The First Dirty Secret Of High School

I’m just going to come right out and tell you, whether you’re ready or not.

The first dirty secret of high school is: seniors are the most terrified of any of the grade levels.

We think of freshman as being the most scared because they are small and might get stepped on or accidentally put in a backpack. And they don’t know many people yet, and they don’t know the building, and they don’t know the teachers or the inside jokes. Or which kids are nice and which are only acting nice.

But the reality is that seniors are the most terrified of any of the grades, and the reason is: the senior question. You know the question. It’s the one that seniors get asked every single day of their final year of high school.

“So… what are you going to do next year?”

It is a generic, default, thoughtless question. Even though the people asking it are mean well and likely genuinely care about the student, there are probably other, more useful ways to address the situation and decisions that seniors face.

It is a reasonable question, considering the circumstances. It is similar to asking a pregnant woman when she is due.

It is a good question. It is important to think about goals and what changes you want to make and how you will face surprise changes.

But it is a question that no one can answer. Even the person asking it.

Statistics tell us that only 3% of the population make goals. In other words, 97% of people never set goals. Based on the numbers (and observation), it is not a stretch to say that no one makes goals.

None of the adults asking the question would be able to answer it, except that they can say, “The exact same thing I’m doing today.”

But seniors don’t get to say that… for the first time in their lives. A significant life change has been forced upon them, and that would cause each of us great trepidation.

The question induces fear. A deep, abiding fear of the future. Peering into the unknown, unformed future, or casting our hopes into it, only echoes back uncertainty. As noted, few of us (except seniors) ever try to gaze and plan into the future. Fear of the future is a common, and deep, fear.

The Senior Question often causes anxiety and is often a catalyst to depression. It seeps and paralyzes like a neurotoxin from a poisonous bite—barely noticed at first, but slowly spreading until paralysis and panic set in.

Sure, there is a typical answer: “Go to college.” This is answer that is shoved upon the student. It is a good solution. But it is not the answer for everyone. And it is an answer that does not resolve the question, and everyone knows this. It makes students suddenly aware that there is a follow-up question: “So, what are you going to do after college?” The fear, paralysis, and panic are prolonged.

So, what is the answer to the senior question? What is the solution to the problem?

Two things of equal importance. And both are of immeasurable importance.

First, the Zig Ziglar goal-setting system. This should be required work for all students. And all people who are already out of school.

Second, Joseph Campbell’s immortal statement: “Follow Your Bliss”, which I suggest is the greatest thing ever spoken or written.

“Follow your bliss” means, find what it is that brings you rapture and then keep doing it. It does not mean: do what is easy. Because finding the thing that brings you rapture will require tremendous work (or luck). And staying with it will require tremendous work. And following it will, at times, be scary.

What Campbell means is, find what brings you rapture and work at it and go where it takes you, wherever that may be. You will not know where it leads when you begin. Even if you think you do. Even if you have a plan mapped out in your head or on paper. Twists and turns and surprises are how life works; how all great journeys work.

Here is an example: Joseph Campbell loved mythology, and it lead him into teaching and writing books and changing the world. How many people can you think of that have at least seven documentary about their life, one of which is 10 hours long?

But a love of mythology led George Lucas into filmmaking. And it might lead someone else into painting. And another person into writing novels.

“So, what are you doing next year?”

“Who knows. But now I’m working through the Zig Ziglar goal-setting system and paying attention to what brings me bliss, happiness, delight, rapture.”

The first dirty secret of high school, and the solutions to the question and it’s problems, have been exposed. Tomorrow… the second dirty secret of high school.


  1. Sooo true! On an otherwise-ordinary day, a senior walks through the halls of his or her high school feeling pretty good… they’ve reached the top, know the drill, navigate with ease, and look forward to this chapter of their coming to a close. Ahhh, no more homework.

    Suddenly (or slowly) it dawns on them that there is life after high school. Uh-oh, what? This student remembers it as if it were yesterday… being a homebody and not wanting to be away from family, she thought about a nearby community college (she could live at home, yay!). Her mom, however, had another idea; on visitation day, the mom dragged the daughter, moping all the way, from the Bay Area to Southern California to a small college named Westmont. And the rest is history.

    You are so right, Mr. Huhn, goals are meant to be set; even if the ideal meets the real and those goals must be rethought and changed/adjusted. The future is bright with promise… and yes, follow your bliss!

  2. Wow… written passionately from the heart of someone who knows and loves seniors… and remembers what it was like to be one. You have a beautiful gift of writing, Mr. Huhn, one that inspires, engages, and empowers: “Who knows. But now I’m working through the Zig Ziglar goal-setting system and paying attention to what brings me bliss, happiness, delight, rapture.”

    Life-changing words.

  3. Mr. Huhn,

    This popped up on my ventures using StumbleUpon. I loved this. I feel this is something no one discusses openly. I think this applies to college seniors as well. A lot of people won’t admit that they’re afraid. I know several fellow classmates that have graduated college and they had no idea what they were going to do when school was over. School is all many people have known from Pre-School(or Kindergarten if your parent’s skipped that step) to the end of their college career.

    I feel like that fear also prompts students to choose something they don’t necessarily want to do. Knowing what you want to do after high school is expected by people, by society. And that fear of not meeting expectations pushes people to jump into things.

    I, personally, have jumped into college without having any idea of where I was going with it simply because I thought it was the “next step.” And from there, cosmetology school, now real estate school because I finally figured out my “calling.” (Plus, it works pretty well with freelance art, which is what I also do and did not attend college for, initially.)

    Anyway, I don’t know if you still check these, but it was neat “StumblingUpon,” an old teacher’s website! Hope you’re doing well!

    P.S. I don’t know if you’ve read Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy but it’s a great read for staying focused, accomplishing goals, and battling procrastination.

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