This article is part of a series known as #30DaysOfThanks.
A couple years after graduating high school, I was talking to a friend with whom I attended elementary, middle and high school with, a friend who I had always seen as a “popular” kid.
“I always wanted to be in the popular crowd with you,” I joked.
She was surprised and proceeded to tell me she never thought she was popular. In fact, she always thought just the opposite.
It’s funny, looking back to all those years and realizing there was no such thing as “popular.” Not really. As an introverted kid, I was prone to think that the extroverted kids were cooler, funnier, prettier, better liked, which created some insecurities that took a while to overcome. There was no real reason to harbor such insecurities, but I did, and looking back, I’m oddly thankful that I never thought I was popular. Being “uncool” taught me the following lessons about life that, if I hadn’t learned, I think I’d have turned out to be a much different kind of person.
1. Not everyone will like you.
There are many different ways this can be learned. I learned it by assuming I was uncool. I wasn’t bullied, but I didn’t think I was liked, either. If you live with this mindset long enough, you will either succumb to the loneliness it brings, or you will learn to live with it, find friends who do like you and accept who you are. Throughout the years, I waffled between each of these options but ultimately decided that everyone is disliked by some, and everyone is liked by some. I just had to find those who liked me, which wasn’t very hard when I let myself just be.
2. Bullies are not popular.
We all know the type; he’s the elementary big-kid who pushes people around on the playground, she’s the catty Miss Middle School Princess who spreads nasty rumors about the other girls, they’re the rebel group of high schoolers who stir up drama for the fun of it.
In the moment, don’t we all think those types are the cool kids? Looking back, don’t we realize that nobody really liked them? How on earth did we ever come to the conclusion that the mean kids were, by definition, the cool kids too?
It’s laughable now, but I remember really struggling with the desire to be like those kids, to have what I saw as confidence (when it was really just insecurities). If I hadn’t been on the opposite end of things, I think I’d have grown up thinking that being cruel, power-hungry and manipulative was the way to go through life. Instead, I see the value of kindness and servanthood, selflessness and altruism. The bully never learns this, or they’ve burned a lot of bridges by the time they do.
3. Be proud of who you are.
I was the bookworm from elementary through high school. I had to get grounded from books at one point. In fifth or sixth grade, I remember waiting in the carpool line with a stack of seven books in my arms. I’d lugged them all to school so I could read during free time. A girl, a girl I considered to be popular, asked me how many I had and I proudly told her. Her response? “You’re so weird.”
If I would have let that affect me, if I had stopped being such an avid reader, I never would have been grounded from books which means I never would have started writing my own stories.
Being “uncool” opens up a lot of doors for getting your passions squashed. But, thank goodness I didn’t give up reading because that girl said I was weird. That reading lead habit led me to what has become my life’s passion and career choice. What would have happened if I’d let her words affect me?
There will always be bullies. Sadly, even the adult world is not exempt. I have seen the benefits that come from ignoring those people, the people who want to squash your passions, who think you’re weird for reading too much or liking math too much or being way too obsessed with past presidents. And the benefits of being proud of who you are despite backlash far outweigh the bouts of hurt you will experience.
4. I can be a bully, too.
Unfortunately, I was. From fifth to about seventh grade, I was a bully and it was because I felt like I was bullied. So, to make sure I retained some “status,” I bullied others. I poured water on the kid who loved history so much he drew a picture of every president. I teased the girl who I thought wore her uniform skirt too long. And that’s just the beginning.
Looking back, I still feel guilty about the way I treated those classmates. I’ve made some amends, but the history-lover left school and I was never able to apologize. I wish I could.
None of us are immune. We all have the potential to be a bully and, despite the hurt I caused, I’m glad I’ve had to live with the guilt. I know I can hurt people if I want to and as high school started I became hyper-aware of that ability and tried my best to do the opposite. I only wish I could have learned that without hurting others.
No one likes being bullied and though being bullied can teach a lot of life lessons, it must also teach us to not be bullies ourselves. Just like there are two ways to react to being disliked, there are two ways to react to being bullied. Either you become a bully, or you learn from the hurt and instead love on those who are bullied, and even the bullies themselves.