Stop Trying To Be Popular And Start Trying To Be Profitable

It’s expensive, being the coolest kid on the block. Too bad it cost me everything to learn that.

I got my first taste of popularity when I was a sophomore in high school.

Affectionately, and maybe not too accurately, we’ll call it my first social experiment. I wondered what would happen if I dressed like the cool kids and traded my baggy pants and skater-green hair for khakis and crew cuts.

A few weeks later, and I had a date with one of the most popular girls in school. Her name was Audrey. Even sounds high-class, right?

It can’t be this simple, I thought, sitting there on that green park bench, arm around the future valedictorian, who I’m not even sure knew who I was until just that week. Popularity can’t be this easy, this formulaic.

Experiment number two. Except this time, I morphed my personality into something more of a cross between a class clown and teacher’s pet. Believe it or not, it worked. More friends, more girls, more popular.

It was pretty much guaranteed after that; I absolutely had to be that guy. I wasn’t always the most popular, but you better believe I was near the top. Most importantly, everyone knew me, and everyone liked me.

It didn’t stop with school, either. When I finally decided to open my own business, all I could think of was the status. It was sorta like being in the mafia if the mafia was full of city chamber members who didn’t bury people in concrete or eat lots of pasta or do anything fun. Still, a new group of people was starting to notice me, and that meant everything.

You might be surprised to learn that it doesn’t take much to make people like you. Discover what they enjoy, talk about them, and add value to their lives. Pretty simple, right? A little trickier, however, when you’re in the service business.

Instead of being selective in my clientele, instead of setting boundaries and putting profit first, I let my popularity addiction control me and started charging far less than what I was worth. Because nothing makes you more popular than just giving it way. That’s like the first lesson from “How To Be A Slut.”

That sort of fake altruism only lasted so long, and resentment for the people I set out to serve crept in. I wound up loathing and loving the people that were paying the price I asked them to pay. Unbelievable! One day I got high from being a martyr, the next, I got pissed for being everyone’s little whore. But at least I was popular.

Somewhere around the five-year mark, the spot that most businesses never reach, I understood something that would make all the difference: popular isn’t profitable. Not when you’re carrying the kind of baggage I do.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to turn the ship around. To have spent five, long years crafting an image that fed the unhealthy side of me was just too much. I attacked anyone who recognized what I was doing, and doubled down, foolishly, on my claim to fame. If I can become even more popular, I imagined, everything will be just fine. So I faked it.

I sold my business ten years after I started it, for a fraction of what it was worth because it was stay and die or leave and survive. And those strangers I cared so much about, forgot me.

For a solid year after that, I suffered from what I can only assume to be popularity withdrawal. I went from getting up at 3 am and attacking my day, to tossing back the covers by noon and watching endless reruns of “The Big Bang Theory.” What should have been a relief — but because I tethered my self-worth to a system of disrespect — was torture.

Everyone believed I sold my business because I’d accomplished what I’d set out to d0 — because that’s what I told them. In truth, I sold everything because popularity was too expensive, and ten years of reliving high school was getting me nowhere.

What a waste, I think, looking back. Sure there’s the lesson, but a decade in the making is a long time for such a simple idea. Besides, I grow tired of lessons. I just want something to work for me instead of me working so hard for it. And I think that starts with self-respect. Enough, at least, to stop trying to be popular and start trying to be profitable.

Bunch is one of those rare humans who only talks about what he knows; fitness, food, philosophy, and movies. And puppies.