To Be or Not to Be ... Popular

By Terry Miller Shannon
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Billy Kersands (c. 1842–1915) was an African American comedian and dancer. He was the most popular black comedian of his day, best known for his work in blackface minstrelsy.

"Why limit yourself to one group?"

Many people long to be popular, but what do they mean? Are they talking about being part of the totally in crowd? Or could popularity be something else entirely?

Popularity Definition #1: Member of the "Popular" Crowd

Who gets to be in THE group? Is it the gorgeous ones? The richest? The smartest super-achievers? It depends on where you live ... and it can change over time. If you're at a school where the big clique consists of, say, blond surfers heading for law school and you just happen to be a legal eagle surfin' blond, chances are probably good you'll belong. If that's what you want.

There are some obvious benefits to being a member of "the group." Many folks love the security of being in. Some people love to be the center of attention in every situation. Trends? Your friends are setting them. What's not to love about that?

"Surprisingly, there can be many disadvantages to being in the in crowd," says Julia DeVillers, author of GirlWise: How to Be Confident, Capable, Cool and In Control. "Kids in the 'popular' clique may feel pressure to live up to other people's expectations." What's more, DeVillers points out, if someone in the popular group tries to assert her individuality, she might find herself shunned.

Then again, you may not ever have the choice to be in the popular crowd. If there's a mold and you don't fit it — whatcha gonna do? So ... what if you're not in the in crowd? Or should I say, "SO WHAT if you're not in the in crowd?!" You can scheme and dream over something that probably won't happen. Or you can choose to enjoy the friends you have ... and make more!

Which brings us to ...

Popularity Definition #2: Lots of People Like You

"Why limit yourself to one group?" Buck, a senior, says. "I always hang out with a variety of people, and I enjoy them all. And because of that, I don't feel any pressure in how I dress, how I talk, how I act. I can truly be myself!"

Not being part of just one group can free you to have all kinds of friends ... for all the many sides of your personality. Having friends who share your many interests will strengthen those interests. You'll become a more well-rounded person ... and it could really be a blast.

How do you get lots of friends?

* Smile: A grin is contagious.

* Be positive: People like to be around happy folks. You can teach yourself to find the good in most situations.

* Be courteous: Develop good listening skills; try to make others feel comfortable and important.

* Be confident: If you like yourself, others probably will, too.

* Be true: Never fake who you are. Don't say you like something you don't to impress someone else. Phonies are easy to spot, and no one likes them.

* Get out there: Yep. You've got to actually be around people in order to be popular.

* Develop passions: Having interests makes you interesting.