I Know Why You’re Not Popular
I’m willing to bet my Aston Martin (OK, fine, I’ll bet both of them) that your mother or father once told you, “don’t worry about what the popular kids think about you.” Fast forward to this past week, and I was told the exact same message by so-many-I-lost-count “influencers” in my LinkedIn newsfeed. The past week has also taken me past 6,000 followers on LinkedIn. Is that good or bad? Does that mean I’m popular? Should I care? Should you?
And what the hell is an “influencer”?
Can us non-influencers be popular too?
Saying “don’t worry about the other kids” is easy enough. Processing that advice to action-status is a very different proposition. There is a science and an art as to why the human mind desires popularity – be it real or perceived. And it’s hardly a new phenomenon; just cast your mind back a few thousand years to the Ten Commandments. Those guys were onto something. Humankind thought it important enough to cement into its formative law that “Thou shall not covet.” We must ask why. Why – before an age of Facebook and Instagram – were humans warning one another as to the dangers of covetous thought? We are wired to desire that which we do not have as our ego has a hunger, and popularity feeds its soul.
The Art of Popularity
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then so is popularity. We’ve known it since we were in grade school. Some humans seem to attract the affection of others, and we notice. We don’t know why, but social constructs make one popular and the other a pariah. The new girl in school could have had many friends at her previous school. But the first day in her new school gives her “zero” popularity, right? Maybe. She might be instantly popular because she is new, right? Maybe. It might depend on how she leverages her “newness”. In any case, see the nuance, the hard-to-define dynamics at play? This is not science. This is art. And discovering why the human soul, at any age, admires what it admires is a fascinating dive into artistic interpretation.
Yet, we are not as self-deprecating as we would like to think. We might malign the popularity of others, and yet we covet it. If you’ve come to know me by now, you’ll recognize my Stoic acceptance of the reality of human nature at play here. When we see the reality of something, we can take charge. The ‘popular kids’ who made you feel bad are not the reason your life is not where you want it to be. So what is?
I’m here to get you to ponder that if art is fundamentally relative, then so is popularity. Namely, it’s all made up. “Most Popular” is a made up title destined for high school yearbooks that persons will look back on and laugh. If the art of popularity is all made up, then perhaps it is time to design a masterpiece that brings you more joy.
The Science of Popularity
Ah, now we are getting to a land more to a Stoic’s liking. After all, if what goes up must come down, then up and down are absolute fixtures. Popularity, it would seem, goes a little beyond artistic interpretation and there are scientific reasons we desire it. In the 1950’s, the concept of social comparison was developed to explain a unique aspect of human nature. Namely, that we have a desire and a longing to rank ourselves among our fellow humans, and we do this by comparison with others lives. Remarkably, this has been linked to various forms of depression and anxiety. It would seem that when we believe we are not as safe, stable or popular as our fellow humans, we start our very own private panic.
In the 1950’s, this might have posed a problem as everyone on the street felt like they needed to keep up with the Joneses. This problem has now been exacerbated in the era of social media. Now we can compare ourselves with the entire world (yes, emphasis added!) to include your high school exes. More problematic is that social media tends to distort one’s perspective as we are most apt to only share our happiest and most popular moments. The result is that we can feel remarkably far behind when we compare the reality of our lives with the faux image of our peers. We are seeing the most harrowing results in our teenage population as they lack the perspective to push back on this deadly combination of art and science resulting in a growing wave of depressed youths.
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
When you accept the reality that popularity is a made up art then one can see past the mirage. When you understand that we have a scientific proclivity to compare ourselves to one another, you can take charge of it much like one would take command of their diabetes.
I am not pointing out the obstacle in front of you to have you cower in fear, but to simply advise you on how high you need to step. It is time to take charge of your own ego and create a reality that brings you joy and success.
There might be a little science involved, sure. But make no mistake as popularity is an entirely made up construct.
So are my two Aston Martins.