Sports are about life and can teach us valuable lessons. And so can the movie Mean Girls. If you haven't seen Mean Girls, well you should. Spoiler alert ahead.
I'm not here to recap the movie, but here's a brief background to get you caught up if you haven't seen it.
After growing up being home-schooled in Africa by her parents, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan, who should have won an Oscar) and her family move to Illinois where she is introduced to public school for the first time. Cady comes to the school as a caring and smart high school student, excelling particularly in math where she easily picks up calculus concepts. Throughout the movie, Cady faces the conflict of conforming to different groups of people, as she looks to fit in and make friends in her new environment. While seeking popularity, she ends up distancing herself more and more from the person she truly is. The movie shows a typical conflict that teenagers can face when they idealize unhealthy and self-destructing behavior as being 'cool' and helping you make 'friends'. What Cady came to realize was that all these groups she was trying to fit into were fake, with the 'popular' girls clique even being referred to as 'plastics'. It wasn't until she was true to herself that she was finally able to be comfortable, and form the most beneficial and positive friendships, those people that accepted her for being true.
One of the sub plots is Cady's interest in Aaron Samuels (played by a guy who IMDB reports last gig was hosting Cake Wars), who happens to be dating Regina George (Rachel McAdams, The Notebook!), the most popular of the 'plastics'. Cady's interest in Aaron isn't built from getting to know him on a personal level. She liked him purely on looks and status. Regardless, she wants for him to like her, thinking that it will somehow build her reputation among others.
Early on, Cady molds a strong relationship with her math teacher Ms. Norbury (played by Tina Fey, who should have won an Oscar). Cady is acing her exams and showing interest in being on the math team which of course the movie depicts as a bunch of 'nerds' that are considered 'unpopular' (a lot of quotes, because popularity is the dumbest concept).
Side track: A lot of media, shows and movie culture try to bring down people that seek knowledge. (See Ross in Friends, Lisa in The Simpsons, and other characters that get made fun of or tuned out for saying something smart). And unfortunately, this depiction too often gets translated into real life relationships and interactions. The movie definitely plays into that stigma, but maybe a bit more intentionally as it does exaggerate quite a bit.
Cady initially has interest in the math competition and in succeeding in school. But relationships can be powerful, and quickly these good opportunities become pushed aside as she falls trap to chasing acceptance. Cady begins to lower her own standards in order to gain popularity and to be liked by Aaron. She starts doing poorly in math, even though she is gifted at the subject. She asks questions to Aaron, even when she knows the answer. She even blames Ms. Norbury for her poor grade by saying she's only failing her because she won't join the 'stupid mathlete competition'. Instead of being true to herself and striving to be her best, she sacrifices her identity and ability in order to try and please someone else and build on her own ego.
At first, this helps her connect with Aaron and she gets some time to spend studying with him and getting to know him. However, it was ruining her positive relationships with Ms. Norbury and the original friends she had made. And eventually, Aaron also finds out that she was intentionally lowering her effort and hiding her abilities in order to be with him.
Now, Aaron didn't have all the best qualities in this movie, but he did respond well here when she told him she was intentionally failing for him to like her. He was not amused by the tactic and told her, "That's stupid." It is totally stupid, but it happens all the time and we can all be victims of it. We can get caught up in acceptance or seeking admiration from others. This is true not just for teenagers, but throughout life as we chase job titles, material items and status. Chasing acceptance is simply fulfilling our ego, and does no good for ourselves or those around us. Aaron would not put up with Cady lowering her standards for his acceptance. He liked her for being Cady, and didn't like when she tried being like his ex-girlfriend Regina, who had also faked her way into being someone she wasn't. Be true to yourself.
Be True to Who You Are
We try to change who we are to be something we think we want, but when we end up there we realize it isn't what we expected. Ego can drive us to think poorly and treat those around us unfairly. Sometimes, we need to just pause and reflect. Make sure we are being true to ourselves and our good friends. Let go of our own ego to listen to others and be willing to be accepting of them as well.
Cady ends up doing the 'stupid mathlete competition' and forgives all the people she hurt while trying to chase being someone she truly never wanted to be. She regains her old friends, and Aaron gains respect for her as the person she is. And she helps her team win the math competition by answering correctly that, "The limit does not exist." It's a pretty "fetch" ending.
A few takeaways...
- Seek out the right friendships. Whether we like it or not, we do conform in many ways to the people we see most of. Make sure you have the right people in your life. Be willing to remove any toxic relationships that limit you or make you unhealthy. And be mindful of your impact on those closest to you. Be sure you model kindness and understanding to your friends.
- Popularity is not a thing. There is no 'cool'. In most cases, any groups labeled as the 'cool' kids are the groups to be most avoided. You shouldn't seek approval and acceptance from others by changing who you truly are. The right friends are the ones that like you for who you are. The fake friends don't last and will never be there for you because they themselves are all faking their way to fit in as well. Instagram is a liar.
- Don't lower your standards in an effort to make friends. People will eventually see through this.
- Be willing to hold teammates (friends) and yourself accountable. As the great North Central Coach Al Carius says, we have to strive for personal bests. When you aren't striving to be your best, you're limiting yourself and those closest to you. Don't ever lower your standards and be sure to bring max effort to all things that you do whether it be running, academics or another venture. Holding friends accountable may at times bring conflict, but you should expect the best out of them as well. In the long run, this will build stronger friendships.
- Comfortable is easy. Humans tend toward it. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Change in the world has never come with comfort.
- Own it. Don't look to blame others for decisions you make. Being honest and owning up to your actions allows you to truly be open to listening and deciding between what is right and wrong. We will all do dumb things and we will hurt others at times. But, we have the power of learning from mistakes and being able to honestly apologize when we hurt someone. Sometimes it just takes slowing down and having honest reflection.
- To excel in running and academics it takes commitment and purpose that most teenagers are afraid of. If others ever criticize you for doing well or for trying, take that as a compliment that you are doing something that they don't have the discipline to even attempt because of their fear of failure or losing acceptance of being 'cool'. Striving to be better is cool in my book of what's cool.
- The limit does not exist.