Friday, March 30, 2007

On Popularity

I have never been particularly popular. Growing up, I was very self-conscious, and lacked a lot of the social skills necessary to make friends. It didn't help that I wore ten-year-old hand-me-downs, didn't bathe frequently enough, and had wild, unmanageable hair that I seldom brushed, either.

In Junior High, I literally had no friends in my class. I was on good terms with some of the guys, but the girls hated me, all of them. I'm not quite sure what I did to deserve that kind of animosity, but I suspect that it was a combination of many factors.

Things improved considerably when I went on to a different high school than the rest of my classmates. I made a lot of female friends from my fellow classmates at the math-science-technology magnet school. But I still had this nagging feeling that there was a problem with me, something my friends were kind enough to overlook.

In college I met Jeff, which did wonders for my self-esteem, but I still had some problems at the hands of a clique-ish group. When I finally figured out that there were plenty of other, much more interesting people to be friends with, I was fine. But it took me a while to get to that stage.

The first time I ever felt halfway popular was when I was an adult. When I was in graduate school, I discovered that I was a bit of a trend-setter amongst the people I knew, and it really tickled me. After we cut down the ugly bushes in our front yard and replaced them with roses, our next-door neighbors did the same thing. I had a particular configuration in our kitchen, and another friend saw it and decided to copy it. I was sincerely flattered by all of this.

One day, when I was eating lunch with a friend in graduate school, she told me that she thought I was a really nice person and a good friend. I had a hard time not crying. This was at about the same time that my parents were getting divorced, which had just turned my world upside-down. So to hear someone whom I admired say that I was not only not a waste of oxygen, but a really good friend, was just overwhelming!

After a lot of counseling, I was able to realize that a big part of my self-esteem problems were simply a product of the baggage that I inherited from my dysfunctional family (our motto: "putting the fun in dysfunctional"). It has been difficult to shed that negative self-image and I am still working on it. But one key is to derive my self-worth from internal cues, rather than external cues. In other words, under ideal circumstances, I shouldn't worry about others' opinions of me, as long as I feel like I'm doing the right thing. Or, as Henry Clay said, "I'd rather be right than president."

All this is a long introduction to the actual topic I was wanting to discuss, which is blog popularity. To a certain extent, the blogosphere is junior high all over again, with the cool kids who get lots of blog traffic, and then the geeks like me who don't get very much traffic. I could feel upset that I get very little traffic (well, actually, I get close to 50 hits a day, so I wouldn't say that's "no traffic", but compared to the major players, it's tiny). But honestly, I don't mind at all.

The reason I started this blog was to let my family and friends know what I was up to. My early entries are fairly pedestrian, just talking about what I was doing, how much weight I'd lost, my typical work day, etc. And I still talk a lot about those sorts of things, now with the addition of Vinny to that mix. I've added some interesting content about math and computer science, which has attracted other readers, but I'm still nowhere near "popular" by standard metrics.

But, as far as I'm concerned, I'm extremely popular. Heck, I'm flattered that so many family members and friends actually read my nonsense! I figured my sisters would, because they're just nice that way, but I know my sister-in-law, my dad, and a couple of cousins are regular readers. And a couple of friends from high school and college are readers, too.

And I'm flattered to have so many regular readers beyond my original target audience of family and friends. I find it nearly incomprehensible that anyone other than those related to me or those who know me in real life would find my writings interesting. But I'm not going to complain or argue or anything.

Thanks for reading!


Jane said...

This is a great post. Like you, I had self-esteem and popularity problems until I started high school....away from all of the girls and boys who taunted me in junior high. It was at that point that I started to feel comfortable enough to start looking inward for approval, rather than outward (if that makes sense). But it is a tough and long journey to make. I'm glad you finally became popular! :)

rachel said...

You know, this reminds me of how I felt when I started going to comic conventions. "People are seeking me out and talking to me -- WTF?!?"

I still have to remind myself of that when I'm finding myself totally not connecting with the other moms at the preschool (*sigh*). It's not that I'm unlikeable. It's that these just aren't my peeps, for whatever reason.

Ginger said...

Popularity is highly overrated! It is sad that it takes us so long to figure that out. During our school years, having friends and being liked often becomes more important than being who we really are. When I think of the popular kids from my life, many of them have lives now I wouldn't want in a million years. They've been married, and divorced..more than once in many cases. It took me longer to meet my husband, but I think quality is more important than quanitity and am willing to bet that I have a happier life. I think the same is probably true for you. You have a great life, a wonderful husband, family, son, and career. Don't ever forget that!

Tony said...

At least on the web, popularity is somewhat more merit based. I read this blog because it has relevance to me. I want to know what the life of an applied mathematician entails. Frankly, I don't give a crap what any blogger looks like or what they're wearing or where they matriculated from. I care what they have to say.

Phantom Scribbler said...

As far as I can tell, up to a certain level blog popularity is driven mostly by promiscuous commenting. I spend most of my day sitting on the couch with my kids and my laptop; I leave lots of comments. I'm pretty sure that's how most of the people who read my site got there, by following a comment I've left somewhere else.

Obviously A-list bloggers didn't get where they are by leaving comments everywhere, but for those of us who participate in the minimally popular blog communities, that's how it generally works, I think. So it's not really a measure of popularity so much as a measure of ubiquity.

Rebecca said...

Jane, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who went through that taunting in junior high, although of course I'm sorry that you had to experience it.

Rachel, I'm thinking "WTF?!?!" that people would seek you out! (She's my sister, everybody, so I'm required to say mean things to her!)

Ginger, I agree, popularity is highly overrated! And I am certainly happier than I ever thought I would be in junior high. I wonder how my former classmates are faring.

Tony, thank you for believing that I have something interesting to say! I'm glad that my ramblings are of interest to more than just my immediate circle.

Phantom, I think you are absolutely right, that the more you comment on others' blogs, the more you are noticed and the more widely-read you become. This is still a lot like junior high, I think, in that it requires a certain knowledge of social skills and a certain amount of courage to socially network, as it were. It took me months to work up the courage to comment on your blog. Everyone else (the commenters) were having so much fun, I didn't want to disturb them or anything!

Anonymous said...

Becca -- more then just your family and friends read the blog. I check it out too on occassion and always am impressed by your insights into yourself and the world. In fact, I just recommended your blog to my sister last night as she is thinking about pursuing high acedemic science and being a lady, I thought you would be great. E