It was winter break of my sophomore year in high school, and I was away on vacation with my family. I lay in the tropical sun, its gentle rays caressing my skin and creating comforting warmth throughout my body. As I took in my picturesque surroundings, I began to feel both extremely calm and genuinely happy. This peaceful bliss was short-lived, however, and was soon replaced by a bout of panic and worry. Why had a wave of angst abruptly washed over me? It came with the daunting realization that I had not felt this calm, this carefree, this happy, in a very, very, long time.
Questions started to frantically pop into my head: When had the basic concepts of happiness and joy become foreign to me? Why hadn’t I noticed sooner? And, more important, why was this happening to me at age fifteen? To try to answer these questions, I began to reflect on my life during the previous few months. My mind traveled backwards, searching for the one fateful event, specific date, or exact time when my happiness had slipped away.
I thoroughly racked my brain, but the specific answer I had been looking for—the one key that would unlock the secret door to my unhappiness—did not exist. There was no fateful event, specific date, or exact time that marked the moment I had lost myself. It had just happened at some point along the way, and I was too busy to notice it was gone.
Although it took me a while to notice the changes that had affected my well-being, I’m pretty sure my parents had realized that something about me was off. On this very same vacation, my father gave me a book to read called: Practicing the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which preaches the importance of practicing mindfulness and living in the present moment. As I read on, the book’s teachings seemed to deeply resonate with me, and, figuratively speaking, flipped a switch in my mind that would allow me to begin my journey of self re-discovery.
This journey, however, did not happen overnight. In the months following that moment of insight on my family vacation, the daily stresses continued, and I oftentimes found myself reverting back to my old habits and abandoning the new. Throughout all of this mayhem I somehow managed to keep my grades up to par, although I sometimes felt I had to sell my soul, social life, and everything good just to get that all-important A. The stress to stay afloat was not only affecting my mental well-being, but it began to take a toll on other areas of my life as well. It had gotten to the point where I acknowledged the stress and allowed it to win temporarily, but I vowed that once the school year was over I would find myself again.
I viewed summer as an opportunity to leave my sophomore year behind, re-evaluate and re-claim my sanity, and start anew. Now that I had time to think, I realized I had two choices. I could continue living the way I had been and do everything as a means to an end, which would probably result in yet another treacherous year of school. On the other hand, I could make a conscious effort to live in the present moment and change my perspective, an effort that could ultimately help me deal with stress more appropriately in the upcoming school year. I chose the second option.
My conscious effort to be present in my everyday life eventually became second nature, and this optimistic outlook became the new lens through which I viewed every situation. Instead of being anxious about things in the future over which I ultimately had no control, I learned to enjoy every moment and calmly deal with any issue that came my way. I was no longer allowing my life to live me, but rather I was living it.
The purpose of this book is not for me to complain about the problems in my life, but rather to share with others the key to finding solutions to these problems. Almost all of you can relate to some aspect of my personal story, which creates the illusion that what all of us teens are experiencing is “normal.” Once I became aware of this new of way thinking, however, I realized that what I experienced should in no way be characterized as “normal.” How is it normal for someone to forget what happiness feels like, be overwhelmed by stress, and lose sight of who they are, all at the age of fifteen? The answer is simple: it’s not.
The pressure to succeed has driven teens to the breaking point, causing them to burn out before they’re even old enough to vote. Our lives are lives no longer, but rather constant competitions in which we must score the highest on our SATs, get into the best college, and graduate within the top 10% of our class, all the while making sure we act the right way in order to maintain our reputation and avoid potential bullying. In the midst of all this chaos disguised as a so-called “normal” teenage life, it is very easy to lose sight of who we are and brainwash ourselves into thinking that stress and unhappiness are just par for the course. This is, by no means, a healthy or proper way to live, and I seek to change this perspective.
Although I cannot eliminate any of the seemingly stressful situations in your everyday life, I can help you change the way you view them. In this book, I introduce you to various techniques that will help you to “Put it in Perspective,” and you will learn to embody five key qualities for staying sane throughout the high school years. I can only provide you with the tools necessary to live a happier, more meaningful life. What you choose to do with them is completely up to you.