It was impossible to miss the white sign that hung over the wall of Saint Mary’s high school lacrosse field yesterday. The thing was as tall as our two-story house with letters as big as construction cranes. With just one word: “Prom?” On the hill behind it stood an adorable high-school junior with red roses. It would have been a perfect scene right out of a Jennifer Aniston movie… had she said yes. Ouch. So the poor guy packed up the humongous sign and his roses, and walked to his car with his chin buried in his chest.
I wish I could have run up to him and said, “This experience will make you stronger in the long run … trust me.” Because that’s not just a shallow attempt at consolation. It’s absolutely true.
John Grohol wrote a great piece the other day, “Be the Unpopular Kid” about how those of us who were not prom queens or football quarterbacks fare well in the world, perhaps better than our popular counterparts, because we have learned life skills that cheerleaders haven’t.
Looking back, I’m glad that I was an acne-ridden loser in junior high with a popular twin sister.
Yes, it’s true… it built character. I learned that self-assurance is available to anyone who can develop a strong sense of self in the midst of meanness and stupidity. And I don’t think it’s merely a coincidence that my more intelligent, interesting, and successful friends wore the big L on their foreheads during the first two decades of their lives.
We really ought to celebrate our loserhood. Here are six reasons why.
1. We are realistic.
Unpopular folks have low expectations, which is a very good thing, because they never take anything for granted. It’s kind of like a boy from a third-world country walking into a supermarket to find 30 different kinds of cereals. Whoooahh! Now had the boy been brought up on the Kennedy compound with a driver who delivered him to the front door of the store so that he didn’t have to amble his way out to the parking lot, poor thing, then that boy is not going to fare so well as soon as he has to go grocery shopping for the first time in college. With a budget of $5.
2. We are resilient.
In a great piece called “What Makes Us,” blogger Erika Napoletano explains why high school losers are resilient among other things: “You can kick us time and time again and we’ll find ways to hide, morph, adapt and thrive.” Resilience not only serves a person well for her emotional well-being, but can be the difference between success and failure in the professional world. Just like the Japanese proverb says, “Fall seven times, get up eight,” a person who doesn’t let the personal blows prevent him from pursuing his goal is the winner in the end.
3. We are independent.
Popular people depend on the praise of their “subjects.” If you take away the loyal people who answer to them, they are not popular. So, essentially, they are a slave to others and popular opinion. Now the loser, by contrast, is completely independent. He doesn’t have to rely on anyone to say what he can and can’t do. If playing a trombone (like John Grohol, sorry John) is considered a very loser thing to do, he can do it anyway, because he can’t really become any more unpopular. I suppose it’s like being the least popular presidential candidate. That person can push any agenda he wants, because no one really cares about him. He’s free!
4. We are compassionate.
I don’t know if a prom queen would have felt a pang in her heart yesterday when that poor guy walked away rejected. But anyone who has ever experienced a similar kind of humiliation certainly would. Because, as American author Frederick Buechner, writes, “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” At my old workplace, I bonded with a fellow twin who was on my administrative team. We formed an “ugly twin club” and laughed about all the mean comments we had been told over the years.
5. We are humble.
There is nothing uglier than arrogance. And few things are as endearing as humility. The virtue of humility lies at the heart of our humanity. It is the instrument with which we bond with each other. Every leader, in order to gain the trust of the people, must speak with humility. Every friend. Every classmate. Anyone who wants to connect with someone other than himself must operate with humility. Says Nelson Mandela: “Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”
6. We are resourceful.
When there is no one to sit next to at lunch, you learn to be creative and resourceful. Consider all the ingenious schemes that Greg Heffley designs in Jeff Kinney’s bestselling book series “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” They fail, of course, leading to even more embarrassment. But if we follow the kid to adulthood, I’m sure that he will be CEO of some company, or a senior software design specialist, or a really rich Hollywood screenwriter. Because his brain was trained very early on to think out of the box.