Growing up, I wasn’t popular (except with the girls in elementary school, heh). Like most kids, and then teens, somehow we get it into our heads that the more popular you are, the better life is. It’s a dream magnified and reinforced by Hollywood and Hallmark movies, and it’s an urge as a teen that’s very difficult to resist.
Now, consciously, I never imagined or cared about the trappings of popularity as a teen. I didn’t fantasize about being the high school football star, or being named prom king or some such nonsense. What I did imagine and want was simple — a high enough level of popularity where I didn’t have to worry about my ass being kicked while walking down an empty hallway. (For the record, I never had my ass kicked in high school; it was, however, a recurring fear with a solid basis in reality.)
What I took away from my unpopularity — from my lugging my trombone case onto the bus every week and trying to not make a big deal about the fact that it was not the easiest thing to carry around, from being smart in a school where smart kids were not exactly something that was rewarded, from some of my antisocial behaviors — was this: it taught me resilience and how to rely on the one person I knew would always be there, myself.
It’s also a lesson learned by millions of kids each year. One of them was Erika Napoletano and she has an amazing essay talking about this on her website, Redhead Writing.
She has said it more succinctly and honestly than I ever could have:
What Unpopular People Have That Popular Ones Don’t
We can identify opportunities and slink off into the background to tap into them. No one is paying attention to us anyways. And by the time you figure out what we’re doing, you’re already relegated to playing a game of catch up if you decide to play any game with us at all.
The unpopular kids don’t rely on the opinions of others in order to deem whether something is a success or not. It’s why we love science, competitions, academics and research. Information offers validation.
We’re resilient. You can kick us time and time again and we’ll find ways to hide, morph, adapt and thrive.
We’re made to be entrepreneurs.
The entry is much longer, and I encourage you to read the whole thing if any of this resonates with you.
But the upshot is this — unpopular kids have to work harder in order not to just survive, but to thrive and grow up. We explore things on our own, become deeply curious about everything in the world, and rely more often on ourselves than others.
Relying on yourself doesn’t mean not having friends or a deep and strong network of connections — a point Erika is careful to make. Unpopular kids have to build those connections early on, because their friendships may be fewer and far between. Each person will matter, and so will each relationship. The connections will be deeper, and hopefully in the long run, more meaningful.
I look back now on my teenage years filled with decidedly mixed emotions. While there are some things I probably wish I could have changed, being unpopular is not one of them. My unpopularity at the time made me the man I am today.
And for that, I am thankful.
Read the entry now: What Makes Us