Updated: May 13, 2020
Let's get one thing straight. "Popularity" and being liked is overrated. What the fuck does that even mean and how does that add to your life? Don't get me wrong, validation and feelings of belonging and acceptance come with perceived popularity, and all of that is valid and real, but living your life for this is not only painful but draining.
For the majority of my childhood and life, I attributed happiness, worth, value, and acceptance with popularity and friends. I believed that if I was "popular," I meant something to someone, I was valued, and I was enough. I lived my life by the implicit and ever-changing social rules of popularity and friendships. I had to go to "cool" places, wear "cool" things, be with "cool" people, and just ooze "coolness" in order to be accepted and loved. My entire life was shaped around what I was doing, what I was missing out on, what other people were doing that I wasn't, and focusing on how other people were better than me. For my entire life, my inferiority complex made me vulnerable to the messages that conflate perceived popularity with worth, and I truly believed that I needed to have friends, be liked, and seemingly be happy in order to truly feel happy.
Surprise surprise, I was only ever happy for a fleeting minute. I went to a school dance that only the "cool" kids go to? Okay. Now that's over, what's next? I hung out with the "cool" kids on Saturday? Okay. Now what are my plans on Sunday.
My life was a never-ending rat race that I believed would bring me happiness, authentic friendships, and love.
Don't get me wrong, the friendships I developed and cultivated over my childhood were authentic and I have made life-long friends who I will cherish forever. I want to focus on how living in this manner, focusing on what other people thinking of me instead of focusing on myself, was by no means sustainable, and I only ever felt lonely, fearful, or depressed.
You see, my life was shaped by other people's goals, wants, needs, and perceptions of me. I believed that if I acted in a certain way, if I did certain things, that I could control people's perceptions of me.
I've come to learn that that is simply not true. Regardless of what I say, do, or even think, people will have their own perception of me that is out of my control. I cannot shape how others perceive me in the same way that other's can't control what I think about them.
By living under the impression that I had an influence on other people's perceptions of me, and that these perceptions were dependent on my actions, I felt enormous pressure to constantly show up for people and be the best version of myself 24/7. While that may sound ideal, constantly putting others before myself only drained me, and the baseline for my affect was stress and anxiety.
Friends are not supposed to be a source of anxiety or stress in your life. I have come to learn that friends are in your life to ADD to your life, bring you joy, and allow you to explore your full potential.
By believing that other people's perceptions of me shaped my self worth, I was essentially sending myself the message that other people's opinions trumped my own, that they mattered more than me, and they deserved for their needs to be met before mine.
Well, I have been learning to let that shit go. Let go of the belief that I'm inferior to everyone. Let go of the belief that in order to feel worthy, I have to act a certain way.
No more. From now on, I'm putting myself first. I need rest? Sorry, I can't hang out. I'm sitting by myself? I'm not lonely, I'm just alone and independent. You don't like me? Fine, I'm still me.
These statements are revolutionary for me, and I am working everyday to continually put myself first. But my God is it worth it.