For much of my childhood, I was unpopular. The reasons for this need not be analyzed; those readers who know me know the details of my childhood all too well, and those who do not know me need not be bored with those details. Suffice it to say that, for a variety of reasons, none of them good, I was, during my first 18 years excluded from activities, ostracized by my peers, and ridiculed for various "deficiencies" large and small. However, I would not trade my experience for any other, and I have no significant regrets. Let me tell you why.
Although I did not understand this then, during the entire time of those first eighteen years, I had intrinsic value as a human being; just like everyone else. Regardless of how I talked, dressed or behaved, regardless of my interests or what I cared about, regardless of whether I was good at sports or "athletically demented" as one quite eloquent "popular" kid once put it, I was a person. I mattered. No one, no matter what they did had the right or ability to make that untrue. That my worth was devalued was no failing on my part; rather, it emanated from the greed and cynicism of some peers, and the indifference of others, and some teachers. My bad experiences were caused by bad actors, bad policies, and failures of leadership. While these problems, which still plague too many childhoods, can and should be corrected, that they were not soon enough does not reflect poorly on me.
On the other hand, my conduct in my childhood reflects well on me, because in the qualities over which I actually had agency, which made up my true character, there was much to admire :
--I was honest
--I was fair
--I was kind
--I was ethical
--I was curious
--I was productive
--I was respectful
--I was friendly
--I was loving
--I took risks
In short, I had no control over whether I was "popular." It was for want of nothing intrinsic. Devaluing me with was just a cynical tactic that people with less to offer used to conceal their own deficiencies. But in everything that mattered; everything that was in my control, every core element of my being, I excelled. And I did what was required of me at the time with determination, perseverance, and dignity even in the face of exclusion and sometimes outright scorn. I was courageous--I got up every day, went to a place where people ridiculed and ostracized me constantly, -- and got the education to which I was entitled, and which was my duty to obtain. There was nothing not to like about me, and everything to admire. On the flip side, the "popular" kids, in order to achieve their popularity often had to resort to being everything I was not. Today I sometimes wonder how these individuals face that reality (assuming they ever achieved the self awareness and genuine honesty to grasp it).
Ironically, my intrinsic qualities, whatever their impact on my reception by my childhood peers, have made all the difference to my success as an adult. I attribute to them much of my success, both in my professional and in my social life. My wife loves me in spite of or perhaps because of, the fact that I didn't play football, smoke dope out back, or get laid, and I'm a good lawyer because I am kind of nerdy and, frankly, thinking and acting outside the crowd is precisely what genuine success in this world takes.
I was unpopular, to be certain. But I'm proud of the person I was, because I'm proud of the person I am. As I sit here today, I the people I feel sorriest for are the popular ones, especially, that subclass that decided I was "unpopular" and labored with such alacrity to make me unpopular. In addition to having to live with knowing, as adults, that they behaved in ways that demeaned them far more than their behavior demeaned me, many of them are now largely irrelevant; by dint of the qualities they possessed and developed in order to be "popular". I on the other hand, get to bend the arc of the universe every single day, and I can sleep at night knowing I earned my success, and did so at no one else's expense.