Eric Karjaluoto

Fame and Fortune

I advise people on Officehours. I do so, in part, because it’s a platform that @shelkie and I are building. (I figure it’s a bad sign if you don’t use your own platform.) Additionally, I love helping people. Recently, (I think) I helped someone. In any case, this discussion stuck with me, and I wanted to share the gist of it with you.

Our session started with my question: “What do you want to achieve?” He didn’t hesitate before responding: “Fame and fortune.” I recoiled. Most folks aren’t that brash. In a way, though, I admired that he so clearly knew—and said—what he wanted. I thanked him for his honesty, and responded in an equally honest manner: “Those are horrible goals.”

A lot of people think they want money and notoriety. Nevertheless, these are bad goals to work toward. I told him the three reasons why I feel this way:

Number 1: Fame is an intensely competitive pursuit. Many want to be famous. Plus, social media makes it easier for anyone to try. This puts the odds dramatically against you. Being good—even great—at what you do isn’t enough to be famous. In fact, being really, really bad is often a better way to get famous (think: William Hung, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump). Additionally, fame isn’t kind. If you beat the odds and become famous, others will quite likely despise you. Is that something to aspire to?

Number 2: Money is rarely ever the solution to your problems. Sure—if you’re broke, money can make some situations better. Once that’s done, though, you’ll likely adjust your spending to match your new income—indebting you to more work. The pursuit of money is like chasing the dragon: the more you get, the more you need, and no sum seems like as much as it did, the last time.

Number 3: You’re only thinking about yourself. Those who seek fame and fortune are typically only interested in themselves. This makes them seem boring. Who wants to be around someone who only talks about his/herself? Worse yet, who wants to hire (or buy from) such a person? This creates an interesting paradox. By focusing on yourself, you scare off those who might otherwise contribute toward your development.

So, what should a person do instead of pursuing fame and fortune? I say he/she should try the following:

Stop trying to connect at scale. My bet is that you don’t actually want to be famous. Nope. I just think you want to matter—or be loved. Such desires are understandable—and likely essential to the human experience. However, neither of these happen at scale. The masses don’t love Brad Pitt, so much as they’re fascinated by him. If you want meaning/love, you need to concentrate on people you can help individually. (I’d start with those you’re already close to.)

Ask yourself why you actually want money. So long as you’re not destitute, your want for money is probably something other than what it seems. Maybe you seek autonomy so you can do what you want, free of someone else’s direction. If that’s the case, reducing your expenses might be the fastest way to regain control. (I recently gave myself an “unraise” for the very same reason.) Alternately, you might wish your work had more purpose. This is a bigger issue, which I talk about a bit here.

Focus on someone other than yourself. I sometimes wonder if our new god is found in the self. This obsession with our individual desires weakens our sense of connection and diminishes our personal happiness. Forget about what you want. Ask how you might help those around you. Stop thinking about whether you’re happy. Try to make someone else happy.

Upon noting these points to the fellow I was lending advice to, he responded, “But, I’m no good Samaritan. I don’t feel compelled to help anyone else.” At this point, I wondered why I was helping someone who had no interest in helping anyone other than himself. Nevertheless, I held back my contempt, hoping that I might change his mindset.

I explained, “There are many reasons to think about others first—not just that it’s the right thing to do.” By caring about your client’s interests, you’ll become a more trusted partner. By lending a hand to those starting out, you make new connections. By being a more kind husband, you get a better marriage. By helping in your community, you build friendships. And, by talking about someone other than yourself, people actually start to listen to—and care about—what you have to say.

I don’t know that any of what I said made a difference for this fellow. People tend to come to these sorts of realizations on their own, if they ever do. That said, I think there’s something here worth sharing—even if this advice isn’t particularly original.

If you’re struggling, I urge you to focus on how you can be of service. In doing so, you might find that which eluded you.

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