Popularity Isn’t Everything

Personal Post Thursday!  I actually got off to a start with this in school, where I allowed my students to ask me any question they wanted to, as long as it was school appropriate.  (I got the typical “what’s your favorite movie/book?” but I also got the creative “If you were a hotdog, what condiment would you want on you?” and the ever-more pressing “If you spilled wine on the floor, would you clean it up with Oxiclean or a Sham-Wow?”)

But one of the questions that came up ended up being more eye-opening for me than it was for the kids.

“Were you popular in school?”

I can answer this in one swift statement: I was once nicknamed the “Walking Encyclopedia”.

In other words, no, I was not popular in school.  I think it would’ve taken an act of God to make me popular in school.  I was physically incapable of separating myself from my books and morally opposed to trashing my values to be popular.  I was pretty straight-laced in school, a result of having perfectionist tendencies and being raised Catholic.  And I was so outspoken about my intelligence (or what I thought was intelligence) that I actually intimidated people.  I’ve had guys break up with me because I’m “too smart.”  (Speaking of, that is always a reflection on them, never on you.)

It wasn’t that people didn’t like me.  They did.  (Or, at least, I think they did.)  I had friends.  I was involved in different clubs and activities.  I just wasn’t the kind of person that anyone ever actually noticed or remembered.

True story.  Yesterday, I bumped into a high school classmate at Walmart and after the Hi, how are you‘s, she proceeded to ask if I moved away after 8th grade.  …I went to high school with her for 4 years (with a class size of roughly 190).  Needless to say, she was a little embarrassed not to remember that.  But that’s just how it was for me.

It wasn’t like I didn’t try to be popular; I think I’m hardwired against it.  I spent my entire junior year trying to ingratiate myself with the more popular kids.  I sat at their lunch table, I went to a couple of holiday parties with them, and I went to prom with them.

And I hated it.

It didn’t feel like me.  I was miserable.  I wasn’t enjoying myself at all and I knew that the second I walked away, those kids would forget all about me.  They weren’t my friends.

The next year, I embraced myself more and found really close friends with a group of band geeks who could always make me laugh.  They may not have been popular, but it was worth it to find people I could really call my friends.

So it was really funny when my students asked me if I was popular in school.  I laughed and replied, “No.  Not even close.  I was once nicknamed the Walking Encyclopedia because I knew a little about a lot of topics.”

Their responses startled me.

Two of the most popular girls in that class looked at me and said, “Do you know what I would give to be smart like that?”

I blinked at them.  These were two girls I would’ve watched in school, trying to get them to notice me.  And in a weird twist, I find out that the popular kids want to be smart like the scrawny, nerdy girl I was in school?

I started reevaluating the kids I knew in school.  Was it possible that some of them avoided me because they were possibly jealous of how smart I was?  Was it possible that some of those kids I looked up to looked up to me too?

It’s too hard to picture.  I’ve cemented the picture of my high school experiences in my head, and I’m having trouble trying to see them from a new light.  But it did, at least, let me look at my students in a new light.  Just because someone’s popular doesn’t mean they have everything.

So just be yourself!  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.



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