Being Popular Can be Bad for You

I was not popular in high school. I was well known (identical twins usually are, twice the exposure at half the price) but I was not popular. I lost more elections than Mitt Romney including for sophomore class president, Student Body leadership and the ultimate defeat, president of the Chess Club. I was a dweeb.

It is one thing to pursue popularity as an adolescent, it is another thing altogether to pursue it as an adult. It seems that for some adults the need to be popular increases with age. If there is anything reality TV teaches us is that people will go to ridiculous lengths to be a celebrity. Ordinary life just isn’t good enough. Everybody wants to be a star and nobody wants to admit that achieving stardom is not dependent on how badly one wants it.

It seems fame is incredibly addictive, as even in small amounts it leads to people wasting their lives trying to gain it again. Almost every high school reunion includes once popular people incapable of dealing with the reality that no one cares anymore. There are a number of reality shows such as “The Apprentice” and “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here” that provide fading stars with one last chance to shine and there seems to be no shortage of formerly famous people willing to participate.

Watching these shows leads me to ponder how much these people have lost in their pursuit of fame. Multiple marriages and rehab stints seem to be a common theme. True happiness, contentment and meaningful relationships are rare. It seems that the price of fame is tragically high.

I flirted with fame a few months ago. My blog post on measles spread around the world. It reached over 5 million readers and was published in a Norwegian newspaper. Over 3000 people subscribed to the blog and comments flooded my inbox. It was pretty heady stuff. It didn’t last. My follow up post reached 30,000 views and subsequent posts were seen by fewer and fewer people. I found myself wondering what I could write about that would catch fire, what it was that people wanted to read, how I could reach that summit again.

Then I gave up. I realized that if I focused on what people wanted to hear I would lose something in the process. There is much about which I am passionate that is not popular. My Christian worldview is not universally embraced and is even offensive to some. Popularity might require that I constrain myself and not share my heart. I realized that success wasn’t worth it. I returned to writing what was on my heart. The number of subscribers has dwindled but I am okay with that. I have learned the lesson of high school, that being popular isn't what it is cracked up to be.

What leads to popularity and success in high school does not often translate to success in the next life. While I was easily discounted back in the day the life I have today is truly remarkable. I have a successful marriage, wonderful children, a strong faith and a rewarding career. My life after high school is so blessed as to make any of the lost recognition irrelevant.

I think this is true in the eternal sense as well. Success and praise in this life is often not compatible with success in the next one. People who pursue fame and adulation here on earth may be sacrificing what matters in the next. The ultimate winners are those who grasp this truth and live with eternity in mind. The adulation of millions means nothing compared to the joy that awaits those who have gained the favor of God.

-          Bart

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