The criteria for judging popularity in high school is all wrong. In a small, rural town like Gardiner, Maine it is not the people who stand out who receive recognition. Those who conform in high school are at the top of the hierarchy. These special boys and girls do not become popular for their kindness or intelligence — it is what sports you play, which drugs you take, what clothes you buy, and most of all, which personal beliefs you are willing to compromise to reach that goal of being popular. I believe happiness will not stem from popularity in high school.
I have never been what is considered “popular” because I don’t have any concept of what conformity is. Just as I am naturally gifted in art and theatre, standing out is what I do best. I can’t seem to fit in for the life of me, and I am perfectly happy with who I am. Unfortunately, being popular is all about fitting in. Conformity, uniformity, a school of clones within whose ranks there is a king and queen. For vague reasons certain students in high schools everywhere are considered better and more interesting than a majority of the school population. This “popular group” then divides into sub-groups, cliques within a clique, all to avoid any possibility of standing out.
It is human nature to strive for acceptance. And acceptance here means wearing plaid shorts in hues of pink and green from American Eagle, or playing basketball, or getting wasted at that party last Friday night.
Then there are always “the others.” These “other” people live on the fringe of high school’s society, tagged with a long list of derogatory titles such as “the goths” or “the artsy kids” “the drama geeks” or “the smart ones.” In the real world, these are the people who are most likely to make a difference. Unfortunately for us, high school follows different rules. Just how evolution has taught us “survival of the fittest,” high school is a bizarre place where is biggest, strongest and most beautiful battle for superiority.
Yet despite everything I’ve been through, I still hope. I say hang in there, it will get better. Popularity in high school is so arbitrary. From birth we have all been conditioned to believe in our fast-food nation, our consumerist society, our obsession with youth and appearance. In high school we act as reflections of our parents and upbringing. Once upon a time I tried to be like everyone else. I bought the clothes, I talked about drugs as if I did them and pretended not to care about school. And I wasn’t being true to myself. Happiness, contrary to widespread belief, does not come from compromising yourself for the brief glow of high school popularity. Happiness is being true to yourself. All of the outcasts, the artistic ones, the intelligent ones, they are my people. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.