When Mike entered his second year of junior high, he received a gift from the school system. The boundaries changed and he was moved to a different school, where no one knew his siblings. He had a clean slate for the first time. His grades improved—straight A’s, except he had trouble with the new French book and the new French teacher’s accent. Plus she was a little mean.
The following year Mike decided to conduct an experiment. He had always been reserved. He liked to observe his surroundings and was pretty quiet. But he knew he would be changing schools again the following year and would never see most of those people again, so he decided to be more outgoing and talk to more people. He also tried out for the school soccer team. The coach was late the 2nd day, so Mike organized the other boys and led them through the warm-up exercises. The coach saw that and made Mike team captain. Girls Mike talked to during school started coming to watch him practice. When he missed a month of school due to a serious illness, people started talking about him—they thought he died. When he returned in January he was captain of the wrestling team and suddenly everyone knew who he was.
During a band break at a school dance, all the kids sat on the floor—except Mike. He was kneeling and a little higher up than the crowd. As one of the chaperones walked by, she asked Mike if he was someone special. Mike asked why. She said every person in the room was sitting facing him. He looked around and saw she was right. He wasn’t in the middle of the room, but he was the center of it. That was something new. Mike soon made the baseball team and ended up playing left field—the position closest to the bleachers. He had a fan section. It was so weird.
You know what? It started to annoy the heck out of him. He thought about it and realized those people didn’t even know him. How could they like him??? His mom got annoyed too, by girls calling their house. Eventually, other guys got jealous. The point guard of the basketball team twice tried (and failed) to have him beaten up by 4 or 5 guys. Mike started hearing stories about other boys saying they wanted to beat him up (because their girlfriends’ had crushes on him). Mike gave them all chances, but no one wanted to back up their talk. Girls he didn’t pay attention to (and didn’t even know) started gossiping about what a jerk he was.
Finally, the last day of the school year arrived. It was such a relief. He heard there were two boys in the gym locker room planning to jump him before the end of the day. So he went to give them their chance. Mike turned his back on them as he washed his hands at the sink, bent over to splash water on his face, and then finally turned to them. He asked if they had anything they wanted to say. They wished him a great summer!
After that Mike got on the bus to go home. A group of girls gathered outside the bus and started shouting goodbye to him. As the bus drove off, the girls started running along-side, crying and waving. It was not the fun it may sound like. As the bus made its way back to his side of town Mike thought, “Thank God that’s over. Those people are #$%^#$^& crazy!”
That experience made him realize being popular is less than meaningless; it’s actually a bad thing because you can never be sure who your friends are. People want to associate with you even if they hate you….and sometimes they hate you for no reason. It sucks. Mike knew he was better off with a circle of true friends. That was a great lesson to learn before joining the workforce—where so many people try to use you to their advantage. It was also a good experience in other ways. Having been the center of attention, Mike found it hard to be impressed by the "in" crowd. He knew they were no more worthy of interest than he had been.