Bad Girl, Good Business

Route 66 Installment #42: “Popular Kids”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It probably started in kindergarten…

As we began elementary school (now called grade school), people began to form opinions about our “personal brands.” Back in the 1960s, we had no personal brands, however. We were just little kids.

We all remember the strange kids, the tall kids, the fat and skinny kids, the short and tall kids, the class clowns, the smart kids, the rule-breakers, and the kids with unusual parents or divorced/deceased parents.

Although gym class was the great equalizer and we were expected to play nicely together, I remember my share of name-calling and exclusion. We didn’t call it bullying back then. In fact, we were told that abuse builds character.

I’ve kept in touch with many of my friends from grade school, high school, and college. Some of the “popular kids” peaked early and are now depressed adults who don’t feel like they reached their true potential. Others are (like me, who was never the popular kid but probably considered the smart and funny one) are going through mid-life reinvention and discovering or re-discovering talents that lay dormant.

Last week, I got a call from one of my college besties who, like me, was an outlier in the midwest. Our senses of humor were the key to survival in a painful and cryptic Psychology Statistics class. We’ve known each other for close to 50 years. Neither of us has living parents now and he simply called to wish me a happy Jewish holiday.

The moral of that intro is simply this…

Who you were as a child/teen can inform the adult you grow up to be, but you now always have an opportunity to “transfer to a different class” and/or reinvent your role in the school of life.

But, as in school, others will sometimes define you based on the first few days of “class.”

  • Schoolyard gossip and bullying never seem to vanish. Mean girls live on.
  • The “popular kids” sometimes get promoted in the business world even though they don’t always turn their homework in on time.
  • We’ve also seen the rise of the influencer. TikTok and Insta are basically big high school talent shows, where anyone can run on stage.

Any gathering of random people — whether for education or business — will be fraught with schoolyard antics and micro-traumas.

So, what have I learned in this post-grad stage of life?

These 5 lessons are not all I’ve taken away¬† since that first day of kindergarten, but here are the major ones:

  1. I still believe that nice kids finish first. Popularity is ephemeral, but a kind soul and sense of humor are timeless. Even the popular kids may have insecurities and demons you don’t know about.
  2. When you are assigned a team project, pick the “kids” who are committed and upbeat first. Serve snacks when you get together to work. It’ll keep your energy level high.
  3. Extracurriculars are super-important. Choose things to do that fire up your mind and excite you.
  4. When you don’t like the teacher or the class, drop it and transfer. I did that once with a real class in college and it was liberating. In business, I’ve walked away from situations and people who tried to take advantage.
  5. Gym class sucks but is even more vital today. Physical health is the key to longevity. At least I don’t have to wear bloomers and tap-dance to “Winchester Cathedral” or be terrified of dodgeball.

I guess I’m a teacher now.

Although I don’t always feel like I know a lot, colleagues will sometimes turn to me for advice. I do my best. I also seek out my own mentors and have learned lessons from random people in restaurants as well as former supervisors and co-workers.

I will never be “the popular girl” but I’d rather be respected and trusted than have 100K followers on Insta.

Whether you’re 5 or 105, you still have lots of stuff to learn. But remember…

Show up on time. Keep an open mind. Be nice to all your “classmates.” And don’t be afraid to raise your hand.

Next week, our theme turns to overcoming FEAR (in honor of Halloween).

Here are some final facts and stats about today’s “kids.”

BGGB.OkeyDokey-fred A whopping 33% of schools now offer online education.
BGGB_ShakingHands Post-pandemic friendship. How can you help your kids or grandkids?
BGGB_Thumbs-Down-fred Bullying has an impact on 1 in 4 kids!

And adult bullying is just as toxic.

BGGB_Pointer Will influencers remain popular? Here’s my take on it from the Rolling Stone Culture Council.




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