When to Stress About your Reputation (and when to “Shake it off”)

Love her or hate her, it seems like everyone has an opinion about Taylor Swift. This is something she tackles head on with her new album, “Reputation.” Over the past few years, critics have labeled Swift as fake, calculating, and overly sensitive. You’ll catch references to all these labels and more, as you listen to Swift’s new music. And as you play through the tracks, you just might find yourself thinking about your own reputation.

We all know that reputations can have a huge impact on our social lives. An unwanted label can follow you for days, months, and even years. That’s a pretty scary thought, but there is good news! You don’t have to have a cool reputation in order to have amazing friends and a happy social life.

Unwanted labels are never fun. But there are plenty of times when a reputation just isn’t worth the stress. An example of this is when your reputation is based on your interests. Ever been called a nerd? Theater geek? Ever been teased for being super invested in the school band, debate team, or another activity you love? It’s completely understandable to feel bad about this. But you have a good reason to bounce back!

Following your passions is a great way to connect with others who share your interests. So if you’re getting involved in activities you love, you’re on the right track to building some really solid friendships. It doesn’t matter if your favorite hobby is considered “cool.” As long as you’re having fun, and making good friends, your social life is in great shape!

Of course, even when you have awesome friends, you might still catch yourself worrying about your popularity. It seems like wherever you go- school, camp, sports practice- there’s a group of cool kids in the mix. You may compare your group of friends to these kids, and worry that you don’t measure up. But the truth is that labels like “popular” and “unpopular,” don’t mean much of anything. What matters is the way your friend group treats you.

Do they accept you for who you are? Do they listen to you, and make you feel included? Do they invite you to be a part of their lives, and join in on their plans? If so, you’re lucky. You’ve found some truly good friends, and you shouldn’t throw that away for fear that they aren’t considered popular.

But what if you’re still looking for that perfect group of friends? Sometimes, it can seem like a bad reputation is stopping you from making the connections you need to build your social circle. When that’s the case, it’s a good idea to consider why you’ve been labeled this way. While it may be the case that your reputation is truly unearned, it’s also possible that the way you treat people has played a role.

Nobody wants to be friends with a gossip. Nobody wants to spend time around someone who brags too much, doesn’t respect boundaries, or acts “too sensitive.” A reputation is usually most damaging to your social life when it speaks to the type of friend you are.

If you’ve come to realize that people are avoiding you because of your actions, then it’s time to start making changes. For example, if people say you’re “self-absorbed,” you can change your reputation by putting your friends first for a change. Instead of always talking about yourself, ask what’s going on in their lives. Don’t talk over them, don’t dominate the conversation.

There are certain qualities that everyone looks for in a friend. We all want to feel like we’re surrounded by people we can trust. People who respect us, and our feelings. If the people in your life see you this way, then your social life should be just fine. Otherwise, when it comes to an unwanted label, as Taylor Swift would say, you can just shake it off!

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Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More