It’s pretty much the day you’ve been waiting for since high school graduation. Whether it’s been ten years, twenty years or (gulp) longer, you’re fast approaching your high school reunion. Problem is, you’re worried you’re not successful enough to show up and upstage all your former enemies. Basically, you don’t have the money to show up in a limo. If it makes you feel any better, welcome to my world! Most of us don’t have limo money. But don’t let that stop you from strutting in there and proving to everyone how far you’ve come since graduation.
What is it about the need to impress the people we grew up with? It feels like a universal desire to want to prove to your former classmates that now, long after you had braces and acne, you’re a big success. For whatever reason, I still care about what people from my high school think about me. It might even be the social group I care most about! Strangely enough, I feel almost no need to impress my adulthood friends. Probably because they already like me. But call me crazy, there is some intangible biological drive deep within me to prove to Charlie, the guy who made fun of my hair in Junior year math class, that I have more money than he does.
So if you’re already a mess of anxiety about your reunion, let’s prepare emotionally for the big day. Try your best to drop all the bad memories you have of high school. You know, all the times Matt bullied you or said mean things. Or perhaps all those embarrassing moments, coming short in your campaign to be class President (or dead last as I experienced!). Or perhaps a pole vault fail like this video:
After all, most people (your bullies included) won’t remember something that happened so long ago. Also, clinging to these lingering memories might also taint some of the nice experiences you could have with these classmates who have moved onto become better people. For lack of a better term, you just have to forgive and forget. As cliché as it might sound, it really frees your mind to move on. We punish ourselves with these bad memories. For me, they tend to pop into my head during a moment of insecurity or doubt. Why torture myself like that? Just forget about what Tony said to you during your class speech and move on. It’s possible Tony is a fantastic person now! Or the kind of cool grandpa who pulls a prank like this one:
It’s also possible he’s not and you can “accidentally” back into his car while driving away. That’s to be determined.
But the reason I’m writing this blog isn’t to encourage you to meditate and forgive all the jerks you don’t want to forgive. It’s to prepare you to blow everyone away, even if you don’t have a ton of money, or perhaps the years haven’t been so kind to your waistline. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to your reunion, and most importantly, it doesn’t mean you can’t prove how impressive and cool your life has become. So let’s start with the obvious:
Okay, as it turns out, you haven’t become Warren Buffett. Yet! That’s alright, nor have most of us either. Don’t sweat it. But it’s easy for me to say, “Don’t feel insecure showing up to your reunion in a beat up old Buick!” It’s harder to follow through emotionally on something like that. Here’s something most people aren’t aware of. Humans most often respond positively to signs of class, not displays of money. Sure, you could always blow forty bucks Ubering the half mile to your reunion in a black SUV, and that would certainly eliminate the concern of arriving in a beat up old car. But how you carry yourself is infinitely more important than how much money people perceive you having. There’s inevitably going to be a doctor or two at the event. But the reason we hold a doctor in such high esteem isn’t because they drive a fancy car. It’s because we respect their commitment to their profession and education. For instance, what if you met a professional gambler who smelled like fancy cologne and had a gold tooth? Sure, he might seem quite wealthy. But you wouldn’t instantly think to yourself, “Man, this guy’s life must be ten times better than mine.” Just because he has more money than you doesn’t mean his life is any easier. And we’re always judging the people around us from a holistic perspective. So carry yourself confidently. Hold your head high and focus on the accomplishments you’re most proud of. They could be financial or professional, they could be personal. Just as long as your sincerity comes through, people will respect it.
Depending upon when your reunion is, it might be too late to start hitting the gym twice a day. Even if they workout like these guys.
I’ve seen several friends treat their class runions like they’re an Olympic wrestler trying to make it into a lighter weight class. They hit the gym, diet, slim down, run a marathon. These are all perfectly fine things to aspire to, but if you don’t have the time or energy to shed ten percent of your body weight in a month, please don’t sweat it. Sure, every reunion will probably have one or two Jack Lalanne types in their class. But outside of that, all the other men and women of your class will have also gained a few pounds, added a few wrinkles, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is a normal part of the aging process. If anything, it’s best to be zen about the whole aging process, like this mega hip grandma:
When it comes to your appearance, don’t sweat the small stuff. Days, even weeks before, choose your favorite outfit and allow your mind to settle on wearing that. Don’t doubt your choice, since you know what will make you look your best. Most reunions tend to skew towards being slightly more formal than casual, so plan on dressing as if you’re going on a low pressure date. And once you commit, don’t spend another moment second guessing yourself. As long as you’re wearing something you know looks good and you feel comfortable in, the confidence will carry through everything else you do. If you feel amazing, everyone else at the reunion will notice the same thing. So if you can’t afford a new suit, or a knock out dress, don’t worry about it. Just dress to impress… yourself.
