Hello everybody, welcome to episode 103 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino and today we have a question I’m really enthused about. We’ve got a great question sent in from a really introspective teenager that I’m really proud of for coming to us with this concern they’re facing about their reputation being torn up as a result of some bad rumors being spread. Let’s hear today’s question…
QUESTION: “How do you handle people talking negatively about you and an embarrassing reputation that is mostly based off of rumors? I made a few stupid decisions like dating an insensitive guy and getting a little wild at a party and I’ve noticed that these small things have become what i”m known for as stories were exaggerated and rumors spread. I know that people say not to let what others think of you bother you but it does because it stops people I don’t really know from wanting to hang out with me. I am trying to become more confident socially but this is really bringing me down as I feel like people have preformed opinions of me. How do I reinvent their opinions of me and gain more social confidence? Note, I’m a teenager, age 17.”
Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 103 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.
An Adult's External Point Of View
Oh boy. I am so ready to answer this question. I am fired up for this one. Thank you so much for sending this in – I really like this question.
Before I start, I want you to know that what I’m going to tell you might be hard to absorb and understand, but you have to trust me on this one.
If you like the advice that I give (as you mentioned in your email), then hear me now and try your best to stick with it, because doing so will likely save you a lot of resentment down the road. I promise you that unpleasant teenage experiences can really follow you emotionally if you let them, so I’m so glad you asked this because you have a chance now to jump ahead of that while the wound is still fresh.
What I’m going to explain to you is how any well-balanced adult feels about these types of situations when they reassess them down the road. You will be one of them some day, but for now, here’s the accelerated course – and I believe gaining the self-confidence you seek will come from understanding this from an outside perspective.
Think About Why People Spread Rumors
The less value people have in themselves and their own lives, the more they rely on different kinds of drama to keep things interesting for them. This is a common theme that is almost second nature during the teenage years, and unfortunately, it follows many people into adulthood should they not adopt better values and/or priorities.
Think about it: if these people really had fulfilling uses of their time, would they spend it spreading rumors?
Of course they wouldn’t.
Your Peers' Behavior
The reason teenagers are more apt to behavior like spreading rumors is because it’s a time of life where we’re still trying to figure ourselves out. So fitting in, avoiding ridicule, and getting praise is the main priority.
This normally changes as people have to start working, raising families, and fill their time with other more rewarding things that are not based solely on themselves.
I assure you that the behavior you’re describing in some of your peers right now is the type of behavior only exhibited by adults who have miserable lives. Most of them will change and learn to treat people better. That’s good news.
What About The Popular Kids?
You might be thinking to yourself, “What about the popular kids? Of course they feel good about themselves.”
Yeah, most of them think they have good relationships with themselves, but unbeknownst to them, almost none of them actually do. Why? Because the teenage years are often spent jockeying for social status.
Even the popular kids are hanging on by a thread, because without all of their little friends and minions, they’d be nothing. It’s unhealthy and it’s backwards, but by clinging to rumors that isolate others, you feel like part of the pack. It’s easier to look out for number one and fit in when a target is established to work against.
Unfortunately, this time around, the target was you. And that’s okay.
Really, it is okay. Almost everyone does something or several things in high school that they end up regretting.
Regrets Are Part of Growing Up
It’s a part of growing up, but it’s hard to know when you’re in the eye of the storm at age 17. This is why people love telling (especially) younger kids like yourself to not worry about what others think. Because as you age, unless you have terrible self-worth, you inevitably realize that it doesn’t matter.
It’s a discovery that almost everyone comes to and when they do, they wish they would have believed it when they were teenagers. This is true of everyone.I can tell you this until I’m blue in the face, but it might still hurt to not be fitting in the way you’d like to. And that’s okay, too. Again, the desire to fit in is a massively massive part of growing up.
High School is Fleeting
Of course, in the long run, this ordeal will mean nothing to you. High school, like all stages of life, is fleeting. High school to someone in middle age feels the way preschool feels to you at 17. I’m not even 30 and high school feels like preschool to me.
It’s so far back, you’ve changed and grown so much since then, and you realize the problems were based in things that didn’t really matter. This is how life goes for everyone. The things I stress about now are things I’ll probably laugh at in 20 years.
How could this not be the case? You think you have it all figured out? You think I have it all figured out? You think our parents have it all figured out? No way. We’re always growing, always changing, and therefore we’re always having a laugh at the things we stressed over in simpler times.
Two Pieces of Advice
Regardless of how well you’re able to change your beliefs about this based on what I’ve said, here’s what I’m going to ask you to do, and I hope it’ll follow you throughout your whole life.
You’re going to do two things:
1. You’re going to let your peers be the kids that they are. Is it wrong to exaggerate stories? Yes. Is the rumor spreading wrong? Yes. But it’s what happens at 17. It’s a part of growing up, and it takes an abnormal amount of maturity to not get sucked into that stuff at least marginally as a teenager. Your peers are only working with what they’ve got, which is a fragile identity. Forgive them and watch them dance like the puppets they are.
2. In case I gave you the wrong impression in #1., you don’t have to like or hang around with these people. You can understand them and give them the benefit of the doubt, but you can still acknowledge their bad behavior and choose not to be apart of it. I know it may feel tempting to befriend those most popular, but if you care about yourself even at 17, you want to do your best to not be friends with people who are mercilessly spreading rumors about others anyway, right? You seem like you have a lot of character, and lowering yourself to be more popular with those who have poor character only takes away from your potential.
Rumors and Reputation: Conclusion
So don’t concern yourself with changing their opinions – it’s simply too tall an order, and you don’t want to rely on their opinions anyway. You’re so much more than that. Maybe some of them will come around and change their opinions naturally, and if so, good for them.
Meanwhile, I suggest that you focus on creating new friendships with others like you – others who you know have good character and are more than just their social statuses. There are others like you who understand the stuff beneath the surface. There are others that you can confide in without having to worry about being judged.
This is how the highest functioning adults work. When they see people behaving badly like some of your peers are now, they say to themselves, “That person is not bad, just misguided. I’m not going to insult them, but I also don’t need to be around them. Instead, I’ll find friends who have better values, welcome me and inspire me.” I promise you that.
And if right now, you can instead focus on becoming a person who thinks that way, your confidence will be truer, your social life will be stronger, and your self-love will skyrocket.
Again, everyone, today’s question was great. Asker, thank you for sending it in. I wish I could get every adult listener to chime in on this one because I’m sure they’d feel the same way, but you’ll just have to take my word for it. It was honor helping you out today.
Everyone else, you know what to do. Email us your own questions you’d like answered on the show. Send them to advice AT oldpodcast DOT com and we'll do our best.
It’s late right now, so I’m going to get going, but I will look forward to our next episode. Until next time!
Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 103 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.