By the time I was twelve years old and started middle school, my family had moved three times. I remember how hard it was to start over; find my place within already established friendship groups. These children had known each other from kindergarten. In order to connect with them, I’d try to act a certain manner, as I believed mirroring what they did would get me accepted. I thought I needed to change myself. Copy them. Appear the way they did. Dress the way they dressed. Talk the way they talked. Be funnier, be louder.
Why? I dreaded not being allowed into the group and was constantly adapting. However, this fostered a long-time unhappiness; a feeling of never being quite good enough.
Why you don’t need to be popular to be happy
By always trying to please others and become more like them and less my true self, I drifted further and further away from who I actually was. I wanted to change myself because it scared me so much that if I didn’t, I’d end up feeling even lonelier and more isolated. Or bullied. And I believed the more popular and similar to ‘everyone else’ I was, the happier I’d be. Unsurprisingly, it never turned out that way.
“You can still feel lonely in a crowd if the crowd you are in is not the right crowd.”
Associate Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, PhD Emma Seppala, assures us that this is not true at all. According to Seppala, the number of friends you have does not increase the benefits of social connection. You can still feel lonely in a crowd if the crowd you are in is not the right crowd.
By trying to change yourself in order to get acceptance and popularity, you might miss out on meeting others. That includes the amazing people who will love you exactly the way you are and with whom you can form true deep connections.
What to do instead
What are the activities you truly like? They may not be trendy. For example, I’m a book lover. Even as a grown-up, I’ve found some of my best friends among my study groups.
Let’s consider some other ideas.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to give acting a go? Join a local drama club. Ask at school if there are opportunities to help at the next drama production. Even backstage. By putting yourself out there and engaging in hobbies that truly bring you joy, you’ll have a better chance at finding the right people who won’t want you to change.
The short-term benefits of pretending to be someone you’re not are obvious. Instant acceptance at a level. You’re in with the cool crowd. But what I’ve found from my personal experience is more valuable. The more authentic I am, the closer I move to being the person I really aspire to be. It’s the greatest gift I can give to myself. As we know from science, maintain your unique personality is also how a deep connection with others forms naturally.