Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Babble.com and has been reprinted here with permission. Disney is the parent company of both Babble and ABC News.
Dear lovely girls,
I have a secret. Being popular, liked and included by your peers is totally overrated. I can see your eyes are glazing over. Hold on, let me put on a One-Direction T-shirt so I can get your attention. OK, let’s try that again.
Don’t get me wrong, friends are important. We are wired to long for community. You’ll desperately want to be in one when you’re in school. I hope you develop friendships that allow you to be your true self. Friends who care for you, support you and make you feel good about who you are. But if you can’t find these special friends, don’t panic. And please don’t get desperate.
There isn’t much I’m going to say here that you’ll probably believe. Hearing someone say popularity is overrated when you’re in the lonely abyss of being unpopular is like me telling you that one day you might be a little embarrassed by your Justin Bieber bed sheets. Right now, your Bieber Fever won’t allow you to hear me. I understand.
Let me just tell you what I know to be true. Maybe someday when you feel sad, lonely, jealous or excluded, you’ll remember little snippets of what I said and take courage.
Life is way too short for crappy friends.
We just don’t have time for that nonsense. Each one of us has a purpose for being here. Some might tell you that it’s all random and you have as much eternal relevance as a cup of dirt, so just have fun while you can. But I hope you won’t believe them. You have gifts and talents, activities you enjoy and fill you up. Maybe you like to draw or write stories. Maybe you can sing or play an instrument. Perhaps you’re a wiz at math and love architecture.
Maybe it’s none of those things, but there’s something. I know it.
Now is a wonderful time to cultivate these talents. To practice, play and explore everything that lights you up; all the gifts you can give to make the world a better place. Now is the perfect time to start to discover who you really are.
A good friend worth keeping will support you and what you love to do. They’ll celebrate your talents and they may even share them. A good friend brings out the best in you, loves you and even forgives you when you’re in a real salty mood and tell them their artistic portrayal of Katy Perry on the back of their Five Star notebook looks like the school librarian with a lazy eye.
You’re only human. You probably didn’t mean librarian with a lazy eye in a bad way, necessarily. Just be sure to say sorry, though, just in case.
Our desire to be liked (or have our selfies literally liked on Facebook) is normal, but it can outweigh our desire to truly be ourselves. This is where the real trouble begins.
If we live our life seeking other people’s approval, we’ll never actually live our life. And we only have one shot at this, so let’s not screw this part up.
There are obvious signs you might be in a friendship you shouldn’t be in. Obvious signs could include that the person makes you feel bad about yourself, you’re constantly paranoid about losing the friendship or the person blatantly uses you and may even be mean and verbally abusive toward you from time to time.
But there are subtle signs, too. They don’t outwardly treat you badly, but there’s just something about the way they interact with you that makes you feel inadequate. Sometimes you decide to hide certain aspects of yourself because you’re not convinced they’ll like or accept all of you. Sometimes you’ll start compromising your values to have something in common. Sometimes you find yourself acting like the person you think they want to be friends with rather than just being the precious being you are.
Sometimes, even though you’re surrounded by “friends,” you start to feel lonely and insecure. They’re your friends, but the friendship has limits. Maybe your feelings don’t matter if they inconvenience them or if you ever share that they have hurt your feelings, they decide you’re a little too exhausting to keep around.
Did I mention life is too short for crappy friends?
Here’s something else you probably won’t believe: If you stop worrying about being liked, popular or even having someone to sit with at lunch, and start focusing on becoming a better you, sharpening your skills and talents so that you may be a good friend to others, amazing people will start to gravitate to you.
I know, too much hocus pocus, right? But the truth is, we attract exactly what we put out. If we’re pretending to be someone else, all we’ll attract are other people pretending to be someone else, creating fake friendships with a bunch of people who will probably make us feel bad about ourselves by lunchtime. No thanks, sister.
Sometimes you’ll find that some people just aren’t able to be a good friend to you, even if they want to be. Their traumas, insecurities, anxieties, health issues or life circumstances can make it difficult for them to give you much of anything, let alone a friendship you can rely on. It doesn’t mean they’re nasty or they don’t like you (well, sometimes it does) it simply means they can’t give you what you need: a friendship worth investing time in. So stop investing time in it.
Either way, to be our true, authentic selves takes real courage and it may mean we won’t always have a surplus of friends. For a season, it may seem we don’t have any at all. Many people will grow old never finding that courage.
But I can tell you this, they’ll spend their last days wishing they spent more time focusing on becoming their best self and giving their gifts to others, rather than worrying if everyone is at Applebee’s laughing hysterically without them.
Although your life and priorities will evolve into adulthood, I’d like to tell you these problems with friendships will go away completely. Maybe with you, they will. But for many of us, our desire to be liked, to have good friends and to be included still resonate loudly well into adulthood. Whether the person next door invites the entire neighborhood except our family to their party, or all the “cool people” huddle together like an impenetrable army at a professional conference, grown women care about this, too.
Why? Because we all want to be loved. So badly, at times, we’ll settle for the superficial bullcrap when we all deserve the real deal. Your ego wants to be liked at any cost. Your true self wants to love others and trusts it will eventually be returned without fussing too much about the details.
It’s hard to be our authentic selves; it makes us vulnerable. It’s hard to give and love without the expectation of getting anything in return. We typically give what we so desperately want to receive. It’s hard to accept that friends worth having are actually quite rare, when there’s a void, we want to fill it fast.
But it’s easy to care about what other people think. It’s easy to pretend to be someone you’re not. It’s easy to focus our lives on things that don’t matter, sacrificing everything that does.
One good friend who loves you unconditionally is far better than 100 superficial friends who really don’t care all that much about you, trust me.
If you’re feeling lonely in study hall at 14 or in your cubicle at 34, I hope you’ll try to rally your courage. I hope you’ll put your energy into living your life as your authentic self, with purpose and excitement. I hope you’ll turn your focus from being uninvited, toward your talents and gifts, cultivating them to make the world (or someone’s day) better.
And here’s an idea: be a good friend to someone else and see what happens. I know, I’m a genius.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to change out of this One Direction T-shirt. I don’t want to betray my one true love, John Stamos.