A few years ago, I signed up for a week-long summer camp and was so excited to learn new skills, join different activities, and most of all, make many new friends. As an extroverted homeschooler, I was looking forward to getting out of doing schoolwork to hang out with new people and, even more, to follow everything on Instagram. Being a new kid in a camp full of second and third timers isn’t easy, but I decided to just be myself and have a great time.
Upon arrival, I was immediately intimidated by all the cool participants I would be with for the whole week. They were all so confident and funny, plus already good friends with each other. I was determined to be like them and get them to like me, and I more or less succeeded in making some good friends. But of course, there are downsides when you are so desperate to be liked.
During a group activity, I was chatting with a friend and made a joke we both laughed at. But then all of a sudden, I saw someone behind my friend roll her eyes and SCOFF, like, “Ohmygosh you’re, like, SOOO lame.” (She didn’t really say that she just made me feel that way.) All at once, my happy moment with my friend disappeared and was replaced by a sad and confused feeling that made me think, “What did I do? What did I say? I was just trying to be funny. What’s wrong with me?”
Then, I bumped into her again. She was walking down the row beside the table I was sitting at with my friends, so I decided to wave to her to try and start over. But instead of waving back, she just looked at me and passed my table without so much as smiling at me. My friends noticed and lightly teased me about getting snubbed, so I just went along and laughed and pretended to complain about the whole situation. But deep down, I felt rotten, especially because I was embarrassed in front of my new friends.
Later, I encountered another girl, who was one of the “popular kids,” with all the friends, the cool clothes, and a confident attitude. We had to work on something together, and I tried very hard to make a good impression. Even though it was nighttime, I grabbed my shades and wore them, joking that they made me feel cool. But then she said something along the lines of, “Shades don’t make someone cool,” and just nonchalantly continued on the thing we were working on. It made me feel really stupid and ridiculous, like maybe she thought that I was so immature, or lame, or corny, or uncool, or just… a try-hard.
But now, looking back on those memories, I WAS a try-hard. There I was, 12 years old, super intimidated by these two super confident older girls who seemed like they knew everything. I felt like I NEEDED them to like me, but I ended up trying too hard and not really being myself.
Even if this article makes it seem like I had an awful time at my summer camp, nothing can be farther from the truth. These three incidents all occurred in the span of 6 full jam-packed days. I had so many other fun and memorable experiences that completely outshined those three brief moments. Only by looking back now do I realize the lessons I can learn from things that happened years ago.
In the long run, it didn’t matter if these two girls liked me or not, because I went home with many more friends than I had before. My new friends were girls who have the same interests and sense of humor as me. They were the ones who laughed at my corny jokes, thought my shades were cute and were comfortable enough to poke fun at me when I went through something embarrassing. One of them is someone I haven’t seen in three years since my first camp, and yet we still kept in touch and are excited to see each other again in the same summer camp this year.
As for those two girls, I don’t completely dislike them either. I still admire them and think they’re nice people and good leaders. Even if they don’t like me, it’s not their fault, and it’s not my fault either. Maybe I’m just not the type of person they want as a friend. Maybe I don’t stand out to them as someone to keep in touch with. And that’s okay. Everyone deserves the right to choose their friends. Not everyone has to be my friend, and I don’t have to be everyone’s friend either.
In the words of my friend’s awesome Facebook bio, “Not everyone likes me, but not everyone matters.” The world is full of so many different kinds of people, of different backgrounds, cultures, and interests, so why should I pressure myself into being liked by the people who just so happen to be where I am at this moment? I realize that I want to choose with whom to spend my time with and that I shouldn’t be offended when others decide I’m not the right fit. By being a more genuine person in different periods in my life, I am able to discover where I belong and find the people that truly matter.