Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The End of a Hobby: Extreme Social Climbing

Cool versus Popular

Evan Lawson: What's my favorite sport Hank?
Dr. Hank Lawson: Extreme social climbing?
Evan Lawson: [brief pause] Yeah... hn. (Royal Pains/Pilot Episode 2009)

I get Evan. In fact, up until my 30s I was Evan Lawson, the person who always want to be among the "in" crowd; those with money, power, fast cars, nice clothes, and ability to look good despite your jet-set life. I would read Vogue and Bazaar and want to be every model inside. I would listen to music and want to be every rock artist. It pained me to discover that I was something so introverted as a writer and I fought it every step of the way. I tried to social climb my way through high school. I identified the people everyone thought as popular and tried to get into those social circles. Of course, I failed miserably. Really, what do I have in common with people so charismatic that everyone secretly yearned to be their lackey? I hate swooning lackeys unless they are lackeys with a clear sense of who they are.

Recently new people have entered into my life that has triggered this need to be a part of the "in" crowd again. For a few weeks I started falling into my old high school routines of trying uber-hard to impress people until one of my friends called me on the carpet in her own subtle way that shouted, "You have reached the limit of your fakeness! I cannot take anymore!" Topped with this was the clear avoidance by those I was trying to impress. I put myself in check and realized old habits die hard.

I've struggled socially because I have never really belonged to one social group. Not to say I don't have friends, though I would have you believe this at every turn in my life. My best friend from 3rd grade has put up with some throat choking moments; my first grade school crush still keeps in touch with me; and tons of my high school friends are eager to see me at the next reunion. I love people and though I don't "hang out" with most of them, I am very interested/concerned/happy about what goes on in their lives. As a child I had to deal with the fact my friends came from all sorts of social groups, as an adult I've added the complexity of age (i.e. Some of my friends are 20 years + older AND younger).

Several parents have said they wish they could fall into the "cool parent" catergory. It makes me feel really uncomfortable when they say this because I am about the biggest dork in history. There is U-tube video of me dancing spastically in my kitchen. I write satiric stories about getting too attached to my date planner. I break out randomly into song. Yet, if you were to ask if there was anyone like Rachael Kvapil, I would say "hell no, with the exception of the crazy lady at Papa Murphy's. She might have potential."

And yet, I didn't get that this might be good enough. Then I came across a blog post on Copyblogger: How to Be the Cool Kid (Even if you Weren't in High School". James Chartrand does an excellent job differentiating between "popular" and "cool". The "popular" ones are those with the cluster of friends and lackeys and the "cool" ones are those who do their own thing and don't give a damn what everyone thinks.

Do I think I'm cool? No. But I do have to say social climbing has less of an appeal now. If just being myself really is "good enough" then add me to the long line of geeks and dorks that randomly break into song:

Hey Don't write yourself off yet/ It's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on/ Just try your best /Try everything you can /And don't you worry what they tell themselves when you're away -(In the Middle by Jimmy Eat World)

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