Lately, I’ve been in a lot of situations in which I’ve had to impress adults. For example, last month I held a fundraiser where I tried to persuade people to donate their time and money to bring glasses to people in the developing world. And, being a high school senior, I’ve had to put on my impressive face in the obligatory college interviews. I’ve been working hard to perfect my smart, mature presence, to be someone that these people could take seriously and respect. I’m confident that I’m a smart person and know that adults generally like me. I was expecting to completely rock out these situations. It turned out that flaunting my strengths and earning respect was much harder for me than originally anticipated.
A week ago, I had an interview with an admissions officer at Scripps College. I started off confident and everything was going well. However, when the interviewer asked me to describe my thesis in my latest English paper, I was at a complete loss for words. It’s weird, though, because the thesis on my last paper was great. I got an A+ on that paper. Why was it so hard for me to talk about it? I was utterly confused about my inability to present myself intelligently. The interviewer was nice, not at all intimidating. So why couldn’t I just act like the smart person that I am?
I’ve gone to GLI twice, have carefully read Rachel Simmons’ The Curse of the Good Girl and generally feel that I’m pretty self-aware when it comes to my “good girl” habits. But in my recent disappointing attempts to impress adults, I realized that I’ve been totally oblivious to one of my biggest ones: I get people to like me by dumbing myself down. I emphasize the sweet, flaky, little bit awkward part of my personality, at the expense of the smart and sarcastic parts. Since becoming conscious of this habit, I’ve been catching myself doing it all the time. Whenever I want to be liked, it comes out. The high-pitched voice, the shy smile that I make sure to flash at everyone I see, the compliments I work into every conversation: all the things that have earned me the “sweetheart” reputation that, admittedly, I’ve always loved and have definitely encouraged. Around most of my peers, I’m the sweet, carefree girl that loses everything and says awkward things on a regular basis. The one who is fun to be around, and is so easy to lovingly tease. But I’ve realized that this “likeable friend” persona that I rely on to make friends isn’t very smart. She isn’t particularly passionate, either, and definitely doesn’t think deeply about things.
In class with my friends, I contribute to discussions a decent amount, but not too often, and I always make sure that what I say is right before I say it. When I don’t care about being liked, on the other hand, I’m completely different. My AP US history class this year is completely made up of kids that are younger than me. I didn’t even know a single kid’s name when I started the year. So, I got used to the fact that I just wouldn’t have any friends in that class, that I was there to learn, and really didn’t care what my classmates thought of me. In that class, I talk constantly. My hand goes up as a reflex., I don’t care whether I know what I’m talking about or whether what I have to say is intelligent; if I have a thought, the hand goes up. And the kids in my class have noticed. Everyone seems to know my name. In the cram time before tests, I’m the kid that people go to with their questions. I’m not that kid in my other classes, and I’ve been having such a blast being that kid. In US History, my “likeable friend” persona is still there. I’m still nice to everyone, I still make the dumb jokes and lose things. But when, I walk into that classroom, I ditch the concern with being liked. And am much happier and–because this is for WOOSH!– more real without it.
There’s a stereotype of the girls who play dumb. They’re the hair twirling, “like” abusing, doe-eyed bimbos who pretend not to understand what’s going on in math so that they can ask the hot guy for help. While I’m sure that those girls exist, I think that the problem of girls undermining their intelligence is much more common than that, and is also much more subtle. I think that so many teenage girls associate being liked with being accessible, and think that to be accessible; you can’t be too much of anything. That if they act too smart, too passionate, too talented, too whatever, people will think they’re intimidating or conceited and won’t like them. So, like me, they hide the parts of their personality that they think hinders their accessibility.
My success in recent college interviews has been limited by my “likeable friend” persona. I’ve wanted so badly to be liked by these admissions officers, that I automatically did the same thing I always do when I want people to like me, I toned down my academically interested, smart side. Clearly, a terrible strategy for a college interview, and I’ve realized, a pretty awful strategy in life as well. I’ve been trying to break the habit, to ditch my “likeable friend” persona in favor of a history-loving, smarter, more real one. It hasn’t been easy, and will take time, but I’m thinkin’ it’ll be worth it.
Maddie is applying to colleges and tackling senior year in Maryland.
Maddie, your post really resonated with me–and I’m a 40-year old woman! Those same tendencies that are creeping in to high school classes and college interviews have taken root and are ingrained in me as a marketing professional. The sweetheart, wanting-to-be-liked girl has become the dependable team player, often overthinking before giving opinions in meetings and still wanting to be everyone’s friend. Despite that I’ve managed to be successful but I think of what opportunities I have missed out on by worrying about what others think all the time. And like you, I’m aware and try to stop the behaviors when I can. But for me, even more important now, I want to make sure my two grade-school daughters don’t fall in to the same trap. Thanks for sharing your insights.
Great blog Maddie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!