Posted on 20 May 2013
In the mid-nineties I wrote a book. It was the right book at the right time with the right publisher and it just flew off the bookshelves. I was interviewed by newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and television shows. I was asked to speak at various events, open Internet cafes, judge for various awards, and more. I know from the inside what it means when the words “media circus” are used.
I remember being at a friend’s party just as fame was beginning to hit. Another friend walked into the event, saw me, scowled, and made her way to the farthest corner from me. Now you could say that just shows she wasn’t a very good friend. The problem with that assessment is that a number of friends fell away at that time and a few emotionally imploded from being around me.
Our sense of self can be so fragile. If someone isn’t prepared for being in the spotlight, even by proxy, it can take that person emotionally to pieces. When a friend succeeds phenomenally, without even getting jealous, it can feel like a slap in the face. “Who am I? I’m nobody.” Our culture puts a heavy emphasis on success defining your value, rather than the quality of your character.
Before my book was published I decided that it was okay to be proud of a job well done. It was not okay to assume I was better than anyone. A book is a product. Readers are customers. I’m really no different than a popular green grocer. That may not be how society sees it, but that’s really all it is. I’m glad I gave myself a good talking to.
When you are in the public eye, if you don’t succumb to ego-inflation on your own, other people will be pushing you to inflate. Some friends and family will want to live vicariously through you and will be encouraging you to behave badly. They will want to be with you when you demand to have the best table in the restaurant or special entry into a gig.
Many people yearn for the freedom to tell other people exactly what they think without repercussions. They want to revert to their three year old selves and get whatever they want, even if they have to throw a temper tantrum to get it. They want to be free of responsibility. This is a false sort of freedom. You mostly succeed in isolating yourself. No matter how “popular” you get, you will always have a need for good friends and smooth social interactions.
I remember watching a few other authors, who were going through the same publishing house at about the same time as I, become unbearable to be around. I wonder how well they did when they stopped being famous. Because eventually we all did stop being famous. It’s the usual course of these things.
The most heartbreaking aspect of fame for me was all the friends who wanted me to be a leg-up to their own success. Sometimes I could help. Many times I really didn’t have the power to grant their wishes. Certainly some were obnoxious, thinking they were entitled to my magical assistance, but other times I wished with all my heart I could have done something. Ultimately, we all have to take care of ourselves and carefully choose who, how, and when we help others.
When you wonder why famous people don’t have many “ordinary” friends, even among the best of them, that’s because it’s tricky. Everyone’s emotional well-being is at stake. I can’t say I was entirely immune to ego issues during that particular moment of fame. A couple of times I had a good swift kick to bring me back to size. I was okay with that, because for me the most important thing is to be a person of good character. I am proudest of myself when I am kind and caring. It’s amazing what a good ship that is for facing the storms of life.
Peace and kindness,