• Leslie Crews

I never wanted to be popular. Why do you?

I listen to vinyl records and rummage the new inventory at Goodwill to find hidden gems that someone graciously donated.

I have a stack of VHS tapes that were purchased not ironically. My husband and I enjoy the low definition and marvel at the time it takes to rewind tapes. I prefer to wear glasses that remind me of the proud nerd that my dad reminded me that he was. His way of trying to make me feel better about not being considered cool in school. And I still love laying all over my momma, and putting on one-woman-shows in the kitchen, which thoroughly annoys my dog.

Although lived years have physically changed me, when I look back at the younger years, my tastes, and general feelings about life haven’t changed. Looking through pictures from the 80s confirms that I’ve always had a strong sense of who I am, what I want to do, and most importantly, what I refuse to deal with.

I realized how simple things were then and how comfortable I used to be. I was comfortable with just being myself. No filter. I’d occasionally get in trouble for it, but I was steadfast in what I wanted to do and I generally just wanted people to be nice, and not bother me, or anybody else for being themselves.

Be different from the majority. That was ingrained in me.

Now that I am at the age where I can see what my momma meant by, “Everyone that says they’re your friend isn’t your friend” and my daddy saying, “God bless the child that’s got his own”.

The annoyed, theatrical, and expressive child has grown into a woman that recognizes that my parents actually knew what they were talking about. It took years to fully understand where they were coming from but I see now that they understood the importance of individuality, perhaps because they were raised during the 60s and 70s. They instilled in their children the values of humility, compassion, faith in God, and confidence. I’m eternally grateful for my parents.

Humility, compassion, and confidence.

Living in a world where people will manipulate and steal from others, to look like the pinnacle of wealth and success, really has me questioning whether these are values that people find important anymore.

Has money and popularity become the driving force for what we call successful? Are people teaching children the value of kindness, or are they taught to dominate to get what they want in life?

Working, walking down the street, going to the store, watching people scurry across the street for fear of contamination. Hearing people speak negatively about others. It has me questioning whether compassion is a fleeting thing. It makes me sad. Heaven knows, and my therapist knows.

The reality is that children will grow to be one of two kinds of people; an adult that cares about other people, or the adult that cares only about things that benefit them.

I’m no scientist, but in my opinion these are the only types of people that exist in the world. Whether a child is one or the other solely depends on the adults in their lives and the values that are instilled in them during childhood. This includes the teenage to early adult years, because I don’t care what anyone says, from 18 to 24 you still ain’t grown.

Looking through my school aged pictures, now as an adult, it feels a lot like those schoolyard bullies and mean-girls are still in full jerk mode and are still acting out and making decisions without considering anyone but themselves.

The class president is unqualified and doesn’t know what they’re doing, surrounded by a sea of wannabe’s that fuel their bad behavior, and no one is listening to the people, with the experience and the good ideas because they’re not popular and no one remembers their names.

It’s 2020 y’all, and we’re all still in elementary school. Jesus, take the wheel.

I watched it play out then, and I continue to see it in various aspects of my adult life. The push to constantly conform to what the popular folks think is acceptable; how we speak, what we eat, the content that we take in. The anxiety of having to outwardly present in a way that is unnatural, for fear of being bullied and made fun of.

We style our hair, wear the fanciest of discount clothing, and adopt mannerisms that we think will get us “accepted”. But, my fellow oddballs, black sheep, nerds, and bookworms, those tactics didn’t make us less of a target then, and it won’t now.

So why do we spend so much time trying to be like people who never cared about us to begin with?

Life has a way of pulling you away from who you know you are.

We could joke about peer pressure and herd mentality, but what used to be the topic of old after school specials, is now the driving force behind today’s vision of success.

As consumers, we are encouraged to gravitate towards the things that the popular majority have obtained, and get so caught up in trying to “catch up” that we forget our original goals. No longer having time for what brings us joy because we’re trying to make it.

It’s basic marketing. Some people think commonality equals acceptance. So we buy things we’ll never use and get sad because we can’t go on week-long vacations like everyone else. And we work hard to afford it all, then worry about how long we’ll have to work to keep it all.

And just like that, we’re back on the school yard, only now, the mean-girl is the CEO, school administration, business manager, movie mogul, and a myriad of other roles the majority of everyday folks will never attain. Oh, but how hard we try.

[T]here is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Yet we fall into the cycle of trying to prove that we are worthy, to people who don’t care. We trick ourselves into believing that if we work hard enough that we will reach a level where no one will make us feel inferior, or like the nerdy school kid again.

It’s easy to forget why you work so hard, when you have to fight every day, for others to see the value of your contributions.

In some way I feel like we are all being tricked into wanting to be popular.

We see people buying houses, so then we set the goal to buy a house. We spend endless hours watching tutorials to look like people in YouTube videos. We post pictures of our loved one’s so people that we will never speak to face-to-face, will see and somehow know that someone loves us and someone values us.

We force ourselves through a gauntlet of identity crisis that challenges the confidence that the toddler in the family photo album wouldn’t even recognize.

As soon as one identity crisis ends, here comes another attack on your confidence, identity, and well being. Eight year old me didn’t understand that my confidence and excitement for life would be squashed repeatedly, well into my adult years.

But something about looking at who I was as a child, has reignited some of those dreams and reminds me that I never cared about being popular. I was comfortable doing my own thing then, and I’ve since gotten back to doing the things that make my heart happy and being the unique person that my parents raised me to be.

I recognize that the people I admired, from childhood and even now, are the people who haven’t forgotten the dreams they had before life threw them in the spin cycle.

As I’m reevaluating my goals, I draw strength from God and I am grateful for the people He’s put in my life that remind me that compassion and humility are not lost virtues. That there are people who genuinely care about other people and want others to succeed.

Sure, bullies will probably always exist and popularity may always be a measure of success for some folks. But the people who I admire most are the ones who don’t even know how admirable they are.

They’re honest with themselves, about what motivates them and what offends them. They have a full understanding of what they like, and admit to what they don’t understand. They are happy with who they are.

I admire these people. Why? Because they’re not looking to be validated. They love and accept who they truly are. It brought me to the conclusion that people with popularity and resources may always be the mean-girls of the world. The identity crisis won’t stop because through them we learn and grow.

The trick is to remember your values and know the value of your uniqueness.

When you know who you are, no one can tell you otherwise or mold you into the person they think you should be. Instead of doing what seems popular, do what brings you joy. Set goals that you earnestly want to meet. Be kind to yourself and others and you’ll never go wrong.

Let love and compassion be what’s popular.

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