Monday, March 21, 2016
Social Circles and What it Means to be Popular
All through my teenage years I did dance (jazz and ballet). I was never the star of the show. I wasn't one of the "best" or the "most talented," and when I tried out for company, I didn't make it. I wasn't a horrible dancer either. I mean, I got pretty good in a lot of ways, but I never made it to the cream of the crop. I remember watching and looking up to the girls who were more talented than me. At my studio, they were popular.
Now, I hesitate to use that word because it often has all this negative connotation attached to it. Often it's associated with arrogance, being stuck up, and not including others. For my post, I don't mean that. I mean "popular" as in "well-liked" and "well-known." So these girls were popular at my studio. Very talented. Great examples to look to.
One night my friend and I went to a football game in a nearby city. I happened to see some of these dancers spread out in the bleachers of the opposing team, and as I watched them, I was, frankly, stunned how ordinary they appeared. They weren't swamped by friends. They weren't dressed up. They weren't in the big crowds cheering. They didn't appear popular at all. (Most of them weren't even interested in trying out for drill team.) I almost couldn't believe how some of these girls, who were so crazy talented at my studio, were basically "nobodies" (for lack of better word) at their school. I remember thinking, don't their classmates realize how freaking talented and amazing they are?
And maybe that's the thing. Maybe they didn't. The dancers were in two different social circles: the one at the studio and their high school.
I definitely wouldn't consider myself popular in high school. I had friends, but I wasn't too involved with activities at school. I was only ever in one club, for only two years, and that was the service club. I was also on the yearbook staff, but that was about it. All the other activities I liked to do weren't connected to high school.
When I went to college, I started putting all my efforts toward my one true passion: writing. I wrote a lot in high school, but it wasn't like there was a club or department in high school for aspiring authors, and among most my classmates, liking to write was "dumb." So I didn't want to mention it to many people--why put up with insults? But then in college there was a whole English department dedicated to writing, storytelling, and analyzing literature. And about 2-3 years into my college experience, something started happening.
I walked into class on the first day of the semester, and several voices throughout the room called my name out at once. It caught me completely off guard. People know me? And are happy to see me? I thought. I was honestly surprised. For a second, I was confused on where to sit and opted for the person I had talked to the most.
As college went on and I worked harder and harder at my writing, more weird things started happening. People knew who I was. Someone I had never even talked to, and had no class with, came up to me in the parking lot and asked me for help, saying they'd heard about me. I became the editor and then the managing editor of my college's literary journal. I got an award and scholarship in the English department. My friends said they overheard faculty talking positively about my writing among themselves.
I don't know if I'd say I was popular, but it was one of the closest moments I've had to being "popular." And if I can't say anything else, I felt like I belonged in that English department.
Once I graduated, a lot of those good feelings from the English department vanished. People didn't know who I was. They didn't know what I did at Dixie college. I was in a new social circle.
But both the dancers' and my college experience taught me a few things. One was that people are well-known in different circles. You can be the best dancer at your studio and a complete "nobody" in your high school. You can have the most successful blog on the planet and be just another face in your congregation on Sunday. I've met writers who are hailed in the writing industry, but are "that strange girl" in their neighborhood.
It amazes me to see how talented people can get overlooked and sometimes even shunned in one social circle, and be the star in another. Sometimes the stark contrast floors me. Sometimes I want to shake the people in the "blind" circle and say, "Don't you have any idea how awesome this girl is?!" And they probably don't, because it's a different circle. They've never seen her dance. They know nothing about dance. Maybe they even think it's stupid.
Of course, when it gets down to it, how popular you are really doesn't matter much--and the examples of the stark differences between these social circles warns of the dangers you can find yourself in if you use popularity as the foundation of your self-worth.
But I also learned something else from these experiences. The dancers at my studio were amazing, but dance was their passion! People noticed them because they excelled, and they excelled because they worked so hard, and they worked so hard because it was their passion. Nothing in my high school was my passion. But writing is, so when I was put in an English department environment, people noticed me because I excelled, and I excelled because I worked hard, and I worked hard because writing's my passion.
Personally, I try not to make a point to follow popularity. Instead I aim to follow my passions. When you follow your passions, you learn and grow and excel at them. As you get better, your confidence and self-esteem gets a boost--and that's not from popularity, that's from your own work. You're able to touch people's lives and better their lives. Maybe people will start to notice you're talented. Or maybe not. It won't matter because you'll be busy doing what you love.
But if you are a "nobody" in one or five social circles, don't think for a second you are a nobody in all circles. You might be surprised who is watching you or looking up to you.
There's also something to be said for finding the people you feel you belong with and the environment you feel you belong in. For the dancers, they loved to dance. That was the circle they belonged in.