Saturday, 12 May 2012

My Life's Obsessions - #1

I'm going to be honest with you. I am a fairly easy convert to any ideology that doesn't involve weird blood sacrifices or chanting. I'm a fickle follower, flitting quickly between my beliefs and goals. The odd thing is, I always feel completely serious about them for the first few weeks or months. But I inevitably lose interest at some stage, no matter how sure I was that it was the only way of life I could follow. The sad truth is that I am living Mason Cooley's statement that the only cure for obsession is to "get another one".

To prove my point, and to attempt to prevent others from following my slippery slope, I'm posting a (long) list of my teenage fixations, in chronological order. Proceed with caution.

Obsession # 1 - Popularity

image from intelligent designs media
I'd be more embarrassed by this if I wasn't completely certain that everyone in the world has desired that feeling of acceptance at least once in their lives. From the age of about eleven or twelve, right up until I was fifteen, I craved popularity. Of course, this particular obsession stemmed from the fact that I really, really wasn't. Popular, that is.

I had no close friends. None. Count them.

I sort of clung onto this one group of girls in school, when I could. I had joined them when we started secondary school, and we were held together by nothing more than the fact that we sat behind each other on that first day in class. I think everyone in the group was longing for something more, but was too worried about the repercussions of leaving. Tensions, therefore, tended to be high.

I don't really blame the group for not taking to me. When I look back now, I can see what an annoying twerp I was at the time. My shyness meant that I pretty much never talked, and came across as this clingy, silent little mouse. I wasn't even a nice person. In a bid to improve my social status I gratefully bitched about the one girl in the posse less popular than me. Couple these factors with an on-going Cold War I had with a different girl, and I'm not really all that surprised any more that I spent plenty of lunchtimes in the bathroom, hiding my humiliating isolation from the rest of the world. 

At the time, achieving popularity was the most important thing I could imagine. I read articles, and wikihows that told me to "be myself". I wore gloopy make-up that didn't suit me, and bought bags and bags of fashionable clothes which made me feel even more uncomfortable and insecure about my body when I wore them. I spent hours watching popular TV shows at night so that I could have topics discuss with the group the next day. I literally did everything with the motive of becoming a popular person. 

And the result? Nothing. The truth was, there was absolutely nothing I could do to make these girls like me. We were different people, with different personalities, and unfortunately they just didn't match together the way that popcorn and chocolate do. It took me three years (until I was fifteen) for me to accept this and finally give up on them.

Picture from
I still didn't really give up on popularity, though it was placed on the back-burner as Obsession #2 took hold. It took until midway through Transition Year - a non-academic school year which focuses on maturing and developing life and personal skills - for me to finally relinquish my craving for acceptance. You see, at that point, my craving was actually sated. I had made a group of new friends whom I liked and trusted, and who liked and trusted me. We had the same interests and beliefs, and felt comfortable around each other. Indeed, we still do.

There were some beneficial results from my quest to attain popularity. I read many how-to books then, and some, such as Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, have truly helped me to improve myself. They have taught me how to be a good person, an engaged listener and a tireless helper. My need for designer clothes and what-have-yous also helped me to become very efficient at managing my finances, and even today I don't fritter away my money on silly little things.

However, mostly my obsession bordered on unhealthy. I hid any non-conforming aspect of my personality, I put down others in my bid to get ahead, and I based my whole sense of self-worth on the estimations of a group of girls with whom I had absolutely nothing in common.

Now, with hindsight, and with a real sense of belonging, I can see that all I really wanted was to be liked. Not to be the most popular person, not the ringleader, not the queen bee. Once I had what I really desired, any further aspirations to move up the social ladder evaporated away.

If you, too, desire popularity, I guess all I can say is life will get better. Don't set your aspirations too high. Don't attempt to "rule the school" or workplace or wherever. Drop any "toxic friends" who make your life worse - you don't have to make a big scene or whatever, just quietly move away from them.Try and find a couple of nice people with whom you feel comfortable and are able to talk. Be friendly, be a good listener, remember people's names. Good luck!

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