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth as a person. Deciding who you are and the kind of person you want to become isn't a task confined to the age range of 18 to 21 years. It is a lifelong process, but right after high school is a great time to get started.


Excerpted from Goodbye High School, Hello World. © 2005 by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz. Published by Regal Books, www.regalbooks.com. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Bruce Bickel's trademark is humor and his passion is truth. When he isn't writing, speaking or doing lawyer stuff, Bruce is active at Westmont College. He is also a teaching elder at his church in Central California, where he lives with his wife, Cheryl.

Stan Jantz has teamed up with Bruce Bickel in writing more than 50 books. Currently Stan is a marketing consultant and a partner in Mosaic Design, a community-building software company. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Karin.