10 Essential Life Lessons We Learned from ‘My So-Called Life’

My So-Called Life is probably one of those 90s shows that you remember watching back in the day, but you don’t really remember all of it because it’s been so long. This past week I reconnected with this show via Hulu and re-watching this short-lived series made me realize quite a few things about this 90s gem.

, , ,

The story about the life of a fifteen year old girl and her friends was a tough sell with viewers back in 1994 due to some tough network competition. Sadly, the show was canceled after just one season and only aired 19 episodes, but since its premature cancellation it has gained a cult audience of devoted fans. It was ranked at #8 in Entertainment Weekly’s 2009 list, “25 Greatest Cult TV Shows Ever” just behind shows like Firefly, Twin Peaks, and Freaks and Geeks. It even won Claire Danes her first Golden Globe.

But what exactly made My So-Called Life such a great show? Aside from being basically a realistic journal entry of a high school sophomore, it touched on a lot of subjects that American network television wasn’t really doing in regards to teenagers. Issues like sexual identity, peer pressure, domestic violence, infidelity, and substance abuse were approached without fear and it jolted audiences in a strong way because, well, that is how life really is. With this piece, we will focus on 10 of the best life lessons My So-Called Life taught us. One of the greatest things is these don’t just apply to teenagers and they are lessons that you can relate to even as an adult.

10. Rumors happen, but they don’t have to get you down

Rumors basically fueled the events of this show, but that’s really just a testament to how realistic this show was. Rumors are a part of every day life and whether we want to admit it or not, rumors are basically what high school was all about. However, we learned through the events at Liberty High School that just because people are talking about it doesn’t mean it’s true. It also doesn’t mean you have anything to feel bad about. Just do your thing and no matter what you say, people will talk. It’s best to just talk it out with the people who care enough to know the truth, even if those people are your parents.

9. Don’t assume that everything is how you perceived

Remember that time Angela thought Jordan’s song was about her, but it was really about his car? Yeah, we do too.

That’s not the only time Angela perceived something different than reality, but we all have been in her shoes. We see things the way we want to see them and believe what we want to believe, even when we know it’s not true. Human nature really can be a cruel thing. Sometimes you just have to learn first hand what your mom meant when she always said not to put all your eggs in one basket.

8. No one has a perfect life

On the outside, Rickie looks fabulous and is a caring friend, but he was a victim of domestic violence and abuse and wound up homeless for a while. Rayanne struggled with substance abuse and lost her best friend as a result. Angela’s parents, Patty and Graham, had conflicting ideas about where their marriage was going and how their goals differentiated from reality. Jordan Catalano was a seemingly tough rebel, but was actually an undiagnosed dyslexic who also was a victim of domestic violence.

No one is perfect despite how much we may think they are. We always say things like, “I wish I was someone else,” but the truth is we never really have a clue what they are dealing with behind closed doors. After Angela discovers these secrets, she realizes she doesn’t really have it that badly and she eventually resolves to use her privilege and good nature to assist those in need, like Rickie and Jordan. Just like Angela Chase, I can guarantee we’ve all had that exact same realization at some point.

7. Love at first sight is possible

It’s hard to resist that perfect hair cut and those amazing blue eyes and great bone structure, but just because they seem completely out of a fairy tale doesn’t mean that our initial crushes are all doomed to fail. You owe it to yourself to at least give it a try. You never know what might happen with the most unexpected, or obvious, person. If Angela and Jordan Catalano taught us anything, it was that the “bad boy” isn’t always the worst person to be around.

6. Hold those love letters close to your heart

So, we all know the truth behind “the letter.” For the sake of argument, it can be said that even though Brian was the author behind Angela’s love letter, Jordan did read through it and deliver it to Angela himself. Jordan wouldn’t have accepted the words from Brian if he didn’t agree with them or if he really didn’t feel that way about Angela.

With that said, even though it might not be perfect or exactly how you pictured it, don’t just blow off a love letter from someone because they might have borrowed some words or had some help. My brother gave a speech to his future wife that sealed the deal for them to get married and the speech he gave her was from the Kevin Smith film, Chasing Amy. It’s really no different. As long as it’s from the heart and they know what they want the outcome to be, who cares where it came from?

5. Sunday night is the worst

Angela truly said it best.

4. It might not seem like your life is going anywhere, but it will

Almost every character expressed how upset they were with life by narrowing it down to one thing; it’s really just a series of days waiting for something to happen.

Well, luckily high school isn’t life. These four years might seem like forever and you might feel that it will never stop being so uneventful, but life does pick up. Things happen to us after high school that we could have never imagined and our experiences grow. The point is, don’t let it get you down. High school isn’t forever and before you know it, you’ll be a legal adult with choices and solid decisions.

3. We aren’t immune to being hurt, even by our best friends

Not everyone was unfortunate enough to feel betrayed by a friend in high school, or even in adulthood, but a majority of us have experienced it. Just like Rayanne and Angela, you could be the closest of friends and think your friend will always be there for you, but that still doesn’t mean you can’t hurt each other. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, pain can hit friendships out of nowhere and cause trust issues that can’t always be reversed.

Whether we forgive, or forgave, our friends after whatever event happened is completely up to us, but it always does raise the question of, “should we forgive them?” It’s really a personal choice and it’s always different. It really comes down to how important your friend is to you and whether you can foresee their actions changing. I just hope we all didn’t have an Angela and Rayanne fight with our best friend because it definitely hurts.

2. Just because they can’t get the words out doesn’t mean they have nothing to say

We know Jared, but the heart of the series is really Angela’s internal struggle with her love for Jordan Catalano. Despite her talking and talking to him and never missing an opportunity to tell her how she felt, he doesn’t give her much to go on in return. However, that didn’t mean he had nothing to say. After a long conversation with Angela’s mom, Patty, we see that Jordan really does have emotions and does have a lot to say. Maybe it’s just that he doesn’t know how to say it to Angela to where it feels right.

Lesson learned? Don’t just write someone off because they can’t spill the beans as easily as you can. It doesn’t always mean that they don’t care about you or what you have to say. Maybe you just affect them that much that they can’t get the words out when you’re staring right back at them.

1. It’s alright to lean on your parents for support

Adolescence is a difficult time for most everyone. We face pressure and choices that we could have never imagined being faced with, yet it’s thrown in our faces every day. The thing that doesn’t really click in your head until you get older is adolescence is just as scary for your parents.

As Angela and her friends continuously found out, parents are there to be supportive. It might be embarrassing to talk a problem out with them, or be confronted with questions about your life, but they do have good intentions and they’re there to help. Don’t be afraid to lean on them for support or to take their advice. You might discover they actually understand a lot more than you thought.

Jenika Enoch

Jenika Enoch

Former graphic design student… I love movies more than I like most people. Feel free to discuss film with me! @icemyeyes