When I was a kid, my parents would move around a lot, so I’d end up switching schools every two to three years. All that moving and constantly being the new kid eventually did help me deal with the struggle of being in a new environment, as it made me more confident and open to all the possibilities that life offered. But I never did like leaving my friends and switching schools as a kid.
In third grade my parents enrolled me in yet another new school—a math school. Once again, I would be the new kid who nobody knew, and who didn’t know anybody. I had just gotten used to my old school. Why did I have to switch again? I hated being the new kid.
That whole summer my mom kept saying: “It’s a great math school, you can learn so much more and be so much more successful in life and…” Yeah… hearing those words for the fifteen-hundredth time made me tune her voice out completely. She wouldn’t listen to me. I didn’t want to move, and what even was a math school? For all I knew a school was a school. Was this school built by mathematicians? Was math an abbreviation for something? I was clueless. However, as the eight-year-old kid I was, it wasn’t my decision to make. My mom had already filled out the forms and signed me up.
And so, I started in September.
The first day wasn’t that bad. In my home country of Bulgaria, where I grew up, it is a tradition on the first day of school for the parents to accompany the children to meet the homeroom teacher and get acquainted with the classes. I spent the whole day near my parents. I didn’t have to deal with new people. I didn’t have to introduce myself. The teacher didn’t make us stand up and say something interesting about ourselves. Overall nothing embarrassing happened.
Then the next day came. My dad drove me that day. The twenty-minute trip passed in complete silence as I was too nervous to talk. The only words I spoke were a nervously muttered “Thanks, bye” as my dad told me to have fun and that he’d pick me up after school. And then he drove off. I turned around and faced my new school. A three-story building stretched before me in an elongated T-shape. A soccer field to the right side of the stem of that T. A deep forest to the left. At the base of the T, right in front of me, stood a massive four-door entrance seemingly lifted higher by a flight of stairs. I had just been there the day before, and I did go back there nostalgically later in my life, yet the building never seemed as big as when I saw it alone on that eventful second day of school.
I went up to the classroom and sat down, looking at the kids walking in and taking their seats, forming small circles, throwing confused and curious looks my way. I was nervous. Then the worst thing happened. The teacher walked in and said “Today, kids, we’ve got a new student in the class… Oh I see he’s already here! Would you come up and introduce yourself Nikola?” And so, I introduced myself. The teacher then pointed me towards my new seat, as I had sat in another student’s seat without knowing it. Mortified, I apologized to the boy whose seat I had taken and sat down at my new desk. Finally, our day began, as normal as any.
My first real friend turned out to be the kid whose seat I had taken that day. Evgenii was his name. We were inseparable. We’d run around causing havoc together. We’d make our own fortresses around the school together. We’d get caught for doing something stupid and take the fall together. Really it was him who introduced me to all the other people around the school. It was because of him I began to fit in. Finally, it was because of him that I got to be a little entrepreneur that year and really earn everyone’s acceptance for myself.
He came to me one day with a bag of chips. It was time for lunch and we had decided to eat outside in one of our fortresses in the forest next to the school. We weren’t supposed to leave school grounds, but we didn’t care. We went to the park and climbed up a tree, which was perfect for climbing since its fat stem stretched out horizontally. It was up on that tree that we finally opened the fateful bag of chips. On the third or fourth reach I felt something different. I took out a little plastic pouch. It was the exact same size as the pouches that playing cards came in, so I thought it was a promotion by the chips company to collect cards. But it wasn’t a playing card.
Before I say what was in it, I must explain something. The Bulgarian currency was called “lev”, and neither one of us had a lot of levs. We’d both get a small amount of pocket money from our parents, which was usually just enough to buy lunch. We quickly found out that instead of spending two levs for a pizza or a sandwich at the cafeteria we could rather spend seven levs combined for bread, paté, and cheese, which would last us both the whole week and save us six-fifty every week.
But back to the plastic pouch. Turns out it was a promotion by the chips company to lure people into buying the chips with the possibility of finding a prize inside. We opened it with all the curiosity in the world. What we found inside was simply amazing. The bag of chips was worth two levs, but in that pouch, stood a five-lev bill neatly folded, as if it had just been printed. The chips company promotion prize was real money! It blew our minds—we could theoretically make pure profit with every bag. I had to test that theory out.
The next day, before school, I reached up to a box high up on a shelf, hidden from eyesight for a round blue money bank that I had stashed all my bills in. I took ten levs out and went to school with a plan, a young entrepreneur at work. I had set my mind to buy every single bag of chips the school store offered. I went there before school started and bought a bag. Then again between every class possible. And for the last time that day right after school, before my parents came to pick me up. I’d buy the bags one at a time and eat them with my friends, looking for the money pouches inside. I bought six bags that day.
I quickly realized that I’d have to eat a lot of chips to make a sizeable profit using this approach, but I had already discovered that the chances of finding money in the bag of chips were pretty good. I had left home with ten levs and for two levs a bag, I had come back with nineteen. I had found a ten-lev bill, a five, and three twos’ that day. I had even heard that it was possible to find a twenty-lev bill inside. I almost doubled my money that day, yet I wasn’t satisfied with the pace of my profits. I needed to think bigger. So, the next day I took all my savings, and made my first investment.
I went up to the classroom with four shopping bags full of individual bags of chips. I stood in front of the class and took out at least fifteen bags of chips then made an announcement. The chips were for everybody to eat. I was only interested in the money inside it.
And so, we ate.
The class next-door got a word of the free chips and they ate too. Not long after, I had people running to the store buying more chips and collecting the money that the others found in the bags for me. I was running my own little business. I felt like I owned the school.
After countless highs and lows the chips company had stopped the promotion, so the bags didn’t have money inside them anymore. However, by that time my little company had resulted in three hundred levs of pure profit, which was a lot for me back then. More importantly, I had become the legend of the school: “the new kid who bought everybody chips”.
To this day I remember and live by the two lessons this experience taught me. First, never miss an opportunity no matter where you find it, be it in a bag of chips, a classroom, or a train. Secondly, have confidence in being the new kid. Because being the new kid is awesome. Nobody expects anything from you—yet you can do anything and become a legend, especially if you follow lesson number one.