During the last couple of months something interesting happened. Namely, I got a lot of public exposure. A few articles featuring me or my business appeared in mainstream media. I even got on the cover of a magazine. Like, literally. I got invited to speak at a few big events and appeared in front of large audiences.
But, other than that, nothing changed. It’s business as usual. Getting up, going to work, coming back home. Running in the morning and teaching tango in the evening. I’m having the same life as before.
What Do You Do To Start Being Famous
The other day I was invited at lunch by a potential business partner. We did the usual chit chat, started to eat and, at some point, he goes like this:
“I saw you on the cover of Business Magazin, yesterday, congrats!”
“Oh, thanks, I answered”.
Then he went again:
“What did you do in order to get there? Like, I saw you on ZF too (a prominent economic newspaper in Romania). What’s your strategy to get this kind of exposure?”
I confess I was surprised. And I answered honestly:
“Nothing. I did nothing in particular to get there. It just happened.”
The other one nodded and smiled:
“No PR agency, no media buying, you say?”
“Absolutely nothing”, I answered.
He seemed unconvinced but then we continued the lunch.
After I left, I thought about it for a few minutes. And then I realized that most of the people expect this kind of exposure to be the result of some serious, coordinated efforts and some serious buying. In my case there were no coordinated efforts to get there, and no buying at all.
So, I realized, I could safely say that this was an accident.
By the way, me and that potential client, it seems that we’re not going to do business together. Probably if I would have lied, like telling some mumbo-jumbo about secret tricks to get exposure, he would had move forward. Well, whatever.
What’s Being Famous About
Being famous is just a perception of other people. It’s the fact that your image starts to get popular. Not you. Your image. It seldom has anything to do with what you’re doing.
What’s really happening is that, at some point, the paths of some media outlet and your paths are crossing. And you get featured.
(I confess I didn’t even know I was on that cover, someone else told me. Of course, I had a meeting with a journalist before, we had a talk, I knew my answers will be, somehow, in that paper but I didn’t know how it’s gonna play out.)
And after you’re featured both of you are going back to your business. You continue to do what you’ve been already doing and the media outlet will continue to search for someone else to feature. And that’s it.
But, because we’re culturally modeled to equal “being famous” with “being successful”, we tend to give to those temporary features more importance than they really need. The mere act of being on the cover of a magazine is regarded as a success. As a coronation of your efforts. Nothing more false than that.
It’s just an accident.
The danger here is to believe what’s on that cover, more than we believe what we’re doing day in and day out. If we identify with that projection, with that combination of paint and paper, we’re pretty much screwed.
First, because we’re, obviously, NOT a combination of paper and paint. W’e’re human beings, made from flesh and blood, we think, we work, we try, we fail, we succeed.
Second, because if we start to identify with some socially accepted model of success, we’ll create an enormous pressure to live up to those standards. Look, it’s me on that cover of the magazine. I am famous now. I’m somebody. So the brain will start forming synapses in which we’re compelled to continue looking for that presence on that cover, for that symbol, to reinforce our own self-esteem or sense of realization.
And that’s why, usually being on the cover of a magazine costs a lot of money. Because some people really believe that this is a real coronation of their efforts and they’re willing to pay big money to be there.
It’s a vicious circle, of course. Instead of focusing on just doing your job, you focus on forcing others to perceive you the way you want to be perceived. You’re building an avatar. A false avatar which whom you desperately try to identify.
Modesty and Honesty
When I saw myself on that cover, the first (and, largely, the only) thought I had was: “I could have worn a black teeshirt. Grey ones are not going very well with my unshaved face.”. Then I read the article to see that I was still in sync with what I told to the reporter. And everything was exactly as I said it. Felt good about that. Sometimes they change what you say.
I didn’t try to diminish the act of being interviewed and I didn’t feel any guilt or fear for being there. But didn’t feel any satisfaction either. It was just something that happened.
Modesty is accepting who you are, not more. Honesty is accepting who you are, not less. These two, together, can get your through some tough times. Like, for instance they’ll help you stay grounded when some other people, for various reasons, try to “pump” you up, to make a “popular” image out of you.
Acceptance that you did your job, as much as you could, will go to the modesty side. Tranquility and peace of mind will come form honesty. From the fact that you accept who you are, nothing less.
In the end, people will get to know the results of your actions. You will be remembered for what you do. If you do well, you’ll be remembered well. If you do bad, people will remember you bad. If you make some mistakes along the way, people will remember those too. And if you recover form those mistakes, if you get up again, people will remember you as a fighter.
Whatever you do, will follow your life. In a sense, you literally are what you did in this life.
But being famous is just an accident.