Timeless Teenage Angst


I’ve started a project to transfer my childhood and teenage journal entries from their yellowing and crumbling pages into electrons on a computer screen. It’s a mammoth project because I have been writing since I was exchanging letters and poems with my maternal grandmother as a little girl.

One of the entries that I just transcribed was held in a three-ring-binder by a single hole punched into a collection of motley, scavenged notepad sheets. I looked at papers on which I had scrawled my thoughts, and I realized that the electrons could never replace the actual writings. This collection of tiny notepaper contains more than words, it holds a clue to my daughter’s obsession with collecting paper and notepads. Apparently her strategic foray each day into the office at the preschool to collect notepaper from the manager is genetic and not a side effect of watching too many episodes of Blue’s Clues.

But today my thoughts are about the words on those pages written a few months before I graduated from high school. I knew where I was going to college and how my college tuition was going to be paid for; so I laughed out loud when I read the first couple of lines of a really bad teenage angst poem I wrote about going to college:

Alas, alas, my childhood has passed and where do I go now?
What do I do? What do I do? What career do I pursue?
Will it be doctor, lawyer or Indian chief—
Reporter, pilot or dancer? Good grief.

Good grief is right, Michele. Let’s lower case the DRAMA.

Or maybe not. This was a HUGE question in my life that I thought I had to answer—immediately if not sooner. I suspect many high school seniors feel this way. Actually, I know they do. As a former college professor who served as an advisor to incoming first-year students, I know high school seniors feel pressured to decide what they are going to do with their lives.

For me answering the question, “so what will your major be?” was paralyzing. I wanted to write. I had interest in speech and mass communications. I loved science, and I really wanted to go to medical school. And, I had a natural ability for teaching. I felt that if I chose any one of those things, I would be saying “no” to all of the others, and I didn’t want to say “no” to anything.

I’ve advised first-year college students, and I know now something I wish I had known then: Not knowing what you want to do with your life when you graduate from high school is okay. Actually, it’s healthy. And if you are smart, you will be bold and explore as many of the incredible opportunities college puts in your path as possible.

If you can travel and study abroad, do it. If you can get an internship, take it. If a path seems hard, but the voice inside you won’t go away, try to follow that path.

Your life doesn’t end with any decision. You do not know where life after high school will lead you. Or life after college. I have a PhD in Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology. My research project involved studying worm sperm, which amazingly landed me right in the middle of Alzheimer disease research before I graduated. I now write and edit technical material, teach, and develop education outreach materials for a biotech company. I’m involved in web markup and interactive application design for iPads. I write a newspaper column for my hometown paper—where I can write on any subject I desire. And, I am also a wife and a mother. I never imagined I would love the “mom thing” so much.

So here’s my advice: Be bold. Be willing to make mistakes. Be willing to stick to something. Be willing to change directions. Just be sure to live your life, and don’t let anyone patronize you for your teenage angst. We’ve all been there, and truthfully most of us still are.

© 2011 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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