Making Waves, Part I

"when you follow the rules, they'll only take you so far

When I was a senior in high school, I had room in my class schedule for two electives. They were going to be Creative Writing and Yearbook.

To choose electives, you’d fill out a scantron with your top choices and several alternates. But to join the yearbook staff, you had to apply separately and the teacher had to manually enroll students in the class. So, even though I applied for yearbook and knew I’d been accepted, I was told to fill in a “dummy” elective on the form and it would be replaced with Yearbook when they processed it and created the class schedules. So I filled in “Creative Writing” and “French I” for my top two electives (I’d taken French III my freshman year).

To no real surprise, given my high school’s rather pathetic IT processes and admin processes, when I got my schedule the week before school started, I was enrolled in Yearbook…and French I. The wrong course had been substituted.

I went straight to the office, where I was told “Yes, we understand some schedules are incorrect, but we can’t adjust them until the first week of school.”

When I went back the office during that first week, I was told “Sorry, there’s only one section of Creative Writing and we can’t fit you into it. Plus, switching would mean putting you in a different English class. Here’s a list of, like, 3 classes you switch to, or you can be a TA if you can find a teacher who needs one (teacher’s assistant, i.e. helping a teacher with basic grading and admin work)”

I spent at least a week sitting in the back of a French I class with a bunch of freshman. I asked my cross country coach, who also taught PE and History, if he needed a TA, but he had a wait-list for that from last spring. I signed up to be an office TA, where my main responsibilities would be collecting the attendance scantrons and then playing cards with a friend for about 30 minutes each morning. I was pissed, but I sat back and accepted my fate.

Finally, my mom emailed the principal directly (she knew him from being part of some committee or something). In the email, she described the situation and said (I remember this specifically): “Allison is a good student who doesn’t make waves. She followed instructions and now doesn’t get to enjoy a class she was really looking forward to in her senior year.”

He responded the same day, just saying “Have Allison stop by my office tomorrow.”

I nervously went to the principal’s office the next day. He had no idea who I was until I mentioned my mom’s email — because, as a good kid, I’d never been “sent to the principal’s office” (cue scary music) before. Seriously, never.

Anyway, after I told him what happened, it took literally five seconds for him to fix my schedule so I was in Creative Writing, out of French I, and in a different English class, effective immediately.

What’s the point of this story? For 18 years, I was the absolutely prototypical “good kid.” I almost never got in trouble at school, never had to stay in at recess, never got a detention, was late maybe 10 times throughout my entire high school career, never cut class, NOTHING. I kept my head down and did what I was told. I got good grades, participated in sports, and was generally a model student.

I was also forgettable. Several of my teachers probably forgot about me by July each year. They might tell my parents “I wish I had a classroom full of Allisons!” because then the class would be quiet, obedient, and studious.

And boring.

That’s why what I’m doing now — quitting my (decent-paying, potential-having) job and striking out as a freelancer — is SO COMPLETELY TERRIFYING and, honestly, throwing my family for a loop. I’ve spent 28 freakin’ years doing what I was told, what I was supposed to do. Not making waves. Not leaving an impression. Not standing out. Getting frustrated because, when you follow the rules, they’ll only take you so far. Trying to feel “okay” with settling for not reaching further. Feeling hopelessly jealous of people who have struck out on their own and accomplished so much more than I could imagine (often, when they’re so much younger than me).

I’m tired of feeling like a chicken. I’m tired of sighing and saying “well, that’s cool, but I can’t…” I’m tired of feeling like I’m not making more of an impact. So, this year, I’m planning to make some serious waves.

photo credit: Geraint Rowland modified with Canva. cc

This is an entry in the Make Waves linkup/essay contest, hosted by Jenn of Near and Far Montana, Alicia of Jaybird, Erika of All Things E, and Rachel of Tossing the Script. Check it out!

Near and Far Montana



8 thoughts on “Making Waves, Part I

  1. What an exciting time for you! It sounds amazing to shake off all those years of doing exactly what you should and claim what you *want* instead. Congratulations on the waves you’re making this year! Can’t wait to see where they take you.

  2. Hi there! Stopping by from the Make Waves contest — Yes to everything in this post! I’m also 28 + finally stepping away from the ‘good girl’ role where I do everything that everyone tells me, and end up unhappy. So awesome that you’re chasing your dreams!

    • Hey Caitlin! It’s good to know there are others facing the same challenge – so much of what I see online are people who just seem to have been born rebel badasses. It’s definitely caused a few blows to the ego and some self-doubt as I’m taking these steps.

      I’ll go read your contest entry now 🙂

  3. “For 18 years, I was the absolutely prototypical “good kid.” I almost never got in trouble at school, never had to stay in at recess, never got a detention, was late maybe 10 times throughout my entire high school career, never cut class, NOTHING. I kept my head down and did what I was told. I got good grades, participated in sports, and was generally a model student.” <— I feel like I could have written this paragraph as well… but not so much any longer, which took time, but feels AWESOME.

    What an exciting, exhilarating time for you! I'm wishing you the absolute best in your freelance career. You're a very good writer, so I'm sure you'll do great!

  4. I was always the good kid in school too. My younger sisters hated me because every teacher would always say, “Oh you’re Jenn’s sister!” Good for you for striking out as a freelancer. I did that for a time and it was terrifying, but exciting. And I think there’s a way to mix being the good kid while also making waves and I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it all happen!

  5. Pingback: When I Wanted to be an Astronaut… [part 2] | The Ponytail Diaries

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