Leading up to your reunion, you’ll probably worry about impressing people, and you’ll have anxiety over who will show up. Once you arrive, you realize you’re now stuck with these people for the next few hours. So be prepared to make the best of it! Talk to some folks you didn’t know that well in high school. See as many people as you can. What a freeing and empowering way to spend your high school reunion, being the social butterfly you always wished you had been. One of my most frequent dreams is to return to grade school with the confidence I have as an adult. Well, this is your chance to do just that! Sure, you’ll want to spend the most time chatting with your old friends who you haven’t seen in years, but don’t be afraid to make new ones too.
The main piece of advice I’d like to share is, don’t get bogged down by the former enemies who elicit that insecure side of you. Everyone has a person or two from school who makes them tremble on the inside. Your arch nemesis might be at the reunion but don’t let that bother you. If anything, conquer that fear by reaching out to them and testing the waters. Maybe they’re a lot more normal and reasonable in their adult life. If they’re just as catty and miserable as when you were teenagers, just move on. Don’t let another one of their cutting or snide remarks get under your skin and keep you from having a great time.
Just be yourself. Don’t worry about bragging about your job or what your kids are doing. Listen to what others have to say, and share about yourself as well. Don’t rehash any grudges from the past, and try to avoid reminding someone how badly they might have treated you way back when. (Though we know it might be tempting to remind a bully just how big of a jerk they are, and perhaps the catharsis is too much to avoid. If the temptation is too strong, just do so in a spirit of civility).
Despite all of the drama and anxiety most of us have leading into a night like this, a class reunion is a pretty low pressure evening. Think about it, these just happen to be people who were born around the same time as you, in nearby neighborhoods. They have no other impact on your life beyond that. It’s not like you’re attending the wedding of your boss’ children and you must be on your best behavior! It’s sheer coincidence that you and your classmates knew each other in the first place. You might not ever see them again, so why not live it up while you’re all together?
MISC PIECES OF ADVICE:
Don’t expect to see a million people at your reunion. Historically, lots of people tend to shun reunions like this. They become too anxious or simply can’t afford the time or money to travel and see old classmates. Heck, some of them couldn’t care less! The day they graduated was the day they decided to never look back. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve already made it this far into this post, I’m guessing you’re the more social kind who wants to see their former classmates. If not to show off a little, but to hear about their lives. You won’t regret it.
Social media has changed the landscape of class reunions. Unlike ever before, we can keep track of people’s lives on Facebook or Instagram. That also makes it harder to simply lie about your life. “Oh, I live in Hawaii now with my husband, he’s a marine biologist.” Interesting, because the last time I checked your Facebook account, you were living above a Taco Bell down the street from our middle school.
Hopefully by the end of this blog, you no longer wish you could just send someone to your reunion in your place. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the fantasy before of hiring some flashy, muscular guy to attend my reunion in my place. “That guy claims to be Tony, even though he’s easily a foot shorter.” But at the end of the day, people aren’t going to their reunion to see some flashy guy, they want to see me. With all my wrinkles and imperfections. After all, these are the only people who watched you grow up. They knew you when you were eating paste in kindergarten, and they can recall the first time you showed up to school with razor burn on your upper lip. They remember your first girlfriend in ninth grade, and they also were rooting you on more than you’d think when they heard you got into the flashy college two states over. I think you’ll be surprised how much these people have your back. Like them or not, they’re a special group of people.
So whether you show up to your reunion in a limousine, or walk there from your studio apartment. Take a deep breath and hold your head high. Have a drink or two to take the edge off (but don’t go crazy!) and most importantly just enjoy yourself. After all, the next time you get the chance to do this, it could be twenty five more years down the road!