Teen Talk

Teen Talk: Self-confidence, not popularity, is first step to happiness

Kelly Richardson
Kelly Richardson Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

DEAR KELLY: I want to be popular. I don’t know how to do it. I think I’m too shy or too ugly or too short to be popular. All the popular kids are pretty or athletic or dress very well. I don’t think I am any of those, and I don’t have all the cool new things all the popular people seem to have. Everyone is so nice to the popular kids at my school; even the teachers seem to act differently. I hardly have any followers on Instagram or Snapchat and when I do put something on, no one seems to notice. It’s so obvious I’m so average and no one really cares what I do. Do you have any advice or suggestions?

Just Average

DEAR AVERAGE: Being popular is such a subjective issue. It depends on the school, the people there and how you portray yourself. There are no guarantees as to how to be popular because, honestly, it depends more on the individuals and how they act or present themselves and less on how they look or what they wear. Instead of focusing on being popular, focus on becoming social, involved and happy with who you are.

Let’s start by addressing how you view yourself. Seeing yourself as too ugly or too short is a self-image problem. Lacking confidence in yourself reflects to other people. If you don’t think that you are the bomb, they definitely won’t as well. Confidence is contagious. People pick up on our strengths as well as our weaknesses. If you point out all your self-perceived weaknesses, others will miss out on getting to know all your strengths. Think about how you walk into a classroom. Is your head held high and are you making eye contact with people, or are you looking down and avoiding people? Confidence is far more attractive than good looks. Self-confidence speaks way louder than any words.

Write down your strengths. Regardless of what you think, you have plenty of strengths. We all do. Find your niche. Focus on that. If you are great at math, lean into that gift. Offer to tutor people. Help others in class if they are struggling. Once they see you as smart and supportive, you have now established yourself as someone others will remember. Perhaps you play the guitar or are an artist. Offer to play at a school event or design the class shirt or make the posters for a rally. Switch your mindset from wanting to be popular to wanting to be known for what you do best.

Start putting yourself out there and joining clubs or activities at school. The best way to expand your friend group is to become an active participant at school. If you go to school and leave without interacting with anyone, no one will know you. The more clubs or activities you join, the more people you will meet. You don’t need to be the best athlete to join the wrestling team, cross country team or any other team. A good attitude and the willingness to do your best will make for a positive experience with sports. Being a part of the team, even if you aren’t the starter, will still allow you to meet new friends and expand your horizons. If sports aren’t your thing, there are typically clubs for every possible interest at most schools. Think about what you like to do and go for it. If there isn’t a club, start one. Putting yourself out there means you take an active role in your life and the self-loathing gets kicked to the curb.

One fault many people make is assuming that “stuff” or things makes people popular. Not true. For most people, being well known or having a lot of friends comes from their personality. Cars, iPhones or cool clothes doesn’t make someone popular. Look within yourself instead of seeing material things as the golden ticket to having more friends. Being friendly, outgoing, open-minded and easy to talk to are the qualities people are looking for in a friend. Sometimes people can be popular but not admired. Being feared or hated is not the same as being popular and liked. Those people aren’t known for positive reasons and their status is not genuine. You should aim to be respected by people whose opinion matters – this is not something that can be bought or manufactured.

Probably the best advice about being well-known or accepted is to be the best you that you can be. That means stop comparing yourself to others and start loving who you are. If being popular means conforming to someone you aren’t or compromising your core values or principles, then it’s not worth it. Don’t change your core self so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.

Being popular is an enigma. It seems so natural to those who are a part of it and so difficult to those who aren’t. But it shouldn’t be this way. It should be about you finding your groove with people like you who like you. Don’t focus on being liked by everyone, concentrate on being liked by the right people who make you feel happy. Social media don’t determine your value. Remind yourself daily of all that makes you unique and wonderful. Once you start to believe in yourself, the world will believe in you as well. Let go of trying to be popular and work at being you and showing people all that makes you great.