What sets you apart in high school is most likely the key to your future success. At least according to author/reporter Alexandra Robbins.
In her book “Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth,” Robbins followed seven self-described outsiders at public and private high schools for a year to uncover what she believes that makes kids popular — conformity, aggression, visibility, and influence — won’t make them happy or successful after they graduate. According to her book, the state of perceived popularity tends to evaporate outside of high school, which is definitely good news to nerds and geeks everywhere. Because what makes people unpopular in the hallways of high school, mainly an unwillingness to conform, tends to translate into success as an adult.
Robbins lists several companies—including Yahoo!—that prioritize hiring quirky individuals who shun conventional thinking. She also name-checks historical and current celebrities, including director Steven Spielberg (who was taunted for being Jewish in high school) and Lady Gaga (a self-described former theater “freak”), whose weirdness led to later fame. (Other now-validated former outsiders she touts: Steve Jobs, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen and Angelina Jolie.)
Moreover, Robbins believes that even if the kids in popular cliques are momentarily on top of the world, the traits they are learning could become toxic in their future lives.
“When you are in the popular crowd you are more likely to be conformist, you are more likely to hide aspects of your identity in order to fit into the crowd, you are more likely to be involved in relational aggression, you are more likely to have goals of social dominance rather than forming actual true friendships. You are more likely to let other people pressure you into doing things. None of those things is admirable or useful as adults.”
Meanwhile, the outsiders end up having to accept that they will be on the bottom of the social food chain for the rest of their life, and they become “much more self-aware and honestly much braver than the popular students. They are sticking to being themselves in the environment that makes it most difficult to do so.”
So how can schools empower an atmosphere of inclusion?
“Treat all student groups equally,” says Robbins. “Because otherwise you’re telling the students which groups to glorify. Display trophies for the chess team the same way you display trophies for the football team.”
Meanwhile outside of school, parents should “focus more on celebrating the uniqueness and the individuality of their children rather than the pursuit of certain goals.”