In hindsight, at least, that's what happened to Palo Alto High School graduating senior Arjun Singh, who said he found his footing through the school's journalism program and the encouragement of teacher Esther Wojcicki.
"It's a hands-on program that lets you figure out who you are, and for me that was kind of a turning point," Singh said. "It taught me responsibility, whipped me into shape a little bit."
Singh credits Wojcicki, his freshman English teacher, for encouraging him to join Paly's journalism program.
He poured his heart into it. For the past two years, Singh has written for and edited the school newspaper, The Campanile, which Wojcicki also advises.
"My dad always said he had special teachers in high school and I didn't really get that until this year, when I realized her influence," Singh said.
"Her classes are truth-seeking and rigorous, but kind of wacky and fun. She's been a really influential figure for me."
After spending the summer relaxing and teaching computer skills to seniors at Avenidas, Singh heads to Emerson College in Boston this fall. He plans on a double major in marketing and journalism.
"Ideally I'd like to really be a journalist, but with the industry being the way it is I also needed some sort of back-up plan, which is marketing," he said.
One thing Singh won't miss about Paly is "the incredibly competitive environment, where it drowns out getting an education versus just looking good to everyone else," he said.
"Basically, you can get lost at Paly so easily if you don't find some sort of footing.
"It's an almost cruelly competitive environment. A lot of people come out really well, but there are people who don't fare as well as everyone else.
"For kids who are late bloomers or just average, coming to Paly is a really hard experience because you're surrounded by smart, intelligent kids with smart, intelligent families backing them up."
Singh expects his life to be quite different from that of his parents, who are from India. For one thing, his dad went to a "regimented, English-style boarding school" that was nothing like Paly.
"One of the great things about Paly is that, to some degree, it encourages students to speak up about the problems they see and express it in a constructive way," he said.
As for his generation as a whole, Singh said: "We're a much more connected generation than our parents and that's going to let us lead a different life.
"And we're not scared of technology. We embrace change a little more, just because we're used to everything changing.
"We don't see change as scary. We see it as cool."