Illustration by Valerie Kao.

Illustration by Valerie Kao.

KYLE is one to embrace his outsider status. His new album, Smyle, features the 22-year-old rapper/singer sharing stories about how he overcame judgment, and learned to never compromise himself. Below, he gives his best advice for how to feel great about yourself, even when it’s hard.

I’ve always been really shy. As a kid, the only thing I’d ever do in front of a lot of people was sing. Off stage, though, I was super shy. Today, it’s totally different. I’m high-fiving strangers, doing all types of weird stuff. I think everybody has the ability to find that side of themselves. It’s hard for any shy person–any introvert, really—to come out of their shell. We don’t share ourselves with the world, so we are the only people who really know ourselves. I think you have to find people who make you feel comfortable, and spend a lot of time with them.

High school, especially, is hard, because it’s hard to fit in. Once you find a friend group, you [often] end up just sticking with them, whether they’re the best friend group for you or not. The turning point for me was around that time. At first, I was on the football team. I was hanging out with a bunch of jocks, and I wasn’t really happy, now that I look back on it. I was around people who did nothing but judge other people, all day long. I never truly felt comfortable. I was always on edge, like, “I can’t slip up, I’m going to be made fun of. I have to look my best at all times.” One day, I got up from the table I was sitting at, with all the popular people, and walked away.

I went and hung out with the kids who were in my drama class, and they were so non-judgmental. When you don’t have that fear of being judged by your peers, you’ll be able to truly be who you are. Find people who you respect morally, ahead of everything else. You are going to find people you trust.

Everybody has critics. I’m not perfect–I’m human. Sometimes criticism gets to me, and it causes me to make bad decisions. With criticism, you have to analyze it, and be like, “Do I agree with this? Do I relate to this? How is this right for me?” See what you can take away from it, rather than letting it make you feel like a failure. If you don’t believe it, don’t do it. At the end of the day, you have to go with what you really feel.

For me, to be self-confident is to love yourself more than anybody else does. Be so proud of who you are, that it’s just oozing out of you. That comes with knowing yourself, and knowing what’s awesome about yourself. Once you believe that you are great, you’ll just feel great. When you see you, you’re happier about you than they are. Figure out the reasons why you’re awesome, remember those reasons, and then you’ll be walking around with a smile on your face. ♦

(As told to Natalie Weiner, who also writes for Billboard, the Guardian, Noisey, Pigeons & Planes, and more.)