I was “that kid” throughout my school existence. The last one chosen for teams and projects, the one home alone when the rest of the grade was at a house party, the one with the millions of pictures and words filling my young, malleable mind. And though at the time I grieved for my lack of social status, as an adult, at this particular moment in time, I must offer my gratitude to those plastic people.
I went to a private school, and not being wealthy, fashionable or “pretty,” I got to watch. A lot. A cross between Goth Girl and Hippie Chick, I found alternative music, lost myself in the dirge-like sounds of The Cure (still my favorite band), Morrissey, The Smiths and the more synth beats of bands like Depeche Mode, Flesh For Lulu, Suede and Adam Ant. All of this amazing music before it ever went mainstream – and so I was the oddity at school. I empathized and felt a connection with the Winona Ryder characters in Heathers and Beetlejuice. She was the epitome of what I believed, so much cooler than the Polo and Izod wearing girls in my grade. And so, I had committed social suicide before my fourteenth birthday. It would take two years of community college, my friend Maria and an extended study abroad in the United Kingdom to ease my so called angst and allow myself the freedom to be who I really felt I was – to help me become the semi-adjusted adult I am today.
I have often been asked, “do you want to be popular or do you want to be successful?” My husband asks that same question. Truthfully, I just want to be. I liked school. I loved the structure of the schedule, the information I was absorbing about the past and future and wondering how it would apply to me. In the end, I did not and still do not mind being the outsider. This existence allows me the power of observation. I see things. And then I write them. And that’s my purpose after all. So being the nerd, the goth, the loner – might just be a good thing after all.
The University of Virginia undertook a 10 year study of popular and unpopular students in a local high school. They observed that those plastic, cool, popular kids, ended up having more trouble in later life. When their social competence was appraised, the popular people rated 24% lower than those who were the outsiders, the less fortunate or less popular students. The quiet kids who didn’t attract attention, or attracted negative attention by showing their own true colors are doing great! They are the ones in higher tax brackets, who are more socially adjusted and sensitive to the needs of others. They have a lower divorce rate and lower rate of illnesses such as heart attack and mental breakdown. In short, it is the Revenge of the Nerds. The movie was correct and ahead of its time. (yes, you may laugh or cry here – I suppose that depends on your social standing).The nerds and other outsiders have mainstreamed into society via marriage, kids and good jobs. They followed their own dreams, not the ones they thought society needed to see.
It seems that the popular kids spend their lives looking for the shortcuts to adulthood and the fast track in careers, however, their choices as teens often lead to poor choices, lack of focus and a struggle in the working world.(according to the above mentioned study). According to a different study by Bloomberg Business, the popular crowd is always more successful because of their ability to socialize and network. The nerds, smarter and talented, can amass super wealth, but at a great cost. I believe, like the University study, that the outsiders, the shy introverts, having had to create their own worlds and happiness with themselves and their situations earlier in life, tend to be happier on average as adults, and more productive in their chosen career paths.
As a freelance writer, this popularity poll takes on a new meaning. Surely having tons of followers on social media and lots of page reads makes me popular, right? But, does it translate into a paycheck? I believe (as a beginner to the field though I’ve been writing for years) that when you start pursuing success, the popularity is important. People need to get to know you, your work, your unique personal brand. I also believe that this popularity might take a toll on success, because to keep up your image, you may need to take away from that which pays the bills. Finding that happy medium, where you support your followers and write freely while also writing content, marketing and other pieces for profit is the ultimate goal. I’m caught now in a forward momentum, and I won’t stop until I see my finish line. This is my beginning.
I am staying away from all the plastics who still haunt my life. The prep school parent, the fashionista wannabee, the braggarts and the ones who think themselves so much better than the rest of us. I am that outsider, and I am more than they will ever be. I am real. I don’t have to pretend to be the same because like you, friendly follower, there is more to me than what you see. Not that I am belittling appearance, but there is something to be said about the sights we see when we have the great power of observation. How lucky to be able to see the bigger picture, and to share it with words, art, and craft. I believe in myself and in you.
So to all of you, my lovely readers, whether you’re a former plastic or that Sideline Sid, follow your heart. Success is attainable, and only you can measure your own success. Money? Family? Doing what you love? Learn to listen with your heart, don’t follow the crowd. They might not be heading down your road.
I’m no longer the one who has notes to lend or wise words to help with an essay – the words are all mine now. I owe a thank you to all those popular plastics who made me feel invisible. They allowed me the freedom to express myself in words and pictures, and to find my self in later years. All the poetry and the sketchbooks piling up since my high school days have brought me to this place, my achievements are my victories. Without their neglect and ignorance, I would never have found my voice.
Bottom line, this nerd/goth/hippie chick is following her dream; I’m writing prolifically and loving every minute. I know that when I put myself out there I will be successful. Hope you’ll wander with me a while, and we can be triumphant together